Our sightseeing tour tickets (valid for two days) helped us get to the Fishermans Wharf in the morning. We visited the Hyde St Pier without getting on any of the boats-museums, then continued the tour across the Golden Gate Bridge. It wasn’t foggy this time, but the sun chose to shine light at an extremely unfavorable angle. It appears that the best time to cross the Golden Gate Bridge is in the afternoon. Armed with this useless information, we went back to the hotel, picked up the car, and headed to the Golden Gate Park. Besides being huge, the park was very busy: it was close to impossible to find a parking spot. We spent a while on the north shore of the Stow Lake looking at the people who were enjoying their time in rented boats. We walked to the Japanese Tea Garden, then took off to see the campus of University of California at Berkeley.
We didn’t have driving directions nor a list of objectives, so I was ready to give up as soon as it got dark. However – mostly because Lida insisted – we eventually found the west entrance. A barrier stopped us after the first roundabout – probably an attempt to cut the access to people like us. We parked on the side of an alley, walked around for a few minutes, and now we can claim that we’ve been to Berkeley. Later in the evening we had dinner with Guanghong (a colleague from grad school), who lives in Fremont with his wife and his two cute little daughters.
On the way out of San Francisco, we drove through Presidio and we stopped after the Golden Gate Bridge for another photo op. We drove on the route 1 along the coast because we heard about its beauty. Unfortunately, it was too slow of a drive and not as spectacular as we expected. We cut through the Nappa Valley to see some of the most famous wineries in the US. Not very spectacular either – maybe because it rained all the time we were in the wine country.
Van Ness Ave seems to be one of the main streets in San Francisco, but walking from the hotel to the shore was not very exciting. It ended in the Aquatic Park, which is a good place to take pictures of Alcatraz prison and Golden Gate Bridge or with them in the background. I wasn’t very impressed with Ghirardelli Square (a shopping center built in a former factory). While eating clam chowder in a bread bowl at Boudin (very good bread, but that was about it), I kept wondering why Fisherman’s Wharf was so famous. In my opinion, taking a cruise is the only good reason to visit it. At this chapter we were not in a very good shape: due to booking problems on the Alcatraz Cruises website, we couldn’t buy in advance tickets to visit the former prison and they were sold out when we got there. We settled for the next good thing and took a Blue Fleet cruise.
Not only it was cold and windy for a cruise, we couldn’t even hear the voice which was supposed to give us more information about what we were seeing. We started from Pier 41 (where the seals supervised our departure) cruised a little beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, turned around the Alcatraz Island (where we envied those who, for just a couple of more dollars, got to also visit the prison) and returned to Pier. The admission to USS Pampanito (a WWII Submarine), and USS Jeremiah O’Brien (which they advertise as the only unaltered operational WWII Ship) was a clear rip off, so we saw them from the outside and skipped the “opportunity” to go onboard. The Musée Mécanique (free admission), located on the same Pier (45) is a good excuse to make money with old mechanical toys and slots.
The Embarcadero is a nice street, with palm trees and lights in the middle. The old Ferry Buiding had the same fate as Ghirardelli: it became a shopping center. Since shopping is not what I would call a favorite activity of mine, I wasn’t very impressed with with this one either. Very close to the Ferry Building there are other three blocks of shopping opportunities: Embarcadero Center. A couple of blocks away is one of the most interesting buildings in terms of architecture: Transamerica Pyramid. From there we didn’t notice anything special on the way to Coit Tower, except for the increasing slopes of the streets. It was really nice to see San Francisco right before the sunset, then watch the city lights fight the night. To put a checkmark next to one more attraction, we returned to the hotel through Union Square. Amazed by the view of a sea of people, we sat down on some stairs staring at them. The tree lightning was celebrated by Macy’s while its employees were on strike in front of the store. Something tells me that the media may have covered the former and payed less attention if at all to the latter.