Playing Tourist in San Francisco

San Francisco is a city built on tourism.  From the famous skyline to the gorgeous Golden Gate Bridge framing the blue bay waters, San Francisco is easily the most beautiful city in the country.   Aaron hadn’t really done the San Francisco tourist thing, so when we weren’t running 13.1 miles up the hill of death during our half marathon, we got to as many of the sites as possible.

GETTING AROUND:

I personally think renting a car in San Francisco is nuts.  Unless you have inner city driving experience, the hills, 8 way intersections, and pedestrians will probably cause some stress. Most hotels charge between 30-50 dollars a night to park, and the CHEAPEST parking garage I’ve ever found was $6 an hour.  Taxis aren’t too expensive if you stay within a few miles.  We paid between $10 and $20 for about a 5 mile radius.  I highly recommend the $14 Day Transportation Pass.  This gets you unlimited rides on the famed Trolly, Street Cars, and City Bus (MUNI) for 1 day.  They can be purchased at Powell and Market by the Trolly Hub.  I believe they also have 3 day passes available.

STUFF WE DID:

Fisherman’s Wharf: Not too functional as a port, but lots of restaurants, novelty shops, and an aquarium.  Starts at Pier 1 and goes all the way down to Ghiradelli Square.

Pier 39: The most touristy of the piers on Fisherman’s Wharf.  You’ve got your Hard Rock Cafe, your aquarium, your vintage carousel, and all sorts of stores.

Hyde Street Pier: A first for both of us, this pier is at the end of the wharf.  It’s kind of a museum with historic ships and buildings.  Free (donations accepted), admission charged for boat walk-throughs.

Trolly: One of the most iconic parts of San Francisco. The main “hub” is at Powell and Market, but you can get on at just about any block along their route.

Street Cars: These vintage street cars will take you from Fisherman’s Wharf all the way up Embarcadero and then up Market to the Castro.

Lombard Street: The “crookedest” street in the world.  You can drive down (and deal with the tourists who jump in your way for a picture), or take a walk down.

Ghiradelli Square: At one point this was the  factory for Ghiradelli chocolate.  Now it is a chocolate store and ice cream parlour.  I think their sundaes are a San Francisco MUST.

City Hall: One of the most impressive buildings I’ve ever seen, especially for a city hall.  JLo almost gets married here in The Wedding Planner. The Opera House, Symphony, and Ballet are all right across from the City Hall.  Beautiful buildings, and definitely worth catching a show if you can.

Ferry Building: Another iconic San Francisco landmark.  This is where Fisherman’s Wharf starts at Pier 1.  There is a market inside, and the Occupy San Francisco movement is stationed right across.

Farmer’s market: Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday morning, there is a farmer’s market in front of the Ferry Building.  Seeing as how California produces some of the best crops in the country, the selection was amazing.  We picked up some honey and jam, but if we lived here, we’d definitely be buying some fresh fruits and veggies.

Biking the Golden Gate: Aaron convinced me to ride a tandem bike  across the Golden Gate Bridge (I was scared the whole time).  The route is undeniably beautiful though. There are several rental places along the wharf.

Chinatown: I’ve never been to China, but a walk around some of these streets makes you feel like you’re in a different country (the largest Chinese population outside of China lives in San Francisco).  Plenty of restaurants and some great souvenirs.

North beach: Also known as the Italian District, this neighborhood has the best Italian food and the best bars.

Union Square: Where all of the nice shops are (Saks, Neiman, Barney’s, Bloomingdales, Chanel, Louis, Tiffany’s, Burberry, Prada, Hermes, etc. etc. etc.).  Obviously one of my favorite places to hang out!

TransAmerica Pyramid: I’ve never actually been inside (I don’t even know if you can get in), but this building is what sets San Francisco apart from other skylines.

As much as we wanted to see everything, that was as we could fit in.  There is of course the Coit Tower, Golden Gate Park (and Japanese Tea Garden), Japan Town, Haight Ashbury, the Victorian House Row (I don’t know the real name, but you know what I’m talking about), the Castro, AT&T Park, and Candlestick Park.  There is really too much to see and do in San Francisco and far too many beautiful sights to capture on camera, but we definitely enjoyed our time there (as if it is possible not to), and will hopefully get back there in the near future!

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Where to Stay in San Francisco

I can’t say that I’ve been to all the great cities of the world (or even like, more than 3), but I’m sure no matter where I go, San Francisco will be always be my favorite.  I was lucky enough to live just 30 minutes away for 4 years during college, and I  hope that sometime in my future, that I can get back to that area. 

We went to San Francisco last week to run our half marathon, but also to hang out in the city and be tourists. I took an embarrassing number of photos, and I can easily get 4 blog posts out of all of them. (UPDATE: SOOOO behind on blogging…I wrote this a week ago and only now getting around to posting….the next couple of weeks will be some weird mixture of San Francisco and Christmas posts).

Even though I have a lot of other San Francisco things to talk about, I’m going to start with our hotel.

