San Francisco trip 2014

Andrew and I recently spent a 3-day weekend in San Fran because it’s an awesome city and it’d been too long since we’d visited it for fun. Read on for pictures/narrative on our time at the Exploratorium, Japantown, Chinatown, the California Academy of Sciences, Fisherman’s Wharf, and a tour of Instructables! (Or, click here to just see all of the pictures from the trip.)

After landing in San Fran, we took the BART to downtown and walked the few blocks to our hotel, The Baldwin. We’ve stayed at The Baldwin many times now and love it – not only is it in a great, central location (one block from Chinatown, and a long walk to Fisherman’s Wharf or Japantown), but the hotel also leaves small towels in adorable origami shapes on your bed each morning. So cute. Check out the Chinatown photo album for pictures.

After dropping our bags off, we walked through Chinatown and over to the Exploratorium and Instructables workshop on the piers near Fisherman’s Wharf. We’ve seen Chinatown so many times, but it’s still fun to see what are the latest hot toys, and to see what else has changed (for example, there’s actually an anime-focused store in Chinatown now, which is really surprising since it was pretty much all Japanese-based anime/manga). It’s amazing to see some of the bigger stores are still there that we remember checking out when we were little kids. And so many shops with tasty boba drinks – I couldn’t resist getting one.

We then started our long journey checking out The Exploratorium. We’ve been to it once before, but hadn’t visited since it changed locations a few years ago. It’s now on Pier 15, which is a much bigger location than it used to have, but it feels like there’s a lot of empty space. Most of the exhibits are engineering/physics-focused, with a smaller biology section we discovered near the end of our visit, unfortunately (they were turning the lights out by time we’d made it to that end), but we still took neat videos of an Elodea leaf and amoeba under a microscope. See The Exploratorium photo album for pictures of some of the neat exhibits we saw. We also checked out the tactile dome, which was a really fun, interesting, unique experience – you get to crawl around, in complete darkness, through paths in a big dome.

In the middle of our journey through The Exploratorium, we left to go to a tour at the Instructables workshop, which is on a pier next to The Exploratorium. (I’d had to schedule this weeks in advance.) Instructables is a website where people can submit step-by-step instructions for doing just about any kind of thing you can imagine, from crafty stuff like crocheting a neat hat to engineering projects like building a light-detecting robot, and lots more in between. I’ve done several Instructables tutorials, so I thought it’d be fun to check out their workshop, which includes rooms full of amazing, expensive equipment – check out some pictures of the Instructables workshop here. There were 3D printers all over, usually just sitting around on somebody’s desk, and there were multiple rooms full of laser cutters, metal-cutting machines, milling machines, and lots more. There was a small electronics room. There were shelves of objects made by the many different 3D printers they have, and it was fascinating to see the high-quality objects some of them could make, such as something that seemed like plastic chainmail (see video below). And, of course, it was a lot of fun to see the prize room – it had a wall of t-shirts (the most common prize), along with many more expensive items, such as a high-quality, nearly $400 blender (for a contest on Halloween-themed food). (If you’re curious about more details, Instructables has a online walk-through of their workshop.) When we were done with our tour, they gave us each a mug and a t-shirt. Woohoo!

After the tour, and finishing our journey through The Exploratorium, we walked along the piers up to Fisherman’s Wharf. We got pretty warm on the walk because it was unusually hot this weekend (in the 90s!), so it was nice to go indoors to check out the odd Musee Mecanique, a collection of antique coin-operated arcade games. It was definitely a unique place – there were typical coin-operated games, like air hockey, some video game arcades, skeeball, and others, as well as a lot of unusual ones, like ancient claw machines, player pianos, player orchestras, a coin-operated miniature carnival (with some racist undertones), “animated” image-flipping machines, and more. Afterwards, we got a tasty dinner of clam chowder in a bread bowl at Boudin, because we figured it was something we had to do while at the Wharf!

After wandering around the Wharf some more, we ended up catching a cable car back to our hotel. The cable car had an amazingly long line (we think there was something wrong with one of the cars that had created a delay), but, like many tourists there, we were willing to wait for the ride. Andrew had fun hanging off the edge of the car.

The next day, we got up early, had some tasty dim sum in Chinatown, and then hopped on the bus over to Japantown, probably our favorite place in San Francisco (since it reminds us of our fun trips to Japan). We had a lot of fun eating tasty, authentic food (mmm, Japanese curry!), checking out a Japanese market (complete with KitKats that can be deep fried!), getting a moss ball plant (kokedama), playing in a Japanese-style arcade (complete with Andrew’s favorite drumming game), and checking out the other fun shops, like a Japanese-style dollar store (that was the same brand we remembered from Japan — Daiso).

After enjoying Japantown, we hopped in a taxi (the buses weren’t running according to schedule, and the heat was melting us!) to the California Academy of Sciences. (You can check out all our pictures here.) We enjoyed the Academy a lot more than we thought we would – we started with a tour of an indoor rainforest – it was pretty amazing. It was made up of multiple floors, with fascinating leaf-cutter ants on the ground floor (in their separate tubes/tunnels from the rest of the exhibit), then more and more tree-dwelling animals as we traveled upwards through the forest, including many beautiful butterflies and little birds flying about. There were smaller exhibits on the sides of each floor, including some amazingly huge spiders. Andrew and I don’t generally get bothered by spiders, but I have to say I’m glad these ones were in secure cages! Then we went down to the bottom of the rainforest exhibit, which was a model of a flooded rainforest during the rainy season – there was a huge pond with a glass walkway under it so we could see the many gigantic fish that were swimming around in the water. While the rainforest exhibit was definitely the best one we saw there, the skull exhibit was also very impressive (I enjoyed it since I took a mammology class where I had to identify all Colorado mammals by their skull down to the species).

After the Academy, we walked by the Japanese tea room nearby (but didn’t go in – we’ve been to ceremonies in Japan, and the room/garden seemed crowded here) and walked by the Botanical Gardens (but again didn’t go inside). Ultimately, we decided to go check out more of Fisherman’s Wharf, so we hopped on a bus, got to snap some pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge as we went by, and ended up a few blocks from Ghirardelli Square, where we enjoyed free chocolate samples, watching artisan chocolates be hand-crafted, and split some tasty ice cream. We then walked towards the Wharf, grabbed a crab sandwich from a vendor, stopped to listen to the sea lions barking at Pier 39, checked out an arcade, and visited a left-handed shop (for Andrew) before catching the bus back to the Chinatown area for the night — we ended up getting a tasty dinner at the Hong Kong Clay Pot restaurant, a little tucked-away place that I think gives a more authentic slice of Chinatown than most restaurants there. On our last day, we hung out at Japantown until we had to go to the airport for our return flight.

All in all, it was a fun, short trip. There’s always so much to see in San Francisco that it makes for a super action-packed three-day-weekend trip. Looking forward to going back again someday!

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