In and Around San Francisco

Thursday, September 01, 2011

I've traveled northwards to the San Francisco area twice this year, found unique things to fill my days on both visits, and can still think of a dozen things I'd like to do. Mostly food-related, but it's not my fault people keep telling me "Oh, you have to eat here!" Well if I have to, I have to.

While I can hardly wait to visit San Francisco again to see what else it has to offer, I'd also happily do any of the things I've already done all over again.

Fisherman's Wharf
There are plenty of places to stay throughout San Francisco, but I really enjoyed staying in this area because of how much there is to see and so within walking distance. A long night stroll along the wharf, ending with ice cream in Ghirardelli Square, is pretty top notch romance.

I also tried out one of those toilets that wash themselves between uses. It was weird--it talked to me about itself the whole time I was peeing. For a narcissistic public toilet without boundaries, though, it seemed clean enough.

Union Square
I wasn't impressed with the idea of Union Square at first, but when I got there it was so very San Francisco that it won me over without seeming to try at all. For starters, a lady who didn't speak English sold me a strawberry hat, allowing me to go from zero to cool in fifteen dollars seconds. Then we went to the Westfield Mall, which has a pretty large Sanrio store. The part that had me most hypnotized, though, was the food court. They served actual food and have ambient lighting and everything. I walked around trying to find a good angle to capture its glory, but I failed. My inner foodie wept.

I consoled myself with an order of Japanese chips at Calbee, which opened their first American store in Union Square fairly recently. Halfway through my drive home I was thinking about going back and getting more.

One thing I regret is not dedicating more time to Japantown, and not seeing Chinatown at all, even though I've been to the Los Angeles versions of each. Japantown had a little indoor street that reminded me of walking through the streets of Old Edo, and we found great food there.

We also found a Daiso, which is basically a Japanese dollar store. With exchange rates and the like, everything in it was $1.50, and I think I spent like $30 there. I even got a saucer that matches the bowl and plate I got at the Daiso in Harajuku!

I honestly expected to get bored quickly here, but Poncho really wanted to see it and I like trying new things, so we gave it a shot. In the end of our audio tour, we had security following us to be sure we actually made it onto the last boat back to the mainland. The audio tour was amazing! It's narrated by an actual guard with a total "old cowboy" voice, and other guards and inmates occasionally chime in. It's timed perfectly, where he says "Look to your left. See that? It's super cool. Look above you. See that? Yeah, you're impressed. Take three steps and look down. Grenade damage. You're welcome."

There's vivid retellings of escape attempts, ambient noises that make it seem like the cells are full, and probably ghosts. Or so my brother says.

Bay Area Discovery Center
On my more recent trip north, I had six-year-olds with me, so we went to the Bay Area Discovery Center. The outdoor play area was huge and very fun! A couple of the indoor exhibits were cool too, and I clearly impressed some German tourists with my amazing building skills. There was a Curious George discovery room, which would've been a lot more fun if they seemed to put effort into maintaining it--it was kind of a hot mess in there.

The outside play area was still a lot of fun though, and they had giant foam blocks to build with. The parking lot also has a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Ghirardelli Square
Poncho and I really don't care for chocolate, so the big crowd in the Ghirardelli store did not impress us. In fact, the square has four Ghirardelli stores, which I swear makes up almost half the stores in the entire square. As long as you're not picky enough to have to have your chocolate from the original store, though, the other stores don't seem to ever have lines, so I nabbed a few free samples (peppermint bark I do like) from the original store and then went to one of the others for ice cream.

Ghirardelli Square isn't just about chocolate and ice cream though--it's also about cupcakes and tea! My favorite meal of our trip was all about ambiance as we brunched at The Crown & Crumpet British Tea Salon. The interior looked like they hired a few Disney princesses to vomit all over the place, and I loved it.

Golden Gate Park
The reason we didn't get enough time in Japantown was because we thought we could share that day with Golden Gate Park. This was a mistake--we could've spent an entire day at each of them. Well, it wasn't really a mistake, since we didn't have another day, but it was still sad to leave this park before we were ready. The flowers were blooming even in November, the squirrels were friendly, and there were several exhibits that I would've liked to have paid the admission for if we'd had more time.

The science center is pretty pricey, and admission to the Japanese garden was more than twice what we paid to visit real Japanese gardens in Japan, but even skipping those we only saw... maybe half of the park. We saw a lot in the few hours we were there, but next time I think we'll have to bring a picnic.

Wine Tasting
Winery's are... surprisingly cool. One of the first things I saw when we entered Cline Cellars was a huge heron catching and eating a fish. They also had a [free] museum featuring models on the California missions, and I got a slap of nostalgia when I saw the mission that my grandpa I built for my fourth grade mission project. I was too busy exploring the aviaries and ponds to try the wine here, but my mother bought four bottles.

We also visited Viansa, though I admit I was focused more on the sauce tasting station than the wine tasting station. I think my mother bought two more bottles here, while I got a jar of lavender infused honey. Honey on toast is the only thing I ate for breakfast for two weeks.

The Golden Gate
I'm just going to put this out there: the Bay Bridge is cooler. It's a double decker, and it goes through Treasure Island. It's so cool, that someone tried to jump off it when we were there.

The Golden Gate bridge is the iconic one though. It's still cool, I guess. It takes nice pictures.

I took this one from the passenger seat of a car, through a dirty windshield.
You can't get a shot like this one the Bay Bridge.


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