As we’ve been traveling for the past 4 months on our RV tour of America, we’ve long-awaited our ultimate destination – San Francisco. Julie and I have been before and we love the city. For my mother and the kids, it was their first trip and has been on my mother’s bucket list for most of her life.
So taking her into the city for her first visit was a lot of fun. When I plan especially for others, I tend to build a framework and then allow for flexibility to see how things shape up. I then adapt our plans around the reactions as we go.
It sounds chaotic but it creates a relaxed atmosphere and almost always works to deliver beyond expectations.
Leading up to the trip, my mother’s conversation about the city centered most often on the Golden Gate bridge so I designed a route that bypassed the city and snuck us in the side door through Lands End park on the northwest side of town. The goal was that the first vision of the city for us would be the bridge and it worked out perfectly as the view was spectacular.
As a surprise, there is a Lands End trail that turned out to be an incredible hike, mostly flat but at 1.5 miles round-trip, a great little jaunt. The hike was highlighted by a short little split in which my mother and step-father headed back to the car and we ventured down a steep trail that lead to a lookout. We were surprised to discover that there was also a well-known rock labyrinth which quickly captured the kids’ attention.
My next goal was to drive everybody across the bridge and as we made our way through the Presidio — an old Army base — we passed by some of the bay fortifications that used to hold large .50 caliber guns designed to keep the bay safe from enemy attacks. To my surprise, there was a near-empty parking lot with amazing views of the bridge, so I adapted and circled back and parked for another photo opportunity. I couldn’t have planned that better had I tried.
One of my great memories of San Francisco was when Julie and I visited in 1997 for a college friend’s wedding. We rented a convertible, toured the city and drove the Pacific Coast Highway (SR1) from Carmel down to Los Angeles. But our first drive was across the bridge in all of it’s convertible glory.
We don’t have a convertible this trip, but the drive across the bridge really cemented the feel, the experience and the memory for my mother which was a joy to watch. Just across the bridge is a park pullout and memorial statue at Vista Point that offers amazing views of both the bridge and finally, the skyline of San Francisco and Alcatraz Island.
Our next stop for the day was to head into the city (back across the bridge) and down for a few drive-bys with the goal of ending up in Chinatown or the Wharf. At this point, the plan diverted for good as we drove in, I found myself driving on Lombard street which was on the agenda for the next day, but why wait. So I drove us up to the corner of the famous Hyde Street and Lombard Street corner and parked. It was perfect as we approached going uphill from the West so nobody knew or could see what was coming next.
We walked up the street half a block for the big reveal — to the East, the crookedest and most famous part of Lombard Street. To the South, a view of the trolley tracks and Alcatraz Island in the bay. To the North, here comes the iconic San Fransisco trolley car, right on cue. This is why I don’t try to plan every detail. Sometimes, I like to surprise myself.
I really wanted everybody to get a feel for walking the streets of San Francisco. Driving the streets is certainly a treat but it’s walking that gives you true appreciation. And in great healthy SF tradition, there were many bikers and joggers dodging around us showing that it’s a great cardio workout. We walked only a block down Hyde Street then back up — great little pre-dinner workout.
So the only way to wrap up the perfect day was with a perfect meal which is where Julie shines when traveling. As we hopped back in the car and headed East down the Lombard curves, a turn here and there and before I can finish asking Julie if she can find some food, she has it courtesy of Yelp. And as it turned out so beautifully, we found ourselves in Little Italy. “There’s a pizza eatery just around the corner called Tony’s Pizza Napoletana,” she says.
We spotted it quickly and within one loop, I found a spot and before we could say “pizza pie” we were in line and checking out our options and the best option was outdoor seating.
I’m telling you – New York pizza, love it and I fold it like a local – keep it simple. Chicago pizza – oh man, my personal favorite, the saucier and meatier, the better. Pizza in Paris of all places, wow, fromage and jambon — incredible. But, and I never thought there could another option that didn’t include Sicily, but Tony’s assortment of pizzas was the best damned pizza I’ve ever had the pleasure to taste with customer service that is second to none.
Super dog-friendly, within minutes, they had a stainless steel, engraved dog bowl full of water for Truman. I was feeling adventurous and we were on a roll, so everybody trusted me to pick out some varieties. It is sacrilege to me to pass up a margherita pizza – simplicity with tomatoes, a nice little sauce, a few chunks of mozzarella cheese and topped with basil leaves. This pie is the perfect little starter to see how the kitchen does things and we added a little kick with a traditional caesar salad complete with anchovies. Wow – so far, so good.
Then we wound things up with the centerpieces – New Yorker, Calzone, Detroit and Sicilian Fratellanza, the last two being deep-dish. The Sicilian ended up being the consensus table favorite with it’s crisp and airy focaccia bread base that melts in your mouth — umami at it’s best. But the fact is, we left behind just one slice; everything was incredible.
So one last thing — no, I could not just rush everybody home. Once more, back to the bridge and across it for a nighttime view from Vista Point which was, stunning. A perfect end to a perfect, immersive and intimate day in San Francisco.