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Trip Report - San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Big Sur

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Fishers, Indiana
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Trip Report - San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Big Sur

My 16 year-old son and I spent 6 nights in San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Big Sur. I will post this trip report in each of those forums. We received a lot of good advice from many TA posters and want to thank them as well as report back.

The primary purpose of our trip was watching baseball – we saw one A’s game and three Giants games. We flew in from San Diego on Saturday morning – our flight was delayed for over an hour due to fog at SFO limiting operations. Our bags came out quickly. Our hotel in San Francisco was the Omni. I had intended to take a cab to the hotel, but my son convinced me to take BART downtown. Against my better judgment, I agreed. There were no particular issues with BART, other than a lot of downtime waiting for the BART train at the airport as well as the wait for and ride to the BART station on the Airtrain.

The walk from the Montgomery station to the Omni was an easy, relatively flat four blocks. We were carrying 12 days of luggage – two large suitcases, two duffel type bags, my briefcase and his backpack. No troubles at all pulling the bags down Montgomery Street.

Check-in at the Omni was easy – the staff very helpful. We spend about 30 minutes in our room getting organized before heading down to the Ferry Building to get something to eat. We ended up eating at Gott’s – a very good burger on a trip that had us eating too many burgers. We then walked to the Embarcadero station and took BART over to Oakland for the A’s – Twins game. The combination of the flight delay and the extra time to get to town on BART caused us to scratch our planned visit to Berkeley to visit the Cal campus.

We purchased A’s tickets at the ticket window – Plaza level directly behind home plate. Really good seats. We enjoyed walking around the stadium before the game – had some really friendly and knowledgeable fans around us. Fun time at the game, no problems getting back to BART and back to San Francisco after the game. We walked around a bit after getting off at the Montgomery Station looking for a place to eat and found an open California Pizza Kitchen.

Sunday was a day for tours. We started with Dylan’s Famous Tour. Dylan picked us up at the Omni and we had 12 people on our tour in his 14 seat van. I will write a separate review of the tour, but we enjoyed it very much. The San Francisco Marathon route caused Dylan to do some rerouting, but we saw everything that was on the tour. We really enjoyed the lunch break in Haight-Ashbury and the view from Twin Peaks. Dylan was very knowledgable and friendly – his love for The City really comes through.

We were dropped off near the Omni and went back to the room to rest for awhile before going back to catch the Muni to our 6:10 Alcatraz Tour. We didn’t have a good plan for where to eat and didn’t leave much time for finding someplace, so we ended up at the “snack bar” at the Alcatraz terminal. At least it was food – wish we would have asked for a place to eat before we left the hotel.

We sat up top on the boat out to Alcatraz – very cool and windy – Sunday was a gloomy day – the clouds never really lifted. Sitting up top probably wasn’t the greatest idea as my sinuses never really recovered the rest of the trip. We took our time getting off the boat and were in the last group up to the prison. I will write a separate review as time permits but it was a fascinating tour. We moved at our pace, spent about 5 minutes outside looking at the city and stayed for the last boat back. One thing we couldn’t do, and I would imagine most on the night tour don’t have the time to do, is explore any part of the island other than the building itself – we simply didn’t have the daylight to see anything away from the building.

We decided to go to Pier 39 after the boat returned and found my son’s favorite restaurant – Bubba Gump’s. We walked in a few minutes before closing and offered to leave once we realized they were never closing. The host insisted on sitting us and they sat a few more parties after us. We went out to catch the Muni back to the hotel – we later realized we needed to head across the street to catch the trolley we needed after we watched it pull away. As it was shortly after 11 and we called and determined it would be more than 15 minutes until the next trolley, we took a cab back to the Omni.

Monday morning we decided to try to take a tour of AT&T Park. We found they sell 30 tickets in advance and hold 30 tickets for walk-ups for each of the tours. We took the early tour and had a great time. It was very cool to be able to walk on the warning track of the field and sit in the vistor’s dugout. The tour took about 90 minutes – the weather cleared up while we were in the tour and exited to a beautiful sunny day. We grabbed some pizza at SBC Pizza near the park and took the Muni back to our hotel to check the weather at the Golden Gate Bridge.

We obtained some bus directions from the concierge and headed out to the bridge. We took several pictures with the bridge in the background before heading up for a walk. The sidewalk was very crowded near the Toll Plaza – the number of walkers decreased as we went across. We walked about 2/3rds of the way across the Bridge before starting back. We enjoyed the views of The City as well as looking down to the water. We took a lot of pictures when we weren’t dodging the bicyclists. Most of the “recreational” cyclists weren’t an issue – but many of the cyclists who we joked were dressed like they were in the Tour de France were a problem going too fast for conditions. I wonder how many bike-walker collisions there are on the bridge.

We hopped the wrong bus on the way back but used our Muni map to make a couple of transfers to get back to our hotel – the weekly Muni pass came in handy this day.

