We escaped the mysterious room… almost…

The Real Escape Game has been one of the top items on my San Francisco bucket list for a while. I was very happy to be able to finally attempt it this past Saturday.

So far the game has about a 2% passing rate. San Francisco has some pretty smart people, so you can say that this game is somewhat challenging.

What is the Real Escape Game?

  • First developed in Japan
  • You and 10 other people are locked in a room together.
  • There are clues and tools hidden around the room
  • You have to use the clues and tools to solve various puzzles
  • The puzzles will lead you to the key that will unlock the door
  • You have 60 minutes to escape

There are many iterations of this game. Some involve hundreds of players in very large venues. The following is a game played in a baseball stadium in Japan.

You can find out more information at http://realescapegame.com/

Tour of Japantown

I started off the evening with a quick tour of Japantown. Starting at the Japanese peace plaza, which is the center of Japantown. You can easily find the plaza by looking for the pagoda in the middle of the plaza.

Japantown in San Francisco is probably not anything like Japan, but it does have that I’m no longer in America type feeling. This is especially true when you walk through the mall nearby that is filled with distinctive Japanese restaurants and shops.

Like this place that uses faucets to hang clothing.

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Pika Pika

This is a shop filled with Japanese sticker picture machines. They are essentially photobooths, but the photos you get are stickers that you can stick to whatever you want. It’s highly popular with Japanese middle schooler and San Francisco hipsters.

Playland Japan

This is a Japanese arcade with machines that are all in Japanese. My favorite game is the Taiko drumming game. The most bizarre game has to be the table flipping game where the only thing you do the entire game is flip over tables out of anger.

Takoyaki

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There is a little cafe near the mall entrance that serves takoyaki. I always go here for a snack when I’m in Japantown.

Dinner at Ssisso

Ssisso is a Korean restaurant directly opposite the Japanese peace plaza. I picked it because it is highly rated on Yelp, is reasonably priced, takes reservations, and can accommodate 8 people.

Joining me for dinner were my friends Jayson, Dan, Holly, Tiffany, Kheaton, Jessie, and Lauren. We ordered the seafood soondubu, seafood pancake, japchae, and the Ssisso chicken wings. The chicken wings were pretty solid, and definitely on the saucy side.

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Kheaton ordered a huge shrimp salad that could probably feed an entire family.

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Overall the food was solid but not outstanding. It would have been better had their beer taps been functional. But enough of that, it’s time to get our game on!

Real Escape Game: Escape the mysterious room

Matt, Lauren, and Thomas joined us right before the start of the game, completing our team of 11. The mysterious room is in the New People building across the street from the Japanese peace plaza. The building is a combination shopping center and art gallery with a cafe in the lobby.

The guide met us downstairs and took us up to the waiting room. There another guide provided the back story to the game and explained the rules. The whole experience felt a bit of a creepy and suspenseful, which is all part of the experience.

This is not a picture of the actual room since photography is prohibited. But this should give you an idea of what the layout is like.

And just like that, our 60 minutes were up and the game was over. I can’t tell you much about the game itself, but I can tell you some of the things I learned while playing.

  • Be very thorough when looking for clues: Everything is in the room for a reason. Don’t assume an item does not contain a clue. Make sure, then double check.
  • Have a system for communication: Once you get into the room things can get pretty chaotic pretty quickly. It can feel like watching 11 chickens with their heads cut off. Make sure to communicate so you’re not wasting time or resources.
  • Have assigned roles for people: You only have 11 man-hours so use your time wisely. Have some people be scavengers who only look for clues and have others be the puzzle solvers.
  • Be organized: There is a lot of stuff in the room, and it can get very disorganized very quickly. Have space set aside for used and unused items so you don’t waste time. However, remember that sometimes an item may contain multiple clues.

Even though we didn’t escape the room, we were super close. We had found all the tools and solved the main puzzles. We were about 2 steps away from finding the key and escaping the room. Considering that only 2% of the teams have passed and that none of us had experience with the game before, I thought we did a pretty awesome job.

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The team: Lauren L, Matt, Andy, Holly, Lauren C, Jesse, Kheaton, Jayson, Tiffany, Dan, and Thomas

Don’t worry, we’ll be back again… Next time we’ll escape for sure!

Post-game drinks at The Social Study

After the game our brains were still buzzing from the game. Even as I was exiting the building, I couldn’t stop looking around for more clues or think that I was still part of the game. It’s pretty incredible how the brain can get into that puzzle solving mode and be completely engaged.

Matt and Lauren had to leave to go home, but the rest of us continued onwards to get some drinks. We decided to check out The Social Study.

The Social Study is a super chill beer & wine bar. The chairs you see actually fold up into the wall. There was also a DJ spinning old school hip hop. They have a few solid beers on tap and a variety of soju and sake cocktails.

The bar was not too crowded and we settled in comfortably to chat about the game and enjoy our drinks. It was a great way to cap off the night.

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Andy’s weekend forecast (11/14-11/16)

Hey kids!

If you’re like me, then you know that planning for weekends in San Francisco is not easy. There are either too many things going on on a weekend and you have to pick and choose, or everyone is out of town and you’re stuck without something fun to do. Like this bored panda.

To address that problem, I’m trying something new today. I’m going to give you a list of fun events for the weekend that you can go and enjoy. I’ve read through the event newsletters like SF Fun Cheap and UpOut to find a few of the awesome events that I would love to do, and I’m sharing them with you. As you can see, I’m calling it the weekend forecast. And here it is!

weather 11.14.14

Looks like the weather is going to be pretty nice all weekend, with temperature in the high 60s and party cloudy skies. If you’re going to be outside, don’t forget to put on sunscreen!

Below are some ideas for this weekend (11/14-11/16). Unfortunately I will be out of town on a team retreat to Guerneville, but otherwise I would totally go to all of these events with you!

Key: Blue = Friday, Red = Saturday, Yellow = Sunday

Friday:

6:30 PM: Free beer and comedy show at Sports Basement Bryant Street (Potrero Hill)

Free is always a welcome word in my vocabulary. And of the things you can get for free, what’s better than free beer?!

Grotto Free Comedy Night: Free Drinks & Snacks | Sports Basement Bryant

I can’t believe I haven’t heard of this event before. The Sports Basement Bryant Street store hosts the Good Times in the Grotto comedy night on (most) second Fridays of the month from 6:30-8:30 pm.

In addition to some free laughs, they also serve up free drinks and free snacks. Sounds like a good way to unwind after a day of work!

8:00 PM: Free burlesque show at Skylark (Mission)

The group performing is called Hunny Bunny and Her Hot Toddies. Don’t they just sound fun?

I just went to a burlesque show in Oakland last week and I had an awesome time. It’s definitely not just stripping. I would call it more musical theater with very little clothing. If you haven’t been to a burlesque show before, why not try it out this Friday?

Saturday:

2:00 PM: Free skating lessons at Church of 8 Wheels (Hayes Valley)

This has been one of those things on my to do lists for the longest time. I used to be big into rollerblading in middle school and I even brought them with me from NYC!

The lesson is free, but skate rentals are $5

3:00 PM: Picnic in Alamo Square Park (Alamo Square duh!)

Grab a couple of friends, a blanket, and a 6-pack and chill in the park for a few hours.

Most people tend to hangout in the sunny South side of the park, but if it gets too hot, go to the Northeastern corner of the park where the grass is green and the shade is cool.

9:00 PM: Non-stop Bhangra dance lesson & party at Public Works (Mission)

I actually did some Bhangra dancing in college and I was pretty bad at it. I really want to take the lesson and go dancing. But what is non-stop Bhangra?

Public Works is a pretty fun event space, but it does tend to get packed on busy nights. I suggest going there on the earlier side and grab a table if you can.

Buy tix here ($15).

Sunday:

1:00 PM: The Now Festival

This is such an awesome event and I’m really sad to be missing it. The Now Festival is a series of events that will take over the Panhandle this Sunday afternoon. I’m most excited by the silent disco. I haven’t been to one before, but I imagine it to be a very trippy experience.

The Now Festival events:

  • Silent disco
  • Story forest: Write a story and hang it up, read other people’s stories
  • Slackline workshop
  • Face-painting face-off
  • Church of 8 Wheels roller disco
  • Live jazz
The last word:

That’s it for the first edition of the weekend forecast. I hope you all stay safe and party hard. Have a great weekend!

Andy’s Night of Fun: Oakland First Fridays, Art Murmur, and a Burlesque show

Highlights:

  • Huge street festival in downtown Oakland
  • Drinking craft brews at an outdoor beer garden
  • Pissing off an “artist” at a gallery
  • Unbelievable pieces of cut paper art
  • Watching a 66 year old woman perform in a burlesque show

Check out the other Andy’s Days of Fun here

Oakland is one of those places I wish I knew better. It used to be a crime-ridden area that you wanted to avoid. However, over the past few years, as skyrocketing housing prices pushed artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs out of San Francisco and over the bridge into Oakland, the city has transformed into a hub of culture, hipsterdom, and technology. Kinda like what happened to Williamsburg in NYC about 10 years ago.

