After the Royal Princess docked in San Francisco, my sisters and I went out to the pier to meet with our cousin and her friend who live in the area. We hadn’t seen our cousin for quite some time so it was nice to have a chance to visit with her. They took us around to see the sights for the day. Our cousin’s friend is quite knowledgeable about the area and its history.
First we took a streetcar down to the ferry pier, which used to be a major means of transportation, but now is more of a mall with lots of shops and a greatly reduced ferry schedule, though it does still have ferries. Streetcars run along the waterfront and though they are a historic means of travel, they are not the same thing as San Francisco’s famous cable cars. The city has a collection of vintage streetcars from around the world. The fare is pretty cheap and it was fun to get a chance to ride on a piece of history. Streetcars run on rails and are powered by an onboard electric motor and have trolley poles attached to the roof to obtain power from an overhead wire.
There are some interesting shops at the ferry pier, and it had public restrooms which we were told can be hard to find in San Francisco.
From there we walked a short distance past some little tent booths with things for sale on to a bus stop were we waited for the Big Bus tour, which is similar to the Hop on Hop Off bus, but the busses are bigger. City busses also use that bus stop.
While we waited a middle-eastern looking man came over to the bus stop and started yelling at us that blondes are stupid in some sort of lame attempt to start a fight or in his mind put a group of women in their place or something. We weren’t sure if he was high on some sort of drugs or just an extremely obnoxious person. We didn’t rise to his bait, though it was tempting to say something like stupid is as stupid does and we’re not the ones insulting strangers. I’ve been to a few countries in the middle east, and none of the people we saw there acted that way.
We moved a bit, but he came back and started yelling the same thing again, insistant on harassing us until my cousin took out her phone and threatened to call the police. Then he left. In all my travels around the world I’ve never ran into anyone like that before. Other than pickpockets and thieves most of the people we’ve come across are generally either friendly and helpful or just ignore everyone they’re not with. Occasionally we’ve come across someone loud, rude, or pushy, but never before been intentionally harassed.
The bus came and in spite of it being cold and windy, which it often is in San Francisco, we went upstairs and sat in the open top section. We stayed on the bus for quite awhile seeing the sights around town and going over the Golden Gate Bride. So we went both under and over the bridge in the same day.
We got off the bus in China Town by the China Gate. The driver said San Franciso has 3 China Towns. Wikipedia says there are 4. This one had shops selling jade, giant statues, fancy carvings, intricate tables, and huge geodes just the other side of the gate. All manner of shops selling everything from cheesy souveniers to food, jewelry, and clothing followed. Down the road pagoda style towers on top a couple buildings and strings of Chinese lanterns gave the area a real Chinatown look. The very Chinese looking lamp posts added to the effect.
We wandered through an old church in China town, which had a very beautiful interior and lots of gorgeous stained glass windows as old churches tend to do.
We had lunch at a small Chinese restaurant with good food. My sister wanted to see Lombard Street and I wanted to ride a cable car. The bus driver had mentioned taking one from Union Square to the top of Lombard, which seemed like a good idea since we could cover both those things that way. My cousin called for a Lyft ride, but her app was out of date and she couldn’t specify the size of car. The one that showed up was too small for everyone so I called an Uber instead.
It dropped us off in Union Square. There were repairs or issues of some sort with the cable cars in that location that day and they were only running farther up the track. A free shuttle bus picked people up at the cable car stop and went to the first station where we could catch the cable car.
San Francisco’s historic cable cars are the last manually operated cable cars in the world and are a national historic landmark listed on the national register of historic places. The cable car was smaller than the streetcar we rode earlier. There is no engine or motor on the cable cars themselves. They are powered by electric motors that pull cables running through a trench beneath the street in a slot between the rails. These were originally steam-powered. The cables move at a constant 9.5 miles per hour. The cable car conductor (called a gripman) uses a lever when they need to manually make the cable car’s gripper grasp or release the cable. They need to grasp the cable to make the car go and release it in order to be able to stop. Foot pedals control the brakes.
We rode the cable car up and down some hills until it reached the top of Lombard Street where we got out. Lombard Street is famous for the winding section of switchbacks on a steep hill. On the way the conductor explained that the reason for the crooked street was that back when it was built the brakes in the model T cars people drove at that time couldn’t handle a straight road that steep.
The road snaked back and forth down the hill so the old cars back in model T days would be able to stop. It’s a narrow road and down is the only direction cars are currently allowed to take. There is a sidewalk with a series of stairways for foot traffic. There’s also a sign proclaiming it to be the world’s crookedest street.
From there we walked down to Fisherman’s Wharf. On the way down we came across a little garden that looked like it belonged to a house, but had a gate to the sidewalk with a sign that called it Fay Park and stated hours that it was open to the public. One of my sisters had wanted to go to some sort of park or garden so we took the opportunity to go to this one. Though quite small it had some pathways and benches and lovely flowers. It looked like someone put quite a lot of time and care into creating and tending it. It was originally private property that was professionally landscaped. It was renovated by the city after it was given to them.
Once we got to Fisherman’s Wharf we did a bit of shopping before stopping for a snack of real San Francisco sourdough bread at Boudin Bakery, the home of the original loaf and holder of the mother sourdough starter. The fermentation process breaks down some of the gluten so some people with mild gluten sensitivities can tolerate sourdough bread even if they can’t eat regular wheat bread. Celiacs and those with gluten allergies or strong sensitivities still have issues with it though, especially since most commercial sourdough breads are higher in gluten than the old-fashioned variety.
We had intended to go to the part of the wharf where the sea lions hang out, but ran out of time to do that before our dinner reservation. While it would have been fun to see them, we have all seen sea lions before.
Another uber ride took us to a restaurant called Firefly, who’s nearly all gluten free menu gave us lots of choices of what to eat for dinner. We rarely eat on shore since we can have good food on the ship without the added cost, but since we were hanging with a cousin we rarely see we did it this time. Her daughter whom two of us hadn’t seen since she was a child also lives in the area and joined us for dinner so it was nice to have a chance to visit with her too. It’s amazing how fast a day goes by. Luckily we had no all-aboard time as the ship overnighted in San Francisco, but it got pretty late by the time we finished dinner so they all went home and we caught an Uber back to the ship.