Three Days of Outdoor Activity in San Francisco’s Microclimate
Author: Jen Lucas (More Trip Reviews by Jen Lucas)
Date of Trip: August 2016
Having been to the Bay Area several times I knew I wanted this trip and the activities to be unique as all trips I take, each one a snowflake. This time around I would be navigating the city with a good friend who is a San Francisco native so I planned to take total advantage of having my very own tour guide and disappoint, she did not. Not only were we compatible adventure companions, both ready for a full blown, action packed adventure but hadn’t seen each other in over a year so had that excitement boiling up inside, ready to fuel us over the next 3 days. Otherwise, not sure we would’ve made it!
It’s August and the average temperature in San Francisco is a high of 72 but these few days it barely made it to 60 in the city. I’d battled the East Coast heat and humidity for months, so welcomed the gloomy, misty San Francisco microclimate as a bit of relief. Especially with the outdoor activities we were about to partake in.
I arrived on a beautiful, sunny Wednesday, which was the warmest day of the three, full force ready to embark on the day. With every intention on taking an Uber downtown from SFO to meet my partner in crime at her tech company office (naturally) however with several cabs immediately at my disposal, I opted to take that route which I would not recommend as I could’ve saved at least $20 but chalk that up as another life lesson learned.
After reaching my destination and a quick tour through the modern day tech office complete with stocked snack kitchen, auditorium, bike closet and yoga room, we head off to our first destination, Muir Woods. Somehow living in California for 12 years I’d never managed to see a Redwood tree forest so suggested we squeeze that into our already jam packed agenda and I’m sure happy we did! What an amazing site, complete with different level hiking trails and trees that could fit a football team in the base of the trunk.
The park is open 365 days a year and parking is very limited so plan on having to search for parking possibly a nice walk to reach the entrance. For a small fee of $10 (children under 16 are free) you get access to the trails, participation in a Junior Ranger program and they offer guided walks and tours occur at various times, just check with a ranger for programs available on the day of your visit.
The weather was similar to that of the city and required us to layer up but the large tree canopies seemed to be a buffer between us and the damp fog lurking above. The smell hit you as soon as you enter the forest, like a fresh whiff of clean air, tree sap and fresh pine. Looking up at these monstrous trees and then down at the impressive trunks resulted in an instant feeling of being one with nature but unfortunately excessive touching and contact is frowned upon. Instead we decided to take one of the more intense hikes which included some pretty insane switchbacks and one serious ascent up a staircase, over 50 steps. It turned out to be about a 2 hour hike through the majestic forest with many different sites, tall, skinny trees, round fat ones, various creeks running through. Never had I thought that this felt like Groundhog’s Day, seeing the same thing over and over which made the treacherous hike over narrow, steep canyon walls with protruding tree roots even more enjoyable. The main obstacle was wanting to view the site in all of its glory but having to look down so as not to trip over a root or tumble down a very steep hill.
After our hike, we cleaned up and headed out to meet some friends in the Mission District. From the late 1990s through the 2010s, and especially during the dot-com boom, young urban professionals, moved into the area, initiating gentrification, raising rent and housing prices. It was evident a lot of cleaning up was happening in the area and it is becoming a haven for trendy restaurants and shops.
We chose El Techo as our dinner spot as it boasts incredible open air, roof top 180 degree views and I of course needed my fill of Mexican food right away. El Techo’s menu is minimal and includes several portion sizes of carnitas to share and small plates which allows them to turn over tables extremely fast. We ordered the 1-1/2 pounds of carnitas that arrived within minutes of us being seated and includes house made tortillas, lime, salsa and black bean puree. To wash them down, some of the best pitchers of margaritas I’ve had.
The following day was one that I’ll remember for this lifetime. Everyone recognizes the Golden Gate Bridge as the major landmark of the city which I’ve seen previously but when my friend mentioned us riding bikes across, I visualized myself with a huge sharpie checking off a large box on my bucket list.
While crossing the bridge the previous day en route to Muir Woods, I have to admit a bout of nervous energy set in seeing all of the other tourists with the same idea, wondering how you even ride with all of the other foot and bike traffic on the bridge but once we made it, any bit of negative energy evaporated right into the fog above.
I was fortunate enough to have friends in the city so borrowed bikes however there are several bike rental companies in the city including CityRide Bike Rentals, San Francisco Bicycle Rentals, Bike & View Bicycle Rentals, just to name a few.
We started in the heart of the city, dressed in layers, forced to walk the bike up a few of the famous, uber steep incline hills, riding down the Presidio and finally arriving at the iconic red bridge. After the obligatory photo, we continued the adventure, weaving in and out of people on that very chilly, windy afternoon. The crowd did not intimidate or affect my riding abilities, or I was in such a euphoric state I didn’t notice. The total distance across was about 1 mile and our plan was to keep going onto Sausalito to grab a well-deserved brunch then take the ferry back to the city.
After a welcomed descent down hill to Sausalito, we agreed to perch at the Barrel House Tavern which boasts outdoor seating along the water. The weather in Sausalito was a sunny 75 degrees so we stripped of the two top layers down to tank tops. In the spirit of brunch, despite it being a Thursday, we both went with the Summer Champagne Cocktail complete with Brut champagne, Blackberry and Elderflower Liquor and with zero regrets! I chose the blackened snapper sandwich as I was immediately sold on the fried caper aioli, again exceptional choice and I felt like I’d just conquered the world!
With a full belly and gigantic smile on my face, it was time to head back, rest then onto the evening. Unfortunately, everyone on Sausalito had the same idea as it was about 4:30pm so the ferry line was enormous. We proceeded to the ticket sales kiosk, spent the $11.75 one-way fare and waited in the line that didn’t move an inch in 30+ minutes. There is only one ferry at the port at a time and when it leaves, the other is usually en route. So considering the sea of people having to load not only themselves but find space for their bikes, I estimated we wouldn’t get back into the city for at least 1-1/2 hours. Luckily there are anxious cab drivers willing to take passengers and their bikes unable to wait for the ferry back to the city. Their goal is to fill up the car with a minimum of 4 people and they all charged about $18 per person. If choosing this option be sure to confirm whether their fee includes bridge charges as I learned they try to throw that in at the end if you do not ask up front.
We finally made it back, somehow managed to keep the adrenaline flowing, had another amazing dinner and drinks in the Polk which is known as the “city’s premier bohemian drinking enclave”.