Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The City by the Bay

A view of the Bay Bridge from our GoCar tour.
It's that time of year again. The time when B-man goes to a conference, brings his beautiful wife along, and then writes about their trip.

This year, I attended Fluent Conference in San Francisco. Unlike the conference/trip from two years ago, this conference was held in the heart of San Francisco in Union Square. That allowed us to take in more of the city's sights and attractions. This time, we also had two little boys, but we are lucky enough to have wonderful family members that agreed to watch the boys for us at home while we took a week long vacation.

Some of the San Francisco views we got to enjoy from our GoCar.
The adventure started when we got on the shuttle outside the airport in San Francisco. The shuttle driver drove like a mad man through the rush hour, big city traffic. We, the passengers, crammed into every available seat in the van, held on for dear life and prayed that we'd make it to our separate hotels in one piece. Megs and I got our money's worth out of the ride, as we were the last passengers to be dropped off at our hotel.

After checking into the hotel, we set out to get our 7-day Muni passes. Muni is the public transit system for San Fran, so purchasing these passes allowed us to hop on buses and cable cars whenever we wanted for our entire trip. We used them well.

I realized not too long into our trip that one of the great advantages of living in a big city—or staying in a big city for a week—is the proximity to almost everything. We could walk to almost everything, and the places that were a little too far for a walk were a short bus or cable car ride away.

With the high density of people also comes a large increase in trash, traffic, people, and homeless people. Our first evening there, as we looked for the Muni passes and some dinner, it seemed that every other corner we would be hit up for money. We had to sidestep feces on the sidewalk on a couple occasions, hoping that it was fun someone's pet and not from a human. Yep, pretty gross.

We stopped for a photo op in front of this old ship during our bike ride.
Our first full day there, we hopped on a cable car and rode it to Bike and Roll to pick up the bikes we rented online for our ride over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. This was a big deal for Megan. She had developed a fear of riding bikes after a not-so-pleasant experience years ago. We walked our bikes down the street to a less-busy side street before getting on the bikes. Well, I got on the bike. Megs was paralyzed with fear. I could tell she really wanted to ride it, but her body just wouldn't do it. After a couple minutes, she bravely mounted the bike, and, a little wobbly at first, she started riding. I'm so proud of her for overcoming her fear and showing great courage.

We foolishly made the decision to skip breakfast the morning of the bike ride, choosing instead to eat a couple snack bars in the hopes that we'd make it to Sausalito before getting too hungry. We did well until we reached the bridge. We had stopped along the way to take some pictures and enjoy the sights, so it took a couple hours to get to the bridge.

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge was a little crazy. It was a holiday weekend, and even though the cyclists had their own sidewalk on the west side of the bridge, it was pretty crowded. Crowds of cyclists, many of whom want to go as fast as possible, aren't that great for someone who hours previously had spent some tear-filled moments talking herself into riding a bike. Megan was great, though, and we made it across.

Drinking some Orange Juice at Fred's Place, stopping for a picture before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, and snapping a photo of us with the bay behind us.
When we finally made it to Fred's Place in Sausalito, we were hungry and cranky. It didn't help that Fred's Place is located on the northern end of Sausalito and it took us a lot longer to bike there than we wanted—we wanted food hours ago! Fred's Place was good, though. We read online that the breakfast food was the best, which is why we wanted to go there. The food was great, but part of that could have been due to our hunger and exhaustion level.

Full and a little rested, we biked to the ferry and headed back to the big city. We realized that evening that we forgot to put on sunscreen before our bicycle excursion, so we paid for that. The next few days, our muscles also let us know what they thought of our bike ride.

Sunday we attended the sacrament meeting of the local ward and mostly took it easy. We checked out Carmel Pizza Company for dinner, and we were blown away by how good the pizza was! Seriously, it was the best pizza we've ever had! We ordered a Crudo e Parma pizza and a Capricciosa pizza, and they were both great! The next time you're in the Fisherman's Wharf area of San Francisco, check them out.

Monday's adventure didn't start out as smoothly as we would have liked. We rented a GoCar, and the Union Square pickup location wasn't open when we arrived, even though it was supposed to be open. An employee who had only been working there for a couple days told us he was waiting for a senior employee, who had the keys to open the store, to show up. We walked down to Walgreens to pick up some items, and when we came back, they were open.

The night before, I had foolishly looked at some online GoCar reviews. The reviews were polarized. Either people loved their GoCar tour, or they absolutely hated it. Those that hated it shared their horror stories, so I was a little nervous about our tour for which we had already paid.

Enjoying San Francisco from our GoCar, complete with awesome helmets.
Our GoCar tour ended up being extremely fun! We opted for a GoCar with a larger engine (150cc, I believe, versus the 50cc engine in the normal cars). That was wise, as I don't think the smaller engine would have provided enough power for us. The GPS-guided tour was pretty good—telling us interesting information about the locations along the way.

We stopped by Ghirardelli Square to get some lunch at Blue Mermaid Chowder House. This wasn't on our list of must-eat places, but it was really good. I had their California Clam Chowder, and Megs had the Dungeness Crab and Corn Chowder. I actually liked the California-style chowder more than the traditional New England chowder we had later in the week at Boudin Bakery.

It was raining when we finished lunch, but we forged ahead with our GoCar tour. The rain wasn't very bad, and it didn't last long. It did, however, make the cable car tracks slippery, and the road we took to the top of Lombard Street had cable car tracks down the middle, which made our drive up the hill interesting.

Views of the city and us from the top of Coit Tower.
After descending Lombard Street, complete with pedestrians taking pictures of us in our GoCar, we drove to Coit Tower, where we grabbed a motorcycle parking spot (the GoCars are registered in the same class as motorcycles and scooters) and purchased tickets to the top of the tower. The tickets are a little overpriced, but it was fun and provided nice views of the city and the bay.

The rest of the week I attended my conference during the day while Megan shopped. The conference was good. Some of the sessions I attended weren't what I thought they would be, but others were interesting. I connected with a few people and even met someone who I follow on Twitter. The keynotes were really good, and I was sitting in the front row when Brendan Eich, the creator of JavaScript, presented his keynote.

We tried out a few other restaurants. One was the R & G Lounge, which is a Chinese place in Chinatown. We weren't very impressed. The food was good, but way too pricey.

One of the craziest places was El Farolito Taqueria. It was a longer bus ride, complete with a guy telling us about his coming out to his mother, and while we were waiting for our food, a fight broke out between some homeless men in front of the store. We got the food to go and rode BART back to our hotel to enjoy our food there. The super burritos we ordered were really good, and the food wasn't super expensive either.

Some of the food we enjoyed. Clockwise from top left: Chowder at Blue Mermaid, pizza from Carmel Pizza Company, Megan's fortune cookie from R & G Lounge, and a super burrito from El Farolito Taqueria.
We enjoyed our San Francisco trip. We ate some good food, did some fun activities, and learned. Megan picked up some new clothes for us at some of the great stores in the area, and we even squeezed in a showing of "Iron Man 3" at the movie theater. It's good to be home now, and we can look forward to our next vacation, whenever and wherever that will be.

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