San Francisco Treat

Published: January 4th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

San Francisco Treat!

My brother, who lives northeast of San Francisco in Benecia, thought it would be a good idea to have my mother and I come visit his family during the Christmas holidays. It sounded like a good idea so I started looking at package deals online. I wanted Dawn to go with me so that meant that we would drive to Dallas to pick up my mother and fly from there to San Francisco.

I looked extensively on for a good deal for the period of December 26 to December 30. The prices on Expedia were a little better than on Priceline. Prices went up and down while I was looking but I happened to catch them while they were down. I booked the Galleria Park Hotel for four nights with airfare on US Airways for Dawn and I for $1,236. My mother was going to stay with my brother so she didn’t need a hotel room. The airfare was $447 for my mother so that meant the hotel for Dawn and I was $342 or $85 per night which for the three and a half star Galleria Park was a great deal. There were some lower airfares but the times were not good. I decided on that hotel not only because the price and the location were great but because it had no bad reviews out of more than eighty. The hotel did not disappoint. Besides being an elegant place to stay they have a nightly wine tasting for free as well as beautiful working fireplace in the lobby and a rooftop park that is connected to the Galleria.

Dawn and I drove to Dallas the morning of December 26. After lunch at my mother’s place the three of us went on to DFW airport for our 5:00pm departure to S.F. Despite booking our seats together we ended up separated on all but the final of the four flights(including connections). I fault US Airways with that as we were not the only ones split up. It was also a surprise to have to pay $15 to check a bag. Another negative was that all drinks and food (even soft drinks) were sold, not provided for free. I chose not to pay $2 for a soft drink. Would I have flown another airline had I know these things up front? I don’t know but I’ll certainly remember these things next time I book a trip.

We switched planes in Las Vegas and, of course, while there we had to try our luck at the slot machines right there at the gate. We didn’t win, but I got my gambling fix taken care of. Upon arrival in San Francisco my brother met us and drove us to our hotel. My mother went on to his house to stay there. By the time we got to the hotel it was 9:15pm so we just had some Chinese food delivered by a nearby place called Fu War’s Restaurant. They were fast and reasonably priced and very good. You can get their menu from the front desk at the Galleria Park Hotel.

Our first full day we planned dinner with my brother and his family at their house in Benecia. So we had most of the day to explore. We didn’t rent a car and there are three good reasons not to rent one in San Francisco. They are very expensive, parking is a hassle, and public transportation is very good and part of the overall experience. So, we asked the concierge about the best deal for public transportation and he told us to get the Muni Passport at the S.F. Visitor Information Center at Powell and Market Streets.

The concierge also told us about Lori’s Diner for breakfast. We had breakfast/brunch there the first two days because it was good but it was a bit pricey for breakfast. We later discovered the Fountain Café in the Galleria which has a vast menu and much better prices, but, hours are limited as the Galleria is pretty much just a businessman’s place to eat lunch. Before we even made it to Lori’s for breakfast we stopped at the Loehmann’s Shoe Store that is right there at the corner of Sutter and Kearny. Dawn needed something more comfortable to walk in. She found a great pair of boots for a great price. That was our first of many purchases contributing to the local economy.

After breakfast we went back to the hotel and dropped off Dawn’s old boots and then headed out to the Visitor’s Center. To get there we walked down Sutter to Stockton and walked through Union Square. San Francisco is as much a shopping destination as a sight seeing destination. All the big name stores are in and around Union Square. During the holidays they have a large skating rink in the middle. From there we walked down Powell which has a cable car line ending at Market Street which is where a lot of people get on it.

The city was packed for the holidays. You wouldn’t have known the country was in the middle of a recession by looking at throngs visiting San Francisco. The sights and sounds were almost overwhelming as we dodged people and tried to take in our surroundings. The weather was quite cool and mostly cloudy that first day but not unbearable.

