Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Long Shlep

It Doesn't Get Any Better
It Doesn't Get Much Better
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
There is only one way to see San Francisco; You must walk it. I lived in the Bay area while attending college for nearly five years. I’ve visited by car, train, bike, and foot. If you only have one day, in my opinion the best way to savor the city is The Long Shlep. Dress in layers, wear really comfortable shoes, and bring a big appetite.

Start by taking the BART to the Powell Street Station. When you come up from the station, you’ll be confronted with the city at it’s most bustling and busy. You’ll be tempted to take the Trolley as the fare station is right in front of you, but frankly, that’s for tourists. It costs a lot and you miss some of the most interesting bits of the city. Enjoy the view of the Trolley, take pictures as it goes by, and feel smug in your knowledge that you’re seeing the better bits without paying the extortionist fare.

Follow the trolley line north on Powell Street. This will take you through the commercial district, past a million tourist shops, and up to Nob Hill. From here, you will see spectacular views of the TransAmerica building and the Bay. Just past Nob Hill, drop east from the top of the hill on Clay to dive two or three blocks into Chinatown. Wander freely through this area marveling at the shops, restaurants, and commerce. If you start late, you might find this a good place to grab a dim sum lunch. I can’t recommend a restaurant since all the names are in Chinese. They are all absolutely terrifying from the outside; The food is always outstanding on the inside. Don’t think too hard about what you’ve accidentally eaten.

Make your way north on any street paralleling Powell through Chinatown. This will send you directly into North Beach. North Beach is to Italy what Chinatown is to China. The smells wafting out of the restaurants shift to pasta, sausage, fennel, garlic and onions. On Columbus is one of the ten best chocolate truffle makers in the country. Stop for a cafe or cocoa and truffles. My favorite is lemon but the girls were partial to cinnamon (Mera), hazelnut (Jaime), and coconut (Aeron).

Continue north until you hit Fisherman’s Wharf. There is only so much of this massively touristy street you can stomach, but a little bit is a lot of fun. You’re probably not hungry, which is good. The seafood here is excellent but very very expensive for small quantities. If you do choose to eat, get a place that lets you sit outside and watch the people go by. An fun stop in Fisherman’s tucked over to one side is the Musee Mechanique. This is a warehouse full of old amusement machines: pachinko, cinemascope, the original Pac Man. The collection is eclectic, but tremendously enjoyable. There is no charge to enter, but be prepared to drop a roll of quarters in the machines.

Now that we’ve hit the water, we start drifting westward towards the Golden Gate. You will pass through a series of historical landmarks, each offering their own attractions. First, you’ll see the Cannery. This monument has been converted into a shopping mall. If you like to shop, I recommend here or at the next stop -- Ghiradelli Square. At Ghiradelli, you need to at least enter the ice cream salon as you’ll get a free square of chocolate just for walking in the door. In the main dining area, you can watch the chocolate being made. You’d think you would be full, but good luck getting out the door without splitting a hot fudge sundae or picking up a pound of mixed chocolates.

Head for the water front and walk around San Francisco Maritime Historical Park. As a sailor, it’s hard to resist marveling at all the boats at anchor or on balls who managed to get themselves situated without the use of motors.

Up up UP the hill and over, you are now enjoying a bird’s eye view of the Marina District. As boaters, we now yawn a bit at the beauty of the marina and yacht club. Just how many boats can you see in one life without coming somewhat jaundiced. However, a walk down the small streets near Marina Blvd will reveal some of the most expensive and beautiful real estate in San Francisco. The long walk through this residential neighborhood is rewarded on the west end by the Palace of Fine Arts. Currently under renovation, you can not walk under it or through the park, but you can enjoy the view or visit the new Exploritorium.

Marina District
Marina District
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Do you have any energy left? If so, keep walking another mile and a half up the hill to the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is a serious hike up a very long hill. Remember that you have to gain roughly 250 feet from the Marina District. From either a block from the Palace of Fine Arts or from the parking area at the end of the bridge, you finally get back on a bus back to your origin at the Powell Street Station.

The Long Shlep is 5.6 miles if you leave from the Palace, 7.2 if you start home from the Golden Gate. By the end of the day, you will feel as though you have truly seen San Francisco, enjoyed some amazing food, and started to fall in love with this wonderful city. I could spend weeks in San Francisco and never run out of things to do. But one spectacular day with my girls was enough for this trip.

1 comment:

Larry Smith said...

Our girls showed us SF after a school field trip there years ago. They learned the bus routes, and subsequently took us everywhere when we went as a family. Now we sail to SF marina, hop on the bus, and do the town. Advice, don't stay at Pier 39 marina -- it has a wicked surge and sea lions that complain all night. Good luck heading south.
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