by Ellen Hall
I've lived in San Francisco for a dozen years, but when I was given a 2-day Go San Francisco Card and told to use it wherever I liked, I jumped at the chance.
The multi-attraction discount card provides entry to over 45 Bay Area tours, museums and other attractions along with savings at select restaurants and shops.
The Go San Francisco Card also comes with a handy pocket size guide filled with maps, descriptions of the attractions, and other local points of interest.
My biggest dilemma was choosing where to go. I decided for the first day, I would be a real tourist and spend my time at Fisherman’s Wharf, which is filled with attractions residents think about going to, but never actually visit. Here was my opportunity.
I started off with a Golden Gate Bay Cruise® on the Red and White Fleet. I actually did this before when I was about 9 years old, but I had fond memories of it.
My cruise departed from Pier 43 1/2, not to be confused with Pier 41, home of the Blue and Gold fleet.
Look for the tall pole with the revolving red-and-white ferryboat, and you can't go wrong.
The hour-long cruise takes you along the waterfront, under the Golden Gate Bridge, and around Alcatraz.
The tour guide has been replaced by an informative and very thorough audio tour, complete with personal accounts from an Alcatraz inmate and guard. Particularly moving are the stories of Chinese immigrants who passed through Angel Island, the Ellis Island of the West. The narriation is timed to the location of the cruise ship so you hear these stories as you pass the largest island in San Francisco Bay.
Next to the Red and White Fleet at Pier 45 is the SS Jeremiah O'Brien, one of only two Liberty Ships still in operation. On a whim, I decided to check it out, and it was fascinating.
Built during World War II, Liberty ships were vital to the Allied war effort-the Jeremiah O'Brien took part in the D-Day invasion. Today, visitors can tour the whole ship, from the engine room to the mounted gun at the bow, and peek into the cabins, radio room and mess hall. There are a lot of ladders involved, so sturdy shoes are a good idea (and skirts, probably not). When I was there, volunteers were getting her ready to sail to San Diego, so it really was like being aboard a working vessel.
For lunch, I took advantage of one of my 20%-off Go Card discounts and headed to the Wipeout Bar & Grill at Pier 39. This surf-themed restaurant offers good, basic fare (burgers and salads), a view of the Bay, and very friendly service.
Then, off to the Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf. I'd never been to a wax museum before, and I've always been curious. The experience can best be described as surreal: impressive, peculiar, a tad bit cheesy, and educational if you want it to be.
Along with the expected celebrities, the museum also features historical and religious tableaus, and reproductions of famous paintings. Would I have spent the money if I didn't have the Go San Francisco Card? Hard to say. Was it worth the time I spent? Absolutely!
Still in sightseeing mode, I took another tour I've never done: the Gray Line Motorized Cable Car. Narrated by our knowledgeable driver, the tour took us through Pacific Heights, Union Square, Chinatown, and North Beach. The area was familiar to me (we came within a block of my house) but I still learned new facts about Victorian homes, movies filmed in the area, and local baseball legend Joe DiMaggio.
I choose to visit the neighborhood known as SOMA. As a long-time Giants fan, I was excited to see a tour of AT&T Park in the guidebook. It started promptly at 10:30, and I almost missed it my bus' route ended several blocks from the ballpark. Lesson 1: When getting on a San Francisco MUNI bus, be sure to check its final destination. Lesson 2: Whether driving or taking public transportation, give yourself a little extra time, just in case.
The ballpark tour was a lot of fun. It began at the Giant's Dugout store and included several areas where fans can't normally go: the pressroom, the visitor's clubhouse, the visitor's dugout, and the field itself (well, the warning track anyway).
It was a gorgeous day, and the view from the upper deck was spectacular.
I spent lunchtime soaking up the sun at Yerba Buena Gardens, then headed to the Cartoon Museum, the only one of its kind in the United States. The museum is fairly small, but very well organized, with examples of animation, editorial cartoons, underground comix, and children's book illustrations. R. Crumb, Kate Greenway, Walt Disney-they're all represented.
I had time for one more attraction, and was debating between the Asian Art Museum (a short BART ride away) or the nearby California Academy of Sciences. When I saw there was a penguin feeding at 3:30, I opted for the latter.
The Academy of Sciences includes the Natural History Museum and Steinhart Aquarium, currently housed at their temporary location on Howard Street. (note: the Academy of Science has returned to its permanent home in Golden Gate Park)
Upon arrival, I learned I was just in time for the snake feeding, which happens every Friday at 2pm. A giant anaconda swallowing a ratwho would want to miss that? It was actually quite amazing, in a circle-of-life sort of way.
Afterwards I wandered around the dinosaur exhibit and the tanks of exotic fish (including piranhas, sea horses, and angel fish), ending up at the African Penguin exhibit. I watched them dive and swim as a young woman in waders fed them halibut. It was a lovely end to a very entertaining two days.
Learn more about the Go San Francisco Card and other single or multi-attraction discount cards and tickets at San Francisco Attraction Passes.
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