My writing includes my personal travel experiences, destination, history, and cultural information.
The City by the Bay
San Francisco is another one of those destinations that have special meaning to me. My husband and I have visited many times. The Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, historic trolley cars, and Highway 1 to Monterey are just a few of the places I will tell you about as I recount my travels to the city where one night, enjoying Ghiradelli ice cream, the love of my life proposed to me!
Tidbit's of The City's History
- Believe it or not, humans' first archeological evidence of habitation dates back to 3000 BC! The first European presence is believed to have been in 1775. Through the 1800s, the Spanish and Mexican people took turns in the area, leaving heavy Spanish language influence in the city.
- By 1849, wealth and adventure-seeking prospectors inundated the area of San Francisco during the California Gold Rush. In less than one year, the population increased from 1,000 to over 25,000.
- With statehood being granted to California in 1850, the military built a base in the area we now identify with the Golden Gate Bridge. Another base was built on Alcatraz Island.
- 1906 saw the city devastated by a major (7.9 on the Richter scale) earthquake, which ruptured gas lines and ignited a massive fire. The fire burned for several days. For the most part, what wasn't damaged by the earthquake was damaged by the fire. Due to the importance of the city, rebuilding efforts began quickly. Between the earthquake and fire, it is estimated that in today's dollars, the damages exceeded nine billion dollars!
- During World War II, the naval bases located in San Francisco were used as ports to send our soldiers to the Pacific Theater of Operations.
- By the 1950s and 60s, the area grew exponentially in population, and business headquarters and began seeing diversity in its residents. With San Francisco's great year-round climate, it's not difficult to understand the rapid growth during this period.
Many of us are familiar with the marketing slogan "Rice a Roni, a San Francisco Treat." But where did that come from, and why? Well, in 1958, Vince DeDemenico, son of an Italian immigrant, invented the rice/vermicelli dish. His family owned a pasta manufacturing business, Golden Grain Macaroni Company.
Using the family product, one evening, one of the wives created a dinner dish using rice and vermicelli. Vince then improved on the recipe by adding a dry soup mix. It became a family "hit" and was introduced into the local market through Golden Grain Macaroni Company. Four years later, the product went nationwide. Because of its origins in San Francisco, the slogan was born.
Today, San Francisco is Known For
San Francisco has grown to be a city of diversity with many reasons for businesses and people to seek it out. It is the 17th largest city in the United States and the fourth largest in California. Offering a unique flair, each neighborhood is fundamentally different than its neighboring area.
What things is San Francisco, the Golden Gate city, known for?
- The Golden Gate Bridge
- Alcatraz Island
- Lombard Street
- Cable Cars
- Ghiradelli's Chocolates
- The Fog
- The Hills
- The LGBTQ Community
- Fishermans Wharf
- The Arts and Culture
- Highway 1
- Sourdough Bread
- Pier 39
How I Came to Fall in Love With San Francisco
I had wanted to visit and explore San Francisco for a long time. When Rick suggested we visit, my affirmative response was immediate. That trip became the catalyst for many future visits. I came to learn that San Francisco is a city that one can never grow tired of. We have celebrated many momentous events there, and the city has become a part of "us" and our history.
How has it Become Part of the History of Us?
- On our first visit to San Francisco, we had already traveled together, so the anxiety of "that first" travel experience together had passed. A certain comfort had fallen over us.
- Rick proposed to me one starry, balmy evening sitting in the park adjacent to Ghiradelli's (I said "yes!").
- We conquered the Golden Gate Bridge together.
- I surprised him with a 50th birthday celebration in San Francisco. Our best friends met us there for the celebration. We rented exotic cars and drove Highway 1 to Pebble Beach, so the boys could play the course.
- We used the city for jumping-off trips to Yosemite National Park, Monterey, and Carmel.
- He saved me from the Bush Man.
- I saw my first naked man in public!
How We Spend Time in San Francisco
San Francisco has so much to see and do that it can seem daunting. Some people like to travel with a plan while others take each day as it comes. We visited the city both ways and had a spectacular time! We have visited during all four seasons and have been blessed with great weather each and every time.
We always stay in the Fisherman's Wharf area whenever we visit San Francisco. It's a great jumping-off spot for many attractions and is always a hub of activity!
Fisherman's Wharf has historical roots back to the days of the Gold Rush when Italian immigrants settled the area and took advantage of the fishing opportunities. The area pays tribute to the daily life of these early settlers.
It is home to the famous Pier 39, which in turn, is famous for the gazillion sea lions that have made one of the former wooden boating docks their home. Thousands of people flock to see their daily antics and watch their feeding time.
