Day 4 in San Francisco – Cable Cars, Chinatown and the Castro neighbourhood

We woke up bright and early at 5:15 in the morning and caught the 6 am BART train from 16th Street and Mission towards Fremont (you can also get any train going in the direction towards Pittsburg/Bay Point and Richmond) and exited at Powell Street. Since it was only 6:30 am, there were no lineups for the cable cars! I highly recommend going early if you plan on riding the cable cars because at around 11 AM, the line-ups become insanely long and people lined up for blocks and blocks down the streets to get a spot on the cable cars and the cars looked so crowded at that time! Taking part in the early morning was a much more relaxing and enjoyable experience.

We hopped on the Powell-Mason car and purchased a one day pass for $17 from the conductor, which allowed us to hop on and off the cars all day, without paying the $7 one-way fare each time (it is a good deal if you plan on riding all three cable car lines or if you plan to get on and off along the way to see the sights). You get on the cable car, find your seat and then pay for your ticket when the conductor walks around collecting money from everyone. We sat on the edge of the cable cars as the car climbed up the hills and then rolled down them. It was a lot of fun! We got off at Lombard Street and walked uphill to the famous crooked section of Lombard. It was quite the hike! It was so quiet and peaceful and my mom and I were the only people there, which was great! We continued walking up extremely steep portion of Lombard on the sidewalk steps beside the winding street, admiring the gorgeous and massive houses along the street. I can’t imagine parking here and walking this hill every day to get to your house! There were beautiful pink flowers growing in the curves of the street. The views from the top of the street were stunning, and you could see all the way down to the Bay.

We continued walking downhill towards Fisherman’s Wharf. It was quiet in the morning (around 8 AM) and there was hardly anybody around, which was beautiful. It was very commercialized and I can only imagine how crowded with people it gets during the day! I’m so glad we came early.

We walked around Pier 39, and found the sea lions. They were all crowded onto a few floating wood pieces on the water next to the Pier. It was cool to watch them swim and how they use their small tail and body to jump on and off the docks. We walked through the pier and saw all of the fishing boats lined up in the bay and there was a colourful carousel in the middle of the pier.

Pier 39 is very commercialized, and is filled with souvenir/gift shops and pricey restaurants all catering to tourists. It is basically an outdoor mall, located on the Pier. I can only imagine how busy this area would be during midday! However, it was pleasant before the stores opened and we had a really enjoyable walk along the water and the Pier, at this time of day though. Throughout our cable car ride to the Pier, I really needed to use the washroom. We finally found a free public toilet located inside an enclosed circular tube-like “building” on a street corner near Pier 39. I pressed the button to open the door and was immediately greeted with the intense smell of fresh feces… As I looked inside the toilet “building,” I saw that the toilet was overflowing with poop! There was no way I was going to use that toilet and my urge to go to the bathroom suddenly diminished! I waited it out and ended up finding many washrooms to use on Pier 39. Thank goodness. These freestanding public toilets are located on many street corners in San Francisco, and are often used by the many homeless people in the city. That was the last time I attempted to use one.

We walked back to the intersection of Hyde and Beach Streets to wait for the Powell-Hyde cable car that would take us to California Street (where we could catch the third cable car line that ran along California Street). There was a small line up but not too bad and we got on quickly. This time we stood on the side of the car, hanging off the edge and taking photos as we rolled up and down the hills. The views from the top of the hills were great!

We got off the car at California Street and waited for the third cable car line at the brown cable car stop sign (You can catch the cable cars anywhere along their route, by waiting beside the brown cable car stop signs along the street). It came soon after and we road west down California, which had some very scenic views of the city below from the top. We then road the car back east along California. We got off the cable car at Stockton Street and explored Chinatown. I haven’t been to China, but I think that this is definitely what it would feel like! There were Chinese people everywhere, acupuncture places, restaurants, and corner markets selling some unknown dried goods, fruits and vegetables. Many of the street signs and menus were displayed using only Chinese symbols and no English translation. The architecture of the buildings was very Chinese-inspired. There were red lanterns hanging overtop of Grant Avenue, from string/cables strung above the street, which looked super cool. We found a small Chinese restaurant called Bo Hon Restaurant on Grant Avenue and ordered some vegetable fried rice which was delicious! We were the only ones in the restaurant, as they had just opened, which was nice.