We signed up for the half marathon and bought our plane tickets way back in June.  I didn’t start looking at hotels until 2 weeks before we left.  Not the brightest idea.  All of the usual suspects (Holiday Inn, Hyatt, Hilton, etc.) were all sold out.  Rooms that weren’t sold out were going for about $500 a night, which wasn’t exactly in our budget for a 4 night stay.  There are a TON of independent little “boutique” hotels in San Francisco.  Some look ok, some look scary.  Some I walk by and feel sorry for anyone having to stay or work there. 

It was with this predicament that I had to make reservations at a hotel that I had never heard of.  The reviews on trip advisor were pretty mixed. I was nervous, expecting to walk into some flea bag, haunted, health hazard of a hotel.  What I encountered was a huge sigh of relief.

Haunted?

We stayed at the Larkspur Hotel.  It is one of about 25 in a California boutique hotel chain.  It is located just 2 blocks north of  Union Square and within walking distance to public transportation, China Town, North Beach, and Fisherman’s Wharf. 

The lobby was cozy with several sitting areas including one in front of a fireplace.  The front desk staff was very accommodating and friendly.  Jazzy standards (Amy music!) were playing in the lobby.

The hotel was built in 1915, so it was definitely old, but charming.  Our room was smaller than we would find at a newer hotel, but who goes to San Francisco to spend time in their room?  The bathroom was also pretty tiny, but  not so absurdly small that it was uncomfortable.  Ironically, the “dressing closet” was bigger than the bathroom!

Probably the coolest thing about the hotel was their Green for Green program. For every day that you opt out of maid service, you get $10 to use either at the hotel bar, on pay per view movies, or at Starbucks.  Um, $10 just to clean up after yourself? Can I get that at home too???  The catch is you can only do it 2 days in a row (maybe they want to make sure you aren’t dead in the room or running a meth lab or something), but still, I was all about this!

We redeemed our vouchers at the hotel bar, “1915.”  1915 was cute.  Even though they only had beer and wine and a small food menu, they had a happy hour every day, and great bartenders.  Plus, the bar had this old english countryside library feeling to it. 

San Francisco is not a cheap place to stay by any stretch of the imagination. Compared to some of the big name hotels in the area, Larkspur was actually very reasonably priced, especially considering you are RIGHT next to Union Square.  The quality of the accommodations and the customer service were far greater than the price suggests. Plus, the hotel is dog friendly which these days is very important to us!

My one complaint about this hotel is actually something that they have zero control over…the noise.  Oh my goodness it was noisy.  Our window faced Powell street, which is where the cable car (and its charming little bell) run from 6:30 to midnight.  Plus, there was some overnight construction going on, which made for some restless sleep.  But we did sign up to stay in the middle of a big city, right off a main thoroughfare, so really to expect it to be quiet would be unreasonable.  And again, the hotel, aside from choosing that location, really couldn’t do too much to control the noise. 

View from the room

So…I’d say overall I’d definitely stay here again when we find ourselves back in the city.  Sometimes a hotels.com leap of faith works out far better than you ever imagined!

Happy short week!

A San Francisco Half Marathon

One week ago I was in San Francisco, having a ball, recovering from my second Half Marathon race.

Way back in June we signed up for the U.S. Half in San Francisco and started our training in the middle of August.   Three weeks ago we ran the Duke City Half Marathon as a training race, and both of us did pretty well.  We had a lot of confidence going into the U.S. Half, and we were ready to put our Duke City times to shame at sea level.

Last Saturday we flew out to San Francisco.  Turns out, preparing for a race is a lot different on the road than it is at home.  We were traveling all day, so water wasn’t exactly the easiest to come by. We had a hard time finding bland, carby food, so we ate too much garlic at The Stinking Rose, leaving us feeling quite ill, not to mention smelly.  We also walked a lot on a lot of big hills, which probably wasn’t the best idea.  

 

Despite all this, we headed to the start line bright and early and ready to run.  In August I set a goal of 1 hour and 45 minutes, which at the time I thought was pretty impossible.  When I ran that for Duke City, I decided to lower my goal to 1 hour and 40 minutes since we’d be at sea level with 2 additional weeks of training.

Pre Race

The first 3 miles were great for both of us. I was pacing 7:30 and feeling strong. Then hill number 1 appeared. We’ve done a lot of hill training, but when I’m racing, I like as little uphill as possible. It really slows down my pace, and uses up a lot of energy. This hill wasn’t so bad, but still more than I wanted. This led us across the Golden Gate, which felt kind of epic, though looking down isn’t recommended!

Due to construction, the course had to be changed, adding a mile long 400 foot climb. I knew it was coming. Yet, when I crossed the bridge and saw the hill, it was HUGE. I was running a 12 minute mile and going nowhere fast. Luckily I was able to make up time going back downhill with the most gorgeous view of the city.