After wandering around the Powell and Market Street intersection we finally figured out where to buy the Muni Passports. A three day pass was $18; quite a bargain since it includes all public transportation within the city limits including the cable cars and BART, the commuter train system in the bar area.

So after getting our passes we got on an “F” bus and went down to the Embarcadero Center which is a very nice shopping mall with stores and restaurants catering to tourists. It is in the Pier 1 building on the bay so you also get a nice view of the Oakland Bay Bridge. From there we caught BART to Concord across the bay where my brother picked us up and took us to his house in Benecia for a nice dinner with his family. Benecia is a quaint little town on the North Bay. There is a Six Flags Park nearby in Vallejo as well. BART is easy to use and fast enough especially for across the bay trips. It actually goes under the bay.

The next day we slept in and then stopped at the other Loehmann’s store on the other side of the street so Dawn could shop for a warmer coat. She found just the right one again at a great price. There wasn’t anything there for me so we headed over to Banana Republic across the street after another breakfast at Lori’s. At Banana Republic we found a great blazer and shirt for me for my new teaching job at the community college. I got a bargain at a good after-Christmas-Sale price so I was happy.

After dropping off our loot at the hotel we headed toward’s Union Square to use our free vouchers for a double-decker sightseeing bus. As it turns out, these vouchers, which came with our Expedia reservation, were only good enough to get us to the bus tour offices near Fisherman’s Wharf where they tried to sell us their tour. Since we had the Muni passes we didn’t buy. Their office is close to the Cannery, Ghirardelli Square, and Aquatic Park. After taking in those sights and satisfying our sweet tooth at Ben & Jerry’s and Ghirardelli we set off for the Palace of Fine Arts. The weather was great for walking and you can do a lot of that at Fisherman’s Wharf. There are lots of restaurants and shops and, of course, there are seals.

We hopped on the “30” bus which is the only one that goes to the Palace of Fine Arts. It drops you off one long block away. From there you walk past some beautiful homes to the museum. The stately Romanesque architecture is incredible and has had many movies filmed on its grounds but it was closed off for renovation. Still, we got a great view of it from across the pond that is there. We then walked all the way around the museum which is called Exploratoruim, but, did not go in. There are many great picture taking opportunities on the grounds and we did take advantage of that.

After a three block walk south on Baker Street we got on the “28” bus which is the only one that takes you to the Golden Gate Bridge. The bus takes you right up to the gift shop and café. There is a good spot for picture taking and viewing the bridge right there as well. Souvenirs are a bit pricey in the gift shop so we didn’t buy anything there. The café is small but has some good sandwiches so we got one and rested a bit while we ate outside and enjoyed the scenery. There are two “28” buses so be careful when you leave the Bridge that you get on the right one. We wanted to take the other one from there and go to Golden Gate Park and that’s what we did.

Golden Gate Park is very large and there are many things to see such as museums, an arboretum, a conservatory of flowers, and a Japanese Tea Garden. It would take an awful lot of walking to see even half of those things and we were tired and wanting to get back before dark so we just walked around a bit and enjoyed the beauty that is Golden Gate Park.

From the south side of the park we took the “71” bus which goes east along the south side of the park. That actually turned out to be a good way to see some of the rest of it. The bus then goes north along the east side of the park for a bit and then turns east on Haight Street. Haight Street is known for being a center of the “beat” movement of the early sixties and hippiedom during the late sixties. We didn’t stop along Haight Street but it would be worthwhile based upon what I saw. There are lots of sixties era shops and although it is very touristy now it still provides you with a nostalgic glimpse back into a very different time.

The “71” bus took us back to Market Street where we hopped on one of the historic trolleys the city runs. They are restored originals from around the country. The one we rode was from Cincinnati. It took us back to our neighborhood in the Financial District. For dinner we decided to have Fu War’s again but somehow it didn’t seem as good the second time. But then again, we were really hungry when we first arrived.

