You know how when you see popular travel destinations in a movie, you get this almost feeling that it only exists on the big screen. That our imaginations almost make it up. That the place is so surreal, that it doesn’t actually exist. Until you see it.
The fog began to dissipate and we exited the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge into the downtown area and at first nothing looked familiar. Suddenly as we followed our GPS through the towering structures certain views became very real.
The streets started to rise and fall as the San Francisco hills interrupted our city drive. Memories of so many movies and shows ran through our minds, particularly when we saw the Cable Cars filled with passengers rise and fall on the side of the street.
The sidewalks were overpopulated and street crossings were overfilled with pedestrians as the lights turned red and vehicles were forced to wait their turn.
We passed Caffe Trieste in what appeared to be an Italian neighborhood as we neared the waterfront area. My mind wandered back to my time in the Marine Corps when I fell in love with lattes in Italy.
We were on a six-month deployment in the Mediterranean Sea. Our only chance to get off our naval vessel was during a port and most of my fellow Marines enjoyed the time away by touring the local establishments that served alcohol. I, however, did not drink alcohol, due to the way I grew up (read all about that in my book, NEVER SETTLED). I wandered around Trieste, Italy touring the local establishments that served coffee. While I had always loved the smell of coffee, most people I knew drank coffee black and the taste never appealed to me. Until, I tried a cappuccino, that is, the real thing right in Italy. I walked from place to place trying different versions of their favorite drinks.
Needless to say, I fell in love with Italian cafes and lattes quickly became my favorite recreational drink. So, as we passed Caffe Trieste in San Francisco, I was transported back to Italy and knew that I must stop and partake! Yet, we had our itinerary, so we continued on to the waterfront area to quickly take in the sights and flavors that we had researched.
On this, our third day of the trip, we were on an expedited journey of San Francisco.
We had five hours.
FIVE HOURS IN SAN FRANCISCO
We drove through the entire Fisherman’s Wharf from Pier 35 to an area near Presidio Heights passing In-N-Out, Boudin Bakery and Ghirardelli Square. We passed more Cable Cars and wanted badly to just stop and jump on, but parking was unclear and we were fearful of being towed without finding a paid spot.
We turned around near an entrance to the Presidio at the Lyon Step Podium, which sounded awfully familiar but we weren’t sure exactly what it was at the time.
As we drove back toward the piers on Lombard Street, we came across and then drove down, “the crookedest street in the world.”
We quickly returned to a parking area near Pier 39 and paid the pricey fee to cover our parking until 5 pm. We set out on foot from there wondering if we should catch a cab or take the bus to expedite our travels with the short amount of time we had. Since we already forked out some good money just for parking we continued on foot.
The sights, smells, sounds and activity of the bay was just incredible. The birds flew overhead waiting for tourists to either drop some goods or offer to provide a free bite or two. The city was abnormally cold, we thought since it was about 60 degrees on this early August day. But, we had been warned it might be. The wind was also brisk since we were so near the water so we were glad we wore layers.
Tourists were everywhere. The streets were packed, the sidewalks more so. We hustled our way through the area searching for In-N-Out because we were hungry and ready to try this west coast burger joint.
When we arrived, the place was PACKED. Lines were so long, but we hoped it would be worth it so we waited. Thankfully they moved quickly and we ordered from the few options provided. We were given a number and quickly used the restrooms while we crossed our fingers for quick service. Once again, we were relieved to get our food quickly.
We didn’t hesitate to eat as we evaluated our food according to our research. Much like Steak-N-Shake in Ohio, I thought. But, more costly, I laughed. Each meal was about ten dollars which seemed like a lot to me, pre-COVID. Very good, but not much better than we already had in Ohio. Yet, we were so glad to fill our bellies and happy to check it off our must-do list.
