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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A San Francisco Treat (ding ding)

"I never thought 35 mph could be so much fun!"  Those were the words that spilled out of my mouth as I drove with the midday sun above me, a wall of rock to my right, and a perilous drop to the Pacific Ocean on my left.  Like a great white shark prowling a nudist beach, this was sheer excitement mixed with a bit of terror and topped off with acts of self-gratification preservation.  This was California's highway 1.

Dammit!  I've jumped the gun.  Let's back up a bit.  I'm in San Francisco vacationing with my girlfriend and paying a visit to my brother.  We're here to do the usual sightseeing thing while keeping an eye out for what's roaming the streets.  As the weather is hovering in the 60s and there's barely a cloud in the sky, the city by the bay is proving to be much more conducive to sightseeing and carspotting than the frigid northeast.
If you're just here for the cars and driving, scroll down a bit.  For those of you who are still here, here's a quick rundown of some of the tourist traps we fell into:
The Ferry Building – Located in the northeast corner of the city, this place is a mecca for the foodie.  With dedicated stores for meats, coffee, wine, cheese, and even mushrooms, it's easy to find yourself spending way too much money putting together an over the top meal for the middle of the week.  If you're the type that appreciates a good meal without the hassle of chopping, slicing, or cooking, there's a huge variety of brick and mortar restaurants there as well as the tents and food trucks that set up shop on Tuesday and Thursday.  Remember to check out the farmer's market on Saturday as well.
Fisherman's Wharf – Just a few miles north of the Ferry Building is Fisherman's Wharf.  It is by far the biggest of the tourist traps with a carnival-like atmosphere on the boardwalk as well as global franchises like the Hard Rock Cafe.  If you're into museums like we are, there is an aquarium there with a glass tunnel under the bay.  It, in itself, is quite fun but as a whole the aquarium is overpriced for what it has to offer.  The sea lions always attract a crowd on the opposite side of the wharf.
California Academy of Sciences - Within the beautiful, Central Park inspired Golden Gate Park lies the California Academy of Science.  Housing a working four story rainforest, the museum impresses adults as well as children.  The aquarium on the lower floor is home to an abundance of species that weren't seen at the aquarium by Fisherman's Wharf.  Don't miss out on the alligator gar fish, arapaima, and the albino alligator!

Exploratorium and Palace of Fine Arts - Built in 1915 to display works of art as a part of the Panama-Pacific Exposition, the Palace of Fine Arts is itself a piece of architectural beauty inspired by classical Greek and Roman styling.  While there, we saw a newly married couple and a ballerina each having portraits taken.  After taking in the grandeur, walk next store to the Exploratorium for some hands on science activities.
Alcatraz - Being a history nerd meant we had to go to Alcatraz, the infamous island that imprisoned the most serious of offenders in the early 1900s.  If you know the history of this place and you're still fascinated, check it out.  Otherwise, it may be a waste of your time.  There seemed to be more than a few bored faces.  It does, however, provide a great view of San Francisco but that can also be had for free with a trip to Sausalito.

Chinatown - If you claim to have been to a large Chinatown, it's a damn lie until you've been to the one in San Francisco!  This place is huge!  After spending about two hours eating dim sum on Saturday morning, my mouth was right back to watering as we passed the insane number of bakeries and restaurants offering either the same thing as the last but ever more appetizing or something I can't get back home in Boston.
The Food - While we're on the topic of food, I have to comment on the restaurants.  It seems like no matter where you are, there's always someplace good to eat.  Make sure to have the Yelp App handy on your smart phone.  Try to eat everything in San Francisco!  I have to give my compliments to a few great places.  San Jalisco is located in the Mission district where many other authentic Mexican restaurants are located.  This place gives huge portions of authentic Mexican food served by what seemed to be loving, caring mothers.  For a casual lunch, we went to Claudine by Union Square.  Their take on new American cuisine produced the best gnocchi I've ever had.  For some upscale French food, the misses and I headed over to Baker Street Bistro in the Marina/Cow Hollow area.  Service was attentive without hovering; food was perfect; wine list was extensive.
Here's where the car people can start reading again.

What about the car culture in San Francisco?  Like the population, it's eclectic and diverse.  As an example, here's a rundown of what I randomly saw on the streets:
  • 2 classic Fiat 500
  • a few new 500s
  • Many classic Beetles
  • 2 Nissan GTR
  • Bentley Continental GT
  • 3 Evo X
  • 1 Evo IV
  • Plethora of STI
  • Lots of bikes and Triumphs took the majority
Sorry for the lack of photos.  I walk around with my camera in my bag and not around my neck like a tourist.

In addition to all this, I noticed small cars rule in San Francisco.  Cars like the Mini Cooper, Mazda Miata, Toyota Prius, and Nissan Leaf were everywhere!  The latter two were the most prevalent cars of the whole trip.  This speaks volumes of those infamous San Francisco hills and their ability to regenerate the batteries faster than Wolverine.

So what did I drive up the coast?  Come on!  I'm in San Francisco.  It's time to get in touch with my inner Frank Bullitt!

Ok ok ok!  It's not highland green or a manual or a V8 and it has a ragtop.  What do you expect from a rental company?!  

Every once in awhile life throws some funny choices your way that are inconsequential to how the world spins but play a huge roll in how much you smile as you look back at the memories.  Fortunately, any decision I made would result in pure driving nirvana.  I had the choice between two motoring icons, a Mustang convertible or a Mini Cooper S with a 6-speed manual.  While the Mini's world-renowned handling would allow me to dive bomb every corner, the thought of a well used manual transmission that's been up and down the hills of San Francisco didn't provide me with much confidence.  I took the Mustang, dropped the top, and only looked back to enjoy the view.

We headed out of San Francisco over the Golden Gate bridge.  A stop in Sausalito was planned for lunch.  Then we hit the Pacific Coast Highway.  Now, this isn't the portion that most people talk about in movies and magazines.  The area north of San Francisco is a two lane affair populated by stunning views, spaghetti-like twisties, a sense of isolation and a lack of traffic.

Just before sunset, we had made it to the lighthouse at Reyes Point.  Getting here should have taken us two hours without our stops in Sausalito, Muir Beach, and Stinson Beach but the timing couldn't have been more perfect.


  1. Congrats on making it out that route - Just came back from driving the new 3 out near there and its some of the best, most beautiful roads I've ever driven! Something any US gearhead should do at least once!

  2. I'll have to check that out next time. Hopefully, I'll be back out there to catch some action at Laguna Seca and hit the roads around Monterey as well

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