When travelling alone, a city’s hop-on and hop-off double-decker busses are great way to see the city, get tidbits and interesting insights to the city’s history and have guaranteed convenient transportation.
San Francisco is the first non-European city where I have used this tourism service. European cities are filled with history and many attractions. In contrast, there are lots to see in San Francisco but it is not the same experience. San Francisco has areas such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Golden Gate Park and its museums. The majority of the stops were nice to see, but no one got off at most stops. The bus tours start at Union Square, which was next to my hotel, so very convenient for me. I originally wanted to take the City Sightseeing tour bus that I had used in Europe, but I was approached by representative from another company. This company seemed to have more busses on the road and appeared to be a better choice. The company offered four tours and the ticket was good for two days. Price point, it was more economical than taking one or two tours. The Downtown tour lent itself well to hop-on and hop-off. However, there was a big difference in the tour guides, some were knowledgeable and others were not. (In comparison to Brussels, at least there was no pre-recording that didn’t match where were on the street.) It was easy to pick out the Canadians on the bus or those from the Midwest and Northeast United States. We wore shorts or light clothes while Asians and South Americans wore winter coats, and wool hats. It was really bizarre to see people dressed for all seasons on the same day.
My first hop-off stop was Fisherman’s Wharf. Most of the restaurants have an outside takeout with fresh seafood. I chose an overflowing crab sandwich. In Atlantic Canada, even though we have a crab industry, most of it is exported. I like to try or select something a little different from what I am used to and a local delicacy. With my sandwich and water bottle in hand, I searched for a park bench and listened to the talented busking musician. As with many outdoor eating areas, I had to avoid the eagle-eyed food stealing seagulls. I could have bought a beer and sat outside as well. However, with Canada’s strict alcohol laws, it didn’t occur to me I could take alcohol outside of a restaurant and into a public area.
The next stop was Ghirardelli Square for dessert. San Francisco was the original headquarters of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. An ice-cream seemed in order for the sunny day. The chocolate store was very busy and I wanted something simple to take outside. After leaving snowy Canada, sitting outside in the sun and heat was important to me. Across from the Square, I watched people swimming in the marked off section of the waterfront and children playing in the sand, not quite as warm as I would have liked and not a substitute for the Caribbean, but still a nice break from the cold of Halifax.
San Francisco is also a great city for those who love to hike, bike, swim and sail. After I satisfied my chocolate craving, I waved over the tour bus at the spot I had disembarked. I learned why I had to wave him over; the previous bus let me out at the wrong spot. It is important that bus tours are consistent and pick up and drop off spot are marked. In Europe there are signs; San Francisco had none that I could see.
The second tour was the Golden Gate Bridge. The top of a double-decker is open and windy, tourists must bring something warm to wear and take of their hats before they become floating objects in San Francisco Bay. This bus tour takes people to South Vista Point, the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. The area offers a wonder view of the city, Alcatraz and San Francisco Bay. Across from the Point are high rolling hills with trails carved out. People looked like ants running up, down and around. At the tourist stop, there is a washroom and a monument but no vendors, not even a pop and water machine. Odd, as this is a captive audience and a good place to make money.
The next tour was the evening tour, to see the lights of San Francisco. The tour started at 5:00 pm, but it doesn’t get dark until 7:30 pm?? I asked the driver/ guide during the Golden Gate tour if the time was changing for the evening tour and he said no. At 5 pm I boarded, and it was the same driver. He said that when his boss devised the tour, it was during daylight savings time when it was dark at 5 pm. What I can’t understand is why the company didn’t adjust the times? The tour was virtually the same as the Downtown tour, except you got to see a little more of the waterfront.
Day two, I took the last tour to Golden Gate Park. This tour had three departure times for the day. I took the first departure in the morning. The tour took people through the Haight-Ashbury area. The tour guide said he would point out the hippies, as if we were looking for an endangered species. He would see someone and yell out, “Are you a hippie?” There are a lot of street people in San Francisco, the most I have ever seen in a modern city. I think a few in the park, were there not for engaging in hippie activities, but for survival. One problem with this tour is if you got off the bus at any of the stops, you had to wait two hours for another bus to come by; it kind of defeats the hop-on, hop-off concept. I didn’t want to be stuck anywhere for two hours. The Golden Gate Park looked beautiful, but not a place I would feel comfortable by myself. However, if I had done my homework ahead of time, I would have gotten out and visited the deYoung Museum and California Academy of Sciences, but all I knew about was the Haight-Ashbury area. The museums were not really promoted as much as they should have been. Lesson learned.
I also would have liked to have seen Alcatraz close up, but the tours were completely booked for three days straight. I thought I could take the ferry over and pay to view on my own outside a guided tour, but this was not the case, you have to be on a guided tour. Another lesson learned.
