San Francisco is a city vibrant with activity. Lots of tourist sights to take in from the well-known, and some fun new things. You can feel energy returning to San Francisco with lots of construction compared to my last visit in 2011. Lots of new commercial buildings are appearing and to appeal to folks wanting to live in the city some are combing residential options too.
Mark Twain said “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”. Conversely, both my trips to the city have been in December and I found it is best looked at with layers. Waterproof footware is good and your collapsible umbrellas are helpful. Good walking shoes and comfortable clothes make it an easy trip to pack for a weekend getaway.
If you’re travelling lightly the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is an easy way to get into the city. From the airport to Union Station it is just 8.75USD/person. But considering where your hotel is from there the short walk may be up hill. From Union Square up to the Fairmont is approximately 10USD taxi ride.
Cable cars are iconic in San Francisco. There are two lines that cross the city otherwise you are using the BART for public transit. While the cable cars are iconic and the “ding ding” of the bell is appealing the rides 7.00/person regardless of age, each time you climb on. If you’re there for a few days you are wise to purchase a visitor passport for 1, 3 or 7 days in a row for 20, 31 or 40USD respectively from January 1, 2016. MUNI City-Wide Transportation pass for unlimited transportation on the Cable Cars and the Streetcars. This is independent of the BART. They are two different transportation systems with two separate fares.
On this trip we decided to use Uber to see what all the conversation and debate is about. Uber is an app based service that connects riders with rides. You create your account and you trips are billed to your credit card. There is no exchange of money with your drivers. At this time when you create an account (https://www.uber.com/promo/) you can get a number of free rides with a generic introductory code. Then you will be given your own code to share with your circle. You and your referral each earn $15 into your respective accounts.
Uber offers Pool, uberx, Select, BlackCar, or SUV options and the fares increase as you move along the fare options. The app allows you to compare the fare estimates to the taxi estimates before you confirm your ride.
Our first trip was after we finished a full day of exploring and stopped at the Buena Vista Café www.thebuenavista.com/home/home.html more on that later. Once we were finished our beverages and ready to go for dinner, utilizing the mobile app an Uberpool ride was confirmed and we were told to expect our ride within 3-5 minutes. You’re told what kind of car to expect and the license plate number. Our driver Franklin was great and called right away to let us know exactly where he was and what corner. I’m not keen on approaching cars and asking for a ride so this call was very much appreciated. He understood that he was providing a service. His Honda Odyssey was immaculately clean and we hopped in and buckled up. Off to collect the next rider(s) as we headed up the hill and a second stop collected one more person. This whole crew was chatty and it was a pleasant experience. Our driver was careful and courteous. Our poolers were also first time riders so perhaps this was why it was such a chatty group. Between the two additional stops it added maybe 5-7 minutes to the trip. We weren’t in a great rush, so it was a great first impression. The taxi for this route was estimated 10-11USD plus tip. Our Uberpool just 4.28USD and no tipping.
Our second trip was that same night. Used the mobile app again to and the ride was on the way. Now this ride wasn’t as successful. The app allows you to see where the car is tracking on the GPS mapping feature. Uber tells you clearly that if you are not connecting with your driver, they will only wait 5 minutes. That’s a 5.00 fee and considered a cancelled without notice ride. Everything seemed good. We were on busy Columbus Street with 4 lanes of traffic. After our experience with Franklin we were curbside and waiting for our ride and looking for Rodelio’s Toyota Prius V. We could see the dot coming along the road on my smartphone. Seemed that he was on the opposite side of the road. Did I mention before it was 4 lanes of traffic? It was mid-block so we weren’t about to jaywalk across the busy street. We had provided the exact address of our restaurant but Rodelio still arrived on the opposite side of the street. However, unlike Franklin, Rodelio did not call us to let us know where he was exactly. Then the dot on the screen started up the road, away from us. Oh, he’s going to turn around the block and turn at the light to come over to this side of the street. Super! Up the side street, turn left, and he’ll turn left at the light and come back down…or maybe he’ll just turn right and continue away from us. Sadly that’s what was done. And that’s when my mobile lost the last bit of power. So we flagged down a cab and rode the 12.00 ride up to the hotel and were billed 5.00 to my Uber Account.
Once we were settled back at the hotel and the phone had recharged some of the power I reached out to Uber support to express our concerns. The speed of a reply was impressive and the solution was agreeable. They listened to my concerns and credited my account 5.00 for my next trip.
For our airport ride as there were two of us and carry on this worked out well. We were the second pool pick up and we made one more stop to pick up a fourth passenger with Saul and his Altima. Again the car was spotlessly clean and Saul called me as soon as he arrived to let us know where he was and we connected and start the trip. The hotels aren’t as keen on seeing Uber and can understand some of their concerns. The airport trip via Uberpool was 24.01USD rather than a car service of 55USD available with our hotel. Had we used the BlackCar service the fare estimate was 68USD, Select Service estimate 59-76USD.
