San Francisco: What To Do If You Have One Day In The Bay

My college roommate visited me this weekend from Sacramento and we decided to play tourist around San Francisco for a day (despite her having been to the city many times, and me living less than 15 miles south of it).  There are so many sights to see around the bay area that I felt like there wasn’t enough time to visit them all let alone have an enjoyable catch up time.

What do you do with one day in the Bay?

I started my search by pulling out a bunch of printed brochures gathered from various visits by my mom and boyfriend’s mom (mom’s really are amazing!) and began sifting through an array of colorful, touristy options. Alcatraz tours, wine tasting, Pier 39 –it was hard to settle on one thing to see and do or balance what 2-3 sights we could realistically fit in. Way too much to choose from!

Then I came across a brochure for the Big Bus Tour a double-decker hop on/off sightseeing bus whose daytime route made several stops around the city. This allowed us to hit up a couple landmarks without driving around so we could actually spend the time sightseeing and talking. It was perfect.

We decided to meet at Embarcadero (stop # 5 on the route) which allowed us to get lunch in the area before linking up with the tour. We decided to try out The Slanted Door located inside the Ferry Building on the far north corner.  I was surprised to find this restaurant to be quite elegant, but comfortable and, at the same time, reasonably-priced. It had a unique menu with lots of tasty, adult beverages 😀

After getting a bite to eat, it was time to rendezvous at the bus pick up point. This proved to be a little difficult to locate at first since there wasn’t a lot of signage. But, their buses come around every 15-20 minutes so if you’re in the general area you can’t miss the Big Bus. If you’re curious about the day tour “red route” you can view it here.


Personally, I always like to try to dress for the day’s activities. So, a couple quick tips about what to wear/bring when touring San Francisco in January. We happened to get a beautiful, clear day so rain ponchos were not needed but SF is known for its foggy weather so be sure to check the weather forecast once you book your tour.  It’s a safe bet to dress as though it were going to be under 40 degrees.

First, I have to tell you about the best pants to wear anytime you’re out and about sightseeing. Anything with a side stash pocket is perfect because you’re taking pictures one minute then getting up and moving to disembark the next. Being able to secure your phone in a pocket on your thigh instead of a backpack is much faster and seamless.  These types of pants are becoming a lot more popular by lifestyle athletic brands so wear whatever style you like (tights, jogger, capri) but, in my opinion, Athleta has the best street pants and at the best price. It’s one of my favorite brands.

athleta_wander utility pant

Wander Utility Pant by Athleta

I was wearing their Wander Utility Pant (sale price $75.99). These are fantastic pants to wear around the town because they’re more stylish than yoga pants and they function like cargo pants: they’re comfortable, chic and perfect for wearing around town.

Final note on what to wear and pack along. I took a set of gloves, scarf, baseball cap, sunglasses and jacket. The cap was really helpful when going across the Golden Gate bridge because it was so windy! This is going to sound really girly but it’s not enjoyable, or easy for that matter to take pictures, if your hair is whipping you in the face the whole way.

To recap, a hop on/hop off bus tour is a great way to kill a few birds with one stone. The only thing I would change is to have commemorative blankets available on the bus. Always be prepared and BYOB – Bring Your Own Blanket 😉

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African Safari – Flying back over the Serengeti -eyes closed!

African Safari Day 6
Location: Morning Serengeti drive and flight back to Arusha

On our final day, we journeyed back to Arusha by flying back across the vast expanse of the Serengeti which we had crossed in the days before. Normally, I do just fine in planes but on this particular day, I sat in the very back of this small aircraft. Let me just say it was not my best attempt at sitting back and enjoying the ride.

Thankfully, I have since proven to myself that I can fly in smaller, private planes. Still, this was truly an incredible way to end our unique and unforgettable adventure.

One of the most practical takeaways I wrote down from the evening lectures had been about (The Real) 10 Essentials for a grab-and-go bag. These are:

  1. something to make shelter (i.e. large orange trash bag)
  2. something to start a fire
  3. 25 feet of cordage
  4. leather gloves
  5. fixed blade knife with a 4″ blade
  6. Insulation
  7. paper & pencil
  8. Tooth brush & paste (luxury item)
  9. Head light
  10. Duct tape (plus a few additions like food, rum, or aspirin)

I remember it poured that morning and we were able to get some great shots of the animals and landscape during and after the rain let up.

Photos from my Canon Rebel T5 lenses rented from Borrow Lenses.

