California Day Two

First stop Saturday morning was breakfast at Sweet Maple where the coffee was strong and the bacon was one inch thick. Not literally, but pretty close, and that seems to be what it’s known for. Google “sweet maple san francisco” and you’ll see lots of photos people took of their bacon. I’m not kidding. I don’t remember much more about Sweet Maple, other than the food was good and the restaurant was very popular. We got there just before the morning rush of very fit-looking people showed up. By the time we finished our breakfast and left, the line was out the door.

From there we headed to Pier 39 to see the sea lions, the next item on our San Francisco bucket list (Golden Gate, cable cars, sea lions, an earthquake). A whole lot of floating docks have been moored off the far end of the pier that serve no other purpose than to give the dozens of fat sea lions a place to lounge in the sun so that tourists can take lots and lots of photos of them. I would bet that the people who own the expensive boats tied up along the actual docks pay extra money to keep the sea lions and their great big stinky sea lion poop way out on those floating docks. I could be wrong. But I bet I’m not.

After “see the sea lions” was checked off our bucket list, we wandered along the wharf toward Ghiardelli Square looking for the kiosk where we could buy a Muni pass that would let us ride the cable cars, trams and buses all day. The kiosk turned out to be at the end of the Hyde-Powell cable car line, right where we wanted to be. We planned to take the cable car to Lombard Street anyway, but then we got distracted by Ghiardelli Square, where we went to do a little shopping first and then ended up having ice cream for lunch. As you do.

There was a long, long line of tourists waiting to get on the cable car at the end of the line. I thought we would be able to beat the crowds by walking up the road a couple blocks and waiting at the stop for the next car that came along. See, I’m pretty devious that way. Well, it turns out that the guys who run the cable cars drive right by smartasses like me without so much as pausing to flip us off. The next cable car wasn’t due to come by for at least twenty minutes and would probably be just as packed full of tourists as the last one, so we wandered around until we found a bus to take us back to the top of Lombard Street. Note to self: Never plan on getting anywhere in San Francisco on the cable cars. They’re just a tourist attraction that happens to be a mode of transportation, not the other way around. Jump on them at least once so you can say you’ve done it, but if you need to get somewhere at a certain time, plan on getting there using anything else but a cable car.

Lombard Street is the twistiest-turniest street in San Francisco. And a tourist destination. So many tourists show up to take pictures of Lombard Street that there are a couple of San Francisco traffic cops at every intersection to keep traffic from running over the tourists. The locals must love that. We went because bucket list.

Lombard Street San Francisco

Then it was on to Telegraph Hill; easier said than done. We got on a bus that took us to within a couple blocks of Union Square as the base of Telegraph Hill, then couldn’t figure out how to get the rest of the way other than by just walking, which wasn’t a problem, it’s just that we’re both kind of out of shape, so much so that by the time we’d walked three blocks we were ready for a nap. We settled for a rest on a bench in the square.

B wanted to see the parrots of Telegraph Hill. I had my doubts that there even were any parrots, much less that we would be lucky enough to see even one of them, but she was determined to at least try. She was not, however, going to climb the hill, especially not after our three-block trek up to Union Square. Trying to sort out which bus to catch to the top, though, is not easy to do. There are lots of bus lines that stopped on a dozen or so corners, and it’s not like you can just look at them and intuit where they go. We had to circle around the square a couple times before we figured it out. When we finally got to the top, we were there barely five minutes, standing at the edge of the overlook to take a selfie, when a whole effen flock of parrots went whiffling past. Check off another item from our list.

Walking down Filbert Steps was a huge disappointment. It’s billed in the guide books as a scenic walk with classic views of the city, but it was more like a back alley.

We stopped to cool off with a couple of well-deserved cold beers at a bar in Union Square before walking up to Mason Street to catch a cable car to the cable car museum. (I would argue that this is the one time you should plan to go anywhere on a cable car.) The first cable car that came by blew us off. The driver didn’t even look our way. The next one paused, more or less (it was sort of a rolling stop), and the driver shouted at us, “FOUR! I can take FOUR! THERE!” he said, pointing at the running boards, “and THERE!” We jumped on and each of us grabbed a handhold, just like you see in the movies.

Let me take just a moment to tell you about cable cars. They move only as fast as the cable that pulls them along, and I think that’s something like ten, maybe twelve miles per hour, tops. Doesn’t look very fast when you’re walking along and see one go by. When you’re clinging to one for dear life, though, and cars are whizzing past just inches away from your butt, then cable cars seem to be GOING LIKE A BAT OUTTA HELL! Out trip to the museum on the outside of a cable car was maybe ten blocks at the most, not very far but terrifying, or exhilarating, I’m not sure which.

The cable car museum is actually the working powerhouse for two of the cable car lines. There’s a little museum off to one side, but smack in the middle of the room there are four or six or eight (I forget, sue me) whirling steel wheels, each as big as a full moon, pulling the cables that make the cars go up and down the hills. It’s kind of loud, but it’s really very cool, or at least it was to me. Even B said she liked it, and I think she really meant it, even though her eyes usually glass over when I mention going to see anything that has to do with trains.

After wandering around the museum a bit, we caught a bus downtown to get a beer at a brewpub called The 21st Amendment which was unfortunately right down the street from the baseball stadium and a game had just let out; the place was packed! Shoving our way through the crowds, we found a place upstairs to sit with our beers while the crowd yammered around us. The guy at the next table had an expression on his face, which got more disgusted with each passing minute, that said this was his favorite hangout, and all these jabbering yahoos were seriously harshing his buzz. We downed our beers and got out as quickly as we could, catching a street car across town, the intention being to get some dinner at a restaurant called The Social Kitchen.

We had a little trouble with the streetcar. The driver stopped well short of our destination in a residential neighborhood and told us we had to get out, but there would be another train along in about 20 minutes. Apparently this is a thing they do. “I can’t take you any further than this, get out.” The rest of the riders didn’t seem bothered at all by it, just got off and stood by the side of the road, waiting until the next tram came along. Well, whatever.

The brewpub was well worth the wait; good food and good beer. B sampled all their brews in a flight and I had just one glass before we ventured forth to catch the bus back to the hotel. The bus driver must have been related to the guy who drove the tram, because he dropped us off about ten blocks short of our destination in a residential neighborhood! It happened to us twice in one day! Bonus!

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