We're going to travel through time here, starting in 1998 and bringing you right up to 2010 with a series of reports from the San Francisco area. Today, we go into the Wayback Machine for our first trip on a plane with Tim's power chair. Remember the time frame when you see prices and business names...both might have disappeared since then. The World Wide Web was in its infancy, digital cameras had yet to be invented (so the pictures below were scanned), and Tim was 10 years old. We're off to the City by The Bay...
Give me a cheap fare to San Francisco...and I'm there!
Surfing on the 'net one day before Christmas, I noticed some cheap fares advertised on the Southwest Airlines I page. Your webmasters, being the intrepid travelers that we are, couldn't pass this opportunity by.
Burbank airport, old and small, was as good as remembered with no crowding and close in gates. They did move the long term parking out of the airport though...the old lot was given to the valet service. Now you must park a few blocks away. Thumbs up to the airport with another thumbs down to the parking.
Southwest gave us a superb flight that was right on time with great service. The seats were comfortable, the staff was friendly and helpful. We were even treated to a song before takeoff by one of the flight attendants (good singer too!). Southwest gets a big thumbs up!
Oakland Airport bills itself as the shortcut to San Francisco and many travel writers have said that you will arrive quicker in San Francisco if you fly to Oakland instead of SFO. I have to agree, it is faster during busy times (beginning and end of the week) but on regular weekdays it'd probably be just as fast at SFO. The fares to Oakland to tend to be lower though.
Oakland airport is very easy to navigate around and is much smaller than SFO. Access to public transportation is very easy. Oakland airport gets a thumbs up.
Transportation to our motel was via Bayporter Express shuttle. This is your typical airport shuttle service, a la Supershuttle, and they have one wheelchair accessible van in their fleet. There is also public transportation available via AirBART bus to the local BART station, BART to downtown SF, and then MUNI bus transportation to our motel.
Not wanting to deal with a lot of transfers and also with the unknown (this was our first time flying here via the Oakland airport and with the electric wheelchair), we opted for Bayporter, even though it was a $18 premium over public transit, because we wanted to minimize the amount of surprises that would await us.
Although the wheelchair ramp was not working at first, the driver fixed it promptly and we were on our way. The ride was smooth, uneventful, and fast with only about a 15 minute wait for the van when we arrived. We give Bayporter a thumbs up.
After stowing our bags at our motel, lunch was the first order of the day. We hopped on MUNI's #19 line (Polk Street) and headed south.
One of our main objectives on vacation is to find good food. Letty is a big fan of the cookbooks put out by the California Culinary Academy which just so happens to be located in Baghdad by the Bay! What's even better for us budget-conscious travelers is that the academy runs a gourmet restaurant (staffed by students and instructors) where a truly first class meal can be had at coffee shop prices...except on Fridays (like the day we were there).
On Fridays the CCA features the Grand Buffet. Now there are buffets and then there is the Grand Buffet. Here, the CCA puts out a spread of some of its more famous signature dishes. Roasted leg of lamb, grilled halibut, polenta with bleu cheese, chicken with cranberry bean sauce, and eggplant Parmesan are just some of the hot entrees to choose from.
To start off, you have a freshly tossed salad, fresh sushi, a large selection of hard meats and cheese and more. To end your meal there is a desert bar with such pastries as chocolate decadence, pound cake, napoleons, and cheesecake.
All this takes place in an old refurbished theater with 80 foot ceilings surrounded by the kitchens of the CCA (all have big viewing windows so you can see America's future culinary superstars at work). All in all a marvelous meal.
Now the downside to the CCA. While every other day you can get a good meal here for less than $10, on Friday's the buffet will set you back $20 per person plus drinks. While worth it for the meal you get, $70 for lunch (for three people) is a budget buster on a trip. Even with the price, though, CCA gets a thumbs up for some really great food in a unique atmosphere.
After lunch we hopped back on the 19 bus, this time going north, to Ghiradelli Square. From there it's a short walk to Fisherman's Wharf and pier 41. We'd been to Fisherman's Wharf and it's too touristy for us but you must come here to get on the boat to Alcatraz Island.
Tim has never been to Alcatraz and had his curiosity piqued after watching the movie "The Rock" so it seemed like a good time to take him. Our plan was to head up here after lunch and, if tickets were available, catch to boat over and spend the afternoon there. Unfortunately, the last boat was sold out so we bought tickets for the next day and continued on. As a side note here, we just missed the last boat on February 28 and prices were increased on March 1 so we got to pay extra too!
THE MARITIME MUSEUM
While we were in the area with nothing to do, we went to the Maritime museum which is just on the other side of Fisherman's Wharf from pier 41 (about a 3 block walk). This worthwhile stop has several historic ships on display including a couple of old schooners, tug boats and the Eureka, an old wooden railroad and car ferry.
The Eureka was the highlight of the day for Tim. We
The guard allowed Tim to go onto the set and look around. He also provided us with many pages of script changes that were faxed to Don Johnson on the set and also gave us some official Nash Bridges yellow police tape. Check out this picture (above) of Tim taken on the set.
