Our road of choice to San Francisco was the classic California Highway 1. This is the road to take if you are not in a hurry. Along the stretch north of San Francisco the road at its best is a two lane country road passing through every town, village and hamlet. At its worst the twists, turns and sheer cliff drops to the sea rival the road to Hana. Plan to make about 25-35 miles an hour. But each of those hours can be a wonder. Our first unplanned stop was Hog Island.
Kelly and I are known to stop most anywhere with a hand written sign declaring fresh seafood. The day prior it was “live crab” where we battled the wind and rain down a dock in Bodega Bay to buy live Dungeness for dinner. When we came upon a sign for fresh Oysters at Hog Island we thought an unplanned stop was a great idea as it wasn’t even raining. Being in the middle of nowhere we were a little surprised when the muddy parking lot had valet parking.
We were even more taken aback when the valet and hostess both asked “do you have a reservation”. A reservation for what? We are in a muddy parking lot next to an oyster farm. The wind is blowing, the temperature is in the 40s and the hostess is wearing rubber boots and a down parka. Our lack of a reservation proved not to be a problem and she led us past the salt water pens to our lovely table overlooking Tomales Bay. Our choice of tables was a picnic table under a lean-to or a wine barrel where we could stand in yet another muddy lot. We chose the open-air wine barrel with its superior view of the bay. Not glamourous, but the food was fantastic. We were forced to move to a picnic table when the rain returned. Lunch went way over budget, $3 an oyster plus drinks, tax and tip adds up. The better option for those in the know is to reserve an outside picnic table where you pay $5 a person for the table and use of a BBQ. You can then bring in your own beer, wine, bread etc. and then buy oysters for $1 each and shuck them yourself. If you find yourself near Hog Island, we highly recommend a stop. And don’t worry about the budget. Keep in mind, our budget is a goal that allows us to make conscious decisions about our spending. If budget were our only focus we would not go anywhere or do anything. We know there will be $300 days and we will need several $50 days to offset them. But the budget should never force us to pass by a hand written Oyster sign or the opportunity to share a great meal while standing in the mud next to a wine barrel enjoying a water view as a storm approaches.
After the adventure at Hog Island we continued down Highway 1 and made a proper entrance into San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge. Our accommodations at Worldmark San Francisco were great. A basic refurbished hotel room located in the heart of downtown, walking distance to everything. San Francisco has always been one our favorite cities in the world and remains so. Having visited several times over the years we find ourselves returning to old favorites. Sometimes those favorites shine and other times we find they should remain a fond memory. This is especially true when you factor in the budget in this very expensive city. We constantly found ourselves asking “was dinner really worth $150”?
The lesson learned is to spend your food dollars wisely in SFO. We love the nostalgia and history of the Tadich grill which has been there since 1849, but we concluded the food and atmosphere are not worth the price. We felt similarly about our beloved North Beach Restaurant. But $10.50 for an Irish coffee at the Buena Vista is worth every penny after a cold windy walk around town.
We walked all over the city but with only two full days we barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer. On day one we took on the hills over our six-mile trek. Down through Chinatown and North Beach then up to Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill.
We almost skipped the $9 elevator ride to the top but are glad we didn’t. The views are truly amazing. From Telegraph Hill we made our way down the famous Filbert Street steps to the waterfront. The steps and gardens are beautiful. It is also fun to check out the homes and condos along the steps where for $2 million dollars you can own a lovely home with no parking, and the only access is up or down the approximately 600 steps.
From the steps we walked along the waterfront and Fisherman’s Wharf, then stopped in at the Buena Vista for a much needed Irish Coffee. We then tackled the steep uphill of Hyde street then down the twists and turns of Lombard and back to the Worldmark completing our 6 mile loop. We were so tired we ordered chinese takeout and watched a rather lackluster Grammy awards show.
The next morning we were out again taking on more miles but fewer hills and steps. A short Uber ride to the Lyon street entrance of the Presideo saved us a two mile walk. We then trekked through the decommissioned Army base which is now an a 1500 acre park in the middle of the city. We wandered through officer’s row, the parade field, and the stables where they once kept 2000 horses and mules. Then past the National Cemetery on our way to the Golden Gate bridge.
We made our way out to the mid-point of the bridge for the views of the city and the bay then down to Fort Point which sits below the bridge. From there we walked along the shore and the Golden Gate promenade to the Marina district where we stopped for a quick lunch at Pacific Catch. Over lunch we debated whether to take Uber back to our room, or trek another mile to the Buena Vista for another Irish Coffee followed by a cable car ride home.
Uber would have been much better for the budget as two Irish coffees and two cable car tickets would set us back $35, but the Irish coffee won out. Adding in our walk to North Beach for dinner we logged 11 miles on the day.
The next day as we made our way out of the city we drove through Golden Gate park realizing how much of the city we had yet to explore. Maybe next time, we are off to Salinas, home of Steinbeck and possibly Bobby McGee.
If you like the photos and want to see more check out our new Destination Photos tab on the top menu.