The next stop on our tour of California was San Francisco. I was definitely more excited about visiting San Francisco than my husband. He is not a fan of city living. As a family, we are abundantly more comfortable in the wilderness than we are in a big city. We spend a lot of time in the outdoors away from crowds and crime. We had heard that San Francisco has a rampant problem with homelessness and we spotted tent cities on our commute in. It’s my responsibility to navigate. I chose a combination of trains, buses, trollies, and walking. It’s my husband’s responsibility to keep everyone safe and he feels much more in control when he has his own vehicle.
I had a long list of things I wanted to see in San Francisco. But, at the top of the top of my list was Chinatown. I wanted to have an authentic dim sum lunch and look in the shops at all the funky herbs, teas, and mushrooms. I wanted to poke around in the Chinese grocery stores and the gift shops and see what kinds of treasures I could find. Within minutes of arriving in Chinatown, we heard wailing. A homeless man with an obvious emotional disturbance was standing at an ATM screaming and crying. My heart broke for him but Jason guided us in the opposite direction and we ducked into a store nearby. We heard a commotion outside and the ladies working inside the store started shouting in Chinese. I looked out the front window of the store and saw the man overturning tables and throwing things. Fruit and dried mushrooms were strewn along the street. The man was still screaming and crying. We hustled our kids to the back of the store and Jason and I stood in front of them like a barrier. We waited until things quieted down outside and then we left. The poor shopkeepers were cleaning up a terrible mess. This incident did not calm my husband’s nerves about having his family in the city. He was on high alert for a couple hours and I had to convince him and my son that we shouldn’t catch the first train out of town.
I know that a wary man is always in a better mood with a full stomach. So, I suggested we find some lunch.
In Chinatown, the restaurants are mostly tiny. Some, have built hut-like dining areas on the sidewalk, a clever way to give the diners a bit of privacy. There are plywood walls built around the tables.
In other stores, we found lots of fun treats like seaweed snacks, jelly candies, and pocky sticks. We also stopped at the fortune cookie factory to watch the nice ladies folding fortune cookies by hand.
Jason and I are 80s/90s kids and after watching hundreds of Rice-a-Roni commercials during our childhoods, we were ready to ride a trolley. The trolleys are the real “San Francisco treat.” They are zero emission electric cars and are a part of the the Muni system, the inner city transportation fleet. There are two operators on each car. They operate hand brakes to stop the cars at the bottoms of the steep streets. We made friends with our “brake man.” He was so nice. After dropping off the rest of his passengers, he let us stay on and allowed the boys to try out the brakes themselves. Jackson was a natural. He also took some pictures of us on the the trolley car. It was the highlight of the day.
We rode the Trolley to Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf, a touristy area. When we got there we spotted a place called Musee Mecanique. It is kind of a museum mixed with an arcade. There is no admission fee. There’s a mix of antique machines and more modern ones. It was super neat.
Most of the machines only cost 25-50 cents. I even found one to give me a foot massage! This was a fantastic attraction and unlike most places in the city, it was very affordable. If you need assistance, look for the guy on roller skates who looks like he loves his job.
Fisherman’s wharf is known for Ghirardelli chocolate, shopping, and seafood restaurants. But, I was interested in seeing the colony of sea lions that are known to hang out on the docks. I don’t know if we were there the wrong time of year or the wrong time of day, but there was only one sea lion bobbing around in the water and none on the docks.
The park service has some Navy vessels on display here. You can use an annual parks pass to skip the admission fee.
Another neat thing in this part of town is that you can spot Alcatraz. Alcatraz tickets book solid far in advance. So, I was unable to schedule a tour. But, we were still excited to see it from afar.
Next, we hopped on a bus to see the Golden Gate bridge. There are lots of options of things to do around the Golden Gate bridge. There’s Golden gate park where you could spend an entire day. There’s a Japanese Tea garden, horseback riding, a museum, and a small herd of bison! But, we were already trying to pack a week’s worth of sightseeing into one day. So, I opted to skip the park and go to the bridge itself. The bridge is about 2 miles long. You can drive across it or take the bicycle and pedestrian lane. Biking is super popular on the bridge. This viewpoint is great for taking pictures as well. You can see Alcatraz and the cityscape from here.
After our walk on the Golden Gate bridge, we hopped on yet another bus to see the Painted Ladies and the “Full House” house. The painted Ladies are a row of Victorian-style homes on a hill opposite Alamo Square Park. They are pretty in pastels and often called “Postcard Row.”
But wait! None of those are the house from the TV show, Full House. They pan over the Painted Ladies in the opening song. But, where’s the Tanner house? Turns out it’s a couple miles away. Lots of steep hill climbs will take you there. We were already exhausted from our long day. But, I was determined to see the house I watched on television my entire childhood. So, we hoofed it to 1709 Broderick to see it.
I was thrilled to get there and have my picture taken.
After the Full House house, my family was relieved to hear that we could finally head home. We took a train all the way back to the suburbs and crashed. It was a great day!