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Friday, July 31, 2015

Steps of San Francisco

Leaving the Golden Gate area was tough.  
We were excited to see more of San Francisco, but I was just so happy to have my feet in the sand, staring at this iconic bridge in this beautiful bay.  It seems like the kind of place you can visit time and time again and still be stunned by it's beauty.  I hadn't sunk my feet in a (real) sandy beach in far too long, and there is something about the water that is so calming, and makes me so happy. 

Nevertheless, we grabbed the sandy dog and continued our drive through San Francisco - we had some stairs to climb and a city to see.

Leaving the Golden Gate area, we stopped at a stoplight, looked around for half a second and realized we must be in San Fran's Chinatown.  Oh how I wish we had time to stop and peek around.  But like I said, we had stairs to conquer. 

When it comes to the Stairs of San Francisco (yup that is a thing) you have many options.
This post by Sister Betty goes into some detail on the steps on San Fran. 

Basically, you have: 
Greenwich Steps 
Peter Macchiarini Steps 
Filbert Steps 
Calhoun Terrace 
Reno Street 
Green Street Stairs 
Vallejo Street Stairway

Its a little confusing because there are several sets of stairs.  This site does a great job of explaining the steps.  Filbert and Greenwich are the most popular staircases.  

To be honest, I thought I was on Greenwich steps, turns out we were on Filbert! Turns out Greenwich Steps are one block north of Filbert.  We definitely saw both sets but I didn't put two and two together.  This city has more than one set of famous stairs? Damnit San Fran, one upping other cities again. 

Either way, despite what stairs you chose, you get to see Levi's Plaza, wild parrots, gorgeous houses and neighborhoods among the stairs.  
This is really a charming area. 

To find the entrance of the stairways, you need to head to the Levis Plaza area and look for Sansome Street or Battery Street (map at the end of the post).  You want Filbert Street but basically, Filbert Street  gets so steep it turns right into stairs.  Filbert Street is just south of Greenwich Street.  We just parked our car close by and walked. I learned my first San Fran tip that day, apparently parking fees are negotiable.  When I refused to pay the high price to park in one lot and said we were leaving, ten bucks came off the price -  keep that in mind! 

The stairs eventually lead up to Coit's tower after passing some pretty beautiful and iconic points.  You can take a bus, or drive right up to Coit's Tower, but I was more interested in the stairs than the tower.  Its the journey for this site, not the destination.  Plus, we had Olive, so I knew the tower was off limit, but the stairs were fair game.  And the extra workout on vacation never hurts. (Read: more steps to cancel out beer and fried food). 

A lot of the houses are only accessible by these famous steps.  Could you imagine climbing these beautiful steps, passing these luscious gardens to get to your beautiful house every day?  And living among the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill (yep they got their own documentary).  I certainly could. 

I mean, these people even have their own lime plants growing along the stairs!  Margaritas all day every day on Filbert street.   As you make your way up the Filbert Street steps you will reach adorable Napier Lane, a wooden plank sidewalk lined with private dwellings that date from the 1870s and 1880s.

House for sale through Sotheby's?
 Sign me up.
I would love to assign the Filbert Stairs as my address.

The stairs stop at a few cross street and then continue up again.  Make sure you stop and look around.  These little side streets have some gorgeous views, beautiful architecture, and lovely colors.  

I mean, what do I have to do to have one of those decks?  My deck here in Salt Lake City overlooks the deck of an overweight guy who likes to talk on his phone shirtless on his deck.  I would really prefer a view of the Bay Bridge.  Realllly prefer.  

Finally, you will reach Pioneer Park and Coit Memorial Tower. Like I said, you can drive here but if you are able bodies, take the stairs!  "Dedicated in 1933, the 210-foot tower honors Lillie Hitchcock Coit, an eccentric San Francisco philanthropist. Inside you'll see a series of colorful murals painted in 1934 by local artists under the Public Works Art Project".

For an even better view of San Fran, climb the tower to the top, but be warned, this is a large tourist attraction and had about an hour wait to get to the top when we were there.

Map: Telegraph Hill

National Geographic Traveler has a great walking tour guide which details the iconic spots for you.  (I am all about free fun).  Click Here to see all the details for the numbers on the walking tour.  

Leave it to San Francisco to have stairs as a major attraction.  
Stairs!  And they were so deserving of all of the must see lists of San Francisco.  I don't know where else you can find neighborhoods only accessible by beautiful wooden stairs on the steep hills of a city - that lead to panoramic views of the city.

If you find San Francisco on your itinerary, block some time to see the beautiful streets of San Francisco.  And let me know if you hear the famous wild parrots.  

If you have enough time, go check out the mosaic steps of San Francisco.  Well Traveled Wife posted these and they were high on my list of Must Sees, we just ran out of time and I had to be choosy about my stairs.  

