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Sunday, April 26, 2015

RV Stops: San Francisco

I love San Francisco.

I grew up in San Jose, just 45 minutes south of "the big city." My Father grew up there, we would visit often; and so my family has strong ties to the city.

I love the hills, the interesting architecture, the cultural neighborhoods, the live excitement at Fisherman's warf and the quiet solitude and beauty found in Golden Gate park. The city offers so much to do, that one day is not nearly enough time to see everything. However, you can get a good taste, if that's all the time you have.

We spent one day of our Spring Break RV trip, introducing our kiddos to their Grandpa Crockett's heritage.

My Dad used to tell us stories of rollerskating down the hills in his neighborhood. He lived on Larkin Street, just a block from the curvy section of Lombard.

This is a very steep section of San Francisco. The only way to stop was to turn quickly into someone's drive and crash into their garage door. As a kid I could see, that most homes there, did not have garages. That left very few options for a stopping emergency. My Dad said he was only hit by a car once. Thankfully he wasn't badly injured.

His father was a butcher and had a store just a block from his home. He was famed in the area for his savory sausage with just the right balance of spices. I would have loved to have seen his old meat market. If only I knew exactly where his old shop was.
We were able to pass by his old house and show our kiddos the window to my father's childhood bedroom. The top window in the gable was where he spent many days looking out over the hustle and bustle of what was going on in the city below.

We then proceeded down the curvy section of Lombard Street  (Pictured in above photo group... bottom a top view from the street as we go down.)

So why is it so curvy?

The road consists of 8 switchbacks, and there are about 250 steps on each side.

The road began as a paved straight road with a 27% grade. It turns out, that was too steep for cars to safely travel. The people living on this section of the street during the 1920's wanted cars but couldn't drive them to their homes. This caused home values on this block to plummet. Pretty silly to think about now, since today Zillow values these units anywhere from 2 to 8 million dollars. Hello!

A man named Carl Henry proposed the idea of a curved street that would improve the accessibility to a 16% grade that cars could maneuver. His was one of many ideas. It is argued that his idea was "borrowed" from an earlier idea from William Barclay Parsons; but in the end, Carl Henry is credited with the brick paved switchbacks that were implemented in 1922.
The famed hydrangea's were planted in the 1950's by one of the street's residents, in order to prevent erosion. The blooming curvy street was well-known in the neighborhood (remember this was my Dad's neighborhood;) but it wasn't until the late 1950's when a photograph was published with the hydrangeas in full bloom that word got out about this unusual street. In 1961, the photo was printed on a postcard. (The 1961 postcard is pictured above...I purchased this one on that it has a hand-written note and that the postmark is from San Jose, the town where I grew up.)

Lombard alone should let you know...that if you are RVing...don't even consider driving your motorhome into San Francisco. You can't. It's not an option. Period. However, if you don't take heed, it would make a great side plot for a National Lampoons Vacation movie--so be sure to take lots of pictures and send them my way. I'd love to see. LOL.

Also, if you are simply heading south, and thinking of driving across the Golden Gate bridge in your RV, you may want to reconsider. There is a brief interruption of highway 101, as the bridge takes you straight into the city and then rejoins 101 on the other side. You can avoid this by taking the Richmond Bridge and go around the East side of the bay on 680 or 880.

Now that these important details are out of the way...

Let's talk about cost. I knew it was expensive...before driving in, but prices have steadily increased over the years, and I was in for some sticker shock. Once you're in the are at it's mercy.

Be prepared to be ripped off.

You'll spend $20 in parking fees for a few hours in China Town.

We walked touristy Grant Street--it was fun for the kids, but we should have walked one block up to Stockton street or over to Columbus Avenue (which is lined with unusual markets) to garner a better cultural experience.

Fair warning, your kids will beg you to buy a cheap wooden sword that breaks about 5 hours later and causes much heartache. There will be less heartache if you say, "No" to begin with.

Here's an idea of what we paid for food...

