Sunny San Francisco

The last leg of my trip begins early on Monday morning. I borrowed my friend’s bike that she usually uses to bike to work, and set out looking for an adventure. My goal was to bike to the Golden Gate Bridge, but my sister had done it before, and she told me it was terrible because it was all uphill. Anyway, before I start with my story, here’s a quick summary of the path that I took:

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San Francisco is an extremely hilly city, with many steep ups and downs in the center of the neighbourhood, but if you take the long way around rather than try to cut through center, you’ll find that the trek is actually quite flat. There were only one or two areas where it was too steep for me to bike, but it’s just a short 5 or 10 minute walk, and then you’ll be able to keep riding.

My first stop was the Ferry Building. I don’t really know the significance of this place, but inside there is now a farmer’s market, and it there are still ferries operating from this pier. There is lots of food and things to see in this building, but Monday was a particularly beautiful day outside – warm but not too warm with a slight breeze – and I would rather spend my time outdoors than indoors. After a short walk, I moved on.

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Ferry Building from the outside.

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Ferry Building from the inside.

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Ferry Building from the other side.

On the way to the Ferry Building, I also passed by Cupid’s Span. It’s just a random statue of cupid’s arrow. I stopped here for quite a while to take pictures.

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Oh yeah. I was on my own with no tripod, so I had to make do with whatever I could find. It also meant that I spent a ton of time setting up for my pictures in each location. I started at 10 in the morning and made it to the bridge at around 5 PM. From there, I biked all the way back to approximately where I started, taking no stops in between, and arrived at my destination at 6 PM. If you’re serious about the actual ‘bike’, then it doesn’t take much time at all.. but as you bike along this path, you’ll come across all the tourist destinations, and you just naturally want to spend time to do some sightseeing and shopping. Plus, like I said, my pictures take a lot of time too.

I stopped by Sushirito for lunch, which is some gimmick shop that does sushi burritos – literally a sushi roll but in a burrito size. To be honest, it’s not that special. It’s just an oversized sushi roll. But it’s a good gimmick, and it got me attracted enough to try it. They put wasabi paste on the rice by default, which is not my preference. Aside from that, it wasn’t bad.

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As I kept biking along the harbour, I realized how many piers there really are in San Francisco. You only hear about Pier 39, because it’s the one that’s been reformatted into a tourist shopping area; but there are actually so many more piers than that.

Some are abandoned piers that seem to have no use.

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Some are just random piers reconstructed to serve as sightseeing spots.

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Some are homes to other things now, such as the Exploratorium at Pier 15/17 and the World War ships at Pier 45.

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But of course, I only stopped at Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf to take a look around. Pier 39 is exactly what you would expect of a tourist spot. Lots of souvenir stores, restaurants, ice cream places, and some random novelty stores. The restaurants are all seafood themed – mainly crab and lobster.

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My favourite store that I saw was this place called Lefty’s. It’s a store that sells items for left-handed people. Even though I’m not left-handed, it’s a pretty cool store to walk through. You will realize there are so many things in daily life that are different for leftys. Scissors are an obvious one. My cousin is left-handed, and he has a pair of left-handed scissors at home. When I try to use them with my right hand, they feel very uncomfortable, so I know how it must feel to use ‘normal’ scissors with your left hand. Other things they sell include wine/can openers (twisting with your left hand instead of your right hand), pens (they are more fitted for left hands, and most importantly, they don’t smudge… think about the direction you are writing in!), and playing cards (when you try to fan a normal deck with your left hand, you won’t be able to see the numbers!).

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As a novelty item, they also sell these mugs that are ‘righty-proof’… the logo will face you when you hold it with your left hand, and there is also a hole that will cause your beverage to spill if it is held by your right hand!

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It was a beautiful day, and on this side of the bay, it’s not too windy, so I took my drone out for a spin… here’s an aerial view of a portion of Pier 39:

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On the other side, there’s also a bunch of seals just hanging around. They attract quite a lot of attention!

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Pier 39 is very obviously a pier. All the stores are concentrated in that area, almost like an outdoor mall. Fisherman’s Wharf is more like an area… there are stores and restaurants, but they’re spread out all around.

