San Francisco and Palo Alto, CA

San Francisco is one of Jon’s favorite cities, so we allowed ourselves more time here; from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Cable Car Museum and renting bikes, we really explored the city.

Days 48 – 54
September 19 – September 25, 2014
Miles 6425 – 6559

Our first view of the city. You might say it was a bit foggy

We arrived in San Francisco late in the day and checked into the Nob Hill Hotel. We chose the Nob Hill Hotel because we had heard a lot of good things about the Nob Hill Area. The Nob Hill Hotel’s purple, silver, and mirror lobby has the feel of an Eastern European Club. The hotel also seemed European, both because it was an older building with small rooms outfitted to be modern, as well as their small, steep stairs. The hotel also offers a complimentary wine and cheese happy hour. The Nob Hill location was enjoyable, close to the bus and cable car lines and with lots of restaurant options nearby.

Being our first night in the city we wanted to go out, but weren’t sure where so we started walking towards the tourist destination of Fisherman’s Wharf. On the walk, we walked right past the part of Lombard Street famous for being the most crooked street in the world.

Lombard Street

While walking we decided to buy 7 day Muni bus passes that are good on city buses, light-rail, and the historic cable cars. I knew San Francisco had hills, but I was not expecting the entire city to be filled with steep up and down hills in every direction; walking in San Francisco really gives you a workout. Buying the bus passes turned out to be a great idea and we used them almost everyday.

When we got to Fisherman’s Wharf, we decided we didn’t want to get into the Friday night restaurant crowds so instead we walked around. It was too dark to look for sea lions, but we did stop in the Musee Mecanique. The Musee is an museum/arcade dedicated to antique arcade games. It is free to enter but the games cost a small amount, ranging from a dime to a few quarters. It was a nice place to spend a few minutes looking at some of the crazy old arcade games and hand cranked film strips.

Typical example of the arcade games in Musee Mecanique

After Fisherman’s Wharf we decided to ride the cable cars back towards Nob Hill for dinner. We got in a long line of tourists and had to wait a while to board a cable car. We finally got on, but the car was full so we held onto the outside bars. The cable car ride was fun, but I was surprised at how rickety and out of control the cable cars really seemed to be. (And I was surprised again and again every future ride we took). Not to mention that many cars on the road didn’t know how to drive around the cable cars. For some unknown reason our cable car line broke down and the ride ended a bit early.

We decided to find a restaurant between the end of the cable car line and our hotel, and finally decided on the Nob Hill Cafe. There was a short wait to be seated, so we walked around the block to see Grace Cathedral. The Nob Hill Cafe was a small, but cute, Italian restaurant. I was underwhelmed by the salad we split and my pasta Fedilini alla Cecca, but Jon’s Gnocchi Bolognese was fabulous.

The next day was Saturday, and that means college football! We did a quick google search online and found out that the San Francisco Penn State Alumni meet at a bar called Monaghan’s in the Marina district. We jumped on a bus and made it Monaghan’s early enough to grab two seats at the bar. On the bus I was very impressed with how all of the regulars knew each other and chatted. The man in front of us asked our about PSU t-shirts and told us that San Francisco was a city of villages. The San Francisco alumni president was super nice and came over right away to introduce himself. By the time the first quarter was over, the bar was packed. Monaghan’s doesn’t serve food, just complimentary popcorn, so before halftime Jon ran down the street to Lucca’s Deli and bought us some giant Italian sandwiches.


The Penn State game was turning into a blowout (34-0 at the half) so we decided to go explore more of San Francisco. We walked towards the Mariana District and along the dock for a little bit. We also took a bus to Alamo Square where we viewed the famous painted ladies Victorian houses.

Back at the hotel we decided to get oyster’s for dinner and took another bus to the Ferry Building where we ate at Hog Island Oyster Co. The Ferry Builder was a neat building and a public market. It would have been nice to see earlier in the day when more stores and stalls are open. The Hog Island oysters were very good, but the rest of the menu was small and overpriced.

View from the Ferry Building

Sunday morning we had to switch hotels, so after sleeping in a bit we checked out and moved our car to our next hotel in the Marina District. Then, we took a bus right back to Nob Hill and went to the Cable Car Museum. The Cable Car Museum was a nice surprise. It is small but its not just a museum, but actually the building that houses the equipment that runs all the cable cars in the city. We found it very interesting and read almost every word in the building.

Gears that pull the cable cars

From the museum we walked to Coit Tower. It was $8 to ride to the top of the tower, so we decided not to. Instead we walked around the base looking at the sorta strange murals which depicted occupations of the early days and enjoyed the great views from the outside of the tower. By the time we finished, we were hungry so we headed to Fisherman’s Wharf to find some lunch. Before getting lunch though, we stopped at Pier 39 to watch the sea lions. The sea lions were very fun to watch and I didn’t want to leave. When hunger finally got the best of us we got clam chowder bread bowls from Nick’s and ate them on a bench.

While in Fisherman’s Wharf, someone stuck a clothespin on Jon reading “you are Beautiful” and “pass it on”. Nervous not to be mistaken for a pick-pocket, we stuck it on a lady in line for lunch in front of us.

Looks delicious

Our last stop for the afternoon was to Ghirardelli Square. Ghirardelli Square is a nice mixed use development anchored by the Ghirardelli chocolate factory. We walked through the store but only had the sample they handed out at the door, we also took a break and sat by a firepit outside for while.

After a stop back at our hotel to clean up, we went to Fort Mason to meet our friends Rudy and Chnar for dinner. Rudy and Chnar took a trip much like ours several years ago, so we were very excited to catch up and see what advice and tips they had for us. We heard lots of great stories from them. Dinner was at Green’s, a vegetarian restaurant. The restaurant had a very cool atmosphere in a warehouse outfitted with twisted wood tables and a great view. Dinner was good. Jon really liked his roasted peblino chili and everyone loved the snickerdoodle cookie and lemon ice cream sandwiches.