Now downtown Oakland is littered with trendy art galleries, craft brew houses, and hip cafes. But don’t be too quick to call it gentrified. Despite all the recent change, the city still hangs onto it’s rough past. And it’s that unique blend that gives Oakland its character. That is what I’m about to get a taste of tonight.

Get ready Oakland, cause Andy is coming to have some fun. Chomp!

oakland

One of the events I’m going to tonight is Oakland First Fridays. It’s a free street festival on the first Friday of each month where food trucks, artisans, and bands take over Telegraph Avenue for the entire night. The festival only started about 3 years ago, but has quickly blossomed into a major draw for families and young people alike.

The other event I’m checking out is Art Murmur, which is an art crawl through the galleries of Oakland. The event coincides with First Fridays, and many of the participating galleries are close to Telegraph Ave.

My plan tonight is to check out the street festival, eat some good food, see come cool art, and hit up some interesting bars in downtown Oakland. Since all these activities are better done with friends, I invited a few to join me for the night.

And here is what we did:

  1. Over the bridge and into Oakland
  2. Exploring Oakland First Fridays
  3. Meet and greet over beers at Telegraph beer garden
  4. Mocking overpriced art at Johanssen Projects
  5. Noming on beef bulgogi at Korean Plaza Asian Market
  6. Wine and crafts at 25th Street Collective
  7. Awesome art Mercury Twenty
  8. More drinks at Mua Oakland
  9. Epic burlesque show at Stork Club
  10. Final beer at Diving Dog Brewhouse

5:30 pm: Over the bridge and into Oakland

I had planned on taking BART to 19th Street so that I didn’t have to drive after drinking. Safety third! However, there was some major traffic and I was running late. So I decided to drive to Oakland instead.

I picked up Rebecca and her roommate Claire in the Haight and got on our way. It was all of our first times going to First Fridays and we were all curious and excited. Even the Friday rush hour traffic couldn’t dampen our mood.

We got into downtown Oakland around 6:45 pm and picked up Claire’s boyfriend Jason. Then we got super lucky and found a spot right on West Grand street, 1 block from the start of First Fridays. The night was getting off to a good start. I’m always happy when I get good parking. =)

6:45 pm: Exploring Oakland First Fridays

The street was already pretty crowded at this point.

A little further in we caught a group dance performance. They looked like students from a dance studio in Oakland.

Lots of vendors shopping their wares.

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Some of my friends were already at the Telegraph beer garden, so we headed over there to meet up with them and get a beer.

6:50 pm: Meet and greet over beers at Telegraph beer garden

I love beer gardens, and downtown Oakland has a number of them, probably thanks to the warmer weather in the East Bay. Telegraph beer garden is a block from the start of First Fridays, which made it a great place to meet. There is an outdoor bar and an indoor bar where you can order food. The beer at the bar are all pretty reasonably priced at $6 or $7.

Dan and Alice were already there with drinks. Dan has lived in Oakland for 9 years and Alice used to work nearby. They know the area fairly well and would play tour guide for the night. I got myself a beer and joined them outside in the garden.

  • Cost: $6 + tip
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Dan, Jason, Claire, Rebecca, and Alice

There were some cool murals on the walls here.

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At this point Holly showed up with her coworkers. Our little group was now at 9 people.

After our beers we headed back toward 23rd street to our first art gallery of the night. On our way we saw this Korean drumming performance.

I used to perform in a group just like this back in college. I even have a picture of us in costume. There I am on the left!

We crossed the street and went to Johanssen Projects.

7:30 pm: Mocking overpriced art at Johanssen Projects

Johanssen Projects had mostly art pieces like the one below. I think this one was priced around $16,000, or the price of a mid-sized sedan. How do artists decide what to charge for these things?

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Between the Resorts

This piece was more interesting, mostly because it was so bright. This one costs over $30,000.

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The Constant World 2014

Then there was this piece. If you put your hand in front of the camera it would change the image on the wall. I thought it was an interesting use of video. So of course I go and put my face in front of the camera to see what would happen.

Priest of the Temple

Priest of the Temple

At this point the artist rushes over to me and yells at me to stop touching the art. WTH? Chill out asshole. I wasn’t even touching it. Also, what the hell is the point of the camera if you can’t put anything in front of it? Kevin McCoy, you are a jerk.

By this time we were all starving and needed to get some food. We headed up Telegraph in search of food trucks. There was a lot of good street art along the way. I prefer this type of art to overpriced art in stuffy galleries.

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7:45 pm: Noming on Korean food at Korean Plaza Asian Market

Luckily we walked by Korean Plaza, where they were serving up street side Korean food.

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These women were cooking furiously and could barely keep up with the orders. Everything smelled so good and I had a hard time choosing. I went with an order of the beef bulgogi and bibimbap.

  • Cost: $8 for bulgogi and $5 for bibimbap

We then sat on these colorful stools and ate our food. It felt a lot like being in an Asian street food market.

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From here we turned on 25th street to check out some more art galleries.

8:10 pm: Wine and crafts at 25th Street Collective

The first place we stopped at was 25th Street Collective. It wasn’t so much an art gallery as a shopping area for fashion and crafts. There was also a small wine shop here called Two Mile Wines, so we stopped for a second drink.

  • Cost: $6 for wine, $2.50 for chocolate covered Brazil nuts

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Alice recently joined a fitness challenge and decided to complete her daily workout at the collective. Rebecca joined as well. Here the boys were judging their forms for planking. I think Dan approves.

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There were several galleries near 25th Street Collective, so we wandered out to see more art.

8:20 pm: Awesome art at Mercury 20

So far First Fridays has been super chill. There was plenty to do and see, and it wasn’t crowded. Here people are just hanging out in the street, enjoying the warm evening.

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This was probably my favorite piece of the night. The details are so intricate I can’t even imagine how the artist did it. At first I thought this was done by computer but it was in fact made by hand.

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Carlo Fantin – Our Lady of Hashtags

Mike Dirda showed up with his girlfriend at Mercury Twenty. They had a show to go to so didn’t stay long. I think he came mostly to prove that the girlfriend he had been talking about was real. =P

I also met up with Sara Yin who was cruising First Fridays with her coworkers. It’s so nice to run into people in the Bay Area like that. I like the small town feel of the bay.

We left the gallery and went looking for our next watering hole. On the way we saw these guys. If you didn’t pay attention you wouldn’t know that these were mannequins staring at smart phones. Kinda sends a message huh?

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What time is it now? Beer time!

9:05 pm: More drinks at Mua Oakland

We went to Mua since it was along the way and not loud. The interior was actually quite nice. It’s more of a restaurant but they did have a small bar section. We got our drinks and relaxed for a while. While ordering my beer I caught the smell of some delicious wings. I might have to come back for those.

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One of the places I really wanted to check out was Classic Cars West. Unfortunately it was past 10 pm and they were closed. But we did see this car.

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The original plan was to head towards Jack London Square after the Art Murmur to check out Hoodslam, an armature wresting show/performance. Instead, Dan suggested that we go check out some puppet burlesque. Having never heard of such a thing, I had to go see it.

10:15 pm: Epic burlesque show at Stork Club

The puppet burlesques show happens at the Stork Club on First Fridays. Good thing there’s no cover!

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Notice the action figures/dolls behind the bar? I had a feeling this puppet burlesque show was going to be interesting.

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Here was our host. She was a very sassy black woman who was hilarious.

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Hmm… where are the puppets? Apparently it’s not a puppet burlesque show but a normal burlesque show. But still, we have a stripping nun so it’s all good.

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The next performer was some kind of burlesque super hero?

The following performer was by far the funniest of the night. She came in dressed as a can of Spam. She even made a can opener that she used to undress herself. Brilliant!

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The final performance of the first show was this 66 year old woman. She was amazing! I could not believe how confident she was of her body. I wish I had her confidence and I’m only half her age. She had the entire crowd hooting and hollering the entire time.

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That burlesque show was awesome and I’m really glad we went. All the performers were great and I was laughing and cheering the whole time. The girls had a great time as well.

It was near midnight at this point and we had been hanging out for over 5 hours. Time really flies huh? We decided on one more drink before heading home.

We headed towards Make Westing, a very popular Oakland bar, and saw these cool looking bikes in front of the bar.

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The bar was a bit too crowded and we wanted some place chill to drink and chat. We went across the street to Diving Dog Brewhouse instead.

11:30 pm: Final beer Diving Dog Brewhouse

Matty showed up and we all ordered one more round of beers. Diving Dog has a very large selection of beers. I forgot what I ordered but I think it was red IPA. There’s Holly pretending to be a nice girl in front of her coworker Dylan. But we all know the truth.

