San Francisco

Trip Start Jun 10, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , California
Tuesday, February 3, 2009

This is one place that we both were looking forward to visiting for a long time. It certainly did not disappoint and we barely had time to scratch the surface. After arriving later in the afternoon we wasted no time in heading out to explore. We started by walking down Polk Street. It is full of cafes, spas, and quite a few small neighbourhood style grocery markets. As an added bonus the street ends at the waterfront and Fisherman's Wharf - home to enough seafood restaurants and stands to feed a small country... or the boatload of tourists that flock to the piers. Thankfully it is winter and the crowds seem to be marginally thinner. With all that fresh seafood everywhere we had to sample a little. We tried what everyone else seemed to be eating - Clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. It was pretty good although we would like to meet anyone that can eat the whole thing. After checking out the shops on and around Pier 39 (as well as some amazing breakdancers - see the video), we strolled back to recharge for the next full day.
We started the next morning with a visit to China Town and were actually a little underwhelmed. Although it felt very authentic, it was very "tourist friendly". I guess that has to be expected with so many visitors to the city, but we didn't expect that many trinket/souvenir shops. We did get to see fortune cookies being made which was pretty cool (see video). From there we rounded one corner in China Town to find ourselves in Little Italy. It was a pretty drastic change in a pretty short distance. We found the "City of Lights" bookstore which was famous back in the day for not only selling, but promoting banned books. San Francisco has seen its fair share of political protest and this bookstore was and continues to be a soapbox for free speech. From there we headed down Jack Kerouac Alley in search of Beatniks before a lunch break at the famous Ferry building. With full bellies we boarded our ferry to visit Alcatraz. Originally an army fortress built to help protect and control the Bay, it became famous as the first super-maximum security prison. It was home to the worst of the worst with some notable residents being Al Capone and Robert "The Birdman" Stroud. It was closed in 1963 as it cost too much to operate. It was also home to political protest when from 1969-1971 the island was occupied by the "Indians of all Tribes". Their protest was one of the most influential factors motivating the Government to change their Native Land Rights policy and begin giving back some of the land taken in the past. After 1971 the island remained closed but enjoyed a renewed public interest due to movies such as "Escape from Alcatraz". Today the prison is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country and we thought it was a well run operation. They had a very informative movie and the audioguide tour was given by former inmates and guards - a very nice touch. With enough miles and sites in the books for the day we headed back to catch some of that fabulous Superbowl. Besides the great game it was pretty cool to actually see all of the American commercials, in Canada we only get to see a few of the main ones.
Our last day in the city was spent walking once again. We headed out to visit the Golden Gate Bridge, but we had to walk through the Marina area of town. It is obviously right on the water and each house was uniquely designed. We had our eyes peeled, but we could not find the "Full House" home. After about two hours of walking we finally made it to the bridge. It is huge! It was super windy and took us a good hour to walk over it and then back again (1.7 miles each way!). It was interesting to see the phones stationed along the bridge with "Don't do it" signs above them. They are all patched directly to a crisis and counseling centre... yikes. We ended up walking for about 6 hours so our legs requested the rest of the day off. We were happy to oblige. We honestly could have stayed here for weeks. Not only did we not get to see some of the other popular neighbourhoods such as the Castro and Haight Ashbury, we found this city wonderfully livable. Sure it is a big city, but it feels extremely comfortable and each little part of town has its own community feel to it. We are already looking forward to coming back to explore some more, but for now we are off to the Napa and Sonoma Valleys... darn.

Megan and Kevin
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