As a final takeaway, if you’re ever planning a trip like this for yourself, I’ve compiled a helpful list of items that were either helpful or superfluous to have along on the safari. (Shout out to April for the great questions).

  • What are you SO glad you packed?
  • What do you wish you had packed, but didn’t?
  • What did you pack that was unnecessary?

I’m so glad I packed…

  1. A pocket knife & small flashlight. I pretty much carried both on me at all times.
  2. Extra can of DEET bug spray for ankles and wrists (we had also sprayed our clothes with the anti-parasite, Permethrin)
  3. Bush hat (which I randomly acquired at Bed Bath and Beyond)
  4. light rain jacket (the ones from Mountain Hardwear are light and durable).
  5. Bandana to wipe or cover my camera (both from weather or prying eyes)
  6. Selfie stick (I know it’s ridiculous but it was fun and helpful for group shots)
  7. iPhone cable charger, US adapter (the outlets in the Land Cruisers actually had US ports) and a small, portable external battery. Battery saving Tip: Put your mobile on “airplane mode” to save power.
  8. Lightweight but durable bush walking shoes (found a great pair from Columbia Sportswear)
  9. A lot of my clothing and gear was from Mountain Hardware. I also wore a number of great athletic tops & pants from Athleta which held up well during our travels.
  10. An extra duffle bag (Mountain Hardwear) for leaving behind extra clothes and having as an alternate carry-on.
  11. Camera gear: I rented two lenses (70-200mm and a 2x tele-extender) from a great vendor, Borrow Lenses.  Absolutely no hassle and a great rental price.
  12. Our guides provided lots of bottled water but I also had a water bottle in my backpack that had a built in purification filter.
  13. Snacks (trail mix, protein bars etc.). Even though we were well fed, I always pack snacks.

I wish I had packed (but didn’t)…

  1. US currency ($1 bills handy for tips). Effectively, there is no universal currency for Africa and based on our route through Tanzania, the Shilling was the local currency. I had been misinformed and brought a bit of South African Rand but everyone from the merchants we engaged with to the porters we tipped for transporting our bags preferred US dollars.
  2. One more change of clean clothes. Girl’s gotta have options 😉
  3. baby wipes; it was pretty dusty out there at times.

Items I did not need on the safari…

  1. tri-pod. You never get out of the vehicle to set up a shot. The best idea I heard was using a sock, sand and duck-tape to make a make-shift beanbag for your camera to rest on since you’re shooting from inside the vehicle bracing against the window or top railing.
  2. Incorrect power adapter. I had purchased some on Amazon but they turned out to be incorrect for what was needed so I’ve provided a picture below of the outlets that were in our hotels so that future travelers can see the prong shape and outlets to avoid making the same mistake.


African Safari – Exploring the Serengeti

African Safari – Day 4 & 5
Location: The Serengeti
Lodge: Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge

Monday in the Serengeti is unlike any Monday I have spent anywhere else in the world. It’s calm and there’s no real sense of time. It reminded me that there’s always more to life than just our own geographic bubble. And yet, somehow, over time, we tend to forget this. But we’re pack animals so it’s hard to feel otherwise.

Speaking of packs. As we drove, one of the guides imparted some of that interesting, random, useless forms of knowledge about what different packs of animals are called.  I took note in case I’m ever on Jeopardy some day because the group names might surprise you.

What is the name given to a group of..:

  • Chattering of starlings
  • Coalition of cheetahs
  • Leap of leopards
  • Tower of giraffes
  • Parliament of owls
  • Murder of crows
  • Cackle of hyenas
  • Crash of rhinos
  • Mustering of storks
  • Flamboyance of flamingos
  • Implausibility of Gnus (wildebeest)

For me, Africa was like a combination of being in two movies at any given time. These two films, as you might imagine, were “Jurassic Park” and “The Hunger Games.” At times when we were on a game drive and would spot a giraffe, I wanted to get out of the vehicle to walk up to this graceful, statuesque creature like they did in Jurassic Park upon first seeing the brontosaurus. But it’s not a good idea to exit the Land Rover in the middle of the Serengeti to approach any animal. In fact, because visitors remain in the vehicles the animals are more accepting of your presence than you might imagine. So we continued to observe each other, animal and human.

Throughout our travels, I had the sense that this corner of the world operates based on two mindsets. Approach #1: I make my reality. Approach #2: my reality makes me. It’s the difference between relying on and cultivating the entrepreneurial spirit that’s inside versus the idea that outside influences (in this case tourists) bring money and resources to me so that I can live.

