Tuesday, January 17, 2012

San Francisco 2012!

As most of you know Aaron and I recently went on a five day trip to San Francisco! Dubbed as "Boston to a T goes to San Francisco" we traveled around the city live tweeting our adventure hoping someone out there was enjoying it as much as we were! The trip was filled with adventures that ranged from visiting historic landmarks to aimlessly riding public transit! Overall, we had the time of our lives!

We stayed at the Crescent San Francisco Hotel, located in Union Square. It was so easy to get to from the airport, as we just had to catch a BART train and take a half hour ride to Powell Street Station. The location was incredible, placed centrally in the upscale shopping district, right next to Chinatown, near the Financial District, North Beach, and SoMa. We got a great packaged deal together with airfare, thanks to Expedia, so it was well worth it! The decor was very nice and swanky and the building was very clean. The rooms were pretty small because it is a boutique hotel, but we had no problem with it, especially for the price. When it comes down to it, you don't really need a lot of space because the point of a visiting another city is to get out and see and do everything the city has to offer.

Getting around was really easy. The San Francisco Bay Area has a very sophisticated transportation network, featuring commuter rail, bus,  trackless trolley, subway, light rail, and of course the historic cable cars. Aaron and I were fortunate enough to have access to a majority of San Francisco's transportation network. We purchased a City Pass which gave us unlimited transportation on San Francisco Municipal Railway (MUNI) (Including the Cable Cars) for all five days of our trip. It saved us a ton of money (Cable Car 1-way ride is $6 and bus is $2). 

Since they are the most popular lets start with the Cable Cars! SF MUNI operates three cable car lines that run on two routes from downtown near Union Square to Fisherman's Wharf, and a third route along California Street. The system is the world's last operational manually operated cable car system, is the only transportation system listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is the only moving national monument. We visited the Cable Car Museum and learned all about how cable cars were originally conceived and how they actually work. It's really fascinating, and if you ever get a chance to read about them, we recommend it!

Inside a Milan Tram
The F-Market Line, which runs from Fisherman's Wharf to the Castro is also a popular mode of transport in the city! The entire fleet consists of historic re-built PCC trollies, streetcars, and trams that are from or painted in tribute to cities around the country and the world! It reminded Aaron and I a lot of the Mattapan-Ashmont High speed line, except much more extensive and diverse. The Line is operated by MUNI, but is maintained by Market St. Railway which is a nonprofit preservation partner of MUNI which aims to “Preserve Historic Transit in San Francisco.” Personally we feel that there should be an organization in Boston like this! The line is quite exciting as it allows you to get amazing views of the Wharf area as the cars travel down the Embarcadero. Although most of the F-Market line's fleet consists of PCC trolleys, some of the most exciting cars in the system are the 1920's trams from Milan, Italy. The railway boasts 11 of these restored beauties that still feature signage in Italian throughout the cars! One other cool feature that the railway offers is F-Line Live that shows you which GPS equipped streetcars are operating on the line at any given time! 

A back entrance
Clipper Card reader
Other than the two historic modes of transport in San Francisco, MUNI also offers an extensive trackless trolley, bus, and light rail network. The bus infrastructure is robustly developed and is extremely easy to navigate, with most lines running every several minutes. A majority of the buses are actually trackless trolleys, running on a catenary wire running above the street, a major contributing factor to San Francisco being one of the greenest cities in the country. The light rail system, although not as extensive as the MBTA's Green Line, is still very impressive, looking much more modern and clean. The MUNI Underground has a fleet that consists of Breda articulating LRV's very similar to our Type-8 LRV's. Their system also has GPS capabilities allowing real time data to be transmitted on monitors within stations and smart phone applications. One of the most interesting innovations that MUNI has initiated in their system is Smart Card readers for their Clipper Card (like our Charlie Card) at all entrances of their buses, light rail vehicles, and street cars. This not only helps to fight fair evasion, but also allows for more timely boarding. 

On our second day we decided to visit the Coit Tower, looking over the city atop of Telegraph Hill. The Tower was built at the bequest of Lillie Hitchcock Coit, after her death 1929. It costs $7 to ride the elevator to the top, but the cost is well worth it. Once you walk off of the elevator and climb up a small flight of stairs, you are treated to a 360 degree view of San Francisco. The views are truly unrivaled and provided some amazing photos.