My next tour was for the Monterey Coast. The hotel concierge gave me a bit of advice and recommended that I sit on the side opposite the driver for the best view of the coast. The bus driver collected me at my hotel bright and early. After picking up others at their hotels, we were dropped off at the office to pay for our tour. By the time I got to the bus, others must have had the same advice, as the entire passenger side was full. Oh well, the windows were large and I could see from the other side.
Our driver, who was also the guide, informed us that he has been in the tour business for 20 years. Hmmm, throughout the drive we heard all about his friend Marjorie and her experiences on this coastline, by the end of the tour, me and the lady across the aisle would roll our eyes at one another. He also failed to tell people that the washroom was operational and even cut in front of me to use it.
As an East Coast person, it was nice to see beauty of the West Coast. We stopped at beach areas that were populated by walruses, otters and seals. Downwind, however, was a challenge not to revisit my breakfast. The town of Monterrey was our first major stop. We were dropped off at the end of the street near the Aquarium and were told we had two hours to spend in the town. I asked if he had a map or guide for us, but was flippantly told it was a small area. Guide books were situated along the street. I picked up one and looked through it so I could find out what stores and restaurants were in the area. Free guide books and maps are an easy thing for bus tour companies to obtain and hand out. It would have been a nice addition as it doesn’t cost them anything, and is good will towards their customers. We had the option of visiting the Aquarium during this tour, but no one on the bus selected it and it was a lot of extra money.
With map in hand, I walked the main street and visited the beach area. I thought I should touch the Pacific Ocean; something Atlantic Ocean people like to do. I leaned over to put my hand in just as a big wave came to shore. I got two soakers, and if anyone was watching, probably a few chuckles too.
It was lunch time and I decided to treat myself at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company Restaurant. Most patrons waited to sit inside the restaurant. I by-passed the line up as I wanted to sit on the patio in the sun. I did have an ulterior motive, I needed to take off my sneakers and socks and put them in the sun to dry. The wait staff were very good, the food was fine. I did get sucked into buying a glass along with a very tasty cocktail. But in truth, I wanted both. After the meal, I grabbed lots of paper towel and stuffed them in my sneakers. With my weight on top, the paper towels sucked up the water.
Back on the bus, we were off to visit Pebble Beach. This illustrious gated-community is woven with old growth forest trees leading to the sea. We stopped at Bird Rock, which was actually filled with sea lions and a few otters. Our next stop was the Pebble Beach Golf Course and we walked the grounds of the club house. It would have been nice to have gone inside to pick up a souvenir but it was only a short stop. The company should make it longer. Again, upon our departure, we heard more about Marjorie and her interests in birds and painting.
The last stop was Carmel. It was late in the day with many shops closing. Once again, I grabbed a street map of the downtown area. I walked the main street which was largely downhill to the water. What goes down, must come up, I didn’t complete the trip but saw the majority of the main things in town. Carmel is artsy community with high-end independent shops and some interesting restaurants. No sign of Clint Eastwood or anyone famous.
As night was falling, the bus returned to San Francisco. We followed the highway back which was more inland. We passed lots of cherry orchards, strawberry and artichoke farms. We stopped at the World of Garlic store, mainly to use the washroom. The only product of interest was garlic wine. I was not that adventurous to challenge my palate, plus my flight was leaving in the morning. The last nice thing about bus tours is that they will drop you off at your hotel or nearby which is good for woman travelling alone. Yes, I did tip the bus driver/guide. He didn’t have a tip jar like most usually do, so I left it on the dash. He did make a point throughout the tour that he accepted tips, and that is okay. It is customary to tip these positions. People often comment that Canadians are bad tippers, but in London, I was the only person who tipped from people ahead of me from other countries. Because he did not have a tip jar, I couldn’t tell this time.
The next touristy thing I experienced in San Francisco was the cable car ride. The cab car system is the icon of San Francisco and the world’s last manually operated cab cars. I lined up at the bottom of the hill on Powell Street. The best place to sit is in the front, where you can also stand. If you can’t sit there, you may want to wait for the next car. All the people on the car were visiting tourists. The car, at times, was like being on a roller coaster; we went up a very steep hill than down the other side. We got to see the non-touristy spots as well as wonderful vistas of San Francisco. The cable car operator came along in the middle of the route to collect the fee, $6. At the other end we had to get off, and walk to the depot and wait for another car. This was an additional $6. The operator told me that if they didn’t do that most people would not leave and they need to collect another fee. For a couple of reasons, I was leery to stand on the sides. One, because I recently had both knee operated on, and the other, just out of fear of being clumsy and falling off or getting hit by another cable car passing. I bit the bullet closer to the end of the route and stood for the last three blocks. Sometimes the simpler tourist experiences in a city are the best.