A Peninsula Jam-Packed for Laid-Back Days [San Francisco]

Wow, it’s been quite some time since I’ve written. From time to time I think of my blog and how my little changing day-to-day life doesn’t provide much inspiration for a post. I also think that my Instagram and Twitter accounts hold smaller snippets of my life, even if that’s 140 characters or less.

Well, now I have something exciting to write about! This might as well turn into “Michael’s Travel Blog,” as I find my trips more interesting to write about and generate the most site traffic.

As you can tell from the blog post title, I spent some time on a long Memorial Day weekend in San Francisco, Calif. Last October was my first time on the West Coast when I visited Seattle and had a great visit. This being my second time to the West Coast, I knew that I wanted to visit California. A former coworker from Chicago recently moved to The City by the Bay when her agency account moved offices. We used to work together briefly on the State Farm account in Chicago, before she switched over to Nintendo at Zenith.

Our agencies were gracious enough to grant us Friday off, making the weekend four days with the Memorial Day holiday.

Thursday evening, the night before I left for California, I participated in the JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge 5K Race in Chicago. Wearing OMD-designed neon yellow shirts, we ran the 3.6 mile race downtown on Columbus Drive. I felt pretty good the whole race and ended up with a time of 30:15 and a 8:39 min/mile. This was a personal best for me, so I was content going into vacation mode. The weather was most odd compared to neighboring days, with the temperate in the high 40’s during the race. Regardless, I went home, packed, and got a few hours of sleep before waking up to depart from Midway Airport.

When I woke up the next morning, my ankle was a bit sore, but when I looked, the bottom of my foot toward my heel was purple and a little swollen! I knew it felt a bit funny at the end of the race, but didn’t realize its severity. Nevertheless, I departed about at 8:30a CT. On the flight, I sat next to some newly-engaged, newly-married, and hopelessly-single ladies who were on their way to another wedding in Napa. Toward the end of the flight, a line of small vodka bottles lined their tray tables, until the flight attendant came by and forced them to finish, as the plane was descending.

Throughout the flight, I saw some amazing mammoth lakes, mountains and basins:

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Upon landing, I retrieved my bag and rode the BART train to my friend Meredith’s apartment at the north part of the peninsula. The trip from the airport to downtown reminded me a lot of Seattle, with lots of green hills and clean air. Moving north, I was surprised to see what seemed to me like favelas, a shantytown of bright-colored boxed homes. All homes were of pastel colors, with a few less daring with natural/earth tone colors. Moving into the city, I got off the train and trekked to Meredith’s place. I was well-warned by those who had been to San Fran, advising to wear comfortable shoes for the steep hills. My time at the University of Kansas prepared me with the daily climb up Mount Oread, and San Francisco certainly had a few “Mount Oreads.” Chicago, being flat, doesn’t require much calf usage, but with my semi-sprained ankle, I was sweatin’ bullets upon arrival to Meredith’s. She lives in a quaint apartment near Japantown, but a great and accessible location for all of our excursions. I sat down for a breather, hoping my calves would recover in the moment.

Hungry and anxious, Meredith and I went to a restaurant nearby called “Dunya” for some nice Mediterranean food. I got an adana lamb kabob with a Coke as a refresher.

The weather was perfect. If you’re not familiar with San Francisco, the weather really doesn’t change all year. Highs around 65 and lows around 50. After lunch, we took a walk to Delores Park in the Mission District. The park boasts a fairly-steep hill where citizens can relax, play with their dog, or hang with friends, all while viewing a panoramic of the cityscape. Meredith and I took some time to catch up and people watch.

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After a rest, Meredith and I walked down to get a good view of the north peninsula at sunset, with view of the Golden Gate Bridge. To round out the day, we enjoyed dinner at a Peruvian restaurant called “Fresca,” where I had sangria and Chuleton y Carapulcra – grilled pork chop, sun-dried potato stew, peanuts, sautéed spinach, tamarind glaze. Running on a few hours of sleep, a long plane ride, and a pretty-eventful Day 1, I was glad to check in for the night!

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Sleeping in a few extra minutes was nice on Saturday. After gathering ourselves for Day 2, we took the cable car transit to Open Market at the Ferry Building. In the courtyard in front of the building, local vendors, farmers and performers showcased the best of San Fran. We browsed for a bit before smelling food and thus, became hungry. Several options were available, including seafood, Mexican, vegan, pizza and American. I chose Mexican, where I ordered carnitas tacos, homemade tortilla chips and a strawberry lime drink. We sat next to the bay on the dock and devoured our food while enjoying live music. Walking down the dock to get a closer look at the bay and crosstown neighbor Oakland, we snapped a few pictures before noticing that a man on a bench was doing a few lines of cocaine. We thought this was a bit public, but admired his audacity!

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Meredith had booked day tickets to Alcatraz Island weeks before to secure a spot on the tour. We had some time to kill so we walked up and down the numbered piers until our time was called for the ferry to Alcatraz. San Fran has their own “Navy Pier” of sorts at Pier 39, across from Meredith’s work. We boarded the ferry to Alcatraz Island, along with a bunch of foreigners. On the ride across the bay, the wind was almost unbearable, but we got fantastic views of the city and Golden Gate bridge.

