Travel: San Francisco

Like many cities in California, San Francisco owes its name to a Catholic mission established by Spanish colonists: Mision San Francisco de Asis (Saint Francis of Assisi).  Founded in 1776, the city has accumulated a rich and varied history and architecture, as well as an ethnic and cultural diversity, which is probably why it stands as one of the top tourist destinations in the world (although that is the case, I should mention that this was my first trip to San Francisco).  On a whim last month I decided to finally go see for myself why it’s such a popular destination.

For many years I’d been circling the city, driving by it, through it, flying in and flying right back out, but never was curious enough to actually visit it.  Perhaps I just took it for granted since I’m not too far away.  I live within a 6- or 7-hour drive of SF, but I decided to fly there to make it feel more like a “real trip”.  I also wanted to move around the city using public transportation or walking.  It turned out that both methods were surprisingly easy to do with one exception: walking up the many steep hills for which the city is known.  My legs complained for days after the trip!

I took a more than enough shots while there and I’d like to share some of them with you.  Feel free to click on the images to view the full size version.

I arrived in San Francisco early on Sunday morning.

Greetings From SF

At the airport, I looked around for a “Welcome” sign, but not finding one, I took this picture of the “Greetings from SF” souvenir shop.

One of the first things I noticed was the decoration at the airport.  I saw some quite nice displays of local pottery and art.

Pottery Display at SFO

Local pottery on display at San Francisco International Airport

A free shuttle takes passengers to the airport’s BART train station (BART is an acronym for Bay Area Rapid Transit).  The train runs about every 15 minutes and costs about $8.00 one-way for a trip to the city center.

Waiting for BART

Waiting for BART at the airport station. The train runs every 15 minutes.

Coming from a city where public transportation is mostly an afterthought, I found the BART system to be quite good.  People can even sleep in it at no extra charge!

Sleeping

Sleeping on the train

After a 25-minute ride, the train stopped at the Powell station, which was conveniently only a few blocks away from my hotel in the Union Square area.  Union Square is part of the historic center of the city and is considered the main shopping and hotel district.  Walking to the hotel took me longer than the BART ride thanks to technical difficulties with my internal compass (i.e. I walked in the opposite direction).  This gave me a chance to see the city and do a bit of street photography.

Panhandler without a Pan

Panhandler without a pan, but getting his Starbucks fix

Street Crossing

People hurrying across the street

Man with Beret

Man with beret standing at an intersection

Blurry Building

Blurry building. This is why I should not take pictures while walking.

Street Collage

Street scenes collage. Taken from a corner across the street from Union Square

Building

Building under construction. You can see the service elevator shaft on the outside with each floor numbered.

Transamerica Tower

The Transamerica Tower – Iconic SF building

Cabel Car

People boarding one of the famous Cable Cars to Fisherman’s Wharf

After some walking around and a quick lunch, I headed to the hotel.  It was a nice, quaint, old 8-story building with small, but clean rooms and beds.  My room even had a view!

Mystic Hotel

Mystic Hotel – I’d recommend it!

View from My Room

View from My Room – Better than no sky at all

Early in the mornings I’d go for a jog through the neighborhood to enjoy the morning air and semi-empty streets.  Afterward, I’d catch my breath and people-watch before going back to the hotel for breakfast.

Stairs

After my morning jog, I’d come here and people-watch. This is just around the corner from Union Square

The hotel was about a 10-minute walk, through a tunnel, from Chinatown, one of the city’s iconic districts.  Chinatown is an area filled with fish markets, delis, and small, cheap eateries.  The fish markets even carry alligator claws (what do you make with these things?).

Stockton Street Tunnel

Stockton Street tunnel to Chinatown

Chinatown Mural

Mural greets visitors in Chinatown

Alligator Claws

Alligator claws on display in Chinatown fish market

Chinatown Deli

Deli with full roasted fowl on display and some other items I couldn’t quite identify

Chinatown Alley

Random alley in Chinatown

Financial District

Financial District as seen from Chinatown. I liked the contrast of old and new.

Solar Powered Clothes Dryer

Solar powered clothes dryer – This was a common sight in Chinatown

Chinatown Pho

The mother of all soup bowls – Delicious pho (noodle and beef soup) for only $6.50. My hand in the picture gives perspective on the size of this thing.

On my second day there, I paid a short visit to the Fisherman’s Wharf, but wasn’t too thrilled to have to elbow my way through what must’ve been a million and one tourists.  Perhaps visiting on less crowded day would’ve made for a better experience.  I managed to get a few shots here, like the retired WWII era submarine, the USS Pampanito, with the Alcatraz Island in the background and two old men playing a board game.

Wharf Postcard

The obligatory Fisherman’s Wharf picture. You can see how crowded it was if you look at the people in the background.

Submarine and Alcatraz

The USS Pampanito and Alcatraz Island in the background

Board Game In Progress

Board game in progress near the Wharf

On my last day there, I went to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).  The museum was a short walk from the hotel.  It only took about 20 minutes at a leisurely pace.  This was on the first Tuesday of the month, which happened to be free-admission day.   In addition to the art, I also enjoyed watching and photographing people enjoying the art, and even got one shot of somebody photographing people enjoying the art.

Atrium at SFMOMA

Atrium at SFMOMA. You can see people crossing the skybridge 5 stories above

Woman

Woman looking at some photgraphs on display

Fluorescent Installation

Rotating fluorescent lamp installation

Mother and Girls

A woman describing to her girls the art piece

Photographer

Photographer taking a candid shot of two girls

Sculpture

Sculpture

Naoya

Entrance to the Naoya Hatakeyama’s “Natural Stories” exhibit.

One of my favorite areas at SFMOMA was Naoya Hatakeyama’s “Natural Stories” photography exhibit.  It just blew me away.  If someday I were to become a photographer, this is the kind of stuff I’d like to shoot.  I didn’t take pictures of his work because I thought it would not do it justice, but if you click here you can see some of his photographs.

On my last night there I went to the Mission District because I wanted to see a bit of the city in its raw form.  It was an interesting mix of sketchy dive bars, hip restaurants, and art galleries.  Since I didn’t want to stand out more than the next person (it can be a little intimidating there at night), I decided not to take any pictures and just walk around the neighborhood.  I did have a beer at a couple of different bars to check out the local fauna.  I liked the grit of the place, but I’m sure it’s not for everyone.

Early next morning I had to fly back and then drive in to work.  So that meant getting up at 4:30AM in order to be at the airport on time.  I’ll sign off with a picture of my plane above the cloud cover and riding off into the sunrise.

Airborne Sunrise

Riding off into the sunrise to face a full day at work.

Wow, I didn’t mean to write so much, but I got carried away.  It was a great, but too short 3 days in SF.  I’ll be sure to visit again.

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