Personally, I find the former to be much more empowering. But I also recognize that that’s largely because I come from a first world country. So my head understands that without any significant way to improve one’s immediate situation, my heart remains unsettled knowing the conditions of the collective community are unlikely to improve.

I don’t have answers. Just observations. Maybe one day through writing a book, public speaking, or my photographs I’ll be able to offer more of a contribution.

Photos captured on my Canon Rebel T5 lenses rented from Borrow Lenses.

Photos taken on my iPhone.

Hand’s down, the most random mammal we encountered on our safrai was the one you see pictured below: a Rock Hyrax. It’s like a combination of a giant mouse or rat without a tail. It’s really cute and kinda creepy at the same time because they were hovering just above the women’s restroom at a rest stop. I learned later they are (apparently) an ancient cousin to the elephant because they have small tusks. And, plot twist, they can jump.




African Safari – Crater drive – hippos and gazelles and ostrich oh my!

African Safari – Day 3
Location: Ngorongoro National Park Crater
Lodge: Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge

Sunday was our crater drive down into the Ngorongoro crater. This park is actually a conservation area where lions, elephants, zebras and flamingos all cohabiting together. Until, of course, it becomes lunch time.

At 19km wide and a surface of 264 sq km, the crater is one of the largest unbroken calderas in the world that isn’t a lake. The steep walls encircling the crater are between 400 and 610m high and provide protection to the wildlife inside as well as a unique ecosystem of grasslands, swamps and acacia woodland (thorns from that bush are no joke).

We started keeping a tally of the various types of animals we saw. Here’s the rundown:

Ibis birds
Gazelles – Grant & Hunter
Water buffalo
Wart hogs
Flamingos (I’m still surprised we saw flamingos in Africa)
Water buck (looks like a deer)

Animal highlights:
Lion walking right next to our Land Cruiser
and we happened upon some lions while mating. Pardon us as we take all these pictures 😉

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It sounds strange but I kept thinking about how the environment around me was alive with all these different insect sounds and birds it sounded like I was in the movie Hunger Games. I was beginning to enjoy the noticeably slower pace of life in Africa. A markedly different pace to the concrete jungle of Los Angeles or the eclectic San Francisco.

I remember writing in the journal in my phone: “I’m happy to see universal elements like a smile, hug and genuine human connection but we will never all be operating at the same capacity in life. It’s a mere fact that unites and divides us simultaneously.”

Our hotel was gorgeous and offered sweeping views of the crater at every turn. It sits on the southwestern crater rim near the main descent route. The best part was that since our room was located at the end of the long row of rooms, we had the chance to marvel, one morning, at elephants passing through right outside our balcony. I’ve never seen an animal so big and so quiet at the same time.

The lectures that evening were on lightning wounds and preventative measures if you were caught out in an electrical storm. I’m not kidding, after seeing the pictures of jagged burns on the patients who lived through a lightning bolt coursing through their body, don’t be surprised to see me rapidly removing things like my underwire bra, metal jewelry, and any synthetic clothing (nylon underwear) I happen to be wearing at the time. With my newfound knowledge, I’m pretty sure it will be thrilling and make for a damn good story 😉

Photos taken on Canon Rebel T5 lenses rented from Borrow Lenses.

Photos captured on my iPhone. The selfie stick was super useful. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise 😉


African Safari – Maasai, baboons and the Ngorongoro Crater

African Safari – Day 2
Location: Ngorongoro National Park Crater
Lodging: Ngorongoro Serena Lodge

Saturday morning began with a game drive on our way to the crater. Still en route, we stopped to visit Maasai village where our group had the opportunity to interact with members of this nomadic tribe.  We were invited into their home. I was amazed that such tall people could be comfortable inside these small huts. But once inside and out of the sun, “comfort” took on a whole new meaning.

Dad and I talked at length with a young man who was about my age. Of course, he asked why I wasn’t married yet. If only it were as simple as getting hitched to a man who has killed a lion and offers my dad 100 cows. My world is somehow lacking men with those kinds of credentials 😉

The Maasai are what you might imagine as the tribal ‘face’ of East Africa. Their brightly colored cotton capes called Shúkà replaced animal skins in the 1960’s. We gathered the red cloth was for younger individuals and blue for older members.