Our third and final full day there we again lollygagged in the morning and had a late breakfast at the Fountain Café. Dawn wanted to go to Macy’s to shop for some jeans and I wanted to go into Chinatown. The Chinatown Gate is only two short blocks from the Galleria Park Hotel and is on the way to Union Square so we went there first. Again, the weather was great and the sights and sounds, this time of a vastly different culture and community, were almost overwhelming. Be prepared to spend money in Chinatown. It seems they have great bargains on great products some of which are very unique. But, be sure not to buy at the first store you go into. We did that. We bought t-shirts for three for ten dollars. As we left and walked by the next store we saw they had t-shirts for $1.88! Clearly, we didn’t get ripped off but I hate wasting even a few dollars. We bought most of our souvenirs in that first store and are still happy with our purchases though.

A nice surprise in Chinatown was Old St. Mary’s Cathedral. A 154 year old church at Grant and California Streets provided a nice reprieve from the noise and bustle that is San Fancisco. It’s a beautiful church inside and open to the public for respectful viewing and meditation. We went in and looked around at the awesome stained glass windows and beautiful architecture in the vast cathedral space and then sat quietly in the first pew for several minutes and just tried to take in the solemnity and piety that such a place invokes. Next door is the Paulist Center Bookstore which has a large variety of Christian gifts and books.

After we had bought a beautiful scarf for Dawn and gifts for everyone we could think of we decided we needed to get out of Chinatown because we were spending too much money. We walked one block west to Stockton to catch the “9X” bus back to the hotel but missed it and ended up taking the “45” just one long block through the Stockton tunnel which brought us out at Sutter Street and then we walked the three blocks back to the hotel. After taking a rest at the hotel and dropping off our loot once again we headed out for Macy’s in Union Square.

The crowds were incessant in and around Union Square during our whole trip. Other areas such as Golden Gate Park were not so crowded and a nice escape from the frenzied bargain-hunters looking for the best after Christmas deals on earth. Macy’s didn’t have jeans that Dawn liked so we weren’t there long and we headed down Geary Street towards the hotel. Nieman Marcus is at the corner of Geary and Stockton and has a massive Christmas tree in their glass enclosed lobby that was, well, it lived up to the Nieman Marcus image ( or Needless Markup as I like to call it).

We tried to catch the Fountain Café for dinner but it was already closed by 5:45pm and they didn’t have their hours posted on the door so we don’t know when they closed. We headed towards Market Street to find an alternative since we hadn’t gone in that direction hardly at all. We ended up at a little deli that was adequate but I can’t remember the name. It’s surprising how many places close after the businessmen leave town at five o’clock.

While we were eating we overheard talk of a protest in the streets that was blocking all traffic at the intersection of Market and Montgomery. That was just a short block away so we checked it out. It turns out that Senator Diane Feinstein’s office is there so this loud but not unruly crowd wanted to let her know what they thought of Israel’s bombing of the Gaza Strip. Those stuck in their cars seemed to remain remarkably calm even though traffic in all directions, including buses, had been stopped for an hour. Not even the police moved in to clear the mob from sitting in the street. My brother told me that protests are so common that the police have taken a policy of letting them happen and when they’re done the protestors just go home. That’s a refreshing approach to throwing people in jail but I’m sure glad I wasn’t one of those commuters trying to get home.

On our last day we once again lollygagged in the hotel room. We got a small snack from the Fountain Café because we were meeting my brother there for lunch at noon with my mother and then heading to the airport to catch our 3:35pm flight back to Dallas. After having the Fountain Café’ salmon sandwich special we headed to the airport.

We didn’t leave our hearts in San Francisco but we did leave a good portion of our money! As it turns out we have two weddings and a business trip in the San Francisco area for later this year. I will be glad to back and see more.

Additional photos below
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4th January 2009

It feels as if I were there with you! What a descriptive and lively writer you are. You must be a great guy to travel with. It takes a special kind of person to record great memories and then to share them with the world. You are one of a kind...what a lucky girl.
8th January 2009

San Fran!
I like your bridge pictures...

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