San Francisco to Denver Road Trip | Day 1: San Francisco

Get ready, our latest road trip recap posts begin today! I am going to break up each post by day (9 in all) which conveniently enough is mostly by location as well. I will post once a day for the next two weeks to get them all in. Enjoy!

In May 2014 we drove 1,950 miles through 6 different states (California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado). We went to 5 national parks/landmarks, went to 4 museums, took 2 factory tours, rode a train through the Rockies, went on a boat cruise of Lake Tahoe, took a walking tour of San Fran, hiked the tallest peak in Salt Lake City, saw real dinosaur bones in Colorado, survived the highest altitude we’ve ever been at (11K feet), ate countless memorable meals, and had one Guy Fieri sighting. Check out our route:


We started planning our next road trip right after we got home from our California to Oregon road trip last May. We scrapped the entire itinerary and started from scratch in January though (what we had just wasn’t working). We landed on this route – San Francisco to Denver – because we really liked the non-cross country route after trying it out last year. We’ve done cross country twice and it’s just so. much. driving. You have much less flexibility and have to stay on a really strict schedule. You really need a half a day (at least) to get a sense of a place and with cross country, you’re lucky if you get a few hours. So, with that as preamble, I present you with our San Francisco to Denver trip!

We flew in to San Francisco on Thursday night after work – taking a 7PM flight out of Boston and arriving in San Fran at 10:45PM (PST). We planned to crash when we got to the hotel and wake up fresh for Day 1. Plus, I hate burning half a vacation day for travel. So our plan really worked out. We landed, took a pricey cab ride downtown, checked in to the hotel, and crashed.

One more word about San Francisco – we spent two days here on our road trip last year (day 1, day 2). Two very ambitious days. We went all over the city and, while I loved it, John did not. We bit off more than we could chew, really. So this time around I promised John I would plan it so that he would really love it. I kept all of our activities within walking distance of our hotel which was a really good plan. You’ll see with today and tomorrow’s post. Spoiler alert: John now loves San Fran (YES!).

We stayed at the Hilton in the Financial District and woke up on Day 1 with amazing, sunny views of Coit Tower, the bay, and the rest of downtown.


We were up and out the door by 8am. We walked around the neighborhood, got breakfast, did some shopping, and got some chai tea lattes (the first of many on this trip).


At 11am we had tickets for the San Francisco Architecture Walking Tour so we headed over to meet the group at the Galleria Park Hotel at about 10:30am. What a gorgeous hotel, the glass windows in the ceiling were unreal. An apt place to begin an architecture tour.


Our tour guide was Rick, whose knowledge of architecture was matched perfectly with his passion for it. He was incredible; an expert in the field who made architecture accessible and enjoyable to everyone on our tour. Here he is telling us about San Fran’s POPOS (or, privately owned public open spaces). The deal is that many privately owned buildings are required to have some public open space on the property. Because of its urban setting, many of these spaces in San Fran are not on street level and thus, impossible to find or even know about. A local non-profit, to which Rick belongs, documented them all and created a map of the city’s POPOS so that residents and visitors alike could enjoy these beautiful (read: hidden) spaces.


Here is one such POPO that is located 3 floors up from ground level of the Galleria Park Hotel.


From this POPO we had an amazing view of many of the surrounding buildings, all of which we learned about in great depth. Specifically, we spent a lot of time talking about the Hallidie Building, the first building in the world to have an exterior glass curtain wall.


Another cool thing Rick incorporated into the tour was the history of each building and what it is being used for now. So, for example, the Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Building. In the 1920’s when it was built this building held a phone company. After the company disbanded in the 1980’s the building was left empty, in need of earthquake-proofing. However, now, this historically important building is now the headquarters for Yelp. Rick explained in depth how the social media company boom is impacting San Francisco, jobs, and the economy there (we heard a similar story about the AirBNB headquarters). Really cool.


Another cool story was about the Hobart Building (seen in these photos) – a neighboring building was torn down leaving this blank wall exposed and now, there is no remaining lot to build on anymore. So the wall remains – and the building is actually now an official city landmark.


We did a lot of looking up!



The gorgeous 111 Sutter Building:


The lobby is particularly interesting since it’s an architecture/design style explosion.



