Sunday, March 27, 2011

Walkable San Francisco

Lombard Street.
From my experience last week, San Francisco is a very walkable city. Even if you are not interested in walking the entire city, the availability of trolleys, buses, BART and even tuk tuks give affordable transportation to interesting walkable sections.

I feel as if I walked a major portion of the city and I didn't walk half as much as my friend Deb did! But because of Deb's adventurousness and planning, I got to see major highlights by foot and trolley.

By taking a trolley up Embarcadero to a major cross street, we walked to Lombard Street -- the crookedest street in America. Though mentioned in a previous post, let me just say walking up Lombard is somewhat challenging and we wondered how the residents of this block deal with it (let alone how they deal with all of the tourists). I imagine their legs are very strong.

From Lombard Street, we walked through some very interesting neighborhoods, went to an open house (it was beautiful), and made our way to Coit Tower. Located on Telegraph Hill, it was built in 1933 at the bequest of Lillie Hitchcock Coit to beautify the city of San Francisco. Because it was built during the depression, it helped employ people, which I think adds to why the tower is cool. The view from the top is worth the $5 fee. We did not see a lot of green space in San Francisco -- very few parks of any size, no real lawns -- but the area around the tower is green and well landscaped. Definitely worth the visit.

From Coit Tower: the city, the bay and Alcatraz.

China Gate in the pouring rain.
On one evening, Deb and I walked to Chinatown. I had never been to a Chinatown before and was surprised at how quickly you feel as if you have stepped into a foreign country. Deb said the best time to visit was in the morning when the produce vendors are in the streets, but because of meetings and weather, I didn't get to do that. At night the street is lit up and pretty, but many of the shops are closed. The China Gate is great.

Though there is not much green space in the city, there are a few small parks. Each time we encountered one, we were surprised. Later I discovered we had a map that included walking routes which highlight each of these parks. I had planned to visit several, but on my one day off it was pouring rain and I just couldn't do it.

I wish I remembered
which park this was in
We did a lot of walking around Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39, both big tourist areas. There were plenty of street performers here (and in other parts of the city) and it almost felt as if our visit had a soundtrack! The crowds were big and the people-watching was fun. I like the human statues, though they also creep me out a little. We visited a museum of old pinball-type games (I can't remember the name) which was also near the submarine Pampanito, built entirely by women -- Rosie the Riveters. There is an Aquarium we didn't visit, but we did see the famous sea lions near the pier.
Warhol self portrait.
Though not intense walking inside, when the weather was really bad we separately visited the Museum of Modern Art and the Ferry Building. I spent about 3 hours in the museum and nearly dried out before heading back outside. There are four other interesting museums I didn't visit. The Ferry Building was on Embarcadero near our hotel, so was easy to get to. There is a farmers markets there on weekends and the shops inside were nice. Lots of organic restaurants, coffee shops and cooking shops. Later in the week I walked along the water from the Ferry Building toward the double decker bridge. It is very pretty this way with fewer tourists and several nice pieces of public art.

There are plenty of other activities we didn't try, such as renting bikes to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and a tour of Alcatraz. (I'm not sure how much walking is involved in visiting Alcatraz.) There are also plenty of nice stores within walking distance of each other if shopping is an interest. (Deb and I are not big shoppers.)

The double decker bridge.
Disclaimer: San Francisco is extremely hilly. There were plenty of times that we adjusted our walking route to avoid streets because of the hills. At other times, such as on our way to Coit Tower, there was no choice -- we had to climb some pretty steep streets. We just took our time, stopped when we needed to and tried to distract ourselves with sights we couldn't find in Ohio. Though it worked for us, I have to admit that at the end of the day, my legs could tell we walked a lot of hills. I should also point out that Deb and I walk a lot -- though if you are reading this blog about walking, you probably already know that. One final point -- there seem to be a lot of homeless people who can be aggressive with their panhandling. Once it started getting dark we felt much more comfortable riding trolleys.

That being said, I was very pleasantly surprised at how walkable the city was! For the most part we were comfortable walking just about anywhere we wanted to go during the day. And when we did get tired, or the rain was too intense, we hopped on a trolley. I hope I can go back someday when I have more free time and the weather is more cooperative.

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