Walking the streets of San Fancisco

10 10 2011

Pop quiz: What do you do the day after riding a bike for 164.13 kilometres, including 8700 feet of climbing?

A. Sleep in

B. Eat a hearty breakfast, followed by copious quantities of ice cream

C. Lounge on the couch watching NFL football

D. Walk. A lot.


Of course, the answer is D. Can’t let those leg muscles seize up after all. But when you’re doing that walking around the beautiful city of San Francisco, it’s easy to ignore the aches and fatigue of the previous day’s big ride.

As our cottage was about an hour’s drive from the city, we got an early start on Sunday morning, made a pitstop at a scenic overlook at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Already I was jealous of the cyclists grinding their way up the winding road in the sunshine.

The view from the Golden Gate bridge is sublime.

Our first stop in the city was Ghardelli Square, ground zero for Katie’s chocolate obsession, where we had lunch in the courtyard of the beautifully restored and repurposed chocolate factory, which is now home to boutiques, cafes, restaurants and a fancy wine bar.

Sunshine and a sandwich; fuel for our walk around San Francisco.

From there, armed with only the little freebie road map of the city that came with the rental vehicle, we set out on foot to explore some of the highlights I’d circled. Whenever we travel, Katie and I love to walk. It’s the absolute best way to explore new places at our own pace, with plenty of opportunity for discovery, surprises, and, of course, snacks. The first day of our first visit to Paris together we walked from our apartment in the Latin Quarter to Notre Dame, to the Hotel de Ville to the Tuleries, up the Champs Elysée to the Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower, down along the Seine back to the Latin Quarter. In the Cinque Terre, we hiked to all five villages; it took us seven hours. In Barcelona we climbed Montjuic.

In San Francisco, our walk took us to Lombard Street’s famous steep block where eight switchbacks wind their way down the 27 degree incline. The residents of the stately old townhouse there must be incredibly patient and understanding of all the tourists walking up and down the steep sidewalk, or negotiating the twisting narrow road in their Escalades and BMW’s, let alone the throngs of Hop On Hop Off passengers standing in the middle of the road at the bottom of the incline to pose for photos.

The gardens of Lombard Street take the edge off the 31% incline.

Of course, we walked up one side of Lombard, then down the other.

Then it was up Grant Avenue, past Topless A Go Go, through busy, bustling Chinatown where the sidewalks teemed with shoppers, people lining up for dim sum, vendors and machines that would punch pennies into pancake-like souvenirs of the city.

The hustle, bustle and color of Chinatown.

Beyond the gates of Chinatown was shopping nirvana, upscale boutiques, designer shops and the flagship Banana Republic store. Needless to say, we spent some time there, and Katie spent some money.

The long walk down Market Street, through the financial district, was cold and kind of disappointing; most of the shops, cafés and restaurants were closed. Sure, financial districts are usually Monday-Friday destinations, but the wide sidewalks and sunny skies were bringing out lots of strollers on Sunday with nowhere to grab a bite or a beverage en route to the waterfront.

We did get distracted for a few moments by a movie shoot setting up with all kinds of armoured police vehicles and futuristic motorcycles, but as usually happens, things were moving very slowly, lots of grips walking around with serious rolls of gaffer tape, and no stars anywhere in sight. I haven’t yet been able to figure out what was shooting.

After the desolation and distraction, the Embarcadero was our salvation. The beautifully restored old ferry terminal houses an expansive galleria of cafés, sushi bars, wine shops and markets selling fancy chocolate, seafood, fresh fruit and vegetables and even “salted pig parts.” Outside the main entrance, chefs in crisp white jackets were busily erecting and stoking massive charcoal grills for some big charity feast to be held Sunday evening; alas, the $200 meal ticket was a little beyond our holiday budget.

The old ferry terminal at the Embarcadero.

An esplanade allowed us to continue our walk along much of San Francisco’s historic waterfront, past long wooden piers, and old warehouses being converted to new restaurants and high-end chocolate factories. Beyond, the late afternoon sun was turning Alcatraz island golden.

I had been hoping our tour would take us up to the Coit Tower, the art deco observation tower that overlooks the lower part of the city from the summit of Telegraph Hill, but our intended route had strayed a little, and the little map didn’t seem to show any streets that would take us there from the waterfront side. Plus my legs were starting to feel Saturday’s ride.

Katie was still keen, though. And when I spied what looked like a staircase, we were off, and up. Seems these were the famous Flibert Street Steps, all 800 or so of them, meandering up through lush gardens, flanked by old townhomes and an impressive art deco apartment block. Apparently the gardens that flank the stairs are also the home of the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill, feral parrots that were the subject of a documentary film in 2005; we didn’t see the birds, but we did hear some loud, unusual squawks.

There's plenty to see climbing the Filbert Street steps.

At the summit of Telegraph Hill, surrounded by a park and guarded by a statue of Christopher Columbus, the Coit Tower is a wonderfully understated piece of architecture. Only 210 feet tall, it’s not the tallest tower of the world’s great cities, but it certainly lives up to its original intent as a beautiful enhancement to San Francisco’s skyline. The interior of the ground floor rotunda is decorated by a series of murals depicting scenes of working San Francisco, and a tiny gift shop.

Christopher Columbus stands sentry at the base of Coit Tower.

Alas, we chose not to go to the top, because the stairs were closed.

Back to where we started, for our chocolate reward!