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Apparently you can make your own beers here at Diving Dog. I’m not sure how it works but that’s a very interesting business model.

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We hungout at the bar for probably another hour before saying our goodbyes. It had been a long day and the bed was calling my name.

That concludes Andy’s Night of Fun in Oakland. I hope you learned a lot about First Fridays and Art Murmur and go see it for yourself one of these days.

How the night went:

I had a great time hanging out with my friends and exploring downtown Oakland. I felt like I got to know the area and found a few places I’d like to return to. The burlesque show was the highlight of the evening and I highly recommend it to everyone. Overall I didn’t get to go to as many places as I would have liked, but I did enjoy all the places we went to. All except that gallery where I got yelled at by the artist…

Things I would do differently for next time:

  • Take the BART: You don’t have to worry about parking, and you can drink without having to drive. It’s probably also faster considering the rush hour traffic.
  • Start earlier: First Fridays and Art Murmur both end at 9 pm. Next time I’ll start closer to 6 pm so I can see a few of the places I missed.
  • Get to the burlesque show early: The bar is not that big and it’s nice to get in early to grab a booth or a spot near the front.

Again, here’s a handy map of all the attractions, restaurants, and bars I visited in this post: Map

If you enjoyed this post, please check out the other Andy’s Days of Fun here

What did you think of this tour? What did I miss? What would you have done differently? Please share it in the comments. I’d love to hear what you have to say.

Andy and Sun’s Day of Fun: Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito, and Fisherman’s Wharf

The highlights:

  • Biking by the beach in the Presidio
  • Gorgeous view of the bay from the top of the Marin Headlands
  • Delicious tacos in Sausalito
  • Playing old arcade favorites on Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Seeing the Palace of Fine Arts lit up at night 

Check out the other Andy’s Days of Fun here.

Even though I’ve lived in San Francisco for over 2 years, I had never biked over the Golden Gate Bridge. Now that my friend Sun was visiting, I had the perfect opportunity to check this item off my San Francisco bucket list.

Today’s experience will have us going over the bridge, up into the Marin Headlands, down into Sausalito, back to SF on the ferry, and cruise down Fisherman’s Wharf back to the start. This is definitely the most challenging Days of Fun yet, but I’m ready to take it on.

The route:

GGB route  

The stops:

  1. Katz Bagel breakfast in Dolores Park
  2. Rent bikes at Sports Basement
  3. Heading to the bridge: Crissy FieldThe Warming HutTorpedo Wharf, and Fort Point
  4. Going over the bridge: Golden Gate Bridge PavilionGolden Gate Bridge, and Vista Point
  5. Bike up the Marin Headlands: Hawk Hill and Battery Spencer
  6. Lunch in Sausalito: Sausalito Taco ShopLappert’s Ice Cream
  7. Ride the Blue & Gold Ferry back to San Francisco
  8. Walk down Pier 39: Chowders and Sea Lion Colony
  9. Playing old arcade games at Musée Mécanique
  10. Back to the start: Aquatic Park, Ghirardelli Square, Fort Mason, and Palace of Fine Arts
  11. Dinner at Ramen Izakaya Goku

1. Katz Bagel breakfast in Dolores Park

  • Duration: 30 minutes

I got to the city earlier than I planned so I went to Katz Bagels in the Mission for breakfast. I got a toasted sesame bagel with whitefish salad, onions, capers, and a slice of tomato.

  • Cost: $4.75

The weather this morning was absolutely gorgeous and so I went to the top of Dolores Park to eat my bagel. I didn’t take a picture of the bagel, but I did take a picture of my view for breakfast.

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It was such a nice view that I took a 10 minute meditation break. Meditation is a relatively new habit for me, but it’s great for clearing my head and getting focused in the morning.

2. Rent bikes at Sports Basement

  • Duration: 10 minutes

After breakfast I drove north through the city and into the Presidio. There are lots of places to rent bikes in the city, but I chose the Sports Basement because I leave my car here all day without worrying about parking.  I met up with Sun and we rented bikes for the day. Sports Basement charges $25 for a full day rental, or $15 for 3 hours. I jokingly asked the associate if Sun could rent a children’s bike since she’s a tiny Asian girl. Sun was not amused.

  • Cost: $25 for a bike, a helmet, and a lock

With our bikes ready and helmets on, we’re ready to start the day!

2. Heading to the bridge: Crissy Field, The Warming Hut, Torpedo Wharf, and Fort Point

  • Duration: 40 minutes

Sports Basement is right next to Crissy Field, which is a large field where people picnic, play with their dogs, and enjoy the view of the bay. We rode our bikes on the San Francisco Bay Trail which is right by the beach.

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Since Sun hadn’t had breakfast, we stopped by The Warming Hut for some food. This is one of the few places that sell food near the bridge. And it’s always wise to start the day with a full stomach.

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In hindsight, I probably should have gotten a sandwich here for later. The next food stop wasn’t for another 3 hours, and we had a long trip up the mountains ahead.

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From The Warming Hut we continued along the beach to Fort Point, which is a old military fort at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. The fort is only open on Fri, Sat, and Sun from 10-5pm. We just took a few pictures and headed out.

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Now we begin the climb uphill towards the start of the bridge.

3. Going over the bridge: Golden Gate Bridge PavilionGolden Gate Bridge, and Vista Point

  • Duration: 45 minutes

From Fort Point we headed back to the main road and up the hill to the Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion. Here you can learn a bit of history about the bridge, and play with a model of the bridge that simulates the effects of the wind on the bridge.

The weather today was amazingly clear and I was excited about the views we were about to see.

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You can bike on either the west or the east side of the bridge. But the east side faces the city and has the better views. San Francisco is already starting to look very small from here.

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Fortunately today was not windy at all and I was quite comfortable in a t-shirt going over the bridge. We also stopped several times to take more pictures of the bay. I do love the new pano feature for the iPhone camera.

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It always amazes me how tall Sutro Tower actually is. You can see it from practically from anywhere in the bay.

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Once over the bridge we went to Vista Point to take more photos. Here we encountered the hordes of Asian tourists and their tour buses. I’m glad I don’t have to be stuck on a bus while traveling in a new city.

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We made sure to take a bathroom break here before starting our climb up the Marin Headlands.

4. Bike up the Marin Headlands: Hawk Hill and Battery Spencer

  • Duration: 2 hours

My friend Jennifer heard that I was going over the bridge and recommended going up to Hawk Hill. It’s one of her favorite spots in the city. I hadn’t heard of Hawk Hill before but it sounded like an interesting adventure. Watch out for the prancing reindeer!

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What do you know! We actually ran into a couple of deers. It looked like a mom with a fawn.

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The ride up to Hawk Hill was super tough! I had to walk my bike at least half the way. Sun was also struggling but she was being a trooper and didn’t complain.

The whole ride/hike took us nearly an hour. But then we were greeted with this amazing view.

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It was incredible how clear of a day it was. San Francisco is rarely ever this clear. It’s probably because of the drought California is dealing with. So enjoy these views while you still can! I do hope the drought ends soon…

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From the top of Hawk Hill you can see the entire Marin Headlands area. Down to the right you can see Rodeo Lagoon and Rodeo Cove.

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Hawk Hill got its name because every autumn tens of thousands of hawks and other large birds fly through this area. This is a very popular spot for bird watchers. They even keep track of the size of the birds they’ve seen here.

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At the very top of Hawk Hill we met a group of bird watchers. They were working as a team to spot specific birds. I felt very much like a muggle walking around them. I couldn’t understand half of what they were saying to each other.

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Going down from Hawk Hill was a lot more fun. There wasn’t much vehicle traffic so I went down the hill as fast as I dared. I probably got up to at least 30 mph at some points. What a thrill!

On the way down we stopped by Battery Spencer, which used to be home to 3 large artillery guns protecting the entrance to San Francisco Bay.

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The views here of the Golden Gate Bridge were spectacular. Doesn’t this look like a postcard? This is one of the most popular places to shoot pics of the bridge.

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At this point I was definitely regretting not bringing a sandwich with me for lunch. So we headed straight into Sausalito towards the taco shop.

5. Lunch in Sausalito: Sausalito Taco ShopLappert’s Ice Cream

  • Duration: 1.5 hours

I learned of Sausalito Taco Shop from my friend Ronny from New York. He and his wife recently biked the bridge and stopped here for lunch.

After 3 hours of riding, I was ready for a drink. I was glad to see michelada on the menu. I learned of this drink while traveling in Mexico, and now it’s one of my favorites. It’s spicy, salty, and sour. I think of it as a poor man’s bloody mary.

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Sun had a taste of my michelada and absolutely hated it. I guess it’s not for everyone. She went with a Sprite instead.

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I ordered the fish, shrimp, and pork tacos. The marinated pork taco was by far the best. The taco shop also makes their own salsas which were pretty solid.