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Any one who doesn’t have a great time in San Francisco is pretty much dead to me. --Anthony Bourdain

There is so much to do and see in San Francisco.  I have some great posts on the bridge, the beaches, and tomorrow, Pier 39, Fisherman's Wharf, and the Greenwich Steps.

But before we have some fun, I wanted to cover some important topics.:
How to pay the toll (its confusing!)
Best spots to photograph the bridge (swoon!), and 
Dog friendly beaches along the SF area. 

Lets start with the tolling. 

How to pay the GG Bridge Toll!

Maybe I am getting old, or maybe I am getting stubborn.  I don't own an EZ Pass- you don't need one in Old Lyme, Connecticut! I always have extreme anxiety about having cash on hand for the tolls.  I find an ATM, get over the Golden Gate Bridge to see signs saying "DON'T STOP-AUTOMATIC TOLLING".


I don't stop and give you a few dollars?

 When I got home I did some research and it turns out, you get a EZ style pass, or you pay for your toll BEFORE crossing, or within 48 hours of crossing (or um.... 4 days later if you are me and confused).  You can even set it up over a range of time if you are crossing the bridge more than once.  Wish I knew this before I hit the bridge!

Click Here  to find out more,
or to set up a payment or pay for a ticket.  You are welcome for the lesson!

Now you figured out HOW to pay the toll, you want to take a picture of the gorgeous bridge.
I did some research and found some of the best viewing spots.  

Best viewing spots to see and photograph the GG Bridge!

Here is an article on the best viewing spots, 
but I will give you the quick and dirty version. 

5 Best Viewing Spots 

5. Battery Spencer, Marin County- "postcard view"

4. Hawk Hill, Marin County- panoramic view

3. Fort Point, San Francisco- from below

2. Baker Beach/ The Presidio, San Francisco 
(where these photos were taken! One on the beach and one on a viewing point along the Presidio)

1. Fort Baker, Marin County- "hidden cove"

Taken from a viewing area along the Presido 

Baker Beach, San Francisco

Here is a detailed list of dog friendly beaches in the SF area.  We stopped at Baker Beach and it was basically human and dog heaven.  Wide empty beaches, dog friendly, short walk from the parking lot, protected away from high traffic regions and a sort of protected area if you are worried about your dog taking off.

Here is a summary of dog friendly beaches in the SF area!

1.  Baker Beach Located approximately 1 mile south of the Golden Gate Bridge, this beach is a great spot to take your dog for a view of the famous landmark. Dogs are permitted off-leash on Baker Beach north of Lobos Creek, but they must be on a leash south of Lobos Creek.

2.  Lands End Beach Off Leash Dog Area is un-fenced. Watch for signs designating certain areas that require leash use.

3.  Fort Funston Doggie BeachAn off leash doggie beach with a huge area of tons of trails. There are typically hundreds of well socialized and well behaved dogs for your dog to play with.

4.  Ocean BeachPets are welcome to join you on-leash at this San Francisco beach.

Baker Beach, San Francisco

Baker Beach, San Francisco

Baker Beach, San Francisco

Baker Beach, San Francisco

If you are interested in biking over the GG bridge, check out my Sausalito post 

Check back in tomorrow as we highlight some of SF's best attractions.
I checked out the Greenwich Steps to Coit's Tower, and famous Fisherman's pier/Pier 39!

For a more comprehensive guide, check out Well Traveled Wife's San Francisco city guide!  This girl has traveled the world and lived in San Francisco and knows her stuff!

I went to a few spots off her great list! 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sausalito, California

Sausalito is the perfect day trip from San Francisco. And I just really love the name.  It sounds European and just so quaint, doesn't it? Oh you know, just spending the day walking around Sausalito.  Okay, and I digress. 

A trip to Sausalito is the perfect way to see San Francisco from a far, and to see whats on the "other side" of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Sausalito is the little town located at the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge.  It is a popular attraction to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco to Sausalito, and take the ferry back, but more on that later. 

 Let's talk a little bit about the town. 
Thank you Wikipedia. 