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At Fisherman’s Wharf, I saw In-N-Out Burger. I’ve heard about this chain (obviously – it’s quite famous!), but we don’t have it in Canada, and since it’s the first time I’ve ever walked past one, I decided to give it a try. I ordered a milkshake and fries. It definitely wasn’t bad, but there’s about a billion calories in that meal, and the cheesy fries I saw on the table next to mine looked so much better… instant regret of ordering the wrong item.

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Keep biking on, and you’ll hit a bunch of greenspace. There’s Ghirardelli Square, and a pretty large piece of grass in front of it. This is also where the cable car ends, and you’ll see another cable car turnaround, similar to the famous one at Market and Powell.

I was here on a Monday afternoon, yet I saw a ton of people just lying around and chilling under the warm sun. I love these kind of west coast vibes – relax and enjoy life.

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Ghirardelli Square is a place that I remember from my childhood visit to San Francisco. I distinctly remember driving here at nighttime, with everything already almost closed, but the chocolate store was still open, and we walked in for a look. It was really pretty under the dark sky and evening lights.

I kept biking on, and passed more greenspace. Literally, all just large patches of grass. I was so in awe that I just put down my bike and stopped to take a picture. I don’t know how to explain it. You really have to be there to feel the warm sun and light breeze, and see the light blue sky shining on a freshly green patch of grass for yourself.

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In the middle of one of the grassy patches, there’s this random fitness course with instructions on how to use each piece of equipment. Lots of people were actually training on it too! I stopped to do maybe two pull-ups (because that’s all I can manage), and then I kept on biking.

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The next place of interest is Crissy Field, and the beach out from there. Again, it was another place were I saw lots of people walking their dogs, and just tanning under the sun.. on a Monday afternoon. How do people have so much time?!

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A little further out from here is a small wharf (which you will see labelled as Torpedo Wharf on Google Maps), and I think this is probably the spot with the nicest side views (looking at the entire horizontal span) of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you get any closer, it becomes a top view (looking along the bridge) instead. When you’re east of the bridge, you’re also sheltered from the wind, so I felt it was safe enough to fly my drone (even over the water!). As I mentioned before, the west side (facing the ocean) is much more vicious, and I definitely would not try to fly my tiny drone out on that side).

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Once you’re past this point, there’s an intense uphill trek to get to the altitude of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s not very far, but you might find yourself walking most of the way.

There are two pedestrian walkways on either side of the bridge, and these walkways are open to bikers and pedestrians at different times of the day. I don’t remember which is which, but there’s a sign outlining which side pedestrians must take during certain hours, and which side bikers must take during certain hours.

I finally got to the bridge. It was windy, but there was also a beautiful view on my left. The cars were blazing past me on my right. I was completely overwhelmed and speechless staring at this sight for about half a minute…

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…and then I realized, you know what, this fence isn’t really that high, and this sidewalk is kinda narrow… it’s totally possible to have some freak accident and trip over and fall off! Once that thought hit me, I was terrified. I was already about a quarter of the way across, and I wanted to make it to the other side, but at the same time, I really wanted to just get off this bridge as soon as possible.

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I did my best to calm myself down, and I made myself keep pedaling. I think it took maybe five minutes to get all the way across. Usually, when people bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, they bike all the way to a small town named Sausalito on the other side, and then take the ferry back to one of the piers. However, I had dinner appointments with my friend, I was already cutting it close, and I had no idea what the ferry schedules were like. I knew that if I biked the same route back, I would definitely make it just on time. The only downside was that it meant I would have to go over the bridge again… the same bridge that I was so excited to finally step off.

In the end, that’s what I did. I went back across. I felt the same fear, but it also helped that I didn’t stop in between. As long as you look forward and keep going, you don’t have time to think about anything else.

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I got back just in time to make it for dinner with my friend. She gave me a tour of her work place and we ate there. It was good. But next time, I’ll make it to Sausalito.

On Tuesday, I went back to the same places I already passed by on Monday, but this time I stopped to take a longer walk. Instead of biking, I mainly took Uber/Lyft across the city. First, I stopped by Union Square. This is another place I remember visiting 13 years ago, but this time when I went by, I realize how boring it is… it’s literally just a square in the middle of downtown.

