Natalie and I were reminiscing on some of our recent adventures and she mentioned it had been a year since our visit to Yosemite and San Francisco. Though I try to keep most of our articles focused on Ohio adventures, I had promised to bring you a bit of our trip to the West Coast.
Ohio is full of fun and adventure and for the most part, your travels here are fairly affordable. Traveling around this beautiful country and beyond comes with a little steeper price tag. We have been fortunate over the past few years to have some grand adventures. This comes mostly due to very carefully watching for travel deals and using our credit card points.
The Value of Taking Short Trips
One of the reasons we can afford to take these adventures is that we keep them short. We get in, see as much as we can, then get out again.
The girls all have their own lives as do I and we’re all pretty busy. Natalie and Amanda are both undergrad at two separate universities. Amanda plays volleyball for her school and Natalie is on the varsity rowing team at hers. Marina is a high school history teacher and working on her master’s in history. I have my own work schedule and of course my dog, Pumpkin, to keep me busy.
I would say that if you stay in a place for a week or even two weeks, you’re barely scratching the surface. You get a glimpse of life in that place, but still don’t know what it would be like to live there. So we find a hole in our schedules, maybe three or four days, and make the most of it. It’s exhausting but a great experience to share with the girls.
Our Short Trip to San Francisco
Natalie took the lead in planning an entire trip: hotel reservation, flights, everything. And, for the most part, she made excellent choices. The hotel, which was located near the airport, was the exception. She felt much worse about it than I did, since she made the plans. I had no complaints, however, especially since she paid for the accommodations.
We were a little concerned as soon as we pulled in. The parking lot and area in general was giving a combination airport and rundown industrial vibe. Check in was not much better as they handed us a zip loc baggie of small shampoos and lotions for our stay. The room wasn’t much better, but it was clean and that was enough.
I assured her it was perfectly fine and that we weren’t spending much time at the hotel anyway. And looking back, I have such fond memories of that little dumpy hotel. And it served just fine as a home base for our journey.
We started our first full day in California with a 2:30 wake up time; we wanted to get on the road by 3. Yosemite is one of our national parks that is subject to overcrowding and we had been told the earlier the better. Our goal was to hit the front gate at 7 a.m.
Most of the drive to Yosemite is uneventful. The last section, however, is on twisty mountain roads with sharp drop offs. It was a little intimidating, to be quite honest.
I’ve included the entire Yosemite leg of our trip in a separate article, one that I wrote last year just after the trip. I can’t say enough about the park. While I was grateful for the day we had, I could easily spend a month there. It’s beautiful, inspirational.
San Francisco Chinatown
I grew up in rural Ohio, with Columbus the nearest city. Columbus doesn’t really lend itself to the small ethnic neighborhoods you see in many US cities. We have German Village and there are some other pockets like that within the city, but it’s not quite the same.
I was really anxious to go to Chinatown on our short trip to San Francisco and we made it one of the priorities for our trip. According to the area website, this is both the largest and oldest China Town outside of Asia.
We spent a good bit of time just wandering around, taking in all the sites and bumping into other tourists just like us. One of my favorite experiences was eating at one of the small dim sum restaurants on the street. I don’t know if it was authentic, but I do know that it was delicious and such a fun experience trying the different foods while people watching from our tablet on the sidewalk.
After eating we headed into a small grocery. It was so interesting shopping the different products and flavors, items that were so different to our usual grocery stores at home.
Lastly we visited the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. The shop is very small and there was a line to get inside, but you can watch as fortune cookies are made. And, you can purchase the cookies in different flavors, but be careful as they may be cookie crumbs by the time you get them home!
I was surprised to learn that there are several different stories about the origins of the fortune cookie, two of which indicate they were invented right here in the United States, in Los Angeles actually. My favorite version of the story has a local baker inserting papers with encouraging words in the cookies and handing them out to the homeless.
The Golden Gate Bridge
The true star of the show in San Francisco is the Bridge. It’s beautiful from every angle, so we had to check it out from three different spots.
Baker Beach was our first stop for a view of the Bridge. Parking was easy and it was a short walk to the beach. We were there fairly early, so the beach wasn’t crowded. We walked a bit down the beach and were in awe of the view.
In order to get to our next vantage point, we had to actually cross the Bridge. We were a little nervous, was there a toll, was there not. I’m not sure, but we didn’t pay anything and the rental company never sent us a bill.
Battery Spencer is on the Marin County side of the bridge. There is a tiny parking lot and most people park alongside the road. Plenty of signs warn to secure your personal items as “smash and grabs” are a problem in the area.
There was a bit of a hike up the hill, but it was on a sidewalk and not at all hazardous. The view from the top was certainly worth the walk.
Lastly, we came back to Fort Point at the end of the day. Fort Point is at the base of the bridge and provides a unique angle. We were really glad to have gone back to see the Bridge at sunset.