"Fishing village and sybaritic enclave"

"In the post-Gold Rush era, Sausalito's unusual location became a key factor in its formation as a community. It was San Francisco's nearest neighbor, less than two miles (3 km) away at the nearest point and easily seen from city streets, yet transportation factors rendered it effectively isolated. A boat could sail there in under half an hour, but wagons and carriages required an arduous skirting of the entire bay, a journey that could well exceed a hundred miles. As a result, the region was largely dominated by two disparate classes of people, both with ready access to boats: commercial fishermen and wealthy yachting enthusiasts".  Source

Transit hub

"In the 1870s, the North Pacific Coast Railroad (NPC) extended its tracks southward to a new terminus in Sausalito, where a rail yard andferry to San Francisco were established. The NPC was acquired by the North Shore Railroad in 1902, which in turn was absorbed in 1907 by the Southern Pacific affiliate, the Northwestern Pacific."  Source

"By 1926, a major auto ferry across the Golden Gate was established, running to the Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco.[16] This ferry was an integral part of old U.S. Highway 101, and a large influx of automobile traffic, often parked or idling in long queues, became a dominant characteristic of the town. Northwestern Pacific commuter train service also expanded to serve the increased traffic volume, and Sausalito became known primarily as a transportation hub".  Source

"This era came to an end in May 1937, with the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge made large-scale ferry operations redundant, and since the new route of Highway 101 bypassed Sausalito entirely, in-town traffic was quickly reduced to a trickle. Car ferry service ended in March 1941 (passenger ferry service, however, continues to this day, linking downtown Sausalito with both the Ferry Building in San Francisco's Embarcadero, and Pier 39 in the Fisherman's Wharf district). Northwestern Pacific also closed its Sausalito terminal in March 1941, although some tracks remained in use as "spur tracks" for freight trains as late as 1971. Source

Bootlegging and Rum Runners

"Sausalito was a center for bootlegging during the era of Prohibition in the United States. Because of its location facing the Golden Gate and isolated from San Francisco by the same waterway, it was also a favorite landing spot for rum runners.[17] The 1942 film China Girl has some footage of Sally Stanford's Valhalla restaurant on the waterfront. The scene shows the docks and illustrates rum running".  Source

Sausalito today is quite different.  
Today, you will find expensive hotels, boutiques, quaint shops, adorable sidewalk restaurants, and most of all, a ton of bikers.

 If you are looking for a luxury hotel, The Inn Above Tide was located right in the heart of the action, by the ferry pier and the busy corner of town.  This lovely hotel extended into the pier with these gorgeous balconies overlooking the water.  we were just here for the day but oh how I wish I could have spent an evening sipping wine on one of those decks. This 4 star hotel has a daily rate ranging from $350 to $1200 and with the luxury hotel and panoramic views, I can see why.  Check out their website in the link above and lets put this place on our list for when we hit the lotto or are in the mood to splurge. 

If you are a budget traveler like myself (womp womp) you can try to find a cheaper hotel somewhere in San Francisco, or even cheaper, Oakland on the other side of the bay.  San Francisco does not have really friendly hotel prices so again, if you are pinching pennies (like this poor graduate student is) look to spend the night in Oakland.  

One thing you will notice when walking around Sausalito (and very quickly) is all of the bicycles.  Bicycles EVERYWHERE.  And a lot of people riding bicycles that A:  Look like they barely fit on their bike or B:  Look like they havent ridden a bike in 20 years.  It can be a little nerve wrecking drive alongside these jerky bicycle riders (and there are a lot of hills- sorry guys). 

There is a bicycle valet virtually on every corner so if you do have your bike, no fears, you will be among friends and have plenty of "parking options".

Blazing Saddles was the company name we saw on almost every bike.  I have always heard of biking over the bridge, but I was appalled by how many people were out there.  But then again, what a wonderful way to experience the Golden Gate Bridge. 

The trip advisor page has all the information you need on different bike rentals, routes, and any details you need.  If you are thinking about biking over the bridge, this is a great resource! We were short on time and had the dog, so we decided to drive over the bridge.
(I still need to find out how to pay for that toll- it said no stopping... confusing! I will find out before my San Fran post!)

The last thing we noticed about Sausalito (well, kind of California in general) was all the foreigners.  SO many foreign tourists, none of which spoke english, all of which walked reallllly slow taking pictures of the weirdest things.  Like art sculptures INSIDE bulidings through windows and other odd things.   It could get a little frustrating trying to get around crowds of European families spewing off another language and taking up the entire sidewalk, but I suppose that is bound to happen when you are traveling in popular well known areas.  

Patience Katie, Patience. 

The culture of this little town was really cute and is what I really love about a place.  Small town (important for me!) seaside restaurants, docks, boats galore, sidewalk cafes and bicycles everywhere.  A lovely little stop whether you are renting a bike and riding the bridge, or just passing through on your way to San Francisco.  Sausalito also offers gorgeous views of San Francisco and Alcatraz across the water.  Another popular attraction but again, we had a little bit of time and the pooch. 