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After lunch we biked around Sausalito checking out the town. We stopped at the ice cream shop for a scoop.

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I went with a scoop of the Date Casablanca. It is made with vanilla ice cream, caramel, and dried dates. Highly recommended.

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After the ice cream we headed to the ferry terminal.

6. Ride the Blue & Gold Ferry back to San Francisco

  • Duration: 30 minutes

There are two ferry companies serving Sausalito, Golden Gate Ferry and Blue & Gold Ferry. The Golden Gate ferry goes to the Ferry Building and the Blue & Gold ferry goes to Fisherman’s Wharf.

We caught the 3:45pm Blue & Gold ferry back to Fisherman’s Wharf. The ferry is a great way to see the city and the bridges from the bay. You can even buy drinks on the ferry. It was nice to head back to SF while watching the sun starting to set over the Golden Gate Bridge.

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The ferry goes pretty close to Alcatraz, giving us a nice photo op.

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Views of the city and the bay bridge as we pulled into Fisherman’s Wharf.

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  • Cost: $11

Protip: You can pay for the Blue & Gold ferry using your Clipper card

From Fisherman’s Wharf we headed to pier 39.

7. Walk down Pier 39: Chowders and Sea Lion Colony

  • Duration: 25 minutes

Sun has never had clam chowder before, so we headed down Pier 39 to Chowders for a bowl.

They also serve the clam chowder in a bread bowl, but we were still full from the tacos and this was plenty.

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Next we went to see the sea lions at the Sea Lion Colony. There weren’t many sea lions today. But the few that were there made plenty of noise.

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We continued our bike journey down Fisherman’s Wharf towards an old arcade I had heard a lot about.

8. Playing old arcade games at Musée Mécanique

  • Duration: 20 minutes

Musée Mécanique is an arcade that has all types of classic arcade machines. I’ve always been a big fan of arcades and this place sounded fun.

This greeted us as we walked in. Was this made to entertain or to scare children?

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The arcade has a combination of very old mechanical arcades and old video arcades. I sucked pretty bad at the baseball game to the right.

I can see the inspiration for Rock’em Sock’em Robots

25 cent Skeeball?! Hell yes!

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I had a great time here but Sun was not very interested in old arcades. So we hopped back on our bikes and moved on.

9. Back to Sports Basement: Aquatic Park, Ghirardelli Square, Fort Mason, and Palace of Fine Arts

  • Duration: 1 hour

The sun had set and we were getting tired, so we decided to bike back to Sports Basement. But we would stop by a few places for photos along the way. First stop was Aquatic Park.

Sun’s bike chain fell off around Ghirardelli square. Fortunately I was able to fix it. Otherwise we would have had to walk her bike 2 miles back to Sports Basement. Crisis averted!

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The bike ride back along Marina Boulevard was quite pleasant. The road is completely flat and smooth. We also had some good night time views of the bay. Unfortunately it was too dark for my camera to take photos.

We stopped by the Palace of Fine Arts to take some night time photos. It was fairly empty and quite fun to bike around the lake and through the columns at night.

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We returned our bikes at Sports Basement and concluded our day long bike adventure. Next up was dinner. Sun was in the mood for ramen so we headed back to the Mission.

10. Ramen dinner at Ramen Izakaya Goku

  • Duration: 45 minutes

Ramen Izakaya Goku is one of the newer ramen shops in the city. I like them because they are 1 block away from my old apartment. We started with the takoyaki. I just learned that the bonito flakes on top of the takoyaki is actually made from dried preserved fish. All this time I had thought it was some kind of vegetable.

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I went with the extra spicy tonkatsu ramen with extra chashu pork. The pork was nice and fatty, and the noodles were firm. The broth was a bit milky for my taste, but that didn’t stop me from wolfing it down.

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  • Cost: ~$20 including tip

That concludes Andy and Sun’s day of fun. I headed back to Mountain View with a full belly and a head full of beautiful views. Not a bad way to end the day.

How the day went: 

I thought the day went about as well as I could have hoped. I got to check off a bunch of items on my SF bucket list, and I got some great photos of the bridge and the bay. Hawk Hill was a serious challenge, but we conquered it and it was a great workout.

If I were to do the day over, I would make the following changes:

  • Start the day a little earlier. We didn’t get our bikes till about 11 am. Starting before 10 would have given us more time to hangout in Sausalito.
  • Get a sandwich to go before crossing the bridge. That way we could have had lunch on top of Hawk Hill which would have been nice.
  • Know the ferry schedule ahead of time. We took the 3:45 ferry back to SF. Taking an earlier ferry would have given us more time along Fisherman’s Wharf.
  • Get bike lights. We biked the last portion of the day without lights. Lights would have made the ride easier and safer.

Again, here’s a handy map of all the attractions, restaurants, and bars I visited in this post: Map

If you enjoyed this post, please check out the other Andy’s Days of Fun here

What did you think of this tour? What did I miss? What would you have done differently? Please share it in the comments. I’d love to hear what you have to say.

Andy and Sun’s Day of Fun: Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach

The highlights:

  1. Delicious pastries for breakfast in the Inner Sunset
  2. Play like a kid again in Golden Gate Park
  3. Finding out what the $4 toast fad is all about
  4. Watching the gorgeous sunset by the beach
  5. Stuffing our faces with amazing Burmese food

Check out the other Andy’s Days of Fun here

When a friend comes to visit, I want to make sure they have an amazing time. Mostly because I love showing my friends the places I love, but also because secretly I want to convince all of them to move to San Francisco. And then we will work together to take over the world… This time my friend Sun was in town from LA where she had been staying for the past month. She only had 4 days in SF so we had a lot of ground to cover. Day 1 she spent going to The Mission and the Castro. Day 2 she spent in Chinatown, North Beach, and the Embarcadero. Day 3 I was free, so I decided to take her on an Andy’s Day of Fun, this time to Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach.

The stops:

  1. Starting the day at Arizmendi’s bakery
  2. Checking out old school movies at Le Video
  3. Playing on the swings at Koret Children’s Quarter Playground
  4. Enjoying the free day at the Conservatory of Flowers
  5. Taking in the view from the Hamon Observation Tower 
  6. Walking through history at the Japanese Tea Garden
  7. Speed walking through art at the de Young Museum
  8. Hiking up Strawberry Hill at Stow Lake
  9. Driving by the Bison Paddock
  10. Eating the infamous toast at Trouble Coffee Co.
  11. Climbing the sand dunes at Ocean Beach
  12. Getting up close to the Murphy Windmill
  13. Climbing the rocks at Sutro Baths
  14. Eating tea leaf salad at Burma Superstar

1. Starting the day at Arizmendi’s bakery (Yelp)

  • Duration: 10 mins

Sun was staying at a guesthouse in San Bruno and so I picked her up from the San Bruno BART station and headed towards the Inner Sunset. We had a long day ahead of us and I wanted to start the day with a good breakfast. I chose Arizmendi’s Bakery based on the glowing reviews on Yelp and recommendations from blogs. Fortunately, there wasn’t much of a line at 11am on a Wednesday. IMG_3859 Arizmendi’s Bakery is a cooperative business that is owned and operated by the workers. According to the website “The name Arizmendi is based on José Maria Arizmendiarrieta, a young priest who inspired and helped found the Mondragón Cooperatives in the Basque Country of Spain. Although worker cooperatives have functioned in most parts of the world since the 19th century, the success of the Mondragón Cooperatives has attracted worldwide attention.”

This is what greeted us as we entered. The baked goods are all well labeled with their ingredients. Since it was our first time here, we decided to try several items. I went straight after the pecan roll because, look. We also got a chocolate thing, a lemon poppy seed muffin, and a cheese bread. The pecan roll was by far my favorite.

  • Cost: ~$12 for 4 pastries and a juice

Pastries in hand, we walked down 9th avenue towards the park to check out this video store I read about that had an amazing selection of movies.

2. Checking out old school movies at Le Video (Yelp)

  • Duration: 15 mins

The story is that Le Video used to be a standalone video store, but due to economic pressures they combined with Green Apple Books. The first floor is now the bookstore and the 2nd floor is Le Video. IMG_3858 We walked through the bookstore and headed upstairs to Le Video. IMG_3853 Le Video has a better selection than I had imagined! Most of the titles here are ones you won’t find on Netflix or Amazon Prime. The DVDs are organized into themes, each catering to a specific crowd. I of course went to the Asian section. I took Japanese film during college and was happy to see those directors well represented here. IMG_3854 Le Video also has lots of VHS tapes for rent. But I wondered, who still has a working VCR nowadays? On my way out I browsed through the bookstore and this caught my eye. I know a few people who could use this particular title. IMG_3857 Next we drove into the park at 9th avenue and headed to the Koret Children’s Quarter Playground for some fun.