Evening lectures focused on treating patients who had had a brush with animals with tentacles or venomous marine life. Important note: flush out a jellyfish wound with vinegar not human pee.  The lectures also touched on snake bites on ankles and we wrapped up with wild animal attacks. A few chuckles could be heard among the group since earlier that day, at the gate of the crater, we had a very close encounter with a baboon. I probably could have given that part of the lecture 😉  It’s a great story that I can recount for you next time we’re swapping stories.

Tomorrow, we would embark into the Ngorongoro crater.

Photos from my Canon Rebel T5.

Photos from my iPhone.



African Safari – Safari day 1

Official Safari day 1 – Tarangire Safari Lodge
Location: Safari in Serengeti
Day: Friday, September 2016

The night before we were informed our bags for the safari could only be 15 kilos EACH as we would be taking a one hour flight back into Arusha on a small plane. There was some whining but we managed.

Since this was a trip centered around a curriculum of wilderness medicine and survival, our days were structured around game drives during the day where we learned about the animals while out on safari and at night, everyone gathered for a lecture on travel medicine or tactics for wilderness survival (now I know I’ll get picked first for the kickball team!). It was like being the ultimate student of life. Nearly everyone on the trip was some kind of physician or general practitioner of medicine. But more importantly, I found them each to be interesting and informed individuals from all over the world; from Canada to South Carolina.

Our driver and safari guide had several sizable field guide books which he kept in the center console of the Land Cruiser. We consulted these several times throughout the game drive. I had to laugh, apparently, Google’s rein did not extend here.

That evening, we arrived at the Kikoti Camp and were welcomed by panoramic views and an expansive patio as the setting of our happy hour and first lecture. The discussion topic covered medical preparedness in the wilderness from dentistry to orthopedics. I listened to their stories of experience and the lecture’s conventional wisdom. In her grab n’ go kit: Advil.

I learned that an abrasion, burn or laceration are the 3 most common wound complications in the wilderness. Ouch all around.

It’s funny because, in my experience, regular people search for information about their health problems based on their symptoms. Whereas medical professionals approach from the mindset of the treatment. It’s the difference between knowing the symptoms and the diagnosis.

Photos from Canon Rebel T5 lenses rented from Borrow Lenses.

Photos shot on iPhone.



African Safari – Arrival in Arusha

Lodge: Arumeru River Lodge
Location: Arusha, Tanzania
Arrival day: Wednesday evening into Thursday, September 2016

Our east African safari takes place in Tanzania. The trip was 8 days long and the itinerary was a combination of visiting Tarangire National Park, the Ngorongoro Crater and the legendary Serengeti.

We would be visiting during late September into early October, a time when the weather remains mild, save for the occasional rain storm.

Arriving in Arusha on our first evening after traveling roughly two long days of  international flights (SLC – AMS then AMS – Tanzania/Kilimanjaro), dad and I were treated to a late dinner at the lodge of cauliflower soup, bread and tea. We sat together with our new Canadian friends learning a few simple words in Swahili like “thank you” (asante) and “you’re welcome” (kariboo). I kept listening and trying to improve the pronunciation each time I said “asante san.” I smiled broadly when my pronunciation had earned the “kariboo” that followed.

I thought it was funny that some of the names from the Disney movie The Lion King actually translated into Swahili words for “lion” (simba) and “pig” (pumba). Of course, Hakuna matata is a loose translation.

Our wildlife encounters were limited today since we had essentially arrived into town at night. Animal sightings included giant crickets, geckos, mosquitos, and small antelopes on the property which we learned were called dikdik.

Our first official day was actually a rest day where we had a leisurely breakfast which involved a 15 min intermission photographing monkeys followed by enjoying touring the grounds of the Arumeru River Logde.

Our new friends Patrick and Chantel invited us for a rainforest hike. It was the most enjoyable and informative 4 hours I’ve spent hiking in a while. Namely because our guide, Emanuel, was fantastic. It was a coffee tour where we learned about and even tasted coffee beans, hiking in the mountains he showed us what plants were edible and what was not and we had our first brush with Massai who were watching over farmland. We finished out the day sampling a trio of Serengeti beers just as the Kilimanjaro group pulled up and began emptying info the lobby.

Over dinner that night we would hear that both the best and worst part of the climb was getting to the top. “Miserably amazing” was most of the feedback.

The pictures below were captured on my Canon EOS Rebel T5.

Here are a few more pictures taken with my iPhone: