Bon Voyage

California Baseball’s Northern Heaven

A baseball field trip to AT&T Park is pretty cool, especially with the right home base

Published: Saturday, August 6, 2016 | 1:30 PM

Here is the inside tip, baseball fans. The Dodgers will play arch-rival San Francisco Giants for three games at the very end of September. Can you think of a better reason to plan a quick getaway to one of the most beautiful cities in the world?

We traveled earlier this season to San Francisco on a cool April weekend, and we will now try to put that postcard experience into words. Though partly cloudy and damp that weekend, San Francisco is lovely and dramatic in any outfit, which suited us fine.

Given any number of travel options, we used the same one we used in January, with splendid results—Megabus. Before you say anything, we’ll explain. The low-cost carrier has a lot going for it, not the least of which are convenience and price.

First, how convenient? I took a $8 Uber from my place to Patsouras Plaza at Union Station to sit in the best seat on the bus (Yes, there is one) for $14.

Fourteen dollars. 334 miles. Fourteen dollars. Actually, let me be more specific. I bought two of those $14 tickets. I basically bought up the whole row.

Here’s the thing: you have to reserve pretty early. In fact, now might be too late, but there are four seats on the upper section of the double-decker Megabuses that sit just up behind the panoramic second floor windshield and open up Interstate 5 and all of California up for you in a sweeping view from deep left field to deep right field, so to speak. Add wi-fi and seats that recline, and they are the best seats in the house.

There are two rows of seats up there, separated by an aisle. I bought both seats on the top right, and stretched out.

About 6.6 hours later with a stop in Buttonwillow and a final stop at the CalTrain station, we were literally down the street from AT&T Park.

Those Megasbus seats average $41 usually, and there is a $9 charge for those upper balcony ones, but the convenience and the absence of an airport, and the chance to sleep for more than a few hours, might just convince you.

Or you can drive to the airport. And park. And fly. And Uber to the City. Your call.

Meanwhile, the train station’s proximity to AT&T Park didn’t matter to me at the moment of my arrival, since I was on my way to my favorite parts of the City, and one of my favorite hotels.

Just arriving at the Westin St. Francis in Union Square makes one feel special. The neighborhood is vibrant and extravagant and teeming with shoppers, musicians, tourists and activity, all at the same time. It’s a mixture of culture and languages, smells and tastes under a brilliant noon sky. For a few minutes, at least.

Not having visited the hotel since the late 90s, I remembered the same opulent giddiness I felt the last time, though there have been a number of physical improvements in the lobby over the last ten years, none of which have diminished the regal and historic quality of the place.

The hotel, opened in 1904, with a major reconstruction in 1970, is also one of the largest in the City, with 1200 rooms and suites. There are two twelve-story south wings of the hotel which were built in 1904, and the north wing was completed in 1913. There is also a 32-story tower to the rear, which was built in 1972. It has hosted all manner of the famous and infamous in its time, as it continues to do today.

Having arrived just after lunch, I barely have time to appreciate the view of Geary from my room in the rear tower and enjoy a quick drink in the Clock Bar, before it’s time to head to the park.

Hold that thought, we’ll come back to the hotel.

AT&T Park is is perched alongside the China Basin in the South Beach neighborhood of the City and has served as the home of the Giants since 2000. The close-to-the-field configuration of the park makes this a real fan’s park. And just so you know, you and your Dodger Blue cap will be lonely here, packed as it usually is in a sea of loyal orange and black.

Tonight the clouds are now looking blue-black, and growing darker. It won’t actually begin to rain until somewhere in the sixth inning, but the clouds are the perfect dressing for the game as the Dodgers’ fate begins to sour. Picture the scene: The Giants pulling away, with run after run, as the Dodger lead drains away and the rain softly begins. Everyone is wrapped in plastic like so much produce, and so happy.

Working on a no-hitter, the Dodgers’ new pitcher, Ross Stripling, is pulled in the eighth inning, and the Giants win. And now its raining.

Standing on a corner, waiting for an Uber, and not quite ready to go home, I remember where I am going. When the Uber arrives, I happily tell him, “The Westin St. Francis, please.”

It’s like home, warm and dry and friendly. I switch on HBO, snack on the chocolate blueberries and dried fruits in martini glasses thoughtfully left for me on my arrival, and consider some options. My room is at the far end of a long corridor and I doubt there are others nearby. I simply pretend that I own that floor on that wing. I walk down to a drizzly Geary Street for some staggeringly good pizza, and then toddle home happily, ready to drown for the evening in one of St. Francis’ beds.

By late morning, I am already used to living in Union Square (I acclimate quickly) and I dawdled with a cup of coffee, watching the day’s game begin on a big screen TV at Caruso’s in the lobby. The hotel of course, features the famous Clock Bar, but its venerable Oak Room Restaurant was unavailable during our stay.

And then just like that, I had to quickly get ready to board a cable car for Pier 33 and the Alcatraz tour.

Like people in New York who never go to the Statue of Liberty, Alcatraz is most likely a place that locals only visit when relatives are in town.

But whether local or tourist, Alcatraz is a must-visit, and is a fascinating glimpse in to a place no one ever wanted to visit while it was open for business. A National Park Service boat whisks you across to the middle of the San Francisco Bay where a ranger explains the history and layout of the prison. Once on the island, you pull on a pair of headphones for a guided audio tour, and then roam around the grounds until you’re ready to board a boat back to the City. You can stand in a cell yourself, as they turn the lights out (not something you want to do a lot), or sit and contemplate in the prison’s library.

The view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge from the prison terrace above the “yard” is magnificent, and had to have been a unique punishment all on its own to the prisoners who spent their years there.

We made our way slowly along the Embarcadero back home to the hotel, strolling along Market Street back to the St. Francis. It was as welcoming as the first night, as the cacophony from the bar replaced the bustle of the street, and then back to our room with more of that excellent pizza and the comfort of the Westin’s bed.

We could have stayed out later, closed down some bars, had breakfast at 2:30 a.m. somewhere, but when your home is as comfortable as ours was, you make your choices, and you stick with them.

The Dodgers won on Saturday, while I was at Alcatraz, and on Sunday morning after sleeping like a convicted prisoner (the innocent don’t sleep), I Ubered to the Caltrain Station, and boarded the upper deck of the Megabus for the long ride home.

Nobody bought the upstairs front row window seat next to me.
THE 411:
Westin St. Francis
335 Powell Street
San Francisco, California 94102
Hotel: (415) 397-7000
Reservations: (888) 627-8546

AT & T Park
24 Willie Mays Plaza
San Francisco, CA 94107

Alcatraz Island

Comments are closed.