On a recent stopover from Las Vegas back to Singapore, my boss (Marc) and I spent a weekend in San Francisco driving south to Half Moon Bay and a little further before heading back, as well as revisiting some of the locations I enjoyed when I was last there two years ago. Blessed with sunny but cool weather, we headed off in search of good food and views to die for.
We arrived at San Francisco Airport, collected our luggage and took a taxi to our hotel near Union Square.
Tip: A taxi from the airport to the Union Square area easily cost us above US$60 before gratuities in the evening, so you may want to check with your hotel’s concierge about their charges for arranging an airport transfer before you decide which mode of transport to take.
We checked in at the Galleria Park Hotel and freshened up after the short domestic flight. Situated at 191 Sutter Street, it’s reasonably close to Union Square and has easy access to convenience stores a stone’s throw away. We also discovered that it’s literally a few paces away from a public multi-storey parking garage, which cost less for us to leave the car overnight than if we’d used the hotel’s valet.
The hotel’s lobby is spacious and inviting. They have a happy hour when complimentary wine is available. Visitors can scan their smartphones at a kiosk to check in and collect their card keys (another benefit of modern technology) and the concierge is really friendly and helpful.
My room was well furnished and very clean. The window was facing the interior of the hotel so there was minimal noise creeping in from the streets below on the other side.
After dropping off our luggage and an obligatory check of emails, we took a five-minute walk to Super Duper Burger at Market Street for dinner, where we met up with a coworker from the San Francisco office in our agency network – it’s always nice to catch up with friends in a foreign place!
Super Duper Burger serves up fast food style burgers, fries and shakes. They make their own pickles and all their packaging is compostable. You can read more about their burgers on their website, but I just want to say that their burgers are some of the best I’ve had. Marc enjoys a good burger and he was blown away by this. There’s a lot of hype about In-N-Out Burger – I’ve tried both chains’ burgers and firmly believe that Super Duper rates higher.
The next morning, we headed out for breakfast and coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee’s Mint Plaza outlet.
With our bodies fuelled up, we headed to Post Street to collect our rental car from Avis.
Tip: Always check your vehicle to determine whether you really need to rent an external GPS unit. Avis doesn’t seem to catalog their rental vehicles very well. For example, the BMW 328i we rented was listed on their booking site without in-built sat-nav when in fact it had the system factory-fitted. We therefore returned the external GPS unit we initially rented, which saved us a few dollars.
The BMW 328i (F30) is a joy to drive. The essential driver controls are easily within reach and where you’d expect them to be. The power delivery is seamlessly smooth, thanks to the free-revving turbocharged engine and quick-changing gearbox. The 328i, while nothing like the range-topping M3, definitely does not lack power – I had to regularly keep my eye on the speedometer even on the Californian highway because the drivetrain was more than adequate for the open roads.
I would be lying if I complained about the engine getting out of breath at the higher rev range because we honestly never made it to license-revoking speeds. When we were re-joining the main road from the Point Montara Lighthouse later in the day, I had to squeeze into a gap in the endless stream of traffic and quickly get up to speed with the rest of the vehicles. I put the pedal to the metal and effortlessly slotted into the opening without causing the vehicle behind me to slow down for us, so I’d say this car is alright in the power department. Noise insulation was pretty good too with a really good stock sound system to play some music off our Spotify playlists, and with a sunroof to enjoy a bit of the Californian sun, I can’t think of much more to ask for of a rental car.
With everything checked and ready to go, we eased our way out of the city and drove the 36 km south to the Point Montara Lighthouse. I’ve always been attracted to lighthouses for some reason but could never quite put my finger on why – maybe it’s the loneliness or the sole purpose of helping others from potential danger.
This is one of the shorter lighthouses I’ve seen. I’m guessing that’s because it’s situated on a sheer cliff, so it would’ve been needless to build the structure any higher. The location is really rather obscure though – it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of place, along 16th Street and Highway 1 in Montara, California.
There are overnight hostel accommodations available here (that’s the house with the red roof) if you’re looking for an affordable beachfront retreat. On the left is the hostel’s office where you can get a cup of coffee for a really reasonable price (my cappuccino was less than four dollars and tasted surprisingly good). Because the hostel is operated by a non-profit, it’s not subjected to the California state tax as well, so if you’re a tourist like me and a bit miffed about paying an additional state tax on top of the retail price for an item, this is your break.
I crept to the back of the hostel to take this shot, which I thought had an amazing view.
I’m not sure if there’s any literary reference in the quote on the park bench, but even without required context, it’s not difficult to understand how someone could love the coastal view here.
Having taken our share of photos and time-lapse videos, we hopped back into the car and took a short drive to Barbara’s Fishtrap for lunch. Dungeness crabs were in season and it came recommended by our coworker, so this was a shoo-in in our itinerary.
After lunch, we continued driving south to Bonny Doon Beach, which I’d read has some really breathtaking sights. It’s a secluded beach with serene ocean views and rock bluffs. When driving to Bonny Doon Beach, you’ll need to be alert and have some quick reflexes at the wheel, as you have to slot into the slip road and find a parking lot before trekking up onto the top of the cliff overlooking the beach.
While we were admiring the view of the beach from above, my attention was directed to something below on the sand. It turned out there was a naturist having a stroll along the beach, which upon later reading online, probably shouldn’t have come as a big surprise.
Having had a chuckle to ourselves over the au naturel sighting, we drove east to San Mateo in search of the Japanese Tea Garden. Billed as one of the finest tea gardens in California with classic design features, we were expecting great things. It turned out to be a rather pointless trip. For a garden that’s supposedly one of the finest in the state, you’d think there would be signages to direct visitors from around its vicinity. There weren’t. Once we stepped in, the interior was frustratingly disappointing, cramped and uninspiring. With just a short amount of time in the tea garden because it closes at 4 pm on Saturdays, I was glad in a way that we’d run behind schedule, because we weren’t missing out on much.