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The Bush Man
On my first trip to San Francisco, I got the first-time tourist indoctrination known as the Bush Man! The Bush Man is a cleverly disguised busker camouflaged by eucalyptus branches. As you approach, you think you are passing by a bush, but all of a sudden, the "bush" comes alive and jumps out at you with a loud, deep yell!
When I was the unsuspecting passerby, I believe it was the closest I have ever come to literally jumping out of my skin! Traditionally, once having the daylights scared out of you, a person steps aside to watch the next passerby's fate! A sick tradition which is famous worldwide and lots of fun once your blood pressure has returned to normal! The Bush Man has been entertaining crowds since the 1980s and typically brings in about 80k per year in tips!
Right outside the "boundaries" of Fisherman's Wharf is Ghiradelli's Chocolate Shop. Typically, this is a multi-visited spot for us when in San Francisco! Not only are the candies delicious, but the ice cream sundaes are absolutely to die for! On one visit, we were some friends, and none of us could decide what to order, so we all ordered a different ice cream treat.
We had decided, once delivered to our table, we would all take a bite, and pass the sundae to the next person, take a bite, pass, and so on. Basically, an ice cream version of musical chairs! It was on a park bench outside of Ghiradellis's that Rick proposed to me!
Built as a memorial to firefighters (the shape is meant to be reminiscent of the end of a fire hose) that have died fighting the five major blazes in San Francisco, Coit Tower offers panoramic views of the city. Standing 210 feet tall, it is located in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood and was built with the money donated by Lillie Hitchcock Coit. I love the art deco design of the tower, and as far as I know, it is the only venue in the city where the views are panoramic.
The Golden Gate Bridge
Built above the Golden Gate Strait, this is the entrance to the Bay of San Francisco. The 1.7-mile Golden Gate Bridge connects San Francisco and Marin counties. Originally thought of as the "bridge that couldn't be built" (due to high winds, fog, rocks, and brutal tides), it is now considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world. It stands 764 feet high above the water, it is only connected by two cables and 80,000 feet of wire.
The color of the bridge is referred to as "International Orange." This color was not the intended color but was the original hue of the primer used on the steel. The architect found it to be a very striking color and felt it fitting for such a magnificent structure. It is said that the orange color is the perfect contrast to the fog that often hovers over the bay.
Most bridges at the time were painted black, gray, or silver. The architect, Irving Morrow, made his appeal to the War Department to use this color in a 28-page report. Obviously, he won the bid for International Orange. The bridge is NOT named for the color chosen but instead named for the strait it spans.
Walking Across the Bridge
We have walked across the bridge and back again a couple of times. The first time was really scary. It's high, the winds were brutal that day, and the fact that every few feet are suicide hotline telephones and warning signs that state, "Jumping from the bridge is fatal!" At one point, I became paralyzed with fear, but after some strong "self-talk," I convinced myself that the bridge would not get the better of me. (Honestly, the urging from Rick helped as well!) The pep talks worked, and peace was made between me and the Golden Gate Bridge! Check that baby off the bucket list!
In 2018, construction began to install anti-suicide nets along the sides of the Golden Gate Bridge. The nets are being installed about 20 feet below the bridge and are about 20 feet wide. The cost of the project is about 211 million dollars. An average of 30 people commit suicide jumping from the Golden Gate per year. The project has been delayed two years and is expected to be completed in November of 2023.
It's known as the most crooked street in the world, with eight switchback curves in 600 feet of roadway! It is actually one of the highlights of San Francisco and sees almost one million cars per year negotiating the curves. Originally a two-way street, it is now one-way going down with a speed limit of five mph. Walking down the street is another option, which is what we choose when visiting. Set amongst beautiful hydrangeas, the homes are works of art that border this iconic street. We have driven the road once or twice.
Originally, the street was not "crooked." In 1922, the homeowners on Lombard Street grew very uncomfortable with the grade of the road upon which their houses were built. After exploring several options, they decided to rebuild the road with the curves.
Travel Tip for Lombard Street
The road is one way going down. If you choose to walk, which is recommended for great pictures, and to admire the beautiful homes lining the street, wear shoes with a good traction sole. The road is made of cobblestone, and the moisture from the frequent fog can make them quite slick. Walking back up is a mighty challenge, so you can opt to take the steps up to your car.
I feel like a person would be remiss and lose out on a great adventure if they didn't take a ride on a cable car (the only historical landmark that you can ride!) when visiting San Francisco! An estimated 9.7 million people use the three remaining routes, which will take you through the following neighborhoods:
- North Beach
- Fisherman's Wharf
- Union Square
- Nob Hill
With the bell ringing, the cable car gripper handling the grips, and the conductor shouting the stops and local info, it's quite the adventure. While it might seem like a touristy thing to do, many local residents use the refurbished cable car system as daily transportation.
