Racing through San Francisco is like running into a famous fine dining restaurant, shoving past the host, busting into the kitchen, grabbing the first piece of food from any plate about to leave for the dining room, cramming it into your mouth, and leaving out the back door, running as fast as you can to get back to work. Don't do it. If you follow my lead with the Vanabodelifestyle you will be able to say here as long as you like, and do it affordably too.
I am going to show you how two people can live in San Francisco on $40 a day. I am going to show you how to experience this entire magnificent city for a solid month on what most people spend in 4 days to see nearly nothing. You will have crazy and interesting experiences along with great atmosphere, food and shopping. I sat for an hour at a street side cafe and watched the people go by. Professionals and common folk together rushing by on their way to various activities. Then I saw her: a well dressed, attractive, professional Japanese lady in heels and a smart black dress walking by with: not a purse in her hand, but a hammer. She marched fearlessly up the street to her place of employment.
A great place to park for the day in San Francisco is at the beach across from world famous antiquity Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant. The meals are $10 to $25 depending on what you want but you can sit upstairs beside a misty Plexiglas window looking right at the ocean. You can park beachside for free and go into the Golden Gate Park from here. It is a 4 ½ mile long man made park and supposedly one of the best man-made parks in the world. The entrance is right at the big windmill.
San Francisco is a very interesting city. San Francisco has some ancient history stored in it's bowels, and nearly every major culture in the world has a toehold here. Right now I am looking at a highly paid registered nurse sleeping in her car beside me at the beach. Her home is probably so crowded that she would rather sleep here than sleep at her own house. Rent here is $3,000 to $4,000 a month for an 800 square foot apartment so many, many often unrelated families share homes.
The main wharf area, pier 39, is definitely worth seeing. There are your typical tourist shops but there are also a lot of specialty shops that you may not see anywhere else. It is all along the water. There are over 100 different food, mostly seafood type restaurants there, bars, stores, restrooms, $20 a day parking, acrobatic acts and bands playing outdoors. It is a big hip happening tourist place. You can also rollerblade and bicycle through it. You can also pick up your public transportation as well as bike tours from there to go over the Golden Gate Bridge. That is definitely a good full day and could actually and easily be two days if you go into all the shops and take your time which I recommend to take two days to see that area including the Giradhelli Square which is a big ancient building complex with many, many shops available to look at with gourmet foods and restaurants.
We bicycled over the Golden Gate Bridge. You can get over it quickly and back easily. I think it is better to walk it as bikes can be awkward. You can see more when you are walking, it is less dangerous and a little less cumbersome without the bikes. There is a place on the mainland side of the Golden Gate Bridge to get sodas, coffee, refreshments, and food to fuel up before you make a trip over. It is free to cross the bridge for pedestrians and bicyclist's so you can take your time. Bicycling is fun if you have limited time and energy though.
Despite the fact that we are in an the extremely congested, popular, and seemingly expensive city of San Francisco, the prices at all of the upscale shops such as Neiman Marcus, Macy's seems to be quite affordable and quite manageable. The prices are not that much higher than Las Vegas and certainly are not higher than Los Angeles. I would recommend that if you enjoy the shopping scene that you take advantage and spend a good week hitting all the big shopping districts because they are quite rewarding. There is a huge variety and a lot of specialty items which you may not have in the smaller cities. You might be able to get yourself something unique to remember your trip by.
You have to set yourself up to enjoy the eclectic nature of this bizarre city. Otherwise the culture shock for some people ruins the fun. For example I saw a woman picking out bags and bottles out of the garbage to recycle and make some money. I called her over, she was a little skittish at first. I gave her $5 and she thanked me about 10 times in some other language and with many thumbs up. Another example, I literally asked six different people where the bus pick up was for our route and every single one of them gave me a different answer, I am not kidding, every single one of them. So leave plenty of time for getting back to your parked vehicle. Make sure you are not too tired. I once saw a well dressed professional lady marching confidently down the street dressed to the hilt in high heels carrying a hammer.
The problems with San Francisco do not involve the prices on say dinners or activities, they are pretty much the same as any other upscale city on the scale of Las Vegas or New York City or Miami. Because of the size of this place there are so many choices. We just had a Thai lunch for $13 for the both of us. It was absolutely fantastic, almost as good as our favorite Thai restaurant in Las Vegas. It was a very good meal, excellent service, in and out for $13 and a dollar to park. So the city is not about expensive entrees or expensive activities. Walking the mall is free. Movies are $8. You can tour a museum for $6 or $7 or a special art gallery for $12.