The ship itself is pretty remarkable with its 4 story boiler and side paddle wheels. It's amazing to think that this is how people crossed the bay before there were any bridges here.
Another very interesting vessel here is the San Francisco Ark, an old Sausalito houseboat restored for the museum. People used these houseboats (and still do) as floating weekend getaways from the city. The Maritime museum gets a thumbs up as well.
After the museum we walked back to Aquatic Park to watch the cable car turntable in action. We tried to go to the Buena Vista for an Irish coffee, but it was just too crowded to get in. After a stroll through the shops at Ghiradelli Square, we wandered back to the motel where we had still yet to see our room (we had just dropped off the bags earlier).
Lodging was at the Travelodge by the Bay and our room with 2 queen sized beds was nicely adequate and just roomy enough. We had gotten the room through Central Reservations (800-677-1500) for an unbelievable price of $59 plus tax. That's dirt cheap in SF! I was glad we did because the front desk was quoting arriving guests a price of $95 for singles.
The motel was centrally located on Lombard Street, just off the corner of Van Ness, in the Marina District. It can be noisy, thankfully we had quiet neighbors. You can hear everybody else's TV around you. There was also a very bright light just outside our door that streamed into our room. We did get a good night sleep and rate this motel well. We've had much worse here before. TL by the Bay gets a thumbs up this time, but we would like to have had a switch for the %#!$ light!
For dinner we headed down Chestnut Street (one block north of Lombard). The business district is about a 1/2 mile walk from our motel.
Tim let us know in no uncertain terms that he wouldn't eat any Chinese food on this trip except for rice (as he’s grown up, so has his tastes. Tim is no longer adverse to Chinese or just about any other ethnic food – Ed). To keep the peace, while we had hoped to get some of the city's great Chinese food this trip, we went looking for something else. We ended up at one of Village Pizzeria's branches on Steiner at Chestnut. Village Pizza is our favorite pizza in San Francisco so we knew we'd like that.
Village Pizza didn't disappoint. Letty had a very good baked rigatoni dish while Tim and I had a delicious pepperoni pizza. One thing they do here that is neat is they give the kids some raw pizza dough to play with to pass time until the food arrives like play-dough. Tim had a lot of fun trying to mold his into as many shapes as he could.
We were able to make small talk with some other diners and the staff here who were all very friendly. About halfway through dinner, the street outside became full of bicycles. Not just a few, but thousands!
For a good 20 minutes, masses of bike riders filled the street, shouting and laughing as they rode by, followed by a SFPD escort. We found out that this is Critical Mass, a demonstration conducted by bay area riders on the last Friday of each month to promote bike riding as an alternative means of commuting.
They start at the ferry building at the end of Market Street and ride to the Golden Gate Bridge filling the streets as they go. Later on the news we learned that many drivers hate this (although the bikes have as much right to use the road as the cars - but they should also obey the laws and not get in the way unecessarily) and that's why the SFPD provides escort for safety. We didn't see any hateful drivers in our area though.
With a liter of Cabernet to wash down our dinner, we had a great time here and decided to call it a night. Village Pizza gets a big thumbs up.
Day Two of our trip started with breakfast. Cafe Caravan, one block north of our motel at Chestnut and Van Ness, provided the start for our day. Breakfast was good in this very small hole in the wall. I had sausage and eggs, Letty had an omelet, and Tim had some pancakes. The coffee was delicious, and everything on our plates was delicious. Cafe Caravan gets a thumbs up.
CABLE CAR BARN
We had a morning to kill before our boat to Alcatraz left (at 12:45pm) so we decided to spend it by going over to the Cable Car Barn on Washington Street. This is one area of the city that is not real well served by accessible transportation...everyone else can get there via cable car...so we ended up walking here, about 1 1/2 miles. It didn't look bad on the map but that doesn't show all the hills there.
After getting a good dose of exercise, we made it to the barn. This is where the machinery that runs the entire cable car system is located. You can watch the cables go through their various pulleys and wheels on the way to their journey underneath the streets. The cable cars operated by clamping onto these cables and being pulled along their routes.
The displays here are interesting as are some of the old historic cars located here. Any museum that can hold a kid's interest, as this one does, gets a thumbs up from us. A big thumbs down though to Muni for not providing adequate transportation to its own museum. A good gift shop sells some great souvenirs here.
After awhile here, it was time to start heading over to pier 41 to catch our boat to Alcatraz. We walked over to Columbus and Jackson (about 6 blocks from the Cable Car Barn) to catch Muni's #15 bus to Fisherman's Wharf. In between, we waded through the very crowded bustle of Chinatown where some sort of protest was going on. We never found out what it was about (all the signs and pamphlets were in Chinese).
We made it to Fisherman's Wharf at 11:30am, which gave us enough time to buy a lunch to take with us. Tim was having fast-food withdrawal pains so he had an early lunch of a cheeseburger and fries at the Burger King located in the mall at 350 Bay Street. In that mall there was also a Safeway with a deli where Letty and I picked up a couple of hoagies to go.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where we end up on "The Rock"...
Copyright 1998 - Darryl Musick