We continued our walk along Jefferson Street, but crossed over and checked out the waterfront area and retail spaces. Beautiful green space parks lined the area past the retail spots and we followed the trail through the park strewn with people on this now beautiful day that was still cool and slightly windy. We continued out to the end of Municipal Pier getting a crystal clear, direct view of Alcatraz Island which once housed a fort, a military prison and eventually a most famous federal prison that Clint Eastwood once escaped.
Not far from this spot was a gorgeous view of the Golden Gate Bridge. We spotted a path that allowed us to get closer, but it was all so surreal as if we were walking on the set of a movie. I was just waiting for some giant sea creature to jump out of the water and tear down the bridge as it came after us.
We continued our walking tour of the city and followed the path to the bridge. As we did, we passed by Ghirardelli Square again where we voiced our mental note to get some chocolate goodness on the way back. We traversed along the edge of the Presidio of San Francisco to Fort Point National Historic Site to get up close and personal photographs of us with the remarkable and legendary bridge.
We then followed the path up toward the parking area immediately preceding the automobile entrance across the bridge. We debated how much time we might have to walk across it and finally decided to at least walk a portion of it. The wind was strong and it was still very cool so we only walked about 100 yards and turned around after taking the obligatory photos on the bridge.
We decided to take a city bus back toward Ghirardelli Square due to the short time we had left and were thankful we did since it was further than we remembered walking. We were ready for a treat! As you might imagine the lines were long in this area as well, but there were so many spots to explore all of the chocolatey goodness available. We tested sample after sample before deciding on a chocolate shake to share.
We quickly headed back toward the piers, knowing our time was running short. We needed to grab dinner before we hit the road again. But, one goal was still not met. We needed to find our souvenir cup from Starbucks! That was my favorite coffee place at the time since it was the closest to my Italian coffee roots that I could find and Caffe Trieste was now too far away. And our collection of souvenir mugs from Starbucks was just beginning to grow so we could not miss this opportunity.
We found a Starbucks, which wasn’t too hard since they seem to be everywhere in most tourist destinations but we decided to get a souvenir water bottle instead. We quickly traveled back to the pier area and began to wander around quickly trying to decide what to eat for dinner. After some debate, we decided we just needed to make a decision and we stopped at Boudin Bakery.
Though the lines also looked very long here, we were convinced that was for a very good reason. Thankfully they also moved quickly as we were able to order and taste the incredible sourdough bread bowl filled with clam chowder! We were now stuffed but forced our feet back to the car to hit the road. We knew we needed to reach our campsite in the Redwood National Park for bedtime.
Heidi was also emphatic about finding Palmier cookies that we had researched at Miette Patissiere & Confisierie so we quickly added them to our GPS when we reached the car and raced through the city before they closed so we could hit the highway and return to our scheduled itinerary. We barely reached them before they closed then we hit the highway, hopeful to reach our destination before dark.
This was also our opportunity to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge which was as momentous as the entire day. Just thinking about the humongous structure and the enormous amount of work and money it took to erect it back in the 1930s. The sky was clear blue and the fog was mostly gone. Our hearts were just a little fluttering and we were overwhelmed with such an expeditious tour of this iconic city.
Traffic was busy, but we moved as quickly as it would allow. Our eyes were seeking tall trees and we wondered if we would see them before dark.
Unfortunately we didn’t and darkness seemed to arrive quickly as we raced up the highway to our campsite. We arrived about ten o’clock and finding our location was relatively easy. We did the after hours check in and drove around in the dark to find our specific site. We could tell we had reached the forest, with deep greens in the dark being illuminated in bits by our headlights.
We found our site, grabbed our tent for the first time on the trip out of the trunk and set it up. We snagged our blowup mattress, sleeping bags, pillows and rested our weary heads and eyes.
What happened the next morning could only be explained as a trip to Jurassic Park… stay tuned until next week to find out why.
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Shawn’s wrote a book about his life growing up on the move titled—NEVER SETTLED: a memoir of a boy on the road to manhood