What the tour books don’t tell you – San Francisco

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San Francisco – What the tour books don’t tell you – by Lynn Clayton
Four days in this city doesn’t make me an authority, although forty years ago I lived in this beautiful city. Time is a great thing, one forgets so much! I was totally lost yet I recognised many street names. Stockton, Fillmore, Geary, Divisadero, Haight and of course Market Street. I didn’t remember up from down in this hilly city…or East from West! But it still held memories galore. The sun didn’t rise once in four mornings, so that didn’t help with my directional skills either, every morning there was fog, not thick fog but gray skies and blah lighting! And this was midsummer, July in fact. By 2 or 3 pm the sun managed to find a way through the haze and warm us up. No wonder cafes have names like Fog City Cafe.LMC-9675

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Someone is making a killing from selling polar fleeces to half frozen tourists on summer vacation, $12.00 a pop, or two for $21.00 and they were walking out the doors of many shops as we all shivered in our summer clothing. The best twelve dollars I’ve ever spent!
Once over the fact that it was chilly and the two day bus ticket I purchased was for an open air vehicle I set of in my new polar fleece to Union Square to explore the city. I wondered why so many were gathered at the bus area, I soon discovered that there are many bus companies offering many choices , our hotel concierge only mentioned one option; kick backs perhaps?? Anyway I had a two day pass for $50.00. I also used 3-4 taxis at twenty dollars a pop and caught a bus one day to the Golden Gate Park at $2.00 a ride, which lasted 30 minutes so a good deal! We visited the Japanese Tea Gardens but really not worth the entry fee, maybe in the spring when the cherry blossoms are out, but certainly not in July.
The tram cars cost $5.00 for one stop or ten stops and the queues are extremely long on the weekends, so be warned. Even our tour bus turned passengers away on the weekend and the folk then had to wait 30 minutes for the next bus. I think public buses and taxis are better value really, so be weary what you pre buy and try and do some investigations. I spied a bus one morning called Urban Discoveries all decked out with jungle graphics and the passengers wore ‘pith’ helmets and had zebra and tiger print rugs over their knees!

Food…. So many places to choose from… And the locals eat everywhere else!
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Tadich Grill, Johns Grill both have great write ups but really are resting on their laurels. Lori’s diners look cute and have a charm from the fifties era but the food is pretty bad… Canned tuna and lettuce is hardly a meal to remember!
Sears Cafe on Powell Street on the other hand is worthy of its reputation. We didn’t need to queue but often there were queues up the street for breakfast. Short stack pancakes, omelettes (Swedish pancakes very much like our pikelets) were all great value and delicious.
In Union Square is Ruli Cafe…such a good spot to people watch… Great coffee, vino, pastries etc… And no tipping unless you ask for table service. Their Afogato is like our iced coffee and despite being 6 bucks it was soooo good.
Day trips – In summer you need to book at least 3-4 days in advance to get a tour to Alcatraz, so be warned…it is the most popular tour.
Sausalito was fabulous, after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in misty fog we arrived in sunshine and at least 8 degrees warmer. We ate lunch over the water and had the best lobster… And a rose wine.
A gray spotted seal swam past and a super yacht anchored close by. We watched a few ferries come and go and then wandered through many cute boutiques and galleries before catching a ferry back to the city, a short 30 minutes away.
Two Characters I met in Powell Street wearing these outfits. Quote from the internet ”Ask anyone, the twins are just, They walk alike. They talk alike. But most of all, they look and dress exactly alike, and would not have it any other way. Vivian and Marian Brown are always ready to stop and chat, always ready with a pair of matching smiles and wrist-up hand-waves worthy of a pair of queens … whether you find them cute or creepy, they are among the most photographed icons in all of San Francisco, and have developed an almost cult-like following.”

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All the large & famous New York stores are in San Francisco but do check out Gumps founded in 1862, a distinctly San Francisco gift and home ware store, elegant and unique.The Apple store is large and crowded, that tells you something about their popularity. Macys offer visitors 10% off most items if you register at their office and show your passport… Valid for a month. Pier 39 has a shop for left handed people and the best sock shop I’ve ever encountered… unreal. Sephora stocks many cosmetic lines at much better prices than NZ stores so stock up on your mascara etc. Paul Smith is fabulous – men and women’s wear…. Some crazy stuff in there but quite unique. And Nieman Marcus has the beautiful dome ceiling so do poke your head in the door there.
I stayed at the Sir Francis Drake on Powell Street, 20 metres from Saks 5th avenue on the corner of Union Square. The staff were fabulous. The rooms were fabulous with free wi-fi, however don’t plan to jump around in the bathroom. They are tiny! The hotel has been there 100 years so I figured it was earthquake proof…. But there are many hotels nearby and it is such a good location. The restaurant was great and Starbucks were right next door. If you get desperate for coffee! I expected more of the boutique coffee culture one finds in East Village NY but it wasn’t to be.
Overall meals are still very large and I doubt the restaurants generally have ever heard of Jamie Oliver, but at least you don’t go hungry. You may put on a few pounds though!

All the large & famous New York stores are in San Francisco but do check out Gumps founded in 1862, a distinctly San Francisco gift and home ware store, elegant and unique.The Apple store is large and crowded, that tells you something about their popularity. Macys offer visitors 10% off most items if you register at their office and show your passport… Valid for a month. Pier 39 has a shop for left handed people and the best sock shop I’ve ever encountered… unreal. Sephora stocks many cosmetic lines at much better prices than NZ stores so stock up on your mascara etc. Paul Smith is fabulous – men and women’s wear…. Some crazy stuff in there but quite unique. And Nieman Marcus has the beautiful dome ceiling so do poke your head in the door there.
I stayed at the Sir Francis Drake on Powell Street, 20 metres from Saks 5th avenue on the corner of Union Square. The staff were fabulous. The rooms were fabulous with free wi-fi, however don’t plan to jump around in the bathroom. They are tiny! The hotel has been there 100 years so I figured it was earthquake proof…. But there are many hotels nearby and it is such a good location. The restaurant was great and Starbucks were right next door. If you get desperate for coffee! I expected more of the boutique coffee culture one finds in East Village NY but it wasn’t to be.
Overall meals are still very large and I doubt the restaurants generally have ever heard of Jamie Oliver, but at least you don’t go hungry. You may put on a few pounds though!

So in a nutshell try San Fran as your port of entry next time you head stateside and stop off a few days! And as a bonus airport queues are shorter than LAX and the lounge is not so crowded! How nice to sit down with a NZ newspaper and a Cloudy Bay vino after several weeks away from ‘godz-own’

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