It turns out that the shorter the itinerary, the worse I would be to have as a travel companion.
That’s what I gleaned from the 48 hours I spent — as a party of one, mind you — in San Francisco at the end of May. After all, I did run on the Golden Gate Bridge, watch a soccer game, eat a sandwich named after a SportsCenter anchor, watch a baseball game, and attend a concert — and that was just my last day in San Francisco.
Whew. I’ll slow down a little and start from the beginning.
Upon landing at San Francisco International Airport at midnight on a Friday, I was too wired to fall asleep at my lodging for the first night in San Francisco, the terminal that my JetBlue plane landed in. That was the lone downside of sleeping through the cross-country flight from JFK to SFO: staying awake and browsing the internet on my phone until I fell asleep on a chair at 2 am, then waking up 2.5 hours later because I already slept five hours on the flight.
Some time around 6 am, I boarded the BART Commuter Rail for downtown San Francisco. After dropping off my backpack at the hotel, I made my first mistake of the trip an hour later. I decided that I would walk two miles from the hotel to the Painted Ladies, the famed homes you saw for the first time during the opening montage for Full House.
Two miles is a piece of cake to walk in New York, so why not get around that way in San Francisco. In my rush to get going, I failed to account for the topography in San Francisco, so that inclines I ran into made the two mile walk feel like four miles. (A detour to a Safeway to buy a drink kept the jaunt on the comfortable side.) I planned to sit in the Alamo Square Park across from the Painted Ladies, and recreate the Full House view of the Painted Ladies, but the entire green space was closed off for construction. So I had to settle for hogging up a street parking space for this portrait of the famous homes.
I smarted up and took a bus downtown for the next touristy task on hand: riding the famous San Francisco cable car. It turns out that riding the trolley is like catching the subway during the evening rush hour.
The operators of the cable car cram in as many people as possible at the Market Street terminal. You’re crushed like sardines if you end up like me, standing in the aisle, flanked by the folks who grabbed the seats on the sides of the cable car and up against fellow standers to your front and back. The folks seated and standing up front with the operator of the trolley had a little more leg room, but if you’re lucky enough to get something in the front, you might as well go all-in and hang on to a column on the edge of the trolley.
The ride itself felt like a Disney experience. The car rattled as it drove forward and the hilly terrain caused me to hang on to dear life as the trolley plunged downward when we hit a dip in the road. Riding the trolley is a fun, if pricey experience — the $7.00 lopped off a third of the $20.00 I invested in a Clipper card — but if you’re claustrophobic or get motion sickness, you’re better off staying away from the trolley.
The trolley stopped just outside Fisherman’s Wharf, a pretty tourist trap by the sea. A coworker told me that San Francisco is the home of sourdough bread, so I hung out at the Boudin Bakery. The presentation of the bread here is amusing. Sourdough bread is available in the shape of a simple circle (the wheel), a gator (Go Gators!), a crab (hello, Maryland!), a teddy bear (your kids will never let you eat that), and a turtle (soft-shelled), a heart (the new Straw Man), and the San Francisco Giants logo (psh, pandering). They’d make great centerpieces for a fancy dinner with family and friends.
The sourdough bread is better here than anywhere else I’ve had it, because the bread is soft all over. But I made the mistake of ordering an entire wheel of sourdough and trying to eat it with a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich held together by — what else? — sourdough bread. It took me an hour to finish everything and throw away any opportunity I had of getting an official endorsement by the Atkins Diet organization.
Guilty over all the bread I ate for brunch, I walked from Fisherman’s Wharf and up the massive hill — pausing twice for a few minutes each to catch my breath — to Lombard Street, the famed crooked road of the city. The red-bricked road is open to motor vehicles only, but there are stairs for pedestrians that flank the corkscrews of the road. I don’t know why anyone would own a home on that road because the crowds Lombard Street attracts are huge, but it’s a neat little diversion in the city. My only wish was that I could have skipped the stairs and ran up and down the entire stretch on the main road itself.
I walked back down the steep hill to Ghirardelli Square to go to the original Ghirardelli ice cream shop, despite the sourdough still weighing me down. For my belated dessert, I indulged in the Crissy Field — the Cookie Bits sundae consisting of a scoop of vanilla ice cream and two scoops of cookies and cream ice cream topped off with whipped cream, chunks of chocolate chip cookies, hot fudge, and Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate Caramel Minis. It was so good and so sweet and so rich and so filling — I barely finished the scoops of ice cream before they melted and the chocolate caramel minis, but the second half of chocolate chip cookie chunks defeated me. When I take my next trip to Orlando, I’m going to the Ghirardelli at Disney Springs, ordering the Crissy Field, and finishing everything this time around.
