San Francisco Recap

Whales. I have to admit when it was decided that San Francisco was our next destination I wasn’t thrilled about it. Sure, it had the bridge and the house where Uncle Jesse lived and the crooked street and all, but really, what the hell was there to do?


It was May when I reluctantly booked the tickets for everyone -- me, Jen, Aimee and Dana -- the original quartet from Chicago, the first city Gutenberg ever traveled. And I bitched about it because that’s what I do, and they ignored me because that’s what they’re good at, and we all forged ahead.

The day before we left, someone mentioned something about seeing sea lions on Pier 39. Sea lions, you say? Being a Bronx-born city girl myself, I had never seen animals in their natural habitat, save for a few pigeons and friendly squirrels. Seeing these aquatic mammals up close was an intriguing notion to me. What else could Pier 39 have?


Mirror houses!



"Learn about the wildlife of the SF bay while experiencing breath-taking views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and more", the ad said next to a photo of a humpback whale jumping out of the ocean. I had never even gone to Sea World before; seeing whales in the ocean on the same day as SEA LIONS, that would be incredible!

Unfortunately, upon my discovery, no tickets were left for the shorter, less expensive two-hour tour, leaving us with only the five-hour one as an option. And really, who wants to spend that much time looking for whales?




Not Aimee.

Aimee didn’t see the fun in being out at sea for an extended period of time and spending $65 to do so. It would be boring and a waste of all our energies, she said. She was outvoted immediately. Whale-watching!

With our boat booked and our bags packed, we all got ready for our 7am flight and 4am drive to the airport by…

- seeing Broadway shows the night before

- causing power outages with high voltage hair dryers


-trying to delete shows off of TiVo to make room for an entire week’s schedule.

At 4am, people were tired. WHALES!

Luckily, no catastrophes happened going through security and by 7:15, we were in the air, me having a minor panic attack about flying, while everyone else fell asleep or watched the World Cup.

Now, here’s a tip that might be helpful to some of you non-frequent flyers: No matter what goal the US may be on their way to scoring in a competition with whatever country they‘re playing against, yelling, “SHOOT IT!” in a crowded airplane when I’ve finally managed to fall asleep is not an advisable course of action.

Thank you for my heart attack, sir.

At 10:30, we arrived in San Francisco, grabbed all of our luggage and made an important realization -- San Francisco is cold. Not brisk, put-on-a-long-sleeved-shirt-you-might-catch-a-chill type of cold, but a freezing the-wind-is-coming-at-you-and-you-may-need-a-parka-and-ski-cap kind of cold.

It is 90 degrees in New York City. Autumn weather is a shock to the system.

But on we trudged through the wind and the chill of the bay and we set up shop at the Best Western in Fisherman’s Wharf right across the street from a labor union and bus stop. Hello, San Francisco!

As we were already so close to the piers, the first thing we decided to do was of course see SEA LIONS!, who proved themselves to be an entertaining loud bunch of mammals, and then get tickets to Alcatraz.

Alcatraz proved itself to be the devil. While it may be popular among tourists and one of the main attractions of the city with its signs everywhere and endless promotion, it is not so awesome when you can’t get tickets to it EVER on ANY day you happen to be in the city.

Oh sure, we could get on a ferry and drive around it. We could buy one of several t-shirts that said “Rejected from Alcatraz Prison. TOO CUTE!“ or get a stuffed monkey trapped in a jail cell. But could we get on the island and see the insides of it? No.

Being the scheming, theater-rushing fake-student-IDing people we are, we were certain we would find some way around this -- Craig’s List, the concierge who ended up laughing in our faces, or spending ten minutes on the phone with Dan “I’m here to serve you and only you” of Alcatraz tours -- NO. There is no way around sold-out Alcatraz tickets. Find Locke and Hurley and board Oceanic 815, but you’re still not getting on that damn island.

To make up for it, here are some pictures taken from afar:

But fine, we still had our tickets to WHALES! and there were several other fine attractions in San Francisco that I had mapped out on Google for our viewing pleasure.

Like the Real World house!

The Party of Five house!

The Mrs. Doubtfire house!

The Full House house!