Streetcars: A San Francisco Treat
I know, I know this one was a bit too touristy. But how could we go all the way to San Francisco and not reside the iconic streetcars?
We waited about a half hour for our turn to ride. Our streetcar took us all the way up Market Street, to the top of the hill.
There, our streetcar promptly broke down. It was out of service and we were stuck. At first, this was exciting as we were able to pose for as many pictures as we liked: sitting on the streetcar, hanging off the side, peering off the back. But soon, the novelty wore off and we sunk down in our seats, waiting for the next streetcar to rescue us.
Pier 39 – Fisherman’s Wharf
Pier 39 is a shopping and restaurant destination built on a pier at the edge of the Fisherman’s Wharf district. It’s very touristy and very similar to the concept of Chicago’s Navy Pier.
My first thoughts have to be on the parking situation. We parked at a surface lot a short walk from the pier. Parking for the two hours we were there was $60. As an Ohioan that’s just a crazy amount. After all, my last parking in Columbus was when I went to a comedy show. I parked for $15 and change for three hours at a surface lot just a block away from the venue. But having travelled to larger cities in the last few years (Boston, LA, Seattle, Chicago), I find that it’s not unreasonable. It’s also one of the reasons I love living in Ohio.
Natalie and I walked around the Pier. Some of the things that we found special were live entertainment for kids (a magician, I believe) and my favorite thing, a fresh fruit market. It was so nice to see, in the middle of all the kitschy shops, something fresh and natural. And the peaches looked fantastic!
We had dinner on the Pier, seafood and sourdough bread, of course. But the main attraction for us were the seals. The seals spend much of the year lounging on the docks alongside the Pier.
The seals are mostly males and once each year they make their way to the La Jolla, near San Diego, to visit the large pod of female seals. Years ago, when Marina was small, we visited those female seals at the Children’s Pool in La Jolla.
The seals at Pier 39 are celebrities and a crowd had gathered to watch them. For the most part, they were lying on the docks soaking up the remains of the late afternoon sun. But there was a show of dominance and every now and then a seal would be pushed in to the water. There would be little skirmishes and quite a bit of barking amongst the younger seals.
Around San Francisco
We did a bit of cruising around the city. What a difference it is driving around San Francisco versus Columbus, or Cincinnati or even Cleveland. How many times have I parked my car in these cities and not even needed to use the emergency brake?
San Francisco is a completely different animal. The streets feel like a bit of a roller coaster! We regarded the whole experience as an adventure!
We tried to see all of the touristy spots. The Full House property is part of the Painted Ladies, a row of Victorian and Edwardian style homes overlooking the city. It was somewhat underwhelming and we decided to just cruise by. The park across the street, which is in the opening credits of the television show, was so packed that it seemed every parcel of grass was already claimed. No wonder, I thought since most of the homes we had seen had little to no yard space.
Next, we made our way to Lombard Street, which you may know as the “crookedest street in the world.” We made a pass at it and there was a police officer directing traffic. To enter the street and drive down the hill, it seemed we would have to drive back several blocks and get in line.
Though I don’t doubt that these homeowners knew what they were getting into when they purchased their properties, I still felt a little sorry for them with the constant parade of vehicles driving past their homes (which are conservatively valued between 1.5 and 5 million dollars). I decided that we should not be part of the problem. We did, however find an on-street parking spot (yes, we set the emergency brake) and walked back up the hill to take a view from the top.
From many locations in San Francisco, including most of the Golden Gate Bridge viewing platforms, you can view Alcatraz. I didn’t book tickets ahead of time because I’d just been to the Ohio Reformatory and didn’t think I wanted to go. Big mistake. At the last minute, we changed our minds and tried to book tickets. Unfortunately, it was all booked up for the day. If you’re going to Bay Area, I highly recommend booking this one ahead.
Late in the day, we drove to Coit Tower. It was closed already, but it was a nice view of the city and Alcatraz from the top of the hill.
As you know we love sharing our Ohio adventures with you, and there are plenty. Though we have a great time exploring our state, we also like traveling outside of Ohio’s borders. Like this short trip to San Francisco, we try to share adventures with you when we can in hopes that you’ll find ideas and inspiration. If you’re looking for travel ideas, check into our travels section. In the last few years we’ve visited Alaska, the US Virgin Islands, Boston and more.
Prefer adventures closer to home? We’ve got you covered! You can visit the National Museum of the Air Force near Dayton for free or hike the Cuyahoga National Park near Cleveland. Not enough adventure for you? You can go on a safari at The Wilds near Cambridge.
Be sure to check back in with us often. We post new articles at least once every week. We appreciate you following our adventures and, as always, we appreciate you sharing our content to your social media. Let’s let everyone know that Ohio is a great place to live and play!