Bloated, I walked to the nearest bus stop and waited alongside a fellow 20-something and her mother visiting from Chicago, so we ended up talking sports and food in the Windy City until their bus arrived. (I could have done without the food talk for once.) After 20 minutes of waiting and a 20 minute ride west, I arrived at one of the most beautiful sites in the country: the Golden Gate Bridge.
I spent 1.5 hours staring at the bridge and the vista surrounding it, savoring every minute of that beautiful view and the fresh air. This redeemed the first time I saw the Golden Gate Bridge a couple years ago — through the window of a bus for about two minutes, because I needed to stay on that bus and get back to SFO before the end of my 3.5 hour layover.
The weather cooperated with stare down against the red-orange Golden Gate Bridge: clear sky, sunny, no fog. The ideal conditions made the structure and its surroundings look like they were ripped straight from a painting. It’s a testament to the engineers and construction crew who designed and built the bridge to blend in seamlessly with the mountains and Pacific Ocean that share the space.
After I had my fill, I took a bus back downtown, walked to my hotel, checked-in, and went to sleep an hour later.
It was 7 pm when I turned in for the night.
I went to bed at dinner time for normal human beings so I could wake up at the ungodly time of 4:30 am to catch a bus to the Golden Gate Bridge. An hour later, I was at the bridge for a sunrise run at the historic landmark, an item on the bucket list I can check off. The temperature was in the comfortable 50s, but strong winds made it feel about 10 degrees cooler as I shivered through my pre-run stretches.
Running the bridge was way more fun than standing around and just looking at the bridge. My arrival at dawn meant I basically had the whole pedestrian path on the bridge to myself during the run. I’d run; stop to take pictures of the bridge, the ocean, the mountains, or Alcatraz; continue running; stop to take more pictures of the landscape and bridge. After the second stop, I forced myself to continue uninterrupted into the Marin County side of the bridge.
The span of the bridge is 1.7 miles, so a round trip between the San Francisco end and the Marin County end equates to a 5K and change. I couldn’t have asked for a better run: just me, the sunrise, the mountains, the ocean, and the wind. Those 30-ish minutes were bliss with Earth.
The rest of the day went up and down after that. I went to the Pig and Whistle with about 50 other Crystal Palace supporters to watch our club lose the FA Cup Final in heartbreaking fashion in extra time. The loss still stings, but the friendships I made there sort of make up for it.
I then went to Ike’s Place to try ESPN SportsCenter anchor Jaymee Sire’s “Jaymee Sirewich,” the best chicken sandwich I’ve ever had. The fried chicken is topped with a mustard-based BBQ sauce, lettuce, and tomatoes, all of which is sandwiched within a sourdough (of course) roll. The wait for the sandwich was about 20 minutes and it’s messy to eat, but it was worth the wait and the napkin shortage I incurred.
Afterward, I made my way to AT&T Park to watch my Cubs play against the San Francisco Giants. Outside of Wrigley Field, AT&T Park is the most beautiful baseball stadium I’ve visited — the San Francisco Bay is the perfect backdrop for the retro-classic design of the ballpark, like what the Thames is to Fulham’s Craven Cottage. I’m glad I enjoyed the sights and sounds of AT&T park, because the Cubs joined Palace in the defeated circle after suffering a 5-3 loss to the Giants. The Cubs scattered 10 hits, but couldn’t execute the timely hits to drive home runners in scoring position, while starter Jon Lester gave up all five runs and got pulled before the end of the third inning.
But my last day in the Bay Area ended on a high note at The Social Hall, where I watched my favorite band Idlewild perform its first West Coast show in a decade. After waiting 10 years for the band to return to the United States on tour, the Scottish band’s stop in San Francisco marked the third time I attended a concert of theirs in a seven month span. (I would make it four Idlewild concert dates in seven months a couple days later when I flew down to Los Angeles to watch the band perform at the Sunset Strip’s Roxy Theatre.)
The show ended at midnight and I made it to my hotel shortly before 1 am. After cleaning and packing, I fell asleep at 2 am. My phone alarm went off at 3:30 am—time to check-out. I had a 6 am flight to Los Angeles to catch.
And that’s how I ended my 48 hours in San Francisco the same way I started it: exhausted.