San Francisco in Four Days

We recently took a 4-day trip to San Francisco and had an absolutely awesome time. This was our third attempt at going because previous attempts were diverted due to weather. This time we were committed and chose to book flights rather than make the 5-hour drive from where we live in California. Although we’ve been to San Francisco several times over the years, this was the first time we prepared a list of things to see and do, thanks mostly to our obligation in providing useful content on our website. We also chose to go vehicle-less and rely solely on public transportation during our trip to better relate with our budget-minded readers. Additionally, parking a vehicle in San Francisco can be more than the cost of the rental car itself. So we set out with the primary goal of visiting the Japanese Gardens in Golden Gate Park and riding a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. Everything else would be based on whether time permitted.

Our arrival was on Tuesday afternoon. The San Francisco Airport (SFO) was really easy to navigate and we quickly found our prearranged shuttle. Our GO Lorrie’s Shuttle was full which made riding around San Francisco, dropping everyone at their hotels, a tour in itself. We navigated through Union Square and over Knob Hill before arriving at our hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf. Our hotel was the Best Western Tuscan Inn, which ended up being a good choice for its proximity to restaurants, stores and transportation, as well as being two blocks from Fisherman’s Wharf – close enough for convenience and far enough to lose the noise and crowds. A few days later we ran across the Argonaut Hotel at the end of Fisherman’s Wharf. Although a bit pricier than the Tuscan Inn, the Argonaut would be our top choice for stay in the Fisherman’s Wharf region for its location, décor and historical significance being situated in the old Del Monte Cannery, Plant #1 building.

We dined at Scoma’s the first night of our trip. Off the beaten track down an alley next to Castagnola’s, Scoma’s is almost completely hidden from the hustle and bustle of Fisherman’s Wharf. The exterior, with its drab-colored paint and simple-looking building, seemed like a place where the local fisherman would hang out. The reviews we read online kept us moving forward to give it a try. Good thing! It had a more sophisticated interior with dark woods and white-linen table cloths. The service was top-notch and the Italian seafood choices were unforgettable. We found out later that Scoma’s has been around for over 45-years and they get first choice in seafood from the fishing fleet. This is the place that the locals go, from fishermen to businessmen and first dates to anniversaries. Although we had a list of several restaurants to sample, Scoma’s was the only restaurant we returned to twice and worth mentioning in this article.

On day two, we set out for the Japanese Gardens in Golden Gate Park with additional plans to stop at the Painted Ladies, City Hall and the Haas-Lilienthal house. The #47 bus stopped in front of our hotel and took us all the way from Fisherman’s Wharf to City Hall, where we caught the #5 connection to Golden Gate Park. Within a half-hour we were at the park having paid only $2 each. What a deal! Golden Gate Park is huge and we knew we couldn’t visit all of its attractions in a day, so we headed for the Japanese Gardens first with the intent to scope out some of the other attractions for a later visit. The gardens were beautiful with meticulously manicured shrubs, statuary, koi ponds, pagodas and more. We had masubi and unique teas at the Tea House overlooking the garden entrance. Afterwards, we headed over to the California Academy of Sciences where there’s a natural history museum, aquarium, planetarium and rainforest. Unfortunately, we decided to save it for another trip due to the convoy of school buses unloading at the front steps.

We hopped on #5 for a return trip with a few stops planned on the way. Halfway back to City Hall we stopped off at Alamo Square Park for a glimpse of the Painted Ladies. They consist of six similar looking Victorian homes that are the most photographed in the city. The moderately sloped lawn at Alamo Park rises perfectly to reveal the city backdrop behind the Painted Ladies. Many local residents spend time relaxing on the grass as tourists come and go mostly via tour buses. From Alamo Square Park, we decided to walk down Fulton Street to City Hall, which was easily visible in the distance. The neighborhood turned a little less desirable prompting us to stow the cameras from view and pick up the pace a bit. Staying on the bus probably would’ve been the smarter choice for a couple of tourists. Once at City Hall, we broke out the cameras again and traded group photo ops with some German tourists we met out front. City Hall is very picturesque with its Neoclassical dome and columns, adorned with gold leafing. The interior was just as impressive with its grand marble staircase, intricately carved accents and expansive heights. We happened upon a wedding party which seemed an appropriate event for such an architecturally astounding building. After capturing loads of pictures and reenacting the staircase scene from the famous Clint Eastwood movie The Enforcer, we were unfortunately too wiped out to stop at the Haas-Lilienthal House. We hopped aboard the #47 bus in front of City Hall and took it all the way back to the hotel. After taking time to rest a bit and admire the day’s pictures we headed out for a bite to eat at a touristy restaurant and a stroll through Fisherman’s Wharf.