The issue here is with the lodging and the strategies we employ for parking. The city is designed to give people one to two hours in those parking spots. Residents have a special sticker that allows them to park anywhere all day pretty much. There are very few select places where tourists are allowed to park and these places charge $10 to $20 a day. City laws are designed to reward the people who live here because their lives are so expensive and to penalize the tourist and take their money as they travel through the city. They use that money to support the eccentric and elevated lifestyle of those in San Francisco.
My job is to show you how to come here and enjoy the city like a local on a very, very meager budget and to not give the city your traveling money except where you darn well please. Our basic strategy boils down to this. We bought the YMCA membership; we spent many mornings and late night evenings there before parking at night. We would shower, use the bathroom facilities, sometimes we would actually ride to the Golden Gate Bridge and explore that and ride to the marina on our bikes from here. All of the details on how to pull this off are in the book Vanabode. You can reach quite a few places from this end of the city. However, the nightlife, restaurants, and activities that most people are interested in as a tourist here cannot be reached from here very easily.
So we base out of here in the mornings and late evenings. We would move to the Palace of Fine Arts street parking, which is about a mile from here in the evenings to park at night. There are a number of places along the water east of there as well where you can park overnight without a hassle.
Unfortunately, during the day that same parking becomes two to four hours only so you could not leave your van there 24 hours a day to explore the city out of there like a base camp because you would get a $50 - $90 ticket. So in the morning move from there to the free marina area parking which is along the bay, very scenic and beautiful, hundreds of people running, biking, rollerblading, working out, dog walking. So we would drop the van at the marina, which is only about a mile from the Palace of Fine Arts, park for the day, eat lunch, and get ourselves geared up.
Most of the days our activities did not start before noon because in San Francisco, every single day we were here, it is foggy and misty and you could not see much of anything until at least noon. At noon we would saddle up, walk west away from the bay a couple of blocks to a bus pick up. We would ride the bus into the interior of the city to places like China Town, Union Square, downtown, shopping districts, and explore the city and more interesting things through the use of the municipal bus line. These buses require the exact change. They will take a dollar but if you put in a five-dollar bill you will not get change back. So it is $1.50 per person one way. You jump on the bus and you ride it and if you need to transfer to another bus they will give you a transfer ticket, which only lasts for about an hour-and-a-half before having to pay for the full fare of $1.50 per person.
In the evenings we would ride the bus back to our initial bus stop, and walk back to the marina about 20 minutes, and calm down from the hectic bus ride, jump in the van to either the YMCA for a shower or the Palace for parking for the night depending on how late it was. You will find it difficult to find parking at the Palace of Fine Arts and many over night parking spots that are legal anyway's if you wait much past 8:00 and 9:00 p.m.
The Golden Gate Park is huge. If you are from Georgia then this place is not going to do much for you. It is just a big city park with boonies and woods but if you are a city folk and don't have a back yard then it is definitely worth the days attention. While you are riding around here you will see a bunch of flowering and fruiting blueberry and blackberry vines. Pull over and have some.
Cha Cha Cha on Haight has fantastic Cuban food. Absolutely the best Cuban sandwich I have ever had as well as the house sangria. Great atmosphere. Low key. Kelly had a super awesome trout lunch for $8.00. Great music stores all around. Big upbeat happening scene. Great place to eat. We had a half a pitcher of sangria for $8.00, which was two full glasses each, and it knocked us out.
We did find out that on Sundays and after certain hours that parking on the streets is free. You will not see this on the signs but on the meters themselves in fine print. On Sunday nights and certain other times you can find the parking spots easily and get parked on the street without having to take the bus.
We are cruising all over China Town today. You can have pigs feet for dinner. They have snout of shark, shark fin soup, broiled octopus, beef tripe, and pig guts. You can order anything you want to eat from any animal you want to eat. I have kept with the General Tso's Fiery roasted chicken which is a bird that I am familiar with. The streets are fun and noisy but not too crowded during the week, which makes it really comfortable to shop. There are lots of trinkets and things you may not see in an average place, but then again you may not need any of them either, so that is probably why you don't find this stuff at Walmart.
Went to the church St. Peter and Paul Parish right next to the park in the center of town near the Coit Tower. There is an automatic toilet at the base of Coit Tower is I guess exceptionally interesting. It is digital and automatic with instructions on the outside in three or four different languages. Only one adult permitted at a time. Children must have an adult with them. You can only be in there for 20 minutes maximum. The toilet bowl and seat are automatically cleaned with disinfectant and air dried after each use. The floor is washed automatically after each use. The door must close and a clean cycle must be completed between users before you can enter next. The nice thing about it is that this wonderful piece of equipment is free.
