Our first tourist attraction for the day in San Francisco was to ride a cable car. We arrived at the Powell-Hyde turnaround in Maritime Garden (near Ghirardelli Square) early to beat the crowds around 8am or 8:30am. I can’t remember exactly but I know that we were able to board immediately and our car was only about 50% occupied. It was lovely.
This cable car line runs mostly north-south giving great views of the bay, Alcatraz Island and California Street along the way. The view of Alcatraz is immediately present as the cable car ratchets up Hyde Street. My dad really wanted to visit Alcatraz Island and I put off buying tickets because I thought we would be able to get same-day tickets and that was a royal fuck-up and one of the biggest mistakes of the planning of this trip. Alcatraz Island tickets sell out months in advance and I was not able to find any tickets, not even when I “threw more money at the problem”.
For the best view of Alcatraz Island, stand on the back of the cable car but make sure not to stand in the yellow boxed area – that area is reserved for the cable car operator.
Alcatraz Island stays within view for a few minutes and the view is better the higher the cable car is on Hyde. A few seconds after I finished taking photos of Alcatraz Island, our cable car crept by Lombard Street. Lombard Street is the world’s “crookedest” street.
The view from the top of Lombard isn’t anything special. You’ll see Coit Tower and the Bay Bridge if visibility is good but not much else because Lombard is incredibly steep, hence its switchbacks. I do not recommend alighting the cable car near Lombard Street unless you plan to walk down Lombard Street and also take photos from the bottom of the street (we did this on our return journey).
Below is the view of Lombard Street from the top (on Hyde). Even on a perfect weather day like our day was, visibility can be an issue. It seriously was a perfect weather day! That rarely happens in San Francisco!
The next photographic opportunity while riding the Powell-Hyde line is when the cable car crosses over California Street. California Street is a long, straight and steep road on which the California/Van Ness cable car line runs. Most iconic cable car photographs are taken on California Street. Unfortunately, our cable car was in motion when it crossed over California Street and I did not have enough time to properly snap a photo. I wasn’t too sad though because California Street is best photographed from the bottom, not near the top where our cable car crossed.
Our journey from Ghirardelli Square to Union Square was a pleasant 20 minutes. We arrived at Union Square in the thick of the PRIDE parade and the city went from feeling empty to overcrowded in a split second. The queue for the cable car at the Union Square turnaround was very long and it took us nearly an hour to board our cable car back the north side of San Francisco.
Our only entertainment while waiting was watching the turning of cable cars.
We rode the Powell-Mason line on our return journey and alighted at Greenwich Street. From there, we walked two blocks to the bottom of Lombard Street. Everyone loves a postcard picture of Lombard Street but the reality is that it is impossible to achieve this picture without Lombard being cordoned off from foot and vehicle traffic.
It is very chaotic at Lombard Street. Cars line up at the top of Lombard Street to drive down it and there are tourists crawling everywhere. It is mostly a cluster fuck with tourists aimlessly wandering in the middle of crossroads like Hyde Street and Leavenworth Street which are actual “live” roads with cars driving on them.
Coit Tower was next on the agenda and we walked there from Lombard Street. The walk was a stark reminder of how hilly San Francisco is and my dad asked me if I was trying to kill him. I figured we’d done enough sitting over the past seven days and that a little exercise would do our bodies good.
When we arrived at Coit Tower I remembered that I have actually been to Coit Tower. I cannot tell you on which of my trips to San Francisco I’d visited Coit Tower previously but I immediately recognized the murals inside the tower on the ground floor. Below are two examples.
Coit Tower was completed in 1933 and from the observation deck, there are 360° views of the Bay Area. Coit Tower is worth visiting when visibility is good but skip it if it’s foggy or when visibility is even slightly poor.
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of my favorite bridges in the world!
The Bay Bridge is impressive in its own right but it doesn’t have the same charm as the Golden Gate Bridge.
We spent 10 minutes on the observation deck of Coit Tower and then we walked to Millennium Tower.
We passed the Transamerica Pyramid on our walk. This building looks great from afar but is not very pretty up close.
Millennium Tower is a 58-story mixed-use residential/commercial building in San Francisco that is sinking and tilting. It opened to residents in the spring of 2009 and in May 2016, it was reported that the building was sinking and tilting.
Lawsuits have been filed and everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else. The real losers are the condominium owners who purchased their units for millions of dollars that are now worth much less than what they paid. On top of their loss of equity, they’ve got legal bills up the wazoo as they try to hold someone, anyone, responsible for the faulty construction.
As recent as four days ago, a new problem emerged with the building – a cracked window on the 36th floor was found and for a building that was built to withstand hurricane-force winds, a window should not crack.
By the start of 2018, the building had sunk 17 inches and had a tilt of 14 inches at the top. My dad and I have followed this story since it went public in May 2016 and we wanted to see the building with our own eyes. The tilt is visible to the naked eye.
The best way to see the tilt in the photo below is to look at the bottom of the photo and find the building that is behind Millennium Tower and then compare the side of that building to the tower.
The sidewalk and shoulder of the road on the north side of the building are buckled and sinking. Cones were placed and chalk was drawn to alert pedestrians of the cracked and uneven sidewalk. It is obvious that there is a sinkhole in the area.
In short, this building is fucked.
Millennium Tower was our last stop of the day in San Francisco. We had a parking reservation at Muir Woods at 4pm and we wanted to stop at Fort Baker to take a photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge from the water and still needed to eat lunch so we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and out of San Francisco around 2pm.
It was a short but packed sightseeing day in San Francisco and it ended with the fog rolling in and the wind whipping by as we stood on a pier marveling at this beauty.
Next, a quick tour of Muir Woods.