The rest of the race was flat. I wasn’t quite on pace to make 1 hour and 40 minutes, but with just a little more than 1 mile left, I was ready to come in at about 1:43. Then, right there at mile 12.5 was another hill. In retrospect, it was tiny. But, when I saw it, my mental state changed from ready to rock to ready to fall down and cry. I couldn’t power through it. Even at the top, I couldn’t make my legs go. My Garmin read 1:45, and I couldn’t spot the finish line. I didn’t have the energy nor the mental state to go any faster. After the longest 2 minutes of my life, I crossed the finish line feeling defeated. Also, according to my Garmin I ran 13.31 miles, which means I picked up an extra .2 miles (equal to about 1 minute and 30 seconds) somewhere.

I finished in 1:47:25, almost 2 minutes slower than I ran Duke City 2 weeks before.  The course was too hilly for my level of training.  I know that everyone has their bad races, and really, for the elevation gain in this race compared to Duke City, 2 minutes slower isn’t all that bad.  It is just too bad that this was the race I was planning for since June, and I fizzled.  I still finished 350 out of 3,542, and 67 out of 1960 females which isn’t too shabby, but I could have done better if I had just pushed myself a little harder that last half mile.

Aaron also had a bad race, combating a terrible side stitch that developed at mile 3, but still finished 71 out of 3,542 which is pretty awesome. 

Yay! We Finished!

Aside from my performance, the race course was AMAZING! We ran along the marina, through the Presidio National Park, across the Golden Gate and back, and down the beach to Fisherman’s Wharf. The race itself had some little fiascos (we didn’t get t-shirts because they ran out, we didn’t get finishers medals because the wrong ones got delivered, construction caused some MAJOR bottlenecks on the bridge, which luckily I was ahead of and not affected by) but it wasn’t a bad experience.  The weather was beyond perfect, and running through San Francisco was nothing short of a dream come true.  Plus, each bib came with a little bar code that could be scanned with a smartphone, so we got our official results minutes after crossing the finish line instead of waiting for them for days.  We also got water bottles, beer, and breakfast at the finish festival. 

Bib with bar code for results

We’ve already signed up for our next half marathon in January, so focus will be on maintaining our training and on shaving minutes off our times during the next 2 months.  I’m amazed at how addicting racing can be, and how much I’m enjoying them!

My Quest to Run a Half Marathon (and not die)

For anyone who doesn’t know, Aaron asked me to run a half marathon in the same sentence that he asked me to be his girlfriends three years ago (“yeah!……SURE” was my response).  In the meantime I managed to marry him and celebrate 1.5 anniversaries without actually having to run one.  I’ve run a pretty impressive 5-K, and a pretty impressive 10-K, but at this point in my life, 6.2 miles is the farthest I’ve ever run at one time.

Running a 7 minute, 45 second mile at Will Run For Beer

But a deal is a deal, and I did give my word.  I am officially a registered participant in my first half marathon.  But, if I have to torture myself with running 13.1 miles, at least I will have the San Francisco Bay as a beautiful backdrop to distract me!

I am CRAZY about San Francisco.  I was introduced the this spectacular and foggy city at the age of 7 and immediately feel in love with the tall buildings and the Japanese Tea Garden and the Golden Gate Bridge.  I loved it so much that when it came to college selection time, I chose a school only a short 30 minute drive away from the city.  For 4 wonderful years I had the ability to spend the afternoon browsing Union Square and birthday dinners usually involved a restaurant in North Beach.  And then I graduated in 2007, at the start of California’s economic downfall, and had to return home in order to actually get a job.

Alas, I am 4 years removed from the Bay Area and close to 2 years removed from my last visit.  I am long overdue for a fresh piece of sour dough bread.  So, when it came time to decide on a half marathon to run, even though we looked at several options in several states including Florida, Oregon, and Louisiana, we stumbled upon a race in San Francisco in November and we knew that was the one we wanted to do.  PLUS, at a much lower elevation than Albuquerque, it should be far easier to run.

davehodson.com

 

The US Half Marathon (http://www.ushalf.com/) is a 13.1 mile course along the San  Francisco Bay, and over the Golden Gate Bridge.  According to the website, my relatively inexpensive fee includes a t-shirt (yes!), a finisher’s medal to prove I actually went though with the crazy adventure, and a post race festival that best be including some mimosas and donuts (I think running a half marathon at least warrants a nice fatty cheat meal).

Jessica R. on yelp.com

 

I don’t officially have to start distance training until August when temperatures start cooling down from the 99 degrees that we’ve been seeing, but I’m planning on  doing some local races ahead of time including the Duke City Half Marathon in October (so the US Half won’t technically be my first official half marathon, but at least I get a practice run in).

adymarathon.wordpress.com

 

Do I even have to mention that without any training Aaron will be able to run that race and STILL probably place in the top 10%?  If only I were so talented.  I’ll be lucky if I can make it through the race without passing out on the side of the road (or having the speed police come and pick me up because I’m going too slow).  Either way, come mid-November I hope to add a 13.1 bumper sticker to my car, having officially fulfilled my relationship obligations!