Tag Archive: San Francisco

Where to Stay in San Francisco?

Where can a frugal traveler stay in ultra-expensive San Francisco? These are friendly, clean, and safe hostels to help you explore this world-class city while not wrecking your budget.

The Adelaide Hostel
The Adelaide is a few blocks west of the centrally located Union Square. The hostel’s name originates from a former owner’s love of his Australian hometown. This is an older building, but the architecture’s warm color palette and modern facilities only compliment the charm. The kitchen and dining areas are clean and there are nights where the hostel prepares meals for guests. In the morning make sure to grab a bowl of complimentary oatmeal and orange juice. A quiet area on the main floor is a great place to read and work on a laptop. The staff is very knowledgeable about local places to eat and go sightseeing. Expect some street noise if the windows are open, but earplugs will take care of most extraneous sounds.
Website: www.adelaidehostel.com

Fort Mason Hostel (Hosteling International Fisherman’s Wharf)
All of the HI hostels in the bay area great places to stay, but Fort Mason takes the cake just because of its proximity to the Marina District, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Ghirardelli Square. The hostel retains the crispness and presentation of building’s military history.  The kitchen is sizeable and the common area includes a pool table. Nearby is a small coffee shop that offers pastries and cookies. A palatial quiet room on the main floor offers a respite for computer work, reading, or just hanging out.  A grocery store (the Marina Safeway) is about half a mile away if you need to resupply. If you want to explore the city, a Cable Car turnaround is a short walk away. The staff is very friendly and helpful and went the extra distance to answer some of my questions. I really appreciate the hostel’s extra activities, which included area hikes led by knowledgeable locals.
Website: www.sfhostels.org/fishermans-wharf

Pacific Tradewinds Hostel
Don’t let the unassuming street entrance adjacent to a Hunan restaurant fool you, the Pacific Tradewinds Hostel is clean, modern, and has a friendly staff. Located near Chinatown, this hostel is centrally located to downtown and North Beach clubs. Be aware, this is a social hostel (aka a party hostel!) and is usually frequented by a younger crowd. The hostel’s main room can quickly become busy and an innocent game of Jenga can turn into a (friendly) beer drinking competition. Bring earplugs as street noise at the night can keep you up. The hostel has a small kitchen with all the amenities. The hostel staff leads tours and clubbing excursions throughout the week.
Website: san-francisco-hostel.com

All of the above mentioned hostels run about $50 a night. Make sure to bring a small travel lock to secure any items in a locker, as well as shower shoes and extra soap. To avoid the crowds in San Francisco, the best time for visiting is mid-October through March.

San Francisco’s Salty Old Waterfront

blog-20120805-img1The visitor center at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park offers visitors a glimpse into a salty past. Most visitors to San Francisco’s northern shore only see a tsunami of stores that sell trinkets and bobbles; however, the curious will find ‘ The Waterfront’ exhibit to offer a rich story.

The Waterfront is not just an exhibit; it is an experience more than 150 years in the making. You can discover a time before European settlement, learn about how the Gold Rush shaped San Francisco, hear voices of sailors in a Barbary Coast saloon, and even see lumber being transported over your head as a ship delivers its cargo. The exhibits also include fishing boats, actual equipment and several hundred artifacts woven throughout the walk. A very realistic looking street fish market impressed my young daughter.




Afterwards, make a short walk across the street to explore the historic sailing ships of the Hyde Street Pier. Visiting the ships will cost you a little, but it is far more valuable than what is sold in most of the surrounding tourist stores. The queen of all the historic ships on display is the Balclutha, you can get a better look with this video-

Learn more: http://www.nps.gov/safr/index.htm

Walking San Francisco’s Barbary Coast Trail Part 1 of 7: The Downtown Area


Walking San Francisco’s Barbary Coast Trail is a fun and active way to explore this historic and beautiful city. The trail is roughly four miles in length and meanders through colorful neighborhoods and districts.

Anyone can follow the sidewalk markers that guides visitors along the entire length, but to really unlock some of the stories use a guidebook. I found, “Walking San Francisco on the Barbary Coast Trail” by Daniel Bacon, an invaluable tool.

I started the trail at the majestic Old United States Mint located at the corner of 5th and Market Street. This “Granite Lady” is reminiscent of an ancient Greek temple, it is a grand and massive stone building with 6 Doric columns gracing the front entrance. The Old Mint was built in 1874 and at one time “held a third of all the gold reserves in the United States, making it the Fort Knox of the West.” Old MintToday, the great doors of the Old Mint are closed, but the Mint is undergoing a renaissance of sorts and may soon reopen as a premier cultural and historic center for the city.

Crossing Market Street was Hallidie Plaza and the cable car turnaround. The Plaza is named after Andrew Smith Hallidie who is considered the father of San Francisco’s Cable Car system. Here a small section of track turns on a circular disk and allows the trolley to return the way it came. Two empty cable cars were queued along the track, an operator allowed one cable car to move forward onto the turnaround, a release switch was thrown and several operators began to physically push the trolley 180 degrees on the track until it stopped. Then the cable car pulled forward a few feet to a boarding area and a group of about twenty passengers climbed aboard. They were off.