3. Playing on the swings at Koret Children’s Quarter Playground (Yelp)

  • Duration: 30 mins

Playgrounds are just awesome. Unfortunately, many of San Francisco’s playgrounds are off limits to adults unless you are supervised by children. Fortunately for us, this one didn’t have that rule, or at least we didn’t see it posted anywhere. IMG_3860 The playground looks a little like a children’s fantasy land with swings and slides and lots of things to run around in and play with. We first played on the swings and then went to the slides. IMG_3861 The slides are built with concrete and you need a piece of cardboard to slide down smoothly. Unfortunately we did not bring our own and the ones already there were wet from the previous rain, or dew. Oh well, another day then.

We walked past the carousel and the parking lot to the Lawn Bowling Center where a bunch of rascals were playing their morning games. I had never seen actual lawn bowling played, but it looked like a lot of fun. IMG_3863 Next we headed back to the car and drove towards the Conservatory of Flowers.

Protip: The best parking for the Koret Children’s Quarter playground is between the Lawn Bowling Center and the playground. You can also find parking further down the road towards the tennis courts. 

4. Enjoying the free day at the Conservatory of Flowers (Yelp)

  • Duration: 30 mins

I chose Tuesday for exploring Golden Gate park because on the first Tuesday of each month, several museums in San Francisco are free to enter, including the Conservatory of Flowers, the de Young Museum, and the Legion of Honor. Lucky for us the weather on Tuesday was perfect.

Protip: When parking at the Conservatory of Flowers, park behind the building instead of on JFK Drive. You’ll be closer to the main building and it’s easier to find a spot.  There was even a jazz musician playing the tunnels under the bridge. It was the perfect soundtrack to a beautiful day in the park. Here is Sun taking photos on top of the tunnel. IMG_3867 The Conservatory of Flowers is not huge, but it has lots of interesting plants. I’ve been to many botanical gardens and greenhouses, but some of these plants were completely new to me. IMG_3881IMG_3880IMG_3877IMG_3879IMG_3876IMG_3875 IMG_3872IMG_3871IMG_3870 Moving on! Next stop was the music concourse and the Hamon Observation Tower.

5. Taking in the view from the Hamon Observation Tower 

  • Duration: 20 mins

The music concourse is the area between the California Academy of Sciences, the de Young Museum, and the Japanese Tea Garden. You can see the Spreckels Temple of Music in the photo below. IMG_3892 The Hamon Observation Tower is the tall part of the de Young Museum. Unlike the rest of the museum, it is always free to enter. I think the de Young Museum is an odd looking building. If I were a super villain, I’d choose this place as my evil headquarters. You can take the elevator up to the 9th floor to get to the observation room. From here you can get a 360 degree view of San Francisco. However, most of downtown San Francisco is blocked by the hills to the East. The views today were amazing, thanks to the drought we’re having. At this point it was around 12:50 pm, so we left the observation tower to make the 1 pm free walking tour at the Japanese Tea Garden.

6. Walking through history at the Japanese Tea Garden (Yelp)

  • Duration: 55 mins (45 min walking tour)

We got to the Tea Garden just before 1 pm and bought our tickets. We waited just inside the gate for our walking tour to start.

  • Cost: $6 for residents, $8 for non-residents

I found out about the free walking tours of the Japanese Tea Garden from SFcityguides.org. It is a non-profit organization that provides free walking tours for many popular areas of the city including Chinatown, the Presidio, and the Financial district. The tour guides are all volunteers and have been giving tours for many years. This was our guide Leslie. IMG_3895 The tour group had 6 people including us. The others were a middle aged couple from the midwest, and 2 grad school girls studying in SF. Off we go to learn about the history of the garden. IMG_3901 The tea garden was originally created as a “Japanese village” exhibit for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition. After the expo, the garden was taken care of by landscape architect Makoto Hagiwara, who expanded it from 1 acre to 5 acres. IMG_3902 However, during WWII, the Hagiwara family was forced into internment camps in Arizona, and their home in the garden was torn down. After the war, the Hagiwara family was not allowed back into the garden, and many of their family treasures were removed. Sadness… After that story, we felt like we needed to visit the tea house for some tea and snacks. IMG_3896 The tea house offers a variety of Japanese snacks and teas. I decided to go with the 10 piece mochi and the Genmaicha tea. Both were great and the tea really helped to warm me up as the temperature started dropping. IMG_3904 Next we headed back to the de Young Museum to take advantage of the free museum entrance.

7. Speed walking through art at the de Young Museum (Yelp)

  • Duration: 30 mins

My big mistake during the planning was that I forgot to plan for lunch. I had thought that we would have a big enough breakfast that would help us last into the afternoon but I was wrong. As a result, I think both of us were a little hangry and weren’t in the best mental state to enjoy the art at the de Young. I am always a big fan of the glass art at the de Young. This is one of my favorites. Mmm…. food…. IMG_1095 We essentially sped through the exhibits in about 30 minutes, and didn’t take many photos. Here’s one of the pieces I hadn’t seen before. IMG_3905 However, I did enjoy a new exhibit at the museum called The Gay Essays. It featured photographs by Anthony Friedkin chronicling the gay communities during the tumultuous years between 1969-1973. It’s on display till early January, so go see it while you still can! Next we drove over the Stow Lake.

8. Hiking up Strawberry Hill at Stow Lake (Yelp)

  • Duration: 25 mins

Stow Lake is one of the many small lakes in Golden Gate Park. I like this area because there are some very scenic spots around the lake for photos. This one below is of Sutro Tower and Twin Peaks. IMG_3725 Views from the edge of the lake:

IMG_3726 IMG_3727 This is one of the two bridges that lead to Strawberry Hill, which is inside the lake. We crossed here and hiked up the path to the top.

IMG_3729 IMG_3730 We climbed up the Western side of the hill and took some photos of the man-made waterfall along the way.

IMG_3731 IMG_3732 At the bottom of the waterfall is the Chinese pavilion where you can relax and watch the birds. IMG_3733 IMG_3734

At this point hunger was really getting to us and I made an executive decision to go for food.

9. Driving by the Bison Paddock (Yelp)

  • Duration: 1 minute

Even though the official name of the area is the Buffalo Paddock, what you will see are actually Bison. We did not actually stop to see the bison. We just drove by slowly and watched them from a distance. But if you were to stop, this is what you would see. Finally, we’re getting food!

10. Eating the infamous toast at Trouble Coffee Co. (Yelp)

  • Duration: 15 mins

San Francisco is a foodie’s heaven. There are countless amazing restaurants, cafes, and food trucks all serving up their unique creations to satisfy the always hungry taste buds of the local residents. As a result, food is a lot like fashion in this city in that what’s popular is always changing, and fads can go in and out of existence in the blink of an eye. Trouble Coffee Company is responsible for one of those fads: very expensive toast.

I’m not sure when it started, but all of a sudden cafes around SF started selling artisan toast, sometimes for more than $4 a slice. The hipsters of SF just couldn’t get enough. Some people thought that this was a sign of the tech elite inflating prices for everyone else, while other people thought it was just good toast.

The story of how the fad started was even featured on This American Life. After hearing the story, I had to try a piece of this toast.

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I have to say that I was not disappointed. The toast was thick and fluffy, and the brown sugar on top gave it a nice little crunch. It also went very well with the young coconut they also sell at the cafe.

Funny part of this is that Sun didn’t know that you could also eat the coconut meat, so she just drank the juice and threw the coconut away!

From Trouble Coffee Co. we could see the beach, and so that’s where we headed to next.

11. Climbing the sand dunes at Ocean Beach (Yelp)

  • Duration: 15 mins

I love going around the city on a weekday, there are just so few people around! I get to have Ocean beach all to myself. We parked the car at the lot at the end of Lincoln Way, and walked to the South to climb the sand dunes.

The sand dunes are actually pretty high, some go as far as 20-30 feet above the beach. There are little alcoves in the dunes that make for good picnic spots because they are shielded from the constant wind on Ocean Beach.

This was my view of the beach from the top of a sand dune.

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It was getting somewhat chilly so we didn’t go to the edge of the water, instead we headed back into the park to see the Murphy Windmill.

12. Getting up close to the Murphy Windmill (Yelp)

  • Duration: 5 mins

The Murphy Windmill was the second windmill to be constructed in Golden Gate Park, and at the time of its construction, it was the largest windmill of its kind. However, years of neglect had left the windmill in poor condition, and it wasn’t until 2001 that the city raised money to repair the windmill. The windmill is now in excellent condition, and perfect for a photo at sunset.

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Besides taking pictures of the windmill, there isn’t much else to do here. At this point we left the park and headed to Sutro Baths to watch the sunset.