After eating, we wandered around a bit more around Chinatown, we walked a long ways back to the Powell Street BART station and caught the train back to the Mission District. On our walk back to the BART station, we walked by Union Square briefly. There were so many high-end boutiques (like Saks on 5th, Tiffany’s and others) and department stores lining every street surrounding the square. The area was a little too materialistic and commercialized for my liking. There was nothing special about Union Square and the area was so crowded with people that you could barely walk without bumping into someone. Union Square itself was basically just a small park-like area surrounded by high rise buildings. I was really glad that we chose to stay in a more authentic San Francisco neighbourhood, than staying at a hotel downtown. I did enjoy walking through downtown briefly and looking at all of the tall buildings. There were so many business looking people everywhere and it was very upscale, compared to Winnipeg’s downtown which is grungy and sketchy and filled with homeless people begging for money, crime and other strange characters.

Once we arrived back in the Mission, we relaxed for a bit at the apartment and then went for a walk to the Castro neighbourhood.

There were rainbow flags everywhere, hanging from peoples’ houses and being displayed in business’ windows. Castro Street itself (the main thorough-fare in the neighbourhood) was bustling with people, cute little cafes, sidewalk markets, bars and unique independent shops. At the intersection of Castro and 18th Streets, were rainbow crosswalks painted on the streets, which was cool! We saw the beautiful Castro Theatre and then wandered down 20th and 19th Streets and found some gorgeous Victorian homes. They are all so colourful and different! Every one of them was photo worthy, and most of my photos are probably of the houses. One of my favourite things to do when visiting new cities is to explore the residential neighbourhoods to see how and where the locals live. I find it fascinating! While walking in the Castro, we came across a random set of stairs on a hill at the corner of 19th Street and Sanchez, that looked like it might have a good view. We climbed the short flight of stairs winding up the hill and were rewarded with yet another (one of many in this city) fantastic panoramic view of the city below.

We walked back to the Mission District and stopped at Bi-Rite Creamery (3692 18th Street) for an ice cream. I tried the creme brûlée flavour and my mom had the malted vanilla. Both were sooo tasty and creamy! Bi-Rite has the most delicious homemade ice cream I have ever tasted. The line-up usually had people waiting around the corner of the building, but it was always well worth the wait and the line moved fairly quickly. Then we walked across the street to Bi-Rite Market to get some more organic yogurt, kombucha and bananas for breakfast. The market had such a great selection of kombucha, organic yogurt, raw milk and fresh produce! I just wanted to buy and eat it all. For supper, we went to El Toro Taqueria which is right around the corner from where we are staying, at the corners of Valencia and 17th Street. We had the most delicious “super vegetarian tacos” and strawberry aguas frescas. It was so satisfying! The staff are very generous with the portions of each topping and the tacos are loaded with delicious ingredients. They even have a salsa bar with a variety of salsa in varying degrees of spiciness to add to your tacos. The atmosphere of the place felt like very authentic Mexican, as did the taste of the food. It got very busy here in the evenings and sometimes the line-up was outside the door and onto the street, but it was worth the wait.

Tomorrow, I am looking forward to visiting Alamo Square, Coit Tower and the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market along with re-visiting Haight and Ashbury.

My tacos at El Toro Taqueria

A cool door on Valencia Street in the Mission

The view from the 19th and Sanchez Street Stairs.

A gorgeous home in the Castro neighbourhood

Rainbow crosswalks at the intersection of Castro Street and 18th.

Two of my all-time favourite Victorian houses in San Francisco, located in the Castro

Vegetable fried rice at Bo Hon Restaurant on Grant Avenue in Chinatown

The view of Alcatraz from Pier 39

Pier 39

Lombard Street

View from the top of Lombard Street

View from the top of Lombard Street. Gorgeous!

Lombard Street

Lombard Street





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