San Francisco is both famous and infamous for it’s fog and haze, however we were extremely fortunate to have picture perfect weather for our one day of sightseeing there on November 12th.
We rented a car from Alamo at the airport for 2 days at only US$66, booked only 30 minutes beforehand via the website carrentalsavers.com. We had ordered a car from Payless but cancelled after we saw unfavorable comments about them on Yelp. We usually go with FireFly (usually for about $20/day) but they were sold out. The service at the Alamo counter was efficient and we were on our way in about 20 minutes.
The hotels in the central city don’t have free car parking and the cheapest would have cost us 15,000/night in Hyatt points so we opted to stay just over the Bay Bridge in Emeryville instead. Hyatt House in Emeryville cost us 8,000/night and it had a large free car park. A bonus for us was that there was an Ikea and Trader Joe’s just 1-2 minutes drive down the road and a Target less than a mile further.
The Bay Bridge has a toll in the direction of San Francisco. Weekdays before 10am it costs $6, and after 10 am it’s $4. On weekends it’s $5. Kate had to concentrate on her driving but crossing the bridge got great views of city and both the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island in the distance.
The priority for my day’s sightseeing was San Francisco’s iconic hilly streets lined with their terraced wooden houses. I’ve wanted to see them since I watched movies like Dirty Harry, and the car chase scene in Bullitt as a child. We drove along the waterfront, passed Fisherman’s Wharf (which we’ve visited previously and found forgettable) and up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower.
Surprisingly there was still parking available at the top at 1015, helped by the fact that parking was limited to 30 minutes and the tower had just opened at 10 am so bus loads of tourists hadn’t arrived yet. It is free to enter the inside to the tower and view the large painted murals, depicting life in California back in the days of 1930’s Great Depression. Fascinating.
There are restrooms both inside and outside the tower. Even from the car park the views of the city and bay are magnificent. I would think that it is worth paying the $8 fee (less for seniors and children) to see the even better views from the top of the tower. Unfortunately our budget did not extend to this.
Next we drove a short distance down the road to Washington Square Park. The park is opposite the gleaming St Peter and Paul Church, and 2 blocks over from Lombard St which is claimed to be the most crooked street in the world and best viewed from the bottom.
Then we moved on to Alamo Square with it’s famous view of the “Painted Ladies”, 7 beautiful Victorian style houses on an inclining street with the backdrop of downtown San Francisco behind them. For the best photo opportunity it is recommended to go there in the mid to late afternoon when the sun is directly in front of them. We went a little earlier at 1 pm and resulting shadows meant my photos were not as good as they would have been a few hours later. The square is a great spot for a picnic on a sunny afternoon.
Lastly we had a drive through Golden Gate Park, a long thin rectangle of gardens, trees and man made lakes. The field with Bison in it was certainly a novelty. To me the park didn’t have the same magical quality at New York’s Central Park but to be fair we didn’t have time to stop and explore the botanical gardens or the Japanese Tea Garden so I should withhold judgement.
We were also out of time to view the Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach which I’d really wanted to do, so these spots will have to wait until our next visit.