On Monday, we had decided to rent bikes. We were very lucky, because Monday turned out to be a beautiful day. For the first time since coming to San Francisco the fog was gone and you could see the views. We got bikes in Marina and went straight to the water, but a temporary road closure (seemed like the police were blocking off roads for a motorcade or race) diverted us around to the Palace of Fine Arts.

Finally we got back on our way through Crissy Field and up to the Golden Gate Bridge. After crossing the bridge, we took the harder route and climbed up the Marin Headlands for another photo opportunity with the bridge. From the Marin Headlands it was all downhill until Sausalito. We were surprised to find several restaurants we wanted to try were closed (maybe because it was Monday). We decided to eat at Bocci Bar. Bocci Bar had a nice outdoor deck with a beautiful view, but it was cramped and the tables were inches from each other. We had cod fritters and salad that we both though were overpriced for their small portions and mediocrity. We also had a sausage pizza which was the highlight of our meal, it smelt great and tasted good too although was very small and thin for the price.

We mounted our bikes and worked back up the hill to the Golden Gate Bridge and crossed again. (It seems like most people take the easier option of riding a Ferry from Sausalito back to San Fran instead of riding uphill to the bridge).  In the city we followed the shore and went to Baker Beach. We walked almost the full length of the beach, then got on our bikes again. We road back past Lincoln Park and the Legion of Honor. We also rode through Golden Gate Park. The road through Golden Gate Park is just that, a road through it. It would have been nice to see more of the park, but we were started to get tired, sore, and worried about returning the bikes in time.

After relaxing at the hotel (and even watching some TV which we hardly do), we walked to Pluto’s for dinner. Dinner was actually really good; Jon had a french dip and I had the blue plant salad with steak.

Tuesday we woke up to the sun again, and had no plans for the day. After a lazy morning at the hotel we finally set out to walk around some neighborhoods with no particular goal. First we walked along Fillmore Street and Union Street which are populated with boutique shops and small restaurants. When we got hungry for lunch we stopped at La Boulange, a local chain of french bistro serving salads and sandwiches. From there we decided to catch a bus to Land’s End and walked around to try and view a shipwreck we’d read about.

Land’s End was a short hiking path along a part of the coastal trail. It started at the Cliff House and the ruins of the Sutro Baths. We walked past the shipwreck (which we couldn’t see) to a labyrinth a local artist made out of stone, then we walked back to the trailhead. From there we decided to continue to Golden Gate Park since we hadn’t gotten to see it much during our quick bike ride through the day before. At the park we saw the Dutch Windmill which was surprisingly big. We discussed walking to the bison prairie but decided we were getting tired and would rather see some of the attractions to the north of the park. We caught a bus and walked around past the de Young Museum, Science Museum, and Japanese Tea Garden. We were surprised to find the Japanese Garden had an admission fee so we didn’t enter. (TIP: If you go to the garden from 9am-10am on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday they have free admission). We took another bus back to the hotel to relax below dinner.

Dinner was at Pacific Coast. Yelp calls Pacific Catch a Mexican restaurant, but besides fish tacos the menu is mostly Asian fusion. Jon’s rice bowl with poke was very good and I enjoyed my Hawaiian teriyaki bowl.

It was finally time for us to move on from San Francisco, the next stop was to visit Jon’s cousin Tom who had just moved to the west coast in Palo Alto. We took our time at the hotel then got on the road. We drove about half way and then stopped for lunch at the the Good Bite Cafe which was our first Filipino meal of the trip. The Good Bite Cafe serves Filipino breakfast all day long, so we each got longsilog (sweet sausage) with garlic rice and salads. We really enjoyed the meal, and the service was great bringing us pita and hummus and ending our meal with watermelon even though it wasn’t included in the platters. We also made a quick stop to wash our car which was desperately needed after the construction dust in several national parks.

When we arrived in Palo Alto we decided to see the town. University Street was great and vibrant with tons of shops and even more people out and about. We browsed around for a while, then we met Tom for dinner when he was free from work. For dinner we went to a Gordon Biersch followed by drinks at The Old Pro. I was excited to see Steelers and Pirates pennants hanging in the bar until I noticed that the bar literally has flags and pennants for every professional football team, baseball team, and college in the country. After our drinks we had one final stop which we all had been waiting for, Cream. Cream was a small ice cream shop with fresh baked cookies and you essentially build your own ice cream sandwich. The best surprise was that not only was it good, but the cookies were actually warm when we got them.

Thursday was a parting day for Jon and me; as Jon was flying home to the east coast for his brother’s Bachelor Party for the weekend. We spent most of the day not really doing anything except a bit of laundry and Jon did some packing. When Tom was finished working we went out to dinner at Slide which specializes in sliders and craft beer. Afterward, Jon went to the airport and I drove south to Seaside, CA where I had booked a room on Airbnb.

More San Francisco;

Alcatraz – You might have noticed that we did not mention Alcatraz. That is because when we checked the website for tickets for any of the 4 full days we had in San Francisco, they were already sold out! If you want to visit Alcatraz, plan early!

Pizzeria Delfina – Recommended to us by a fellow on the bus, and very well reviewed on Yelp. We didn’t get a chance to eat here. Likewise we tried to eat at Tony’s Pizza, but the wait was too long for us.

For the Pittsburghers;

Remember Laughing Sal from Kennywood? Musee Mecanique has one too.

Heinz add on a restored cable car in the Cable Car Museum

More Photos;

Fisherman’s Wharf

Selfie… just us and a few ladies

Coit Tower

Lion around


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