Eager to put the disappointment behind us, we took a leisurely drive back to San Francisco to rest up before what promised to be an epic dinner ahead. We parked the car at the White House Garage along Sutter Street (located just across our hotel), where daily parking rates are capped at US$32 – way more affordable than dropping the car off with the hotel’s valet overnight.
Dinner time! We had reservations at Morton’s The Steakhouse along Post Street and strolled to the restaurant from our hotel.
I wrote about my dining experience in a separate blog post – read it here if you’re interested in having a glimpse of the dining experience at Morton’s.
After finishing a meal that could arguably have been spread out across three, we made our way back to the hotel to rest for the night.
After a night’s sleep, we packed our stuff and checked out of our rooms early. Dropping our luggage off with the hotel’s bellhop, we went across the road to the garage to get our car. With a little sigh of relief, the car was where we left it, without any signs of intrusion or vandalism. We exited the car park and made our way west to Hayes Valley.
We arrived for brunch at Suppenküche at the corner of Hayes and Laguna in Hayes Valley.
Read about my meal at the German beer hall and restaurant in my previous blog post. The cured pork chop is truly something worth writing home about. After our meal, we hopped over to Linden Street to get some coffee from the hole-in-the-wall Blue Bottle Coffee outlet there. Along our way back to the car, we popped into the Timbuk2 store for a quick browse, and thereafter Flight 001 for Marc to get the blokes in our office their way-overdue Christmas gifts. After a bit of fussing over what to get for whom, we paid for the items and returned to the car.
Two years ago, I tried and failed to find my way via San Francisco’s public transportation network to Fort Point at Marine Drive. Although I had Google Maps to help with my navigation, it just seemed impossible to find the right bus stop and bus service, even despite asking passers-by and cafe baristas. Walking around in circles, I ended up in a really dodgy area of Turk Street waiting for a bus that didn’t seem like it would show up, so I had to cut my losses and move on to the next destination.
This time around, with a car and sat-nav, there was no problem finding our way to Fort Point, a National Historic Site that offers one of the most spectacular vantage points of the Golden Gate Bridge. Parking at the Marine Drive lots is free and with a bit of luck, you’ll easily find yourself a space. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Many locals (presumably) ran along Marine Drive and towards this end of the road, where they would place their hands against the handprints to mark the turning point in their run. I then spotted the equivalent for their four-legged running companions at the bottom-right of the photo above, which I thought was rather cute. Sadly, I didn’t come across any dogs running with their owners that day. It would’ve been nice to get a photo of a dog giving the concrete barrier two high-fives.
With Fort Point satisfactorily ticked off my list of places to visit in San Francisco, we got back into the Beemer and drove north-west to Lands End, a part of the city that is literally as its name suggests. The stretch of Cypress forest is approximately 200 feet above sea level, marked by sheer cliff drops that plunge straight into the rocky outcrops bordering the sea below. Many ships have suffered unfortunate fates as they came up against the rocks off Lands End while attempting to navigate the channel leading to the Golden Gate Bridge and the entrance of San Francisco Bay.
When I last visited two years ago, I made it a point to arrive in the late afternoon so that I could catch the sunset. This year’s visit was probably testament to the importance of lighting in making a photo look really impressive. The Bay Area was foggy when we visited and the sky was overcast on the day too, which resulted in the rather dull and lifeless tone of the photos.
Sunny or overcast, I still love Lands End. Just being here makes me feel like none of my problems or worries matter – for a while at least. Being on the literal edge of a piece of land, seeing and hearing the waves crash against the rocks just below, and watching it repeat itself over and over is my kind of therapy.
Time to drive back to the city, drop the car off with Avis and do some obligatory shopping for our coworkers. We turned into the Chevron petrol station along Van Ness Avenue to refuel, upon which I was rather surprised at how frugal the Beemer was. I’m not complaining, of course!
Driving in San Francisco can be a rather harrowing experience at some junctions where the gradient is so steep that you feel as though you’re going over the crest of a mountain. One particular junction made our jaws drop as we eased the car forward and down the slope, momentarily only seeing the blue sky along the horizon. Not many cities are built on such topographies, so it’s definitely an experience worth having if you have the stomach for it.
After returning the car, we took a short walk and popped into Urban Outfitters at Powell Street. There, we spent the good part of an hour browsing the myriad gift items that the store had to offer, impressed by some of the witty souvenirs on display. I eventually bought several items – far less than I might otherwise have if it wasn’t for a great deal of restraint.
We then crossed over to Westfield, where we checked out a few more shops and bought some junk food (with flavours not available in Singapore) for the folks back in the office. Yes, it’s an unhealthy office tradition but it’s also one of the most utilised “gifts” from people’s travels – you can’t really go wrong with maple bacon popcorn and unique flavours of potato crisps.
I’d booked us for dinner at Lark Creek Steak but we were both still feeling the previous evening’s meal at Morton’s and weren’t too keen on another heavy dinner just ahead of our midnight flight back to Singapore. With both of us in agreement, we decided to end the weekend in San Francisco the same way we started it – with a meal at Super Duper Burger.
And so, fittingly or otherwise, we marked the end of our little trip in California with a good, honest American fast food burger. It was perhaps the only way to do it, with just 48 hours in the state on a layover. After another satisfying meal involving probably the best burger I’ve eaten to date, we returned to the hotel to pick up our luggage and wait for the hotel’s airport transfer.