San Francisco is known for great food they have a lot of older restaurants here. I have found that the Thai and Chinese are pretty good, almost as good as Las Vegas. The Thai restaurants are exceptionally good too. The other restaurants are all good and very affordable. I have not found any overpriced restaurants. If you are in the $8 to $12 range then you will find San Francisco to be quite good actually.
We hit Ameoba Music to hear the stars from the movie Once play some music. Ameoba Music on Haight Street has free concerts every Saturday and there are a number of venues in town that have free concerts during the week. If you are on a $40 a day budget, take the time, go to the concerts, get there early so you can get good seats, and enjoy yourself.
There are malls and stores on Market St. and it will literally take you one day to go through each mall. Some of the individual stores will take you two to three hours to go through. For the shopping enthusiast, San Francisco could easily accommodate your interests. Shop one day, recuperate the next, shop one day and recuperate the next. You could probably shop a full two weeks seeing everything from the skanky hippie outfits to the $2000 pair of jeans stores.
If in this part of California don't miss Point Reyes National Seashore. It is free to get in. Elk are all over the hills and surrounding entrance to the park while you are driving in and also all over the hills while you are hiking you can see them quite a bit. If you are going to walk five miles out to Point Reyes Tamales Point starting at the farm house then you better have good walking shoes, good food and water, good attitude, and some sunglasses and sun block because it is a long and exposed hike and will wear you out.
Point Reyes National Seashore has extraordinary views, gorgeous, huge, large, fully-developed elk herds from small bambi size all the way up to males with 14 and 16-point racks of the full-size elk. Some were fighting, some breeding, and large herds of 20 to 80, ponds, lakes, and ocean views on both sides. Super easy walking though the distance all the way to the point is really difficult. Don't do it unless you are in great shape as it is five miles one way and the elevation goes up and down the whole entire way so it a pretty tiring round-trip when you are talking about 10 miles total. But it is definitely a great way to see this park, especially the beach access points where they are a half a mile down from the parking area. Those are fantastic especially if you are going to spend three or four hours.
The following are some simple diary pages of some of our days here in San Francisco.
7/23/07 - Burger King for cleaning up and some food and coffee. Worked in the van for about an hour. Drove to Skyline Drive and then up Great Highway (coast) to San Francisco. Drove to the YMCA in Presidio and joined for for a month at $120. Ate lunch in the van. We unracked our bikes and rode through Presidio a little ways to the Golden Gate and across the bridge and back. Thank God that today's sky was blue even though the wind was blowing very hard and it was cool. At least the sun was shining. Only one side of the bridge walkway was in operation so that made it extremely crowded with walkers and bikers going in opposite directions on the narrow walkway over the golden gate bridge. Took at shower at the YMCA. Drove to Haight and Fillmore (lower height) to a India Oven which has been voted many years as the best in the bay area. We had to park a block away and the company on the sidewalks was very sketchy. Jason left the restaurant about four times to check on the van and bikes. We decided that next time we are going to keep the van parked at the YMCA and just ride the bus or bike where we want to go. These streets are at such an extreme incline that Jason even got nervous driving up them. This is no city for a stick shift. We are still in the process of finding a place to spend the night ..
7/24/07 - Worked out at the Y and showered. Drove downtown to the post office to get our mail. Then to the bank to deposit checks. Drove back to the Y and walked from there all the way down Embarcadero to Pier 39. I had a sourdough bread bowl with crab and corn chowder and Jason had the sourdough pizza and Caesar. We also ate Ben & Jerry's ice cream. The sea lions where on the pier. We spent the night on Baker Street next to the Palace of Fine Arts. I took Bugsy out and when I was getting out of the van I noticed something in the dark Then it moved. It was a skunk. It ran away so I put Bugsy down in the grass. Next thing I know it comes back to run across the street. There was a piece of paper moving around in the middle of the road and when the skunk got to the paper it raised his tail and hissed and then ran quickly by. A couple of minutes later a raccoon comes from across the street and runs across the grass past Bugsy and me. Before the night was over I saw three skunks, one raccoon, and three egrets that flew overhead going to their sleeping spot at the Palace of Fine Arts.