On day three, the plan was to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge and stop at sites along the way. We scoped out a few of the many bike rental businesses situated in Fisherman’s Wharf the night before. We rented a couple of comfort bikes and set out on the 5-mile journey to the bridge. The bikes were in severe disrepair, prompting us to take it easy on hills (a daunting task in San Francisco). It would’ve been nice to have our own bikes with us. The journey from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Golden Gate Bridge was mostly paved bike trail and passed Ghirardelli Square, the Maritime Museum, Fort Mason, Palace of Fine Arts, Golden Gate Promenade and Fort Point. We took what we thought would be a quick stop at the Palace of Fine Arts but ended up spending a great deal of time there taking pictures. The Palace of Fine Arts was built for the 1915 Panama-American Expo and remains today as one of San Francisco’s most impressive architectural highlights. We were glad we stopped here first because the lighting is best for photography in the morning hours.

Near the end of the bike trail is a warming hut offering snacks and clean restrooms. From the warming hut we had the choice of either continuing straight to Fort Point for some terrific photo ops of the bridge, or heading sharply uphill to the southern entrance of the Golden Gate Bridge. We chose both. Fort Point is a large brick fortress that was built during the American Civil War to defend against enemy ships. Most of it is inaccessible without joining a tour but it makes for an interesting foreground to the bridge. Some may remember Fort Point as the location where Jimmy Stewart saves Kim Novak after her failed suicide attempt in the classic Hitchcock movie Vertigo. Just a short backtrack to the warming hut put us back on track for the bridge. After a short steep climb on a scarcely used road, we arrived at the bridge entrance along with the hoards of other people that came by car. Biking across the bridge is a very unique way to experience the Golden Gate. It doesn’t take long to cross but requires a lot of maneuvering, dodging and stopping to avoid pedestrians. You can continue on to Sausalito and catch a one-way ferry boat back to Fisherman’s Wharf, but we decided to u-turn and ride back ourselves. We attempted to ride a dirt trail on the west side of the bridge down to Baker Beach for more unique photos but the trail became too riddled with obstacles for our comfort level. Several interesting WWI-era batteries line the cliff edge. They once housed large cannons and ammunitions but today suffer the destruction of weather and graffiti artists.

After a long day of biking and sightseeing, we returned to the hotel for a well-deserved rest. We perused all of the restaurants we still had on our list but ended up deciding to return to Scoma’s for dinner – it was that good. This was our last night of a successful expedition and we needed a sure thing to celebrate. This time we went for it and split a Crab Cakes appetizer, Lazy Man’s Cioppino and for dessert… house-made Tiramisu with 2 glasses of port wine. Their cioppino isn’t the standard cioppino with less desirable seafood choices like mussels, squid and baby clams. Scoma’s cioppino had hunks of Dungeness Crab, large juicy scallops, impressive-sized clams and prawns to match. Portions were not skimpy, which we learned later that many of their menu items are meant to be shared. The service was top-notch, flavors unbelievable and company even better. On the way back to our hotel we stopped at one of many souvenir shops that can be found throughout the Fisherman’s Wharf region and bought a couple jackets, hat and cooking apron, all with some sort of San Francisco emblem. They were all much less expensive than we could find in any store back home.

Come Friday, it was time to leave. We had breakfast in the café on the corner of our hotel and discussed our departure plan. The plan was to take a Classic Street Car through the Embarcadero and down Market Street to Union Square where we’d catch BART to the airport. By 11:00am we hopped on the Classic Street Car just one block from our hotel, with luggage in tow. The Classic Street Cars are part of the city municipal bus system and only cost $2 – the same as a bus. The Classic Street Car is not to be confused with the Historic Cable Cars that everyone relates with San Francisco. We missed our intended exit of Montgomery Street but got off at the next BART junction of Powell Street. We weaved our way through the tourists and street performers to the escalator heading below street level to the BART station. It took a couple minutes to figure out the ticketing kiosk which was fine because there were so many kiosks that we didn’t hold anyone up. It did however, provide enough time for a beggar to make his plea. Overall, the station felt relatively safe for us unknowing visitors with luggage. After verifying which train was heading to SFO, we were on our way and would be to the airport within a half-hour. Once at the airport, a short trip on SkyTrain planted us at our departing terminal. The entire BART process was quick, easy and affordable.

Upon retrospect, San Francisco is a huge city with many sites and attractions. We knew ahead of time that we wouldn’t be able to see and do everything we would like. On our next trip we plan to stay in Union Square or Knob Hill, dine at Top of the Mark and possibly head north to the Marin Headlands, Sausalito and Tiburon. San Francisco has a rich history from Spanish conquest to the 1849 Gold Rush, the Great Earthquake of 1906 and so much more. Remnants of this survive throughout and thankfully are being preserved for our enjoyment. San Francisco is our favorite California big city for its plethora of attractions, transportation system and wide variety of environments from lush coastal forests to inner-city sprawl. For anyone who has never been to California, the San Francisco region offers a varied taste of all that this state has to offer.

California Revealed is comprised of Californians who have spent a lifetime traveling and exploring California. We can give you local insight on popular destinations, but also let you know about the obscure, less traveled destinations that only locals of this state would know about. This is not the most extensive listing of California destinations but instead, an extensive listing of places and adventures that are sure to please you. Simply put, we want you to have a fantastic, unforgettable time in California.