Union SquareJust ahead is Union Square, an open area consisting of several acres. On this sunny day, the square was alive with an art fair featuring colorful paintings and etchings. Everyone was friendly and the artists were eager to talk with prospective customers. In just a short time I heard half-a-dozen different languages being spoken by tourists, it just reinforced that San Francisco is a world-class destination for people from all over the world. At the plaza’s perifery was an outdoor café serving coffee and sandwiches. The cafe patrons were enjoying the sun, working on computers, reading or just having a good conversation with friends. Some young kids were playing and jumping off a small ledge into the arms of their parents. Among the visitors was a young man playing a large wooden flute. After a few minutes, he was approached by several young travelers who appeared to be from Europe, he showed them the flute and later showed them several Tai Chi movements. The square was restful and energetic at the same time.

The pleasant setting seemed distant from the controversy of slavery that was passionately debated in this location in the mid-1800s. At that time southern sympathizers were advocating the new State of California secede from the Union and join the southern cause. A Unitarian Minister and charismatic speaker with “extraordinary eloquence and spellbinding oratory” drew large rallies to the square. His speeches are greatly credited for rousing the public and keeping California in the Union. Union Square takes its name from these pro-Union rallies.

Barbary Coast TrailOn the western edge of Union Square a large American flag waves over the doorway of the Westin St. Francis Hotel. The hotel was built 1904 and has been graced by celebrities and the powerful ever since. In 1975 there was a failed assassination attempt of President Ford. There is still a small bullet hole above the hotel’s door.

Dewey MonumentThe centerpiece of the plaza is a large white Corinthian column that rises 97 feet over the square. This is the Dewey Monument; atop the column is the statue of a tall woman holding a raised trident and a wreath, symbolizing the people the monument honors. This monument commemorates both Admiral Dewey’s victory in the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898 during the Spanish and American War and to President McKinley who was killed in office by an assassin in 1901. The woman who modeled for the statue, Alma de Bretteville, has a rags-to-riches story of her own; by being born into poverty and later becoming one of the wealthiest women in the state. Some of her later accomplishment include building the Palace Of the Legion of Honor (a fine art museum in San Francisco) and being instrumental in the creation of the National Maritime Museum at Aquatic Park, which is a destination on the Barbary Coast Trail.

Just east of Union Square is the quiet Maiden Lane.

Maiden LaneToday, Maiden Lane is clean well-lit street with cafes and outdoor seating. However, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the maiden in Maiden Lane referred to the numerous prostitutes who were “naked to the waist hung out of the narrow wooden shanties” in an attempt to entice men inside.

Walking through the now gentrified alley, the sound of Italian Opera was in the air. At the corner of Grant Street a man was standing – his arms outstretched in song. This was the Tenor of Maiden Lane and according to his brochure has performed on the street since 1998. He apparently chose this spot on Maiden Lane because of the acoustics. I listened to his performance for some time. Walking north his voice echosed off the building for several blocks. Listening to such wonderful music was an elegant way to end this section of the Barbary Coast Trail.

Ahead were the ornate Chinatown Gate guarded by two statues, the mythical Chinese lions, called “Foo Dogs.” [Continue with Part 2: “Chinatown”]

Learn more about the Tenor of Maiden Lane:
Reference: “Walking San Francisco on the Barbary Coast Trail” by Daniel Bacon.

A Peek Inside San Francisco’s Ferry Building and Marketplace

SF Ferry BuildingExploring San Francisco can be colorful and a fun experience. But, where should a person start? We decided to start at the beautiful Ferry Building on the waterfront shown in the center of the photo with the spire-like clock tower.

For this trip we traveled on the underground rapid transit system known as BART, to the Embarcadero Station. As we exited our train we walked to the escalator and were carried several stories up onto busy Market Street. Our first view was the dominating iconic 230-foot clock tower located at the end of the street- this was the historic Ferry Building, a center for shopping and the Terminal for traveling by ferryboat to various locations on San Francisco Bay.

Viewing the century old structure I was startled by a loud clang. A historic and beautifully refurbished streetcar, stuffed with riders, clamored down the street. On the sidewalk there was activity and energy: women with shopping bags glided past, well-dressed business folks marched by having conversations via their ear-phones; sightseeing tourists moved slowly and the areas near street vendors became bottlenecks on the sidewalk as they looked at the items for sale. Some of the tourists were being entertained by a person singing on the corner, while others looked curiously at a man making some cool music by using common household items like rubber cans and buckets as percussion instruments.

SF Ferry Building Clock TowerThis artery of shoppers, business people and tourists stopped briefly at a pedestrian crossing. The light changed and allowed this pulse of people to cross the busy Embarcadero street and move toward the Ferry Building at the base of the clock tower.