Restaurant food in China Town:

We had a bite at a Japanese Sushi Bar in China Town. This place was fun for the kids, as it had little boats that float around a "river" with the sushi selections. Plates start at $1.99 for basic cucumber and egg sushi, and go up to $4.99 for fancy varieties with eel. You pick your plates off the boats and when you are finished they add up the cost of your color-coded plates. They also have a menu for made to order food. They gyoza were delicious--should have ordered more as the kids loved those! This was our best food deal of the day for sure! My husband gets points for picking it out.

You'll pay $45 dollars for parking 5 hours near Fisherman's warf.

Just sayin...if you can't stand paying for parking, just to get out and see things...San Francisco may not be your cup of tea. You can opt to ride BART into the city and use San Francisco's extensive and relatively cheap, public transportation system instead.

Price of Street food at Fisherman's Warf--ridiculous!
Pretzel $4.50
Churro $4.50 (save the craving for Costco where they are only $1.)
Hot Dog $6.50
Clam Chowder in a bread  bowl $7.00-$13.00

Restaurant food at Fisherman's Warf--delicious but spendy:
We only got a taste at a few "restaurants"--and both were considered cheap. I'd hate to see the spendy ones.

We had Crepes at the Crepe Cafe at Pier 39. They start at around $8.50 for a more simple Ghirardelli chocolate crepe, and go up to $13.00 for sweet combinations with fruit, or savory varieties with ham and cheese or chicken florentine. These were delicious, but were pricey.

We split two Sundaes at Ghirardelli Square which were $9.00 each. They were good and sweet, and we felt pretty sick after eating those--hmmm....probably because we ate crepes an hour earlier. Note to self...why did we think we could have both??? Oink oink.

Best FREE entertainment...watching the Sea Lions play on the old docks at Pier 39. Yes it's touristy, and it stinks, but fun none the less.
They built a sitting/viewing area for you to watch the sea lions, with a raised platform that kids can stand on to see over the tall people.
Biggest thing we missed...the boat to Alcatraz...we couldn't get tickets.

If you are planning on visiting this historical landmark, you'll need to buy tickets online, at least two weeks in advance. I hear that the headsets are great to make it an interactive experience, with lots of stories, that even kids can understand and enjoy.
More FREE entertainment...

One of the sets of stairs to the upper level at Pier 39. They play like a piano when you go two youngest thought this was fantastic. Kind of felt like the movie "Big," only bigger.
Best entertainment deal...tour the USS Pampanito. It's $25 for a family pass to tour the old submarine. It's a great piece of history packed into a tin can.

My oldest son, and my husband enjoyed it the most. It was kind of funny, because my husband had so much information about the sub, that other tourists started following him around like he was a guide, and asking him questions.

Walking through the sub, and climbing through those "knee-knockers," gave us all a good idea that we don't ever have to live on a submarine. Wow...they stacked those seamen like sardines in there!
Sydney took time for a photo op in front of the submarine. (More free entertainment...try to forget the cost of parking...)
Next to the old submarine, there's an old-timey penny arcade, with a collection of unusual games. We spent plenty of quarters nothing is a penny in the penny arcade.
Anyone want to arm wrestle? Well at the penny arcade, you can challenge the robotic arm in this old fashioned favorite. I love my son's expression as he is impressed with his Dad's skills. Victory for Jonathan! On the other hand (pun intended)... the robotic arm clobbered Talon. 
We did the typical "first-day-in-San-Francisco" itinerary, including both Fisherman's Warf and China Town, and a drive down Lombard street. In addition to these ultra tourist-y options, there are so many other choices that you can go with if you prefer. Here's a great guide book to give you an idea of several walking tours of the city, to dig deeper into San Francisco's culture.

By days end...we were all good and tired (and somewhat broke.)

Will we be back? husband says, "not any time soon."

Don't get me wrong...we had a great day in the big city...I loved it!

It's just that my hubby's pocket book has a permanent hole burnt through it.

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