We spent the weekend in San Francisco to take a break from our train trip from San Diego to Cleveland. In this post I will share our experiences in the bay area. San Francisco is a popular port call for cruise ships and although I have been to San Francisco numerous times over the years, it’s been a while since I have spent more than a few hours here. We decided to explore some spots we haven’t seen before and that might make a nice do it yourself excursion as part of a cruise ship port visit.
Here are the spots we visited and each would make a nice and easy excursion from any cruise ship.
- National Maritime National Historical Park
- Fort Point National Historic Site
- The Walt Disney Family Museum
- Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site (A little far for a cruise ship excursion)
The AMTRAK Coastal Starlight from Los Angeles stops in Emeryville, California, which is squeezed in between Berkley and Oakland at the foot of the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge. We decided to stay at the Hyatt House Hotel which is within easy walking distance of the Emeryville AMTRAK Station and also has an AVIS car rental location next door. There is a pedestrian bridge over the train tracks that separates the Hyatt House from the AMTRAK station and we were pleased to find that there was an elevator up to the pedestrian bridge which made it easy to roll our larger bags all the way to the hotel.
Friday morning, I headed back to the AMTRAK Station and the AVIS rental agency. The only car available was a bright red Ford Mustang which wouldn’t have been my first choice for a car to navigate the streets of San Francisco, but it was the only car available, so I took the keys and we were on our way.
Our car had the FAST PASS option so we were able to use the special lanes to cross the bay bridge and avoide some of the backup from people waiting to pay the toll in cash. The traffic wasn’t too bad heading into the city, but as we would discover later, it would be much worse on the way back.
We are always on the lookout for interesting yarn shops and Judy found one we haven’t been to before called the Greenwich Yarn and Stitchworks shop, located at 2073 Greenwich St. This would be our first stop and I dropped Judy off at the door and went cruising for a parking spot. I was able to find a free spot on the street a block away and this is when you are glad you learned how to parallel park. I have been reading that more and more states are no longer requiring parallel parking on their tests, which is probably good as maybe this will mean less competition for parallel parking spots in the city!
Judy spent about 30 minutes inside and didn’t find any yarn she liked but did find a few buttons that would work well with one of her sweater projects. Greenwich Yarn is about a mile and ½ from Fisherman’s Wharf.
The National Maritime National Historical Park – located at the corner of Jefferson and Hyde Street – was our next stop. After a little driving around we found another free street parking spot near the corner of Franklin and Francisco Street about ½ mile away. As we were walking toward the Park, we walked past a free parking lot at the corner of North Point and Van Ness which had over 30 parking spots, but pretty good turnover, so I would drive by this lot first the next time we are in this area.
The park consists of the ½ mile long Hyde Street Pier and the visitors center with an entrance at the corner of Jefferson and Hyde Street.
We started our visit walking down the pier and touring several of the ships moored here as part of the National Park. There are six ships available for touring and the admission is $10. The visitor center and museum is free.
We had time to visit 2 ships: The Balclutha, a square rigger built in 1886 and the steam powered tug Hercules. The Balclutha was the most interesting of the two and had some very nice exhibits inside the ship that described her history and how the ship was used over the years. The scow schooner Alma is moored at the end of the pier and offers 3-hour sailing tours of San Francisco bay on Thursdays and Saturdays during the Summer. (Cost $40.)
After we finished touring the ships we headed over to the visitor’s center and museum and spent about 30 minutes wandering thru the various exhibits. We were surprised to learn that much of San Francisco current coastline was built on landfill during the 1850’s and many ships and small boats were used as part of the land fill. There is an interesting map that shows the locations of these buried ships.
As regular readers of this blog will remember, we are always on the lookout for Fish and Chips and we discovered a wonderful place very near Fisherman’s Wharf: The Codmother Fish and Chips located at 496 Beach Street near the corner of Jones and Beach Street. The restaurant is a food truck that has been permanently mounted in a courtyard a little back off the street. Note: It is open until 7 pm but will close early if they sell out which is what happened as we were leaving after we finished eating around 5:30 pm. The menu is limited to Fish, Shrimp and Chips – and various combinations of the two, but having a limited menu means that the the food is usually fresh and restaurants with a lot of choices are usually simply microwaving frozen foods. Judy and I shared their signature dish and after a short wait, we were munching on some of the best Fish and Chips we have ever had. These rivaled those we found in Portree on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.
The fish fillets were fantastic. The hot, firm and moist fillets were coated with a thin, but crisp batter, with just the right amount of crunch. Equally amazing were the Chips, crisp on the outside with a nice soft inside, covered with a perfect blend of spices. As we were eating, the owner who is from the UK, made the rounds chatting up all the customers. She was very friendly and enthusiastic and it easy to see why the restaurant is such a huge success. Don’t miss The Codmother next time you are in San Francisco!
We headed back to Emeryville around 6:15 pm thinking that the traffic to the Bay Bridge would be less busy. Well we were wrong as it took us 1 hour to go three miles to get to the entrance to the Bridge and then 15 minutes to cross the bridge and go the final 10 miles to Emeryville.
We had breakfast in our room and left around 11 am to head back into the city in our bright red Mustang. The traffic was a little lighter today, but still pretty busy as this was the weekend for the Gay Pride parade and an estimated 1 million other tourists would be in and around the bay area this weekend.
Once again we headed across the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge and it took about 1 hour to travel the 15 miles to Fort Point. The biggest backup was on Crissy Field Ave as it climbed up toward Lincoln Blvd where the traffic was backed up for the Golden Gate Bridge. Since we weren’t going across the bridge we were able to turn right on Long Avenue and head down the road to Fort Point National Historic Site. NOTE: If you are on a cruise ship and want to visit Fort Point, you could take a taxi, Uber or the Number 28 city bus to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center and walk about 15 minutes down a fairly steep grade to Fort Point.