Included in our CityPass was admission to five attractions in the city too! Also on our second day, we visited the historic Alcatraz Island. We took about a 15 minute boat ride across the Bay to reach the island. Once there, people are free to explore every part of the island that isn't fenced off. There was so much history on this one little island--it started out as a fort in the mid 1800s when the city was still very young and eventually became part of the United States Prison System. In 1969, after Alcatraz had been closed down, Native Americans seized the island and took it for their own, in order to occupy it as a demonstration against their historic oppression. The occupation lasted for 19 months. In 1986 the island was declared a National Historic Landmark and later was opened to the public for visitation. We took a guided audio tour throughout the prison and were able to learn so much. The prison has a real eerie presence to it, which was amplified through hearing the firsthand accounts of what life was like inside the prison on the audio tour. 

Another highlight of the vacation was visiting the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge, which is painted in international orange (not red), opened in 1937 and spans 1.28 miles across the Bay, connecting San Francisco to Marin County. We walked across on a beautiful day and were treated to amazing views of the skyline, Alcatraz, and the sailboats dotting the water. There wasn't a better feeling than having wind blow all around us and not having any obligations, it was truly an incredible experience! If you ever find yourself in San Francisco, this is a MUST DO!

In addition to all of our sight seeing and museum going, we also had our fair share of culinary adventure. We had heard beforehand that San Francisco has a huge variety of great food to choose from, and we didn't waste our chance to experience it. We went all over the city to lunch and dine (our hotel had continental breakfast, so we saved a few bucks that way!), and it was worth it. One of the highlights was a restaurant we visited on the second night we were in the city, called Le Charm French Bistro located in the SoMa neighborhood. They had a prix fixe menu for $32 per person that we ordered off of, which was a great deal. We both ordered a hearty French onion soup to begin with. Dan had steak frites for an entree and Aaron ordered coq au vin. To finish, Dan got a tarte tartin and Aaron had a flourless chocolate cake. The food was to die for and the service was excellent! 

On the opposite end of the culinary spectrum, we had our first In-N-Out Burger experience for lunch on our first day, and the food was equally as good! What it lacks in nutritional value, it makes up in taste. The burgers are huge and the fries are delicious. Be sure to order off of the secret menu.

We also of course had to try some Chinese food, seeing as we were in the city with the largest Chinatown in the United States. In addition to that, we ate a delicious muffuletta sandwich from Cafe Zoetrope located in the downtown area--we highly recommend trying it! We also had Mediterranean food from La Mediterranee in the Castro District, with an awesome deal called the Mediterranean Meza. For $16.95 per person, they will bring a smorgasbord of ten Mediterranean delicacies to share. These were just a few of the many places we ate at on our trip. 

The San Francisco City Pass was one of the best deals we purchased on this vacation! The pass which is available for over 10 different cities around the country and Canada and gives travelers the most bang for their buck while on vacation. With the pass we were able to gain admission to five different San Francisco attractions and, like we mentioned before, we received a 7-day MUNI and Cable Car pass. The attractions that were included were the Aquarium of the bay,California Academy of the Sciences, An Alcatraz cruise and tour, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Exploratorium
The Living roof of the
California Academy of the Sciences

Each attraction had something something that we both enjoyed. The Aquarium of the Bay allowed us to walk through two huge tunnels that were filled with 700,000 gallons of water and were home to over 20,000 sea animals including rays, sharks, and starfish. 

The California Academy of the Sciences, which was our favorite attraction, allowed us to step into an Aquarium that shelters 38,000 live animals from around the world, from more than 900 separate species. We were also able to step inside a living 4-story rainforest that has butterflies and birds floating about.The most interesting part about the academy however was its roof.The Academy’s living roof is a 2.5-acre expanse of native California plants. It was built as past of the museum’s green building strategy and has currently survived three winters! 

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was also a great stop! SFMOMA’s internationally recognized permanent collection of modern and contemporary art includes more than 26,000 works! 

Inside the Exploratorium
The attraction where we had the most fun however was most defiantly The Exploratorium! We were able to head over the the Exploratorium for one of their 18+ nights (which they hold on the first Thursday of every month). We found it to be a Museum of Science for Adults! The "Museum" has over 475 participatory exhibits, all of them made onsite, that mix science and art. It also aims to promote museums as informal education centers!  In 2011, the Exploratorium actually received the National Science Boards 2011 Public Service Science Award for its contributions to public understanding of science and engineering!

Our last stop on the trip was to the SF MUNI Cable Car Museum! It's not like any transit museum we had been to before. Not only is the brick building, located on Nobb Hill, the home to this fantastic museum it is also home to the the cable car power house, which drives the cables, and the car shops and storage! This free attraction truly is a "working museum!" We were able to learn so much about the interesting history of the cable car and how they work in the short time we were there.

Overall, our trip was absolutely amazing and San Francisco holds a dear place in our hearts. If you ever get a chance to make it out there, DO IT! You won't be sorry.

We will leave you with this view of a California sunset from Ocean Beach! 

Thanks for following!

-Dan & Aaron

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