13. Watching the sunset at Sutro Baths (Yelp)

  • Duration: 45 mins

Sutro Baths is the ruins of a swimming pool and bath house complex built at the end of the 19th century by former San Francisco mayor Adolph Sutro. The bath house was never profitable, and eventually burned down as the result of arson. Now the site is a park of a national park, and a popular place to hike the Land’s End trail.

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We decided to walk down to the ruins and get close to the water. The area is quite beautiful around sunset. IMG_3912

I wanted to get even closer to the water, so I hopped off the ledge and climbed on the slippery rocks by the water.

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To get a better view of the sunset, we walked up the hill to a viewing spot to the north of the ruins. The view from there was gorgeous.

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The sun is down and we were ready for dinner. Next stop, Burma!

14. Eating tea leaf salad at Burma Superstar (Yelp)

  • Duration: 1 hour

Burma Superstar is one of those places where it seems like everyone I know has been. I mean, the place only has over 5,000 reviews on Yelp. Since it was on my way home, I figured it would be a great way to end the day.

Fortunately the wait wasn’t long since it was only 6:30pm on a Tuesday night.

Of course we had to get the tea leaf salad, which is probably the most popular dish at the restaurant.

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The ingredients are fermented tea leaves, lettuce, fried lentils, fried garlic, peanuts, sunflower seats, tomatoes, jalapenos, and sesame seeds. The waitress came and mixed it for us, making it look like this:

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Compared to the other tea leaf salads I’ve had (2), it was lighter in flavor, but richer in texture. It’s a good way to start our meal.

The next dish is the Nan Gyi Dok, which is a mild coconut chicken rice noodle curry. It is made with Burmese rice noodles with a mild chicken coconut curry sauce, egg, split yellow pea, fried wonton chips, lime leaf, and fried onions.

Before and after mixing:

IMG_3918  IMG_3919The noodles were quite creamy and had a good amount of spice. The wonton chips and fried onions gave it a nice crunch. I would have preferred the noodles to be a little drier, but then it might not be Burmese.

The last dish was a basil chili pork belly.

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Now this had some heat! I liked everything about this dish.

The portions at Burma Superstar were solid and we left feeling completely stuffed. Even though I tend to stay away from restaurants that are TOO popular, I thoroughly enjoyed myself here and I can see coming back here with other visiting friends.

  • Cost: ~$30/person including drinks

That concludes Andy and Sun’s Day of Fun! I dropped Sun at her guesthouse and went home feeling quiet accomplished and exhausted.

How the day went:

I was happy with how the day turned out. Golden Gate Park is such an amazing place with so much to see and to do. I think the challenge with going to the park is figuring out what not to do so you can spend more time at fewer places. I went to some of my favorite spots in the park, but there is so much more to explore and see.

If I were to do the day over, I would make the following changes:

  1. Plan a lunch in the Inner Sunset or Inner Richmond. Both neighborhoods have great lunch options. I would probably go with dim sum or Chinese dumplings in the Inner Richmond.
  2. Skip the de Young Museum. Unless the people you are with REALLY want to go, there are just better things to do than spend your time indoors at a museum.
  3. Spend more time at Stow Lake. I really want to rent a boat and go around the lake, but we didn’t have the time nor energy for it today.
  4. Skip the Murphy Windmill. Driving by it slowly should be enough, unless you really want close up pictures of the windmill.

Again, here’s a handy map of all the attractions, restaurants, and bars I visited in this post: Map

If you enjoyed this post, please check out the other Andy’s Days of Fun here

What did you think of this tour? What did I miss? What would you have done differently? Please share it in the comments. I’d love to hear what you have to say.

What’s in a name anyway?

I’ve thought a lot about what to call my blog posts but have come up with no good names. I don’t want to call them tours because tours makes me think of those big buses that ferry tourists from place to place. I also don’t want to call them experiences because that’s just too vague and not exciting enough.

My friend Tiffany recently made a good suggestion for a name. It’s based on an old Friends episode where in an effort to become better friends with Joey, Janice (Chandler’s on again off again girlfriend) takes Joey on an epic day of activities.

She called it Joey and Janice’s day of fun!

I think it’s just silly enough to work. From now on, I’m calling my posts Andy’s Day of Fun! Starting with, Andy and Sun’s Day of Fun: Golden Gate Park.

Andy’s Day of Fun: Chinatown, North Beach, and the Embarcadero

Highlights:

  • Eat the best egg tarts in Chinatown
  • See how fortune cookies are made
  • See a 360 degree view of San Francisco
  • Explore and play for free at the Exploratorium
  • Gorgeous night time views of the bay

Check out the other Andy’s Days of Fun here

Today I will attempt to cover 3 neighborhoods at once. Chinatown, North Beach, and the Embarcadero. I plan on hitting some of the best spots in each neighborhood, and to give you an inside look at some of the places you’ve may have considered visiting. Since these are 3 rather large neighborhoods, I have a hell of a lot of walking ahead of me. But I’m excited about what I’m about to see (and eat), and I think I’m going to have a ton of fun.

The Stops:

  1. Start the day Powell street BART station
  2. Check out the scene at Union Square
  3. Taste the bubbles at Boba guys
  4. Enter Chinatown through the Dragon’s Gate
  5. Browse the stores on Grant street
  6. Try an egg custard tart at Eastern Bakery
  7. Tea tasting at Blest Tea
  8. See the dragon at the China Trade Center Art Gallery
  9. Watch the card games at Portsmouth Square Plaza
  10. Sip a Chinese Mai Tai at Li Po Cocktail Lounge
  11. Absorb the scents at Nam Hai Corporation
  12. More egg custard tarts at Golden Gate Bakery
  13. Get your fortune at Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory
  14. Eat a roast pork bun at Good Mong Kok bakery
  15. Walk the beat through Jack Kerouac Alley
  16. Relive the beat generation at Vesuvio Cafe
  17. Sit with a book at City Lights Bookstore
  18. Go On The Road at the Beat Museum
  19. Stroll through Little Italy down Columbus ave
  20. Sit on the grass at Washington Square Park
  21. Take in the view from Coit Tower
  22. See the gardens along the Filbert steps
  23. Sit by a fountain in Levi’s plaza
  24. Have a drink on the bay at Pier 23 Cafe
  25. Play like a kid again at the Exploratorium
  26. Take a romantic walk down Pier 7
  27. End the day at the Ferry Building
  28. Homeward bound from the Embarcadero BART station

1. Start the day at Powell street BART station:

The Powell BART station is the gateway to the main shopping and hotel district in San Francisco. There you will find stores like Macy’s and H&M, as well as high end stores like Gucci and Prada. I’m not a big shopper so I tend to skip the stores, but I do enjoy walking by Union Square. So that’s where I headed to first.

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From the BART station, I walked North along Stockton street. It’s about 2 blocks to Union Square.

2. Check out the scene at Union Square (Yelp)

  • Duration: 15 mins

Union Square is a giant open plaza in the middle of all the department stores and hotels. It got its name because it used to be a gathering place for rallies to support the Union army during the American Civil War.

It’s a great place to sit and relax in between your shopping runs. There are often public events held in the plaza. There is even an ice rink in the square during the holiday season.

How Union Square used to look. Unfortunately the lawns are long gone.

I went up to The Cheesecake Factory on the 8th floor of the Macy’s department store to get a better view of the square. There is an outdoor dining area at the restaurant that overlooks all of Union Square. You don’t need to eat there to check out the view.

From here I continued up Stockton street towards Chinatown. I was in the mood for some bubble tea.

3. Taste the bubbles at Boba guys (Yelp)

  • Duration: 3 mins

Bubble tea has a lot of different names. You might have heard boba tea, or pearl milk tea, or even tapioca milk tea. But it’s all the same thing, milk tea with chewy tapioca balls.

Boba guys is a new company that was started by 2 guys who really loved boba tea. They began as a popup shop in a ramen restaurant in the Mission and has now expanded to 2 physical locations in the Mission and Union Square.
boba

I have tried several of their flavors and I’ve liked them all. Personally I find the horchata and the iced matcha latte to be the most interesting.

This time, I got the Jasmine milk tea with almond jelly. I usually replace the tapioca balls with almond or grass jelly since I don’t like spending a lot of time and energy chewing.

  • Cost: $4 for 16oz cold tea

With tea in hand, I’m ready to head into Chinatown. I went up the stairs next to the big tunnel and walked down hill to the intersection of Bush and Grant street. There you’ll find the Dragon’s Gate.

4. Enter Chinatown through the Dragon’s Gate (Yelp)

Honestly I think the gate is a little cheesy and touristy. It’s pretty small, and the colors are somewhat faded. But it is a good landmark and stepping through the gate does make me feel like I’m in a different time and place.

dragon's gate

Let’s step into Chinatown and see what it has to offer.

5. Browse the stores on Grant street

My rule for browsing Chinatown stores is to skip any that look like a glorified dollar store. If you see license plates with names, it’s not worth your time. Also skip any places that are called bazaars. There are no bazaars in China. It’s just an exotic word used to lure in tourists.