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For lunch, I decided to try Mexican food, because that’s actually one of the famous things in San Francisco. Every website I checked tells me to try any taco or burrito in SF, because it’ll be the best one you’ve ever had. I just checked Google to see what was near me when I got hungry, and ended up at a place called Tacorea. It’s a place that does Mexican food, but owned and operated by Korean-Americans, and so they do Korean/Mexican fusion. I got a burrito and was completely full after eating just half of it. I didn’t even manage to finish the chips! And yes, it was definitely the best burrito I’ve ever had. The beef was juicy and tender. The tortilla wrap was just the right amount of chewy-ness. The ingredients retained heat quite well, so every bite was nice and warm. That was probably my favourite meal in SF!

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I walked to Chinatown from here, and took a look around. As a Chinese, I’m not exactly enticed by Chinatown, but SF’s Chinatown is a famous one because it’s the oldest in North America. I didn’t even walk in any of the stores, but I walked past the iconic gate (which marks Chinatown in almost every city), and went from one end to the other. It spans quite a few blocks!

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Next, I took an Uber to Ghirardelli Square, and this time I actually stepped inside to do some shopping. I walked into all the stores (there are quite a few cute gift stores!), bought some postcards, and took lots of pictures.

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Seeing that I still had some time, I walked back to Fisherman’s Wharf to find a nice cafe and do my writing. I ended up in the Boudin Bakery flagship store. Boudin Bakery is famous for its sourdough. I’ve tried it before, and I thought it just tasted like normal sourdough. The real reason why it’s famous is simply because of it’s history. They’ve been using the same mother dough for 150 years.

(In case you’re not familiar with how sourdough is made, they always save a bit of the dough for next time. Once you add more water and flour, the bacteria grows and spreads throughout the dough, and serves as the leavening agent when you put it in the oven.)

On the upper floor of this building, there is a free museum that introduces the history of Boudin Bakery, and you can also look down to watch them make sourdough in front of your eyes. You will see the vault that contains the mother dough, and lots of industrial baking equipment (such as a stand-up mixer that stands taller than a human being). It’s a pretty cool scene.

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I spent my afternoon here writing my postcards. It took quite a while – definitely over an hour! – but I enjoyed my time.

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I went back to Pier 39 as well, but all I had was an ice cream, and then I took an Uber back to Union Square and headed home.

After dinner, my friend took me to this really cool place called Dave & Busters. This was definitely another highlight of my trip! They do all these arcade games where you win tickets, and you can exchange tickets for prizes. But aside from the games, there’s also a bar and kitchen, so it’s really an arcade for adults.

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What I like most is how there are a ton of popular games that originated from consoles or smartphone apps, but evolved into a jumbo life-size arcade version. Like Angry Birds, for example, where you throw a real ball with a real slingshot at the screen. Of course, I also enjoy the more classic games, such as shooting basketball hoops.

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We stayed here until the place closed at midnight (it’s open later on weekends). So, I literally made the most of my time in SF before hopping on a flight the next morning back to Hong Kong. It was good.

I never realized how far SF is from HK… 15 hours is quite a long time to spend on a plane! But I made it, with quite a few movies and also quite a few hours of rest.

I love San Francisco. It’s relaxing, the weather is nice, and people are super chill. You can definitely see why they say ‘west coast best coast’. I loved New York, too, but in a different way. NYC is huge. It’s bustling, it’s diverse; it’s an overwhelming concrete jungle. I was in awe because, even though I had lived in many large cities (Toronto, Hong Kong, Osaka), nothing is remotely comparable to NYC.

But no, San Francisco is the opposite. I am in awe because of the beautiful views provided by Mother Nature. It’s the lukewarm sun that drowns you in its rays, neutralized by the comfortable sea breeze that complements each other too well. It’s the fact that Silicon Valley is a huge hub for innovation, and you know that there’s a lot of business going on here, yet people can still live as if they are completely stress and worry-free. Perhaps I was also extremely lucky to be met with nice weather on all my days in SF… I’m sure rainy days will feel just as gloomy as the Vancouver rainy days. But I’m also sure that there is no way SF can rain as much as it does in Vancouver.  I can see why my friends like that city so much, and why they say they don’t think they would move back to Vancouver. After living in San Francisco, there’s no way you can turn back from this chill lifestyle.

There’s still a ton of places on my California bucket list that I’ve yet to accomplish, such as making it all the way to Sausalito and making the drive along the coast down to Los Angeles… so, don’t worry: I will be back.

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