We took a quick break then headed over to AT&T Park. We ate in the park and headed up our seats in Section 307 View Level, front row. The view of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco Bay was excellent. I would remiss if I didn’t thank TA poster krslong for help with seating advice at AT&T Park. Kelly’s help was invaluable. Very cold and windy up in the View Box on Monday night. We walked back to the hotel after the game.

Tuesday morning we decided to ride the Calilfornia line cable car and then head to Lombard Street and Fisherman’s Wharf. We were able to catch the California line right at the corner outside the Omni. There were only a handful of people on the car. The concierge recommended we ride up to Powell and then switch cars to get to Lombard. Genius that I am I decided we would stay on the California line to the end since we had Muni passes and could ride the car back to Powell. When we passed Powell on the way out we saw only a few people waiting for one of the Powell cars. It was not a wise decision – by the time we returned to Powell there were a few dozen people waiting. After the first three cable cars came by and only a few people were able to get on, we decided to just walk to the base of Lombard Street since it was mostly all downhill.

In retrospect the decision to walk was not a bad one. It was a cool morning, we stayed in the shade most of the way and it was nice to walk through part of Chinatown. We eventually found our way to the base of Lombard Street. I was glad I wasn’t driving down it – too many pedestrians. We walked up the crooked part of Lombard for just a little while – the walk up from Powell to the base of the famous crooked block was tough enough for me. After taking some pictures we headed down towards the Fisherman’s Wharf area and had our first In-N-Out experience for lunch. I usually wouldn’t wait that long for fast food – but was glad we did. I will say that I “get” the love for In-N-Out. We walked over towards Pier 39, stopping in a handful of shops on the way.

After checking out a few of the Pier 39 shops we hopped bus 39 to Coit Tower. Arriving around 2 p.m. at Coit Tower is not a good idea. There was a lengthy line but it moved reasonably quickly. The views up top were good – we spent about ten minutes up there looking around and taking pictures. My son was disappointed that the openings were windows with glass instead of openings. We had planned to walk around the base for awhile, but there was a bus waiting when we walked out and we elected to take it. We made a transfer at Washington Square and took an express bus to Union Square. We did some shopping (mostly looking) and headed back to our hotel.

The concierge recommended dinner at the Royal Exchange. We enjoyed the meal then headed over to AT&T park for the Tuesday game. We had club level seats – the tickets we bought from the Giants website were directly behind a TV cameraman. One of the ushers took us down to customer service and they found us two seats one section over, in the second row – the seats generally worked out well except for the “fan” in front of us who felt the need to stand on most every ball hit even though he was in the front row. And of course a foul ball landed right where we would have been sitting.

After the game we walked back along King and the Embarcadero to the Gordon Biersch where we had a post game meal. We then took the Muni back to Montgomery Street and walked back to the Omni.

Wednesday morning we checked out of the Omni and obtained our rental car at the Budget location in the Hyatt Embarcadero. We had planned to take the car back to get our luggage and then park near AT&T before heading out to Santa Cruz. Unfortunately when you rent at a downtown location, the selection of cars isn’t always complete. We ended up with a Chevy Traverse, a crossover SUV without a trunk. So we parked our car at St. Mary’s on California, left our luggage at the Omni and headed to the 12:45 game. We ate lunch at 21st Amendment and had another good meal. We finally figured out where to eat as our visit was winding down. We had seats in the shade in section 122, row 37. The shade appeaered to begin at around row 31.

The game was longest of the series – by the time we walked back to collect our car at St. Mary’s and our luggage at The Omni, we ended up in rush hour traffic trying to get to the freeways. Eventually we made it to 280 and set off for Santa Cruz using the excellent directions supplied by TA member Puter and made our way to the Hampton Inn Santa Cruz. We checked in and quickly headed to the boardwalk for pizza at Breaker’s Pizza and then headed over to purchase the special Pepsi $9.95 unlimited ride wristbands.

We managed to get three rides in on the Giant Dipper – the line moved pretty quickly – I would say about 20 minutes each time. What a coaster! Climbing the hill at the start, checking out the park and looking out over the Ocean. Lots of air time – we absolutely loved it and wished we could have rode it more often. My 16 year-old commented that this is why wooden coasters are the best. For me it was a different experience. I might have been one of five people we saw in line that night over the age of 30. I was most definitely the statistical outlier that night. Our biggest disappointment of the night was not getting there sooner to ride it more often. We headed out around 11, but not before riding the 100 year-old carousel. In fact our first ride was after a local teen completed 100 rides for the day – and was interviewed by a TV crew. We did walk the entire boardwalk and tried to play mini-golf (played 5 holes in 25 minutes – walked off – the management chooses not to enforce their rules about group size).

We returned to the Hampton and had to park on the street as there were no parking places left in the hotel lot. The front desk blamed Denny’s customers, but I counted parking spots the next morning – 39 spots including handicapped and more than a dozen “compact” car spots. The room map in the hotel directory book shows 46 rooms. Pretty simple to understand someone is parking on the street every day. Based on the signs in the Hampton parking lot and Denny’s lot, there is a continual parking war. Blame it on whoever approved both get built, but I cannot recommend the Hampton.