Since I don’t shop much, I tend to treat browsing stores in Chinatown like I’m visiting a museum. I’m just here to see interesting artwork. I don’t need to bring it home with me.

Here are the stores I actually found to be interesting and worth checking out. They are listed as I walked by them down Grant street.

Tai Nam Yang Furniture Co. (Yelp)

  • Duration: 10 mins

I like the way this store is set up, and their collection of goods. Also, since it doesn’t have cheap goods spilling out the door, it tends to have fewer shoppers and is more quiet.

These are some of the items you won’t find in the other stores.

Dragon House Antiques (Yelp)

  • Duration: 10 mins

Looks like this store has actual antiques from China. There is a lot of controversy around taking antiques from old Chinese temples and selling them in the west. I don’t support the practice, but I do like seeing the pieces.

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Krystal Rock (Yelp)

  • Duration: 10 mins

This is not a Chinese themed store. It’s a store for model cars, model airplanes, and action figures. They also have a selection of LED t-shirts that I find to be very amusing.

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As you can see, Ironman is getting into the Halloween spirit!

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Sekaido (Yelp)

  • Duration: 10 mins

If you’re into anime or old school cartoons, then this store is awesome. However, be careful about touching too many items, I’ve heard that the owners can be pretty cranky.

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They have a great collection of t-shirts and toys from many old anime shows I watched as a kid. Look! A Saint Seiya t-shirt!

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Old Shanghai (Yelp)

  • Duration: 10 mins

This store is more touristy, but I really like their music, and their upstairs section has some interesting items.

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This is one of the few items I would consider buying, if it wasn’t so overpriced.

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The Wok Shop (Yelp)

  • Duration: 5 mins

The wok is an all purpose cooking pot used in Chinese cooking. It originates from the Guandong province in China. It can be used for stir frying, steaming, pan frying, deep frying, poaching, boiling, braising, searing, stewing, making soup, smoking and roasting nuts. Yea, it’s pretty useful.

Here you can see a collection of woks on top of a traditional brick oven.

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The store sells new woks, seasoned (used) woks, and lots of other kitchen supplies and utensils. And since it’s Chinatown, they also sell lanterns.

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Looking at cooking utensils has made me hungry, so I stopped by next door for some baked goods.

6. Try an egg custard tart at Eastern Bakery (Yelp)

  • Duration: 5 mins

If you’ve been to a Chinatown before, then you know how many bakeries there can be. What’s different about the bakeries in the San Francisco Chinatown is that they’re not chains. Eastern Bakery is one of my usual stops.

I’ve heard that Eastern Bakery may be the first ever bakery in Chinatown. That claim has not been confirmed or denied.

They do have handy signs in English to help you make sense of what to get.

My favorite snack. Dan tat, or egg custard tart. You can usually get these for around $1. I ended up getting a coconut filled pastry, a lotus filled pastry, and a peanut filled pastry. The lotus one was my favorite.

  • Cost: 3 pastries for $5.75

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Armed with pastries, I decided to hop over to the next block for a tea tasting.

Along the way, I stopped to check out some of the weapons for sale at Asian Trends on the next block. If I want to be Wolverine for Halloween, I’ll know where to come to.

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7. Tea tasting at Blest Tea (Yelp)

  • Duration: 15 mins

Blest Tea is a small hole in the wall tea shop specializing in blended teas from Asia.

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They have dozens of blends of teas you can choose from. The teas range from green, to Oolong, to black, and many are blended with fruits and fragrant flowers. For a $3 per person tasting, you can try up to 5 teas made fresh right in front of you.

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I’m not too knowledgeable about tea so I went with Nicole’s recommendations.

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Out of the 5 teas I tried, I ended up getting an ounce of the Summer Breeze and an ounce of the Osmanthus Oolong. The Summer Breeze is made with dried melons and was my favorite of the bunch.

  • Cost: $20 for tea tasting, 2 oz of tea, and a strainer

Next up is probably my favorite art gallery in Chinatown.

8. See the dragon at the China Trade Center Art Gallery (Yelp)

  • Duration: 15 mins

This is one of the larger buildings in Chinatown, and has an very official looking name.

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Directly inside the door is this giant lantern.

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And inside the spiral staircase is this hanging dragon.

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There are also some very nice ink art and calligraphy pieces, along with statues and figurines on the bottom floor. It’s a nice place to browse.

Now it’s time to go see where the Chinese people hangout in Chinatown. I took a right at Washington street and walked towards Portsmouth Square.

9. Watch the card games at Portsmouth Square Plaza (Yelp

  • Duration: 10 mins

Portsmouth Square is a plaza in Chinatown where the elderly of the neighborhood gather to play games. The games consist mostly of card games, Chinese checkers, and occasionally mahjong. There are often dozens of games going on at the same time, with a handful of spectators at each table.

I’m not sure why but some tables have way more spectators than others. Perhaps those are higher level games with bigger stakes? It’s not clear that there’s gambling going on but I’m pretty sure money is being exchanged at some of the tables.

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Now it’s time to visit one of the few bars in the neighborhood. I headed back towards Grant street and continued to Li Po Cocktail Lounge.

10. Sip a Chinese Mai Tai at Li Po Cocktail Lounge (Yelp)

  • Duration: 15 mins

Li Po was a Chinese poet from the mid-Tang dynasty. He was known to celebrate drunkenness, and one of his most famous poems is named “Waking from Drunkenness on a Spring Day”.

Li Po Cocktail Lounge has been open since 1937, and much of the artwork and decorations have survived since then. According to the bartender, most of the visitors to the lounge are travelers and local bartenders.

Since I was here, I might as well try a Chinese mai tai, the bar’s own concoction. It’s definitely a stiff drink, and was featured on an episode of Layover by Anthony Bourdain.

  • Cost: $9 + tip

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Now that I’m slightly woozy, it’s time to perk up my sense of smell at Nam Hai Corporation across the street.

11. Absorb the scents at Nam Hai Corporation (Yelp)

  • Duration: 10 mins

Nam Hai Corporation is a traditional Chinese medicine shop that sells a variety of teas, herbs, ginseng, mushrooms, and anything else that could be sold as a Chinese “health” product. Although I’m not fully convinced of the effects of such remedies, I do like seeing and smelling the strange items they sell.

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Check out these giant mushrooms. What do they do? I have no clue. But I can tell you that they’re expensive.

Since I’ve only had a pastry and a lot of tea, it’s time for some lunch. This lunch will be eaten at 3 locations, starting with Golden Gate Bakery.

12. More egg custard tarts at Golden Gate Bakery (Yelp)

  • Duration: 5 mins

Golden Gate Bakery is one of the most popular bakeries in Chinatown. Many people believe that they have the best egg custard tarts in the city. Well, I’m about to find out for myself.

The egg custard tarts definitely look amazing. But how do they taste?

After a few bites, I can say that the crust of the tart is definitely flakier than those at Eastern Bakery. The custard itself is less sweet, but still very creamy and delicious. I can’t say which one is the winner, so I’ll just have to come back next time.

  • Cost: $2 for 2 tarts

Lunch stop #2 is Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.

13. Get your fortune at Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory (Yelp)

The factory is located in Ross alley between Grant st and Stockton st. It’s not big so it’s easy to miss.

Directly inside the entrance you can see the workers at work making the cookies. The cookies come off the assembly line as little pancakes, which are then folded into the fortune cookie shape and allowed to cool on a rack. I wonder who actually write the fortunes for these cookies…

Since I make fortune cookies myself, I didn’t feel like buying a bag. Instead, I bought a bag of cow ear cookies, also known as Smackers.

  • Cost: $3.75 for 1 bag

Now let’s get some real lunch food at our last bakery stop, Good Mong Kok bakery.

14. Eat a roast pork bun at Good Mong Kok Bakery (Yelp)

The Good Mong Kok Bakery is different from the other bakeries in that they also make dim sum and other food items. What I personally like to get here are the roast pork buns. They are bigger, and come with more filling than your average roast pork bun.

Of course I also had to get an egg custard tart from here as well. In addition, I got a mochi pastry covered with coconut shavings and filled with a peanut based filling. Nom nom.

  • Cost: $2.50 for a roast pork bun, egg custard tart, and a mochi pastry. What a deal!

Now that’s a filling lunch! And that about ends the Chinatown portion of the tour. Now it’s time to venture into North Beach, starting with Jack Kerouac alley.

15. Walk the beat through Jack Kerouac Alley (Yelp)

  • Duration: 5 mins

The alley is named after Jack Kerouac because he used to frequent the book store and cafe in the alley.

Before becoming Jack Kerouac alley, the alley used to be a garbage dump and a shortcut for cars. The co-founder of City Lights Books presented the idea of transforming the alley into a public space in 1988. The alley was repaved, remodeled, and finally reopened in 2007.