Marine Drive is the road that follows along the San Francisco Bay to Fort Point. If you are driving, you will see many cars parked along this road well before the Fort Point parking lot, and I decided to pull into the first empty spot I saw rather than drive all the way to the Fort and look for a spot in the official visitor’s center parking lot. As it turned out, there were plenty of parking spots right next to the entrance, so it is worth driving all the way to the end to see if there is an open spot and if not, then you can circle back and park at a spot along Marine Drive.
The views of the Golden Gate Bridge from this vantage point on spectacular. You are very close to the bridge but still far enough away to get the entire bridge in your photograph.
Fort Point was built between 1853 and 1861 to provide for the defense of San Francisco. The Fort was very well built and represented the state of the art for such fortifications at the time. Admission is free and the visitors center shows a couple of nice videos about the Fort itself and the history of the Golden Gate Bridge. During the early designs for the Golden Gate Bridge Fort Point was planned to be demolished to make space for the bridge, but chief engineer Joseph Straus liked Fort Point and redesigned the bridge to accommodate Fort Point.
We spent about 1 and ½ hours here wandering around the many floors and rooms and taking in the wonderful views from the various vantage points. It was pretty windy and chilly here, even when it was very pleasant in the city. I suggest taking a light jacket on your tour as brisk winds are probably the norm around the Golden Gate Bridge.
Fort Point is very near the Presidio which was an Army base until 1994 and is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. There is a hidden gem on the Presidio that is not part of the National Park Service: The Walt Disney Family Museum. This museum opened in 2009 and is not affiliated with the Disney Company, but is operated as a nonprofit museum by Walt Disney’s heirs and was founded by Walt Disney’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller. The Walt Disney Family Museum is located right off the main parade ground of the Presidio in a 40,000 square foot building. Admission is $20 with a discount for seniors, students and children under 18.
Starting with his life as a small boy from the Midwest, the museum takes you thru very interesting events in his early years and how he came to create Mickey Mouse and end up in Hollywood. Along the way, they describe many of the technological innovations that Disney was responsible for in animation and motion picture productions. The final exhibits describe how he came to develop Disneyland and show some mockups of Disneyland Park. We spent about 2 hours here and could have easily spent another hour if we wanted to take more time reading more of the information on the many exhibits. This is a wonderful museum and if you enjoy learning more about what is behind the Disney Magic – don’t miss it. There isn’t very much for children so keep that in mind before you bring them along.
On our way back to Emeryville, we stopped by the “Painted Ladies” which is a row of Victorian houses located between 710 and 720 Steiner Street. You will see these houses featured on many postcards and pictures of San Francisco. This location is quite popular and to our surprise, the city does not discourage tourist from visiting the area, but actually encourages visitors and are renovating the park across the street as a “Painted Ladies” viewing area. I guess if you live near here, the crowds of tourists are just part of the ambience and if you don’t like it you probably wouldn’t be living here. We were able to find a street parking spot directly across from the “Painted Ladies” and spent about 15 minutes taking pictures and admiring these wonderful houses.
The traffic wasn’t as bad today as it was on Friday, but it still took about 45 minutes to get back across the Bridge to our hotel in Emeryville.
On our final day in the Bay area, we decided to stay on the Oakland side and visit a yarn shop in Oakland called “A Verb for Keeping Warm” http://www.averbforkeepingwarm.com. Judy was pleasantly surprised to find that one of her favorite designers, Stephen West, was present and hosting a workshop. She was disappointed to learn that Stephen held a trunk show the previous evening but we weren’t aware it was taking place.
There are over 400 National Park units in the USA, meaning either a park, historical site, monument, seashore etc. Judy and I try to visit any that are in the area where we may find ourselves as they are always outstanding and well worth a visit. We enjoy an APP called Chimani (www.chimani.com) that is very useful for locating and learning about the various US National Park Units. Today we would be visiting the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site in Danville, California. This site was the home of Nobel prize winning playwright Eugene O’Neill who lived here with his wife from 1937 to 1944. This is one of the few parks where you must take a shuttle bus to the site as the park is inside a gated community on a private road. You have to call ahead to a make a reservation (except on Saturdays) at either 10 am or 2 pm. We didn’t realize this until the morning of our visit, but we called as soon as the park opened and we were able to get a reservation for 2pm. As it turns out, there would only be 1 other person on the tour, so if you don’t have a reservation, don’t hesitate to call at the last second and see what may still be available.
We met the National Park Service Bus right outside the Museum of the San Ramon Valley at 205 Railroad Avenue in downtown Danville. The bus is similar to one you see used as an airport shuttle bus. The driver was the park ranger, Tad, who would also be our guide.
It took about 10 minutes to get to the O’Neil House and we spent the next 2 hours with Tad as he did a wonderful job showing us every room in the house along with fascinating stories about Eugene O’Neil and his influence on American theater. We didn’t know much about Eugene O’Neil before our visit, but we thoroughly enjoyed our tour and highly recommend this and any other National Park site you may have an opportunity to visit.
After Tad dropped us off where he picked us up we headed south to Hayward California to see some of the Muffler men that are scattered across the United States, most notably near various spots on Route 66. We enjoy using an app called Roadside America, (www.roadsideamerica.com) which lists hundreds of interesting and quirky tourist attractions across the United States, Canada and Mexico. Using this app, we discovered a business that had quite a few Muffler Men in their parking lot and headed off to take a few pictures to add to our collection.
It was time to head back to our hotel and get ready for our long train trip to Cleveland the next morning.This entry was posted in Uncategorized