Inside the building a mass of people moved in multiple directions; some traveled directly through the building to the ferry boats outside, others grabbed a bite to eat, a few greeted friends, while others just enjoyed the experience.

The building was well lit. Above us was the vaulted ceiling that covered the length of this 660-foot long structure. This Grand Nave was a continuous skylight that allowed sunlight to stream into the shopping stalls below.

Many of the stalls were tiny, but they offered a bounty of artisan and locally produced items. An olive oil company offered samples of tasty herb infused oils, a meat company sold delicious slices of salami, baked bread was being made and sold by the armful, and a local pottery shop marketed beautiful pieces of its craft work. Some families enjoyed hot tea in a tea shop while couples and business associates closed deals over enticing glasses of red wine at a wine bar.

A man walked past, he was holding a sandwich of freshly made bread – the ingredients were precariously stacked – almost ready to explode from between the bread halves with his next bite. The sandwich looked delicious and I could only imagine how it tasted. The temptation was strong but the family decided our desire from such a sandwich could be satisfied on the return trip. We had much to see, though for the rest of that day I thought of that sandwich and how good my own sandwich would taste.

blog_20110226_img3Later that afternoon we returned to the Ferry Building we sought out the sandwich maker. Unfortunately, being the end of the day they were sold out. My tummy voiced a deep sounding and disappointed grumble at hearing the news. My daughter, also feeling hungry, tugged at my sleeve and suggested we buy some bread at one store, meat from another and cheese from a vendor. It was a grand idea. All of us scrambled in multiple directions and returned in several minutes, each with our food treasures. We ate not so much a sandwich but a walking picnic as we explored the back of the Ferry Building and enjoyed some great views of the San Francisco Bay and the Bay Bridge.

A couple of times during the week outside the Ferry Building a Farmer’s Market blooms and locals can buy locally grown fresh produce, locally grown meats and a host of other goods – but that is another exploration.

As we walked back to the BART station the afternoon sun had created long shadows over the city. The man who had used the household items as percussion instruments still had onlookers and was still going strong as he drummed to his own beat.

Re-Discovering the California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences is a colorful, exciting and fun place to explore!

The folks at GlyphGuy Backpacks recently re-discovered this wonderful museum located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The museum closed in 2003 for earthquake retrofitting and was redesigned from the ground up. Five years later the California Academy of Sciences is now the greenest museum in the world.

For our visit we each packed a GlyphGuy Coyote backpack with some water, snacks and a light jacket.

The abundance of light is everywhere and cannot be missed as you enter the building. The museum is a single structure, four stories tall with floor to ceiling windows.

RainforestOn the lowest level is the 500,000-gallon aquarium. This is an immersive experience as visitors wind their way through and between various exhibits. Water surrounds you on all sides. You will not get wet unless you choose to visit the touch ‘pool’ which is inhabited by easy to touch starfish and similar creatures.

Moving back to the main floor you can still enjoy the aquarium, only now you see it from above. These large pools are home to colorful reef fish and corals.
Dominating the main floor are two large spherical structures which house the rainforest and planetarium exhibits. Both spheres extend from the ground to four stories overhead.

RainforestThe first sphere is 90 feet in diameter and contains a rainforest! Entering the sphere you step “inside a living 4-story rainforest, where dripping water sets the beat for a symphony of croaking frogs and chirping birds. Peer into one of Borneo’s bat caves, meet chameleons from Madagascar, and climb into the tree-tops of Costa Rica to find free-flying birds and butterflies. Finally,descend in a glass elevator into the Amazonian flooded forest, where an acrylic tunnel allows you to walk beneath the catfish and arapaima that swim overhead.” (Cal Academy Website).

The second sphere is home to the Morrison Planetarium – the world’s largest all-digital planetarium. Not only does the planetarium zoom visitors to distant galaxies in a colorful, full digital presentation it also helps visitors to see our own world from the perspective of an Astronaut. The inaugural planetarium show is the ‘Fragile Planet.’ This show is a treat, and as advertised, really does redefine your sense of ‘home.’

Outside the Planetarium

Across from the planetarium make sure to continue your own explorations by visiting the Naturalist Center. This center is a great resource for both amateur and professional, young and old who wish to learn about the natural world.

As you leave the Naturalist Center observe the building’s ceiling. The ceiling is not flat but contoured. It flows over and around the Rainforest and Planetarium spheres that rise up and touch the ceiling. On the ceiling are multiple portholes that open and close to regulate temperature within the building.
Finally, take a few short steps and go outside, on top of the museum to explore the living roof – 2.5 acres of native species that inhabit the roof of the Academy. Here you can see the other side of the porthole windows and better appreciate their unique beauty.

The Living RoofWhile the new facility reflects 21st century ideals of sustainability and interdependency they have preserved aspects of the old museum that has made it an endearing place to visit for many years. The public’s enthusiasm for the museum is evident by the number of visitors on weekends. If you wish to avoid crowds, visit on a weekday. The experience is worth the price of admission.

Reference: Cal Academy website.