We headed in the morning and went South on Route 1. We encountered a long traffic delay north of Moss Landing. It appeared that a tree hand fallen out the southbound lane, backing up traffic for miles.

We decided to skip Monterey and 17 mile drive on our way South to Big Sur, hoping the pick it up on the way back, but because of our late start we ran out of time and daylight. We were more than pleased with what we did see – maybe some time we come back and play Pebble Beach.

Our first stop was at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. We drove all the way out to the end of Southshore Trail before we found a parking spot at the end of the trail. The good news was that we took a short walk up some steps and along a trail and were rewarded with the majestic beauty of China Cove. It was quite the introduction to Big Sur. We could have spent much more time at Point Lobos but the rest of Big Sur and lunch at Nepenthe beckoned.

We pulled off at several turnouts along the way. We mistakenly thought the Rock Creek Bridge was Bixby Bridge when we first saw it. We quickly realized our mistake as we approached. We reached Bixby Bridge shortly thereafter and took the advice from other TA posters and pulled off the dirt road on the northeast side of the bridge. We parked about a 100 feet down the road in a wide area and walked up the road a bit and got some great views and great pictures. We did not venture any further in the rental car – it would have been interesting to see the view from further up the road – hard to believe this was the way to Big Sur in the 1930’s.

We finally reached Nepenthe around 2 p.m. Finding a parking spot was a struggle. We found one in the farthest south road. We walked up to the restaurant for lunch. We found a 20 minute wait for a table, but were told that the counter looking south was open seating. A couple of seats immediately opened up and we squeezed in between two umbrellas. My son and I both ordered the famous Ambrosia burgers. He got the sauce on the side and did not care for it. A basket of French fries and two soft drinks completed our order. The food came quickly and was delicious, but the views were spectacular. This was probably the first time I ever paid the for the “atmosphere” and thought I got a deal. We took a few pictures, then walked around the rest of upper level, checking out the views and taking pictures.

Within minutes we were on our way south to Julia Burns Pfeiffer State Park. The parking charge here is self serve – you park, put the money in an envelope and put the ticket on your dash. We walked out the trail toward the Pacific – the tunnel under Route 1 frames the Pacific beautifully for a view and picture if no one is walking through. The McVay waterfall is to the left, so turn right on the trail to get the best views. Simply stunning to see. We spent about 30 minutes here taking in the beauty, reading on the house that used to stand on the site and just generally relaxing.

We headed back north in search of Sycamore Canyon Road to Pfeiffer Beach. The road is a little over half a mile north of the Big Sur Post Office (we missed the post office the first time through). The road to the beach is interesting, mostly one lane with turnouts to allow oncoming traffic to pass. We arrived late in the afternoon and had no problem finding a parking spot. The sign at the entrance gate indicated “we know its windy – no refunds.”

I am not sure what I was expecting to find – I had seen several posts advising visitors to go here, but really didn’t read in depth or look for pictures. I was expecting a somewhat “normal” beach. Wow was I totally off base. I have never seen a beach like this. Absolutely stunning. The landscape was so breathtaking we almost didn’t know where to look first. We were clearly drawn to the waves crashing through the opening in the rocks. We took several pictures with that in the background. We explored the tidal pool a little bit – the water was much warmer there. There was a small section of the beach with people laying out – but most of the area was simply too windy to stay too long. The water is cold and I have to imagine there are strong riptides that make swimming unsafe. After we got back to the parking lot we saw a very small sign with a story of a family that had 3 people drown due to being unfamiliar with the currents – that sign should probably be in a more prominent spot. We did encounter issues getting our feet cleaned when we got back to the car – we didn’t have a towel – big mistake. The restrooms have no running water – not very helpful. If you can, bring a towel, maybe some water to get the sand off your feet. That said, my son and I both agreed Pfeiffer Beach was the highlight of our day in Big Sur. We enjoyed everything we saw, but this will be our shining moment.

We headed out of the beach, hit up the general store in Big Sur for cold drinks and some snacks and headed to the San Francisco Airport Hyatt. We checked in, returned our rental car to the airport (note there is a Hertz counter at the hotel), took the shuttle back for our Friday morning flight.

Thanks for reading if you made it this far and thanks again to all the posters for their help in what my son and I agree was the best vacation we have taken. It is going to be hard to top this trip.

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1. Re: Trip Report - San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Big Sur

Thank you SO much for a great trip report. I am sure it will be helpful for other travelers.

I am glad my directions to Santa Cruz helped you and that you enjoyed the Boardwalk. The "Big Dipper" ( the roller coaster) celebrated its 100th birthday last year and is fairly famous. The carousel celebrated its 100th this year. I hope you noticed the antique Looff horses, which have been faithfully restored.

I am sorry about the Hampton Inn experience. I probably would have recommended the Comfort Inn across the street. When we lived in the country and the electricity went out in the winter, disabling our well and cooking facilities, we spent several nights there over the years. for showers and food nearby. They have enough parking spaces. I will remember your comments when asked about places to stay here.

Your trip with your son must be a once in a lifetime experience. So glad you enjoyed it.


2. Re: Trip Report - San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Big Sur

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