The outdoor POPO at One Sansome Street:



The outdoor POPO at One Bush Plaza:


Rick telling us about the history of One Bush Plaza and explaining all of its features – freestanding style, the placement of the rocks and walkways, why the facade is tiled the way it is, the glass-box lobby, the statues, etc (photos below).



One of my favorite buildings on the tour was the Heineman Building, or Suspender Building  (pictured left) – as it was an old necktie, belt, and suspender factory. Apt, right? (it’s the long, skinny one!) Right next door to the Suspender Building is the Shell Building, built in 1929 (middle picture). And one of my favorite “reveals” from the tour was this vantage point of the Shell Building reflected in the One Bush Plaza building (pictured right). A juxtaposition of both old and new San Francisco. These were the kinds of reveals-in-plain-sight that Rick treated us to on the tour. Something I would have ignorantly walked by but now feel lucky to know about.


Mechanics Monument Plaza:


Historical shoreline marker on 1st Street:


The tour ended at Rincon Hill, San Francisco’s newest development project which will bring together modern urban residences, commercial space, parking, green spaces, and possibly a train station to this important part of the city. The tour ending here was a perfect conclusion to the entire journey as a look into the very robust future of San Francisco.


As you can imagine, we were starving after the tour! We hoofed it another half mile or so to get lunch at the Liba Falafel Truck. I had bookmarked this food truck after seeing it on Eat Street and it did not disappoint.


John and I chowed down on falafel sandwiches, iced tea, and fries. The falafel sandwich was great but the fries were the surprise rockstar of the meal. Hot and crunchy sweet potato fries tossed with garlic, cilantro, and lime. A fantastic combination!


At this point in the day (about 2pm) I could tell I had a wicked sunburn on my face. I was beat, my feet were staring to hurt, and I wanted to take a nap. But, after taking a load off in the Embarcadero for a while, we were ready for more sightseeing!

We walked down to Pier 39 which we somehow missed on our previous trip to San Fran. Good thing, it was super hokey and touristy. Not our scene at all. But it was a beautiful day so we made the most of it.





On our walk we came across the Sea Lions Marina. The story is that after an earthquake in 1989 a whole bunch of sea lions just started hanging out here and they’ve never left.


We were skeptical at first but after about a minute we were in love with them! Something about them is mesmerizing – even though they stink and are loud and attract horrible pooping seagulls.


Our ultimate goal was to get all the way down to the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Which, obviously, was the thing John wanted to do the most.



John is a big historical boat freak so I dutifully go along with it (read: it is crazy boring if you know nothing about boats and have a sunburn and want to lay down). However, the boats on display here were awesome and, in fact, I found myself wishing there were more that we could board and check out (only 3 were open).


Also, the views from the boats down here were unreal…

Golden Gate Bridge:



Downtown/Ghiradelli Square:


Alcatraz in the bay:


After all that, we were definitely done and wanted to rest up before dinner. Since we had already walked the equivalent of about 6 miles we decided to experiment for the first time with Uber to get back to the hotel. I downloaded the app, we requested a car, we were picked up within 5 minutes, and whisked off to our hotel by a friendly stranger. Haha, the world is a weird and awesome place.

After vegging for about 45 minutes, we left the hotel and walked around the corner to catch our 6pm reservation at Wayfare Tavern. We came here last year but wanted to repeat it because the meal was so good.


It was excellent, as expected. I got the butter lettuce salad again as an appetizer but then asked if the chef could prepare an off-menu vegetarian dinner offering for me. He did gladly and I was very pleased with the beautiful assortment of grilled vegetables, herbs, and beans I got.


Stay tuned for Day 2 where we explore San Francisco a little bit more and then continue our road trip in Oakland and Sacramento, CA!

Author: Domestocrat

I'm a lady who enjoys photography, football, cooking, long drives with the windows down, This American Life, kettlecorn, hot yoga, pop punk, my nephews, my cat Reggie, and my home: Boston.

6 thoughts

  1. This is absolutely incredible! I found your blog originally when looking for X country itinerary ideas. We still haven’t made the trip, but this post has got me interested in a good road trip again!

  2. This was a great read. Not too long to leave in the middle (which is the problem with many road trip blog posts) and I definitely want to read more! Thanks, Domestocrat!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s