During her visit, I learned a couple of things about touring the SF Bay area:
- Don't feel obligated to always accompany out-of-town guests. I dropped her off at a few tourist attractions like the Winchester Mystery House. She had a great time, and I got the chance to do some laundry and take a nap. Same thing in San Francisco; while she went to Alcatraz, I explored the ferry building, the financial district, and several other places tourists don't usually want to go. Cut yourself some slack - your guests just might need a break from you, too!
- At Great America, the Six-Flags-style theme park, don't eat the food. It's just not good, and soft drinks alone are $3.86 or something crazy like that. Instead, pay the $15 and spring for preferred parking, and leave an ice chest in the car. The park allows you to exit and re-enter with a hand stamp. If you really need "theme park food," eat your main meal from the car and get a churro as a snack.
- Great America requires you to leave your bags, hats, and glasses (including prescription specs) in little cubbies on most of the rides. Don't get on a roller coaster if you're unwilling to part with your stuff. If you argue, the people in line behind you will either get mad or laugh. We guffawed with great relish at the idiot who made an goon of himself on the Psycho Mouse.
- Do the same thing in San Francisco. Park at the Pier 39 garage, a fairly central location that accepts validation, and leave snacks and water in the car. Some lots don't accept validation, so they end up being much more expensive.
- Get the $11 all-day MUNI pass. You can buy it from the cable car conductor or...somewhere else...check the website. This little slip of paper will become your best friend! It works on the cable cars, the F train, and (I think) the busses. Cable cars are normally $5 a pop one-way, and the F train is $2. The pass saves a little bit of money, and you can't beat the convenience. Also, at the end of the day, that F train, sardine can though it is, is a godsend. It stops frequently along the waterfront and down Market street.
- Don't try to board the cable cars at Ghirardelli Square. You'll wait in line for a really long time. Instead, take the F train way east to the first stop after it turns onto Market and board the cable car there. You'll be able to stop at the coolest entrance to Chinatown, and the conductors are really good about clearly announcing the stop where you have to transfer to the Powell-Hyde line to get back to Gh Square.
- Don't use the bathrooms at Gh Square. Yes, you'll need them after a long cable car ride and ice cream at the chocolate shop! Instead, walk down to Beach street (at the bottom of the square), hang a left, and head to the big white aquatic park building on the north side of the intersection of Beach and Polk (the northwest corner of Ghirardelli Square). It's a museum that's being renovated, but they've opened the lobby, veranda, and restrooms. Temporary exhibits are supposed to come starting in August 2009. The lobby has a fun 1920's mural depicting Atlantis, while the veranda is a nice quiet place to get away from the crowds and enjoy the view of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, the ships in the marina, and the crazy people swimming in the frigid waters. The bathroom is a thing of beauty! It's huge, clean, and (so far) undiscovered. Friday, just after lunchtime, I was the ONLY PERSON THERE! Nobody pushing open a door that barely latches, no little brats peeking through cracks, no nasty TP on the floor, no pregnant women glaring maliciously at you for taking so long...really, you come to appreciate these things! They also have free city maps that are the best I've seen anywhere.
- If you see a guy spray-painting cardstock, stop and watch. The finished products aren't really my style, but he has the most off-the-wall technique (no pun intended...you know...spray paint...on walls...okay, not as funny as I originally thought).
- Don't cuss out the bush guy. If you see him, you'll know what I'm talking about, but I don't want to ruin your experience. Just realize that it's all good fun. Funny story: someone cussed him out, he started returning the barrage - and my little sister, a teenager at the time, stepped in and started chewing him out for using such language when so many families were around. That's my baby sister :) To his credit, he was very polite and apologetic to her.
- Fishermans' Wharf shopping progresses from cheap (west) to nice (east). If you need tokens for random family members or little kids, hit the places just down from Ghirardelli Square. If you want nicer gifts and don't mind paying the price, see Pier 39. If you want the classiest stuff you'll get within 30 yards of the water, see the Ferry Building.
View from the Veranda
at Pier 39
- If you want to drive down Lombard street, don't be stupid like me and take a right onto Lombard from northbound Van Ness. Even my 3-year-old car smelled a bit like burnt rubber after trying to make it up the 45-degree hill. Okay, my party-pooper husband says it's only about 15 degrees, but try telling that to my car! Still, you should use your map or GPS and come at Lombard from northbound Hyde street. You'll still have to contend with some hills and with the cable cars, but it's better than wearing out your e-brake!
Oh, yeah, don't let the California stereotype fool you. Yesterday, you know, in late July, the San Fran high was all of 66 degrees, foggy, and windy. There's a reason why the gift shops are stuffed to the gills with overpriced sweatshirts!
What are your best tourist tips for your city? Is anyone in New Orleans? I'm hoping to go to the CES Fall Forum in November and would love your advice!
Next week, it's back to business as usual. I haven't checked my google reader in a while, and I have several tasks to finish before the rest of my teaching team returns from their various sojourns next week. Wish me luck!