San Francisco - A City By The Bay

As you may remember, in September 2015 I flew from Toronto to San Francisco with a 7-hour stopover in Vancouver. Frankly, I was so impresse...

As you may remember, in September 2015 I flew from Toronto to San Francisco with a 7-hour stopover in Vancouver. Frankly, I was so impressed with Vancouver so I thought to myself - what does San Francisco have that Vancouver does not that can impress me even more? I can compare my feeling back then with a very pleasant aftertaste which you want to keep forever. Also, after my physically demanding hike to Grouse Mountain, I was terribly exhausted and just wanted to rest.

However, I have to admit that San Francisco is such a nice and unique place, so you can easily spend a week exploring it.
As a matter of introduction, let me tell you a few interesting facts from San Francisco's rich history. The City, as locals call it, was founded by the Spanish in 1776, the same year when the United States declared its independence from Great Britain. Who knew back then that in some 70 years, neither the Spanish nor their successors Mexicans would not own this land anymore?
During its relatively long history (if you compare it with other North American cities), San Francisco experienced quite a few big events, not always good ones though. Shortly after Americans took over the city from Mexicans in 1847, San Francisco became known as an epicentre of the California Gold Rush. Gold seekers brought crime, gambling and prostitution into the city. After the Gold Rush, there was time for the Silver Fever. In 1906, a very strong earthquake hit the city and destroyed three-quarters of it. San Francisco did surprisingly well during the Great Depression in the late 1920's - early 1930's. Not a single bank went broke. In the 1960s, San Francisco again appeared in the news, now with a strong opposition to the Vietnam War. In the 1970s, the very first movement to protect the civil rights of LGBT minorities started in San Francisco. In 1989, another earthquake hit the city, although not as strong as the one in 1906. Dotcoms were flourishing here in the late 1990s - early 2000s attracting billions of dollars, many of them lost forever. The IT capital of the world, as San Francisco is known today, gave birth to dozens of highly successful IT companies in its Silicon Valley: Google, Apple, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, Uber, and Netflix need no introduction. 
One can say that San Francisco is a typical American city, where people of different cultures and backgrounds blend together in one big boiler. I'd agree. But at the same time, San Francisco is a very unique city with its own distinct character. 
San Francisco has more than 50 hills, some of which are very very steep. The hill in this picture is slightly steeper than average.
I don't envy those drivers who have to park uphill or downhill at this angle. The good thing though, people who live in San Francisco don't hesitate which way to turn their steering wheel when they park their cars.
The steepest hill I've climbed was the Russian Hill. I hope this picture gives you an idea of how steep that hill was.
I underestimated the difficulty of San Francisco's hills and was very tired at the end of my walk.
Russian Hill provides the best panorama of downtown San Francisco. The tallest building in this picture is the Transamerica Pyramid erected in 1972.
Not only is Russian Hill one of the steepest hills in San Francisco but also is one of the most expensive neighbourhoods. For you to get an idea about how crazy the real estate market in San Francisco is, I'll give you one example. While at the conference, I met a smart young fellow who had lived in Vancouver for 15 years and had recently moved to San Francisco for work (it was his dream to work in Silicon Valley). He and three other tenants rent a relatively small old house with 4 bedrooms in not the finest neighbourhood for only $8,000 a month. 
The San Franciscan climate is very mild and temperatures almost never drop below zero. So the weather is pretty comfortable all year round. As a result, San Francisco not only has brave entrepreneurs and the best talent from all over the USA and abroad but also many homeless people. I didn't have a chance to verify this information, but I was told that some homeless people do in fact have paid jobs, but they just cannot afford to rent an apartment. So they permanently live in a tent-like camper.
Local transit in San Francisco is very diverse. There are subway and light rail trains (long streetcars), vintage electrical streetcars from the 1940s - 1950s (some of them date back to the 1890s), cable cars (I'll tell you about them in more detail in one of the following posts), trolley buses and regular buses. What I've noticed is that cable cars despite their age ride on the steepest hills. Trolley buses come next and run on hills with an average steepness. Almost flat areas are serviced by regular buses. By the way, the trolley buses are made by Skoda, a Czech car manufacturer. I remember similar ones in Kyiv, Ukraine many years ago (chances are that some of them are still in use).