The alley features several engraved poems, including poets like John Steinbeck, Maya Angelou, and Kerouac.

Following the advice of the poem above, I shall step into Vesuvio cafe for some wine, or beer.

16. Relive the beat generation at Vesuvio Cafe (Yelp)

Vesuvio Cafe is just at the end of Jack Kerouac Alley. The bar is known being a regular hangout of several beat generation celebrities including Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Allen Ginsberg. Bob Dylan and Francis Ford Coppola were also regular visitors.

I’m not sure how to adequately describe the interior of the bar. All I can say is that it has a lot of character, and history.

There is a fair amount of artwork and memorabilia both downstairs and upstairs. I definitely felt like my artistic senses were stimulated while sipping on my beer. I guess it could have just been the alcohol.

  • Cost: $6 + tip

After the beer I head across the street to the bookstore.

17. Sit with a book at City Lights Bookstore (Yelp)

  • Duration: 20 mins

City Lights Bookstore was founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a beat generation poet and publisher of many beat generation writers.

The bookstore is small but cozy, and it encourages visitors to sit down and read. I sat in that chair on the right, and the book I picked up was a Lonely Planet Guide to San Francisco. After browsing the suggestions and tours in the book, I’m pretty sure I do a better job of providing recommendations for San Francisco.

After sitting down for a few minutes, I felt refreshed enough to move onto the next stop, The Beat Museum.

18. Go On The Road at the Beat Museum (Yelp)

The Beat Museum is across the intersection from the City Lights Bookstore. Interestingly, it is also right next to several strip clubs. I wonder which one came first…

The museum is a tribute to the central figures of the beat generation, and also to the art and culture of those times. You can find books by Kerouac and Ginsberg, as well as records and magazines from those years.

I decided to not pay the $8 to check out the museum, and just browsed the museum store instead. There is a ’49 Hudson in the store, made famous in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. The car is covered with dust, supposedly from the 5,000 mile drive it took to get the car to San Francisco.

The store also has a large collection of old Playboy magazines. The articles are very well written.

Next, I go into the heart of Little Italy.

19. Stroll through Little Italy down Columbus ave

  • Duration: 20 mins

The intersection of Columbus ave and Broadway is the end of Chinatown and the start of Little Italy. It’s interesting that in both New York City and San Francisco that Chinatown and Little Italy border each other. Perhaps this points to the progression of immigrants through these two cities.

The feel of Columbus ave is distinctly different from Chinatown. The hole in the wall bakeries are replaced with pizzerias and cheese shops. And the sidewalks are lined with tables for patrons drinking their afternoon coffee or wine.

There were plenty of bakeries on this stretch of the road as well. However, I was still pretty full from lunch and I only feasted with my eyes.

Columbus ave eventually cuts through Washington Square park. And on the corner of the park is Rogue Ales Public House. Normally I would have stopped in for a beer, but I was running short on day light so I skipped this stop.

20. Sit on the grass in Washington Square Park (Yelp)

  • Duration: 20 mins

Washington Square park is a great place to relax on a sunny afternoon. The sides of the park is lined with great restaurants, bars, and small boutique shops.

On the North side of the park is Saints Peter and Paul Church. Ironically, the address of the church is 666 Filbert street. Mark of the beast!

From the park I took a right and went up Filbert street towards Coit Tower. This is the big climb of the day, and a good way to burn off the pastries I ate earlier.

21. Take in the view from Coit Tower (Yelp)

  • Duration: 30 mins

The tower is named after Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a wealthy socialite who loved to chase fires. When she died in 1929, she left a third of her estate to the city for civic beautification. Coit tower was proposed in 1931, and built in 1933.

To get to the top of the tower you have to take an elevator, and the entrance to the top is $8. You can also choose not to go up the elevator and enjoy the views from the base of the tower. I decided to go up because I just love great views from tall buildings.

The top of the tower is lined with windows which you can peek out of. Fortunately it was a very clear day and I was able to see the entire city and the bay.

There isn’t much to do up there other than take pictures, so I got my photos and headed back down. Before leaving Coit Tower, I walked down to Pioneer park and checked out the statue of Christopher Columbus. It still fascinates me how much America idolizes Columbus, despite the fact that he was a pretty terrible human being.

Next I walked down the famous Filbert Steps towards the piers.

22. See the gardens along the Filbert steps (Yelp)

  • Duration: 10 mins

Filbert street is one of the steepest streets in the Western Hemisphere, which explains the necessity of the steps. Most of the houses along the street are only reachable via the steps.

The gardens along the steps are paid for and maintained by the residents of the street. It is quite peaceful to walk through the garden. There’s something about walking on wooden steps that puts me at ease.

At the bottom of the steps you can get a pretty good view of Coit tower. And you can really get a sense of how steep Filbert street is.

At the base of the hill is Levi’s Plaza.

23. Sit by a fountain in Levi’s plaza (Yelp)

  • Duration: 15 mins

Levi’s Plaza is part of the Levi’s Strauss office complex. On one side is the corporate offices and on the other is a park with fountains and tree lined paths.

The park portion is very serene and a good place to sit and reflect for a while. I do enjoy meditating to the sound of flowing water.

Now it’s time to hit the water! I crossed the street and headed to Pier 23.

24. Have a drink on the bay at Pier 23 Cafe (Yelp)

  • Duration: 15 mins

Pier 23 Cafe is a restaurant/bar with outdoor seating looking out into the bay. I love sitting by the water with a drink and this place was ideal after the Coit Tower climb.

One of my favorite things about San Francisco is how much of the city is surrounded by water. Of course we’re screwed when the polar ice caps melt, but at least we can enjoy the ocean views from all sides of the city.

Since I had to make it to the Exploratorium by 4, 1 drink was all I had time for.

  • Cost: $7 + tip

25. Play like a kid again at the Exploratorium (Yelp)

  • Duration: 2.5 hours

The Exploratorium is a giant interactive museum that takes over all of pier 15. Normally the entrance fee is $29 for adults. But several times a year the Exploratorium is free to the public, and this happens to be one of those days.

Pretty much everything in the Exploratorium is a hands on scientific experiment. You can play with exhibits that experiment with light, sound, motion, water, and much much more. I could spend an entire day here and not be bored.

The coolest thing for me was the parabolic mirror. Never have I ever felt like I could touch my own reflection. It was real trippy but awesome.

At the end of the pier you can get some amazing views of Alcatraz, the bay, and the bay bridge. I really got lucky with the weather on this day.

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The sun had set by the time I was kicked out of the Exploratorium. So I headed to pier 7 for some night time views of the bay.

26. Take a romantic walk down Pier 7 (Yelp)

  • Duration: 20 mins

Pier 7 is one of the few places where you can walk out into the bay. It’s a nice walk if you want to clear your head and take in the natural beauty of the bay.

The bonus of pier 7 is that you’re treated with a gorgeous view of the San Francisco skyline as you walk back towards the road.

Remember Coit tower from earlier? Well now it’s lit up all in red. It’s quite a striking image against the night sky.

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Now onto our last stop of the day, the iconic Ferry Building.

27. End the day at the Ferry Building (Yelp)

  • Duration: 10 mins

I would recommend having dinner at one of the many water front restaurants along the Embarcadero. However, since I was touring solo, I decided to eat at home instead. But if you were on a date, it would be a good way to end the night.

San Francisco is really into lighting up its buildings with different colors. That night it happened to be blue, but I’m not sure why.

28. Homeward bound from the Embarcadero BART station

  • Total duration: ~8 hours
  • Total cost: $67.50

That was one of the longest tours I’ve taken to date and probably also the richest in terms of experience. It also didn’t cost very much, at $67.50, I had plenty of great food and drinks all day. I didn’t need to buy the tea but it did smell and taste wonderful.

Here’s my take on the three neighborhoods:

Chinatown: I got to know Chinatown a lot better today and I’m happy about that. It’s definitely a tourist trap in some places, but the food you find there is pretty awesome and very cheap. There is a lot of good art and crafts to be seen if you know where to look. There are also little surprises like the Wok Shop and Blest Tea. I think I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of Chinatown.

North Beach: The pace of life feels slower here. People don’t seem to be in a rush. There is always time to enjoy a snack and a cup of coffee. Let’s go hangout in the park and look at the beautiful church! I can see the appeal of this area.

Embarcadero: Despite not being known for its nightlife, there is a lot to offer. From the beautiful views of the bay to the nighttime skyline of the city, the Embarcadero might be one of the more romantic parts of the city. It’s the perfect place for long walks and talks about the future.

Again, here’s a handy map of all the attractions, restaurants, and bars I visited in this post: Map

If you enjoyed this post, please check out the other Andy’s Days of Fun here

What did you think of this tour? What did I miss? What would you have done differently? Please share it in the comments. I’d love to hear what you have to say.