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Upon arriving to Alcatraz, we walked up a sloped hill where some of the prison buildings remained in ruins. Our audio tour inside the prison itself, though, was well-preserved and educating. The cells showed minimal conditions for inmates, and some of the stories on audio indicated the creativity and insanity of the inmates. Outside was a recreation area for inmates, as you can see the patch of grass for baseball is still intact. Some of the stories on audio included the few but intense attempts to escape. A couple of men actually did escape the prison, by using a steel kitchen spoon to scrape away at the concrete and escape through the utility hallway. To this day, these men have not been confirmed dead or alive. Stopping the audio for a break, the panoramic views of the city were best from Alcatraz. The dining area was called the “gas chamber” by inmates, for gas nozzles were in the eating area in case any nonsense broke out. The prison was later closed because of high costs to operate.

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We took the ferry back to the peninsula and caught a cab to the nearest (and probably only) Chicago bar (called Monaghan’s) to watch the Chicago Blackhawks play in Game 5 of the playoffs. They ended up winning, forcing a Game 6 and hopes alive for the Stanley Cup. The bar was interesting, as we were planning to just watch the game. Upon walking in, a golden retriever and an English bulldog were hanging out and catching any popcorn crumbs on the floor. Apparently the crowd was pounding drinks while Meredith and I were at Alcatraz, because it turned into a bunch of messy girls and desperate guys! A Game of Thrones themed party later showed up, giving us our cue to leave. We went back home, got some pizzas from Whole Foods and called it a night. We both enjoy the show Parks and Recreation, so we took some time to catch up on the episodes.

Again, we slept in a little bit. Little did I realize I got a little tan color from being out in the sun! The temperature was never hot, but I think being outside all day gave me a little flavor. We knew that Sunday was time for baseball! Similar to Meredith getting the Alcatraz tickets, I had purchased Giants tickets weeks before for the Sunday game against the Colorado Rockies. I strategically-planned the location of our seats, so that we could see the field, the Bay Bridge, McCovey Cove and all of the sights. I had a margarita and burrito bowl for lunch. One of my goals, for those of you who don’t know, is to visit all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums. My proof is to purchase a pint glass from each stadium, in which someday my kitchen cabinet will only have MLB glass pint glasses. After finding that, we found our seats and “oooh’d” and “awwwe’d” at the view. So far, it’s the most beautiful stadium I’ve seen. Located right along the bay, a homerun will splash the water. The fans are attentive. The reigning World Series champions are beloved in the city and it was great to share that feeling. AT&T Park marks the sixth park I’ve been to (Kansas City, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee and Minnesota being the others). I have quite a way to go to get to 30! My friend Luke and I (who I previously traveled with on an MLB trip), plan to do another trip soon, so maybe I’ll get to 10 by then.

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We went back and relaxed for a bit, before dinner came around and we went to B Star, a Burmese restaurant in the Richmond neighborhood. We had a starter Tea Leaf Salad (romaine, ginger, garlic, peanuts, sunflower & sesame seeds, tomatoes, lentils, jalapenos, dried shrimp, fish sauce, and fermented tea leaf) and I had some Dragon tea. For an entree, I had Pumpkin Pork Stew (natural tender pork stew with kabocha squash & ginger with coco rice.) It was one of the best plates I’ve had! We took a look around the neighborhood before going home and having a cider before bed.

Monday – my last few hours in the city were here! I cleaned up and packed my things up to have ready for later. Meredith and I had a final meal at Toast, where I had the Polk Street Omelet (avocado, spinach, bacon, onions, and cheddar). After that, we made a long walk to “The Painted Ladies” which are across from Alamo Square and are well-known as the intro background for the TV show Full House. Fun fact, the actual Full House house is actually about a mile away, and is commonly mistaken as one of the Painted Ladies. This was a unique part of my trip for sure. It started to rain lightly for the first time all weekend, and we made our way back to Meredith’s so I could get my things to leave.

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Knowing that the walk back to the BART was downhill, I was a bit relieved going into my departure. Riding the BART from downtown, through the “favelas” and finally to SFO, I browsed through my Instagram at some unique and amazing photos I had captured during the trip. I had a connector flight in Los Angeles (LAX); I arrived in LA at 6:45p PT. The Blackhawks were then playing in Game 6 against Detroit in a must-win situation. I had to shut down my phone before the third period had started, so I did not know the result until I arrived in Chicago at 1:15a CT (they won!). I couldn’t sleep on the flight, so I read my KU alumni magazines from front-to-back and failed miserably to complete this one level on Angry Birds. It did pass the time, though!

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Riding in a cab back to my apartment past downtown Chicago and Lake Michigan, I realized how much different San Fran is than anywhere I’ve seen. I enjoy expanding my views of the country and world, and San Fran certainly was unduplicated in my eyes! My next day at work was filled with “How was San Fran?” questions, and I was excited to talk about it <and show off my slight tan!>

Much thanks to Meredith for the hospitality and being a great friend/tourist-in-crime!

Until the next adventure…

Michael xx

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