None of these were located in any central or easily accessible locations and required a plethora of bus transfers, but oh what fun! (for me) to see these iconic landmarks of pop culture and an experience for all of us (just me) to cherish from now until the end of time.

Along the route, we also got to see the Painted Ladies, a famous row of houses that are different colors and hold some type of significance for something historical and are located on tourist maps. I only know it as the background for the picnic the Tanners took during the opening credits of Full House. The two buses we took to get there and see them -- totally worth it (for me).

On Day two, the East Coasters took two more buses on a 40-minute trip to Ocean Beach to view the Pacific Ocean and see what kind of people go to the beach in 50-degree weather.

Just us.

Then we became acquainted with the San Francisco homeless, a fun group of people who are all either strung out on some type of hallucinogenic or ready to kill you. The man throwing a knife across the sidewalk into a tree was a highlight, as was the man who stumbled around a cab harassing the driver and unable to stand upright.

The theater for Gutenberg! was on this particular street and it was spooky, spooky, spooky (hands slowly covering my face in choreographed fashion as I say it), but once inside, all sense of danger -- worth EVERY SINGLE SECOND (read our review here!). The production should become a permanent fixture of San Francisco like the Phantom of the Opera is in New York, and everyone reading this should be crying in their bucket like a woman for missing it. It was that good.

And then there was the whale-watching. We spent two days preparing for this expedition - everyone bought hoodies and sweaters for our five hours in the freezing cold sea, and everyone was EXCITED. Except Aimee. But EVERYONE ELSE. We got up at 6am and put on our layers, we bought our muffins and coffee and we set out for our ocean adventure!

The sign-in booth was a man on a fold-out chair with a laptop computer. That should have been our first clue. Nope. WHALES!

Then we got on a dingy called the Kitty Kat to cross the Pacific Ocean in choppy weather conditions that caused the previous tours to turn back. Problem? Nope. WHALES!

It was about twenty minutes in when Jen's nausea set in. She sat in the back of the boat by herself with a sick Mexican family and puked off the side of it.

It was about an hour before the rest of us joined her. And by rest of us, I mean every single passenger on the dingy. The poor children who put their heads down on the tables unable to move and the woman who walked in circles because sitting still made her sick. The waves that came splashing onto the boat every few seconds were also fun.

Our “naturalist” aka “tour guide” was Laura. There to provide information on all the whales we were going to see, she quickly proved that her main purpose was just to annoy the fuck out of everyone.

I can only speak for myself because that's all I know, but when I’m on the verge of death and praying for our boat to capsize, a woman peering over me talking about what an outgoing person she is, is not at all amusing or helpful. Laura is 29 years old. She lives with her parents and wants to be a teacher. She went to a Color Me Badd concert when she was younger and loved Punky Brewster. She is confused by East Coast weather and thinks San Francisco has excellent tap water.


As I looked out the window, onto the neverending sea and comtemplated throwing myself overboard, it was difficult to figure out which was worse: the crippling motion sickness or this yapping woman.

Laura was declared the winner thereafter.

We didn’t find any whales on this expedition. Neither did we see any porpoises or dolphins that were also advertised in our online brochure. But as Jen likes to point out, a killer whale could have jumped onto the boat and had a conversation with her and she still wouldn’t have cared.

Jen got sick a LOT.


Defeated and wet, we went back onto land, sick of San Francisco and all it had to offer, and headed back to the hotel to watch American Justice on A&E. Another little tip for everyone: if a 6-year old tells police that her Uncle Clarence killed her grandmother in cold blood and bludgeoned her in the middle of the night, he didn’t. We'll save the justice system a whole lot of time.

We stayed in the room for over two hours, getting our stomachs back in order and gaining back our equilibrium. But as we still had a whole day in this fine city, we ventured out once again and made the most of it.

We rode the trolley up and down and passed Lombard St. We checked up on the sea lions. There was an old-timey arcade, we played Skee-Ball for a quarter. We ate soup from a bowl made of bread. And then at the end of our journey, weak and weary from our hard nights of picture-taking and fast food, we made our way to the airport and saw it.

A whale.

Thanks for the mem'ries, San Francisco!