Overall Uber was very easy to use and we enjoyed our experience. We found the Uberpooling option offered us a savings of more than 50% over the traditional taxi service before any tips. Since there is no tipping with Uber the savings are closer to 60-65%.
In a city with more restaurants than there are days of the week, to a population just over 800,000 people there is no shortage of choices. We had dinner at The Stinking Rose. The original Stinking Rose is located on Columbus St and as the name suggests this highly recommended restaurant is all about the garlic. If garlic is not something you enjoy, then make another choice. Even dessert includes a garlic ice cream option.
The service was good and the food was wonderful. As food choices are so subjective, this restaurant was a hit as we both enjoyed our selections and we both like garlic. We started with a garlic baked brie and pesto pizza. Both were yummy. For our main dish we shared the Forty Clove Garlic chicken and it was amazing. Perfectly roasted chicken served with yes, forty cloves of garlic, and an amazing heavy cream based sauce created from the deglazed chicken pan. I’m not a fan of gravy but this sauce was delicious.
We also decided to take a food based tour. So we found Avital Tours (www.avitaltours.com) and signed up for their Mission District Tour for 84USD/person, for 3 hours. Beverage pairings could also be added for just 18USD/person.
This tour was a different way to learn a little more about San Francisco’s oldest neighbourhood, founded in 1776, and have dinner while working off the some of the meal with a few steps at few different venues. Think of a progressive dinner while learning about the Mission District. This area houses the largest concentration of murals in the city and is well worth a visit in the day as well as the evening. The murals depict many topics and subjects important to the area. It is an area of revival and many restaurants will begin their concepts with locations here. Our guide was keen and bubbly. In addition to learning a little more about this working class neighbourhood that is now becoming another hip and desired place to live we stopped at four different restaurants:
Stop 1 at Mission Cheese – a cheese bar where Kate the Cheesemonger walked us through some of the subtle differences of cheese.
Stop 2 found us at Hog & Rocks. The ‘Vodka Pays the Bills” was a delicious craft cocktail that could be my new beverage of choice. A light and refreshing cocktail with pomegranate has me on the mission to replicate this at home.
Stop 3 was over to Tacolicious for our main dish included a beer-and-a-shot braised chicken taco and Baja-style fried pacific cod taco. With double corn tortillas, the flavours were authentically Mexican. While the food was good it is definitely a trendy location popular with the hipsters. In our walk I saw a number of additional taquierrias that are my image of the traditional style. Watch for Tacolicious to appear in the franchise world or at least on the Las Vegas strip…PFChang style franchise for Tacos I suspect.
Stop 4 was at West of Pecos for dessert. Best Churro I’ve ever had as it is made on site and simply melts in your mouth after a quick dip in the chocolate or caramel sauce. Leave the chocolate and give me some more of the caramel please. Yum!!
I would consider using Avital Tours again. Don’t just look at it as dinner, rather dinner and a tour.
What’s a trip to Sanfrancisco without sourdough bread? Boudin Sourgdough prides itself on being the “ORIGINAL SAN FRANCISCO SOURDOUGH FRENCH BREAD” and today still uses the same starter yeast-bacteria culture it developed during the goldrush. No matter where you go Boudin is sure to be nearby.
And there is no shortage of fresh seafood. At Fisherman’s wharf where the fishing boats traditionally come in. You have a wide selection of seafood to enjoy for a quick lunch. Consider a lobster roll or some fresh crab cakes.
Also on this trip we made reservations for a 3 hour tour with City Segway Tours www.CitySewwayTours.com. Neither of us had previous Segway experience so it was a new adventure for us. We were 2 of 7 guests with our guide, Mike. Since it was December Mike told me that this is his slow season he picks up work with the Segway. He was a very good guide. Plenty of briefing and coaching on the Segway, in the office, before we were outside. A short ride over to a parking lot to get comfortable with the machines and the movements and control with a very relaxed but attentive manner. Once Mike was certain everyone was good we were on our way. We were the rookies of the group. The other 5 were from New Zealand and they all had experience. The 20-somethings were keen to open up the machines while mum seemed to be in my league…slow and steady. Mike was great with all of us. Once we were on the road there was one moment when I let the machine get the better of me and I forgot what I was supposed to do to slow down and kept speeding up, but I`m no hero. I called out for a little bit of help please, and Mike was over in a flash and we were back in control. From that point on the ride felt very intuitive to me and I didn`t doubt myself.
The San Francisco Segway Tour highlights included Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, Hyde Street Pier, Spreckels Mansion, the Palace of Fine Arts and the Marina district along with views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz in the 3 hours. And because San Francisco treats segways like bicycles we rode in the bike lanes so we moved off the main roads and were able to take in some of the old Victorian homes better than any hop on hop off bus tour.
Our Guide was well informed and brought some more of the history of San Francisco to life for us at our various stops and viewpoints on the tour.
SFO insider’s tip: Ghirardelli chocolate is not exclusive to their own shop. Almost everywhere you go you can find some of their chocolates. We ended up taking advantage of Macy’s Friends and Family sale where we popped in and ended up saving a third of the price over the factory store.