San Francisco has a very distinct architectural style which sets it apart from other North American cities. It was once called Paris of the West. Many of its buildings inherited an old Victorian style which was popular in Great Britain and its colonies in the 19th century.
Little Italy - a small and cozy neighbourhood with many fine restaurants.
Vintage streetcars on line F are in fact real old cars which were collected from different cities in the USA, Canada and Mexico and restored for public use. They are usually painted in their home city colours. I even saw the car from Toronto built approximately in 1946.
Historical district Embarcadero (translated as 'ferry landing' from Spanish). Before the earthquake of 1989, there was a busy highway here. I like the fact that urban auto routes in North America often yield their space to pedestrians, and not the other way around.
Coit Tower as seen from Embarcadero Waterfront. It is located on the Telegraph Hill and helps navigate in the city. 
A big cruise ship awaits its passengers at Pier 27.
Pier 39 is the must-place to visit while in San Francisco. Try to stay away from tourist traps such as souvenir shops, pseudo-museums and other typical attractions you can find everywhere, and spend more time with wild sea lions that sunbathe on the open docks.
Sea lions have chosen this place not very long time ago - after the earthquake of 1989. When the animals became more numerous, The Marine Mammal Center issued a recommendation to convert the entire marina with all its docks into a sea lion sanctuary. Obviously, not all yacht owners were happy with that, but it's America, baby, and the recommendation was indeed approved.
In November 2009, there were 1,701 sea lions here!
Sea lions are very intelligent, playful animals and are known for their loud barking. If you close your eyes, you can imagine that it's a dog barking. Take time to watch them for at least 5-10 minutes, and chances are that you can witness a fight between two males.
Sea lions periodically dive underwater and then come back wet to the dock. I saw one lion, who climbed out of the water at the right side, then crawled all the way to the left over the rest of the sea lions to lay down at the left edge. Of course, each lion who climbed over lifted their head and muttered something. Some of them were even trying to bite the offender.
What I don't get is why they hustle on this busy dock while there are many empty docks around.
A popular tourist attraction is called Boudin Bakery where the baskets with bread fly over your head. They have a tomato soup served in a bun. Yummy!
Another tourist attraction is called Fisherman's Wharf, which does not look like a real wharf. Those boats are here for postcard-like pictures, and not for fishing anymore. 
Hyde Street Pier was very busy before the bridges were built across the bay. A ferry used to connect the south and north banks and was a part of Highway 101. In the late 1930s, the ferry was replaced with the Golden Gate Bridge.
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park has a great collection of old ships that used to navigate in these waters.
Witnessing the fight.
The Golden Gate Bridge is the most photographed in the world. Check my next post for the fascinating story about its construction.
Alcatraz Island used to host a maximum security federal prison. There were the most hardcore criminals such as Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud and others. Unlike the Castle If, no one ever managed to escape from Alcatraz Island. Today the island is open to tourists, however, you can only get there with a tour. I wish I knew that tickets get sold out well in advance.
Downtown San Francisco from the Aquatic Park Pier.
Some local guys catch crabs and fish. They even offered me to pull a basket with crabs out of the water, but I refused. I was not sure if what they did was legal, so I didn't want to get in trouble.
But seagulls do not care about the laws, and look forward to more crabs.
Hyde Street is one of the steepest in San Francisco.
Another top tourist destination in San Francisco is Lombard Street, the most crook street in the world.
The street is open one way for cars.
St. Peter and Paul Church in Little Italy.
Back to downtown San Francisco, to Embarcadero. It should be easy to guess when the Ferry Building was built.
A bit weird Vaillancourt Fountain. Residents have tried to tear it down a couple of times but with no success. When I first saw it, I thought that it must have been erected in memory of some tragic event. But it turned out that it was just an author's fantasy.
The thinnest car I have ever seen. I'm wondering how well it withstands strong winds?..
This bridge is the elder brother of the Golden Gate Bridge and connects San Francisco with Oakland.
In the next two posts, I'll show you a picture-perfect sunset at the Golden Gate National Recreational Area and tell you the rich history of the oldest Chinatown in North America.

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