7/2507 - Worked out this morning and showered. Drove to find the library but it was closed and found no other library at all. Ate at a Vietnamese restaurant and I had Pho Jason has roasted chicken and some kind of tasty rice with the best egg rolls ever. Drove back to the YMCA to walk to the bus but then decided that walking one plus miles to the bus then walking around and then walking back from the bus stop back to the YMCA was just too much to do starting at 3 p.m. So we drove down Mason St. to beach/marina parking lot and took Bugsy out. Then we drove to Mitchell's Ice Cream and through Twin Peaks on the way back to the Palace of Fine Arts street parking which is free. Took Bugsy out for about an hour and a half. The swans and ducks checked him out and one of the swans hissed at him. It really was cute. As the night came upon us the bats came out and were flying all around.
I have never waved to so many strangers in my life. Being on this trip Bugsy gets so much attention. Driving up the coast and camping we let Bugsy out at least once a day. Therefore people who were doing the same would come up to us and pet Bugsy and ask questions. The next day people would see us stopped on the side of the road looking at the California coast and I would just happen to be looking at the cars going by and these people who saw us the day before would recognize me and Jason and wave to us as they were driving by. It was so funny. ----the couple that live north of San Fran who got her very first stitches because of a rabbit bite, at least her daughter didn't repeat the rabbit get together------ The French family in Golden Gate Park and then at the Presidio Bus Station the next day. And another couple but I can't remember the details. Then at the Palace of Fine Arts a couple pulled up and waved at me while I was walking Bugsy and of course I waved back. I don't know who these people are but they are all awe struck by a rabbit on a leash who is comfortable and running and cleaning and just hanging out in the green grass with so many other people walking, skating, and riding their bikes. The Asians, the Mexicans, the French, the Americans, the kids, the teenagers, the men jogging by, the women jogging by, everyone who is involved in something but then stops their activity to check out this strange creature on a leash in their city in their park. Some will say "Is that a rabbit?" Jason told me to say back to them "What does your mind tell you?"
7/2607 - after we woke up and got ready we drove to the marina to walk to the bus to take us to union square. Union square is a very large shopping district near downtown. We walked to what we thought was our bus stop but had to walk a little further down the street and across it. Even though the bus you want is #30 there are #30 southbound and #30 northbound and they pick up on different sides of the street as well as on different streets. We made it and started shopping as if our van was the RV. We are now planning on rearranging our tubs under the bed as well as the two big ones behind the driver's seat and putting up a hanging clothes rod with hangers for our clothes. We both bought two pairs of shoes and clothes. We drove to Safeway and bought blocks of ice as well as some food for the cooler. We ate dinner in the van - rotisserie chicken, wine, tomato, bok choy, shallot, feta salad, and of course some artisan sourdough bread with kalamata olive oil - delicious! On the bus on the way back to the van an older buy and a 30 something black girl were cussing and fighting on the bus. The bus driver and everybody kicked them off the bus.
7/27/07 - went to the gym and I took a spinning class. We drove to Golden Gate Park and ended up napping. When we got up from our nap we rode our bikes all around the park and along almost every side street. It is a good idea to ride your bike through the park to see everything without having to walk over 10 miles to see everything. That way you have more energy for the rest of the day. We drove to the marina so that we could walk to eat dinner. I asked a couple of girls where besides Embarcadero is there a street with restaurants. Chestnut and Fillmore going east on chestnut there are shops and restaurants and desserts and a movie theater. The food prices were very, very reasonable, like normal restaurant prices. This was more of a locals place and it there were a few buildings being rejuvenated and going in. after eating at pacific catch we walked around the shops for a while. We walked back to the van and I took Bugsy out for a walk for about an hour. Jason and I worked on the computers for a little while and then drove to the Palace for nighty night. There was a party down the street. Some guy was walking on the sidewalk next to the van and he slapped his hand against the van. I think he was hitting something because he was mad. It scarred the total crap out of us.
7/28/07 - Took the bus to Haight and Stanyon to go to Ambrosia records. One of the workers told us to try Cha Cha Cha, a Cuban restaurant with good sangria. Delicious food and the best red sangria we have ever had. Yes, we were feeling good. Walked Haight Street and shopped. Took the bus to the AMC on Van Ness and Geary and saw Chuck & Larry, not that funny. Took bus to Chestnut and Divisedaro to walk back to the YMCA. Stopped and ate at Baker Street Bistro, a French restaurant. I had the rabbit and Jason ordered the sea bass. Afterwards while walking back to the van we stopped into a convenience store and Jason got cookies and I got the Baklava, wonderful, delicious. My feet were hurting me because of my new shoes and Jason gave me a piggy back ride while we were walking downhill because downhill really was painful. Again, there was a party going on with a DJ and tons of screaming people but at about midnight it was as if the lights were turned off and everything was quiet with no trouble. I think everybody at this shin-dig were about 50 years old and happened to be parked on the other side of where we were in beautiful San Francisco California.