Cable Car History
The inventor of the cable car was Andrew Hallidie, a Scottish engineer and wire rope manufacturer. Hallidie's inspiration came after observing a team of four horses struggling to haul a public conveyance up a steep San Francisco hill. The cobblestone street was slick from the fog, and when one horse slipped, the car rolled backward, dragging all four horses with it. Hallidie then designed a cable railway system, and at 5:00 a.m. on August 2, 1873, Hallidie guided the first cable car down Clay Street.
Alcatraz, aka "the Rock", sits on an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, about 1.23 miles from the shore. because of the strong current and the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean, escape seemed impossible. Incarcerating prisoners since the Civil War, operations ceased in 1969. Over the years, the prison has operated as a military fortification, a military prison, and eventually, a federal prison. Today the prison has been repurposed as a major tourist attraction.
The Birdman of Alcatraz (Robert Stroud) and Al Capone are two of the infamous prisoners who were incarcerated on the island.
With seemingly impossible odds of successful escape, from 1934 to 1963, 36 men tried 14 separate escapes. The most famous attempt was in 1962 when Frank Morris along with Jon and Clarence Anglin, concocted an elaborate plan. After an intense search, they were never found and to this day, the escape is still under investigation by Federal Marshalls. There is no credible evidence, either way, that they perished during their attempt or if the attempt was successful.
Our Visits to Alcatraz
We have visited the notorious prison a few times. On all occasions, we arrived via San Francisco boat tours, with the island being a stop. Personally, I feel that Alcatraz is creepy. The thought of being incarcerated there or just stranded would seem like it would be a living hell. I guess that's the point, right? Despite the creepiness factor, I find its history interesting and the fact that it is known to be inescapable fascinating.
Haight-Ashbury will forever be the place where I saw my first naked man in public! Apparently, not much doesn't fly at the festival we stumbled on. This would include naked men strolling down the street with their manhood adorned!
We ended up in the neighborhood one day as a result of the annual Haight-Ashbury Street Fair taking place. We had been on a Hop On-Hop Off bus that, because of the festival, unbeknownst to us, stopped pick-ups in the area. The neighborhood is close to the east entrance of Golden Gate Park, and as we left the park, walking to what we thought was the pick-up location, we saw the festival, and voila, A new plan was born!
The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood became famous in the 1960s for its "hippie" lifestyle and its famous residents, such as the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin. Today it is an eclectic mix of vintage and thrift shops and cafes along with big box stores and other major retailers. The area pays tribute to the bygone era of the 60s and is not only a tourist attraction but also a very desirable local neighborhood.
San Francisco as a Jumping-Off Point for Other Trips
On several occasions, we have used San Francisco as a jumping-off point for other trips. Within a few hours' drive of San Francisco, there are other lovely places to visit. We have traveled Highway 1 South to Monterey, Carmel, and Pebble Beach. In the opposite direction, we left San Francisco and traveled to Yosemite National Park.
Highway 1 is absolutely fabulous and is known as one of the most beautiful roads in the world. On my first trip to San Francisco, we rented a car and headed south on Highway 1 as a day trip. Our plans for the day included the drive itself, Monterey, Carmel, and Pebble Beach. This was an ambitious itinerary but was doable. On another occasion, which was Rick's surprise birthday trip, we rented Lamborghinis and drove Highway 1, basically the same route. On that trip, however, we stayed at Pebble Beach for two days, where the men played golf while the ladies hit the spa.
On these day trips, we visited:
- Monterey, which included the Aquarium and Cannery Row
- Carmel by the Sea
- Pebble Beach Golf Course, which included visits to The Links at Spanish Bay, Cypress Point, Poppy Hills, and Spyglass Hill
- 17-Mile Road and The Lone Cypress Tree
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is 170 miles from San Francisco. On a couple of occasions, we flew to San Francisco, rented a car, and drove to Yosemite for a few days. At the end of our time in this fabulous National Park, we would then spend a few days in Fog City before returning home.
San Francisco and the nearby areas have, through the years, become very special to me. The area is not only historical and eclectic, we have shared many special moments there not only as a couple but with special friends. I reminisce on our time there and look forward to returning. It's a destination, to me, which never gets old or boring. Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39, and driving Highway 1 might be repeated venues, but each time we visit, they are different.
A couple of times when we visited, the weather was misty, cool, and foggy. But, you know what? That's ok—it's part of the city's charm. And, without occasional fog, it couldn't be called Fog City!
I have had the pleasure of traveling to 53 countries and countless cities within those countries. San Francisco and the nearby areas continue to stand out to me in ways that make me smile and beg me to count my many blessings in life!
Until next time, friends, remember, "To Travel is to Live!"
© 2022 Dee Nicolou Serkin