I told you it was cute-- A charming coastal town with an upside-down boat for a bus stop bench.  And the little fishy markers around all the storm drains.  The little details of a city or a town really make me smile.  I hope to be back to stay at a beautiful hotel, and maybe even bike over the gorgeous Golden Gate Bridge.  If you are going to be a tourist, may as well go full monte right?  Rent bikes over the bridge with a selfie stick in hand and I will fit right in with the crowd ;)
Check back in tomorrow as we talk about The Golden Gate Bridge and Baker Beach.
And I will share my details on how you pay the darn toll for the GG Bridge (You can't pay it on the bridge!)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

North Lake Tahoe, California

North Shore of Lake Tahoe
Kings Beach

This was my first time to Lake Tahoe and the first stop on our road trip.  You can sort of break Tahoe into four parts:  the North Shore, the South Shore, the Nevada side, and the California side. 

The north shore of Lake Tahoe is about 12 miles off I-80.  You get off in quaint Truckee, California, and travel 12 miles down to the North Shore/ Kings Beach area.  The location of Tahoe made it the perfect first stop on our California road trip.  So close to I-80 and about 8 hours west of Salt Lake City. 


North Lake Tahoe is a beautiful little section of Lake Tahoe.  The southern portion of the lake seems to be the more popular area and the north shore was quiet.  There weren't too many hotel options for my limited grad student budget, and the place we stayed for a bargain price was a really terrible hotel. 

So I did some more research so I could recommend something better to you guys. 

If you are on a budget, Ferarri's Crown Motel is a great deal for $109 and 4.2 stars .
 There is the Rustic Cottages with prices from $99 to $375 and 4.8 stars. 

If you are looking to splurge and want the casino and the spa, head to the Nevada side of north Lake Tahoe. Technically in Incline Village, Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino.

Almost all of the lodging options are right on the beach or main area of King's Beach, so it just depends on how much you want to spend.  I like to use to book my rooms as they always have the best price, easiest interface, and almost always free cancellations.

Browse Tahoe Hotels here 

The first thing I noticed about Lake Tahoe were the pine trees and the pine cones.  Leaving Salt Lake City you kind of realize how much you miss trees.  Sure you can find trees on the mountains, but not big pines like these.  The gorgeous pines bordering the lake, and the gigantic pine cones spewed across the beach was pretty picture perfect.  


If you are looking for breakfast in the Kings Beach area, the Log Cabin was "voted the best breakfast".  I had the cajun eggs benedict - which was featured on Rachel Rays Tasty Travels and Bon Appetit just to name a few.  

It was good.  Realllly good.  The eggs were a little lost and the english muffin completely saturated and disinegrating in the cajun hollidaise, but the hollandaise and the shrimp on this dish were just so darn good.  I am not sure I would change a thing. 

Thatcher got the breakfast burrito which he was happy about.  What we weren't happy about, was the price.  Breakfast for two cost nearly $40 dollar.  The breakfast entrees were about $13 each which was pricey for breakfast.  What got me was the diner coffee priced at $3.50 each.  It was a really tasty meal but a little pricey for breakfast in my opinion


After breakfast, we were excited to hit the beach with our dog, Olive.  I had done some research and had seen that a portion of Kings Beach was dog friendly, the access off Coon Street.  Dog friendly beach... YES!  Success one in the dog friendly road trip. 

We were a little disappointed to see that while a portion of Kings beach IS dog friendly, it is a very small and sucky portion.  The little sign above the no dog symbol shows you that the portion of the beach to the left of the launch, is the only dog friendly area.  

This area was completely covered in rocks and was not the wide open beach that I was excited to let Olive run and play on.  Regardless, we spent some time on the "beach" before walking around the boardwalk.  If you do want to use this dog friendly beach, it is the portion of Kings Beach off of Coon Street at the rotary. 

 The beach was beautiful and the water was crystal clear.  The same weekend I was in Tahoe, a Utah dive group was planning a trip to Southern Lake Tahoe to dive.  The southern portion of Lake Tahoe is a popular dive spot with crystal clear water, rock features and fish. 


The north shore had its fair share of recreation as well.  People were out parasailing, renting jet skis and enjoying the water.  You could rent paddle boards, kayaks, paddle boats, and pretty much any water craft you could think of.  Early in the morning, beach goers were setting up their claim on the beach, getting ready to spend the day by the water. 

Tahoe Paddle and Board is one of many rental options along Kings Beach. 

The sandy beaches, the crystal clear water and the mountains in the backdrop make for a gorgeous image of Lake Tahoe.  We had our eye on the shoreline when all of the sudden, what appeared to be a bost drove right on out of the water.  It appeared to be some kind of amphibious vehicle doing some kind of dredging or dock work in the lake. 

You have plenty of options when visiting the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. 
 Enjoy the beautiful beaches and rent a paddle board and head into the lake.  

Lake Tahoe was gorgeous and we were so happy to see sandy beaches and those beautiful pine trees.  I will have to come back to see the south shore! 

Next stop, Sausalito!

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