After an incredible two weeks road-tripping the California coast, I am now home and back to reality – with a thud. The entire trip was a dream come true for me and now I understand why people wax lyrical about this part of the world. Each city we visited was unlike the last and that much variety made it difficult to pin-point one major highlight from the fortnight. California certainly lived up to the hype.
Over the next series of blog posts, I will share my itineraries and tips as I attempt to summarise the highlights from our vacation. We started the trip in San Francisco and below is our itinerary from our three days spent in ‘The City by the Bay’.
Touch down in San Francisco after a 10 hour flight with British Airways from London. It took some time to get through airport security but once we exited, we grabbed a taxi to the city. $60 (including tip) later, we had arrived at our hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf. Another option is the San Francisco BART rail service takes you from the airport to the city centre (Union Square) in 30 minutes for $8.95 one way.
We stayed at Hotel Zephyr. Overall a reasonable, boutique hotel in a very central location. As we were constantly busy during our visit, we wanted a hotel with a good location that was comfortable and clean. Hotel Zephyr fitted this description so it suited our purposes.
After checking in, dropping our luggage in the room and taking a well needed shower, we headed out onto Fisherman’s Wharf for some dinner. My friend recommended Scoma’s, a San Francisco staple with plenty of history and charm. Being in SF, we dived straight in for the shellfish. I would highly recommend Scoma’s famous crab salad and the clam chowder. Although the latter isn’t served in a sour dough bread bowl as many of the other regional chowders are, it was scrumptious all the same.
With jet lag having got the better of us, we took an early morning walk around the usually very touristy Fisherman’s Wharf. We watched the sun rise over the Bay Bridge, and shared a private audience with the sea lions that inhabit Pier 39. This was such a special beginning to our first day in San Francisco.
After indulging in our first all american breakfast at IHOP, we walked off our pancakes by climbing to Lombard Street, famous for its steep and sharp turns (a.k.a- The Crookedest Street in the World). Walking around San Francisco is a great workout due to it’s steep hills!
Hopped aboard the traditional San Francisco Cable Car (Powell- Hyde line) from the top of Lombard Street, past Nob Hill and finally disembarking at the Powell & Market Street turnaround. Many people stay to watch the cable car turnaround here, so expect crowds.
We hailed a taxi and made our way to Haight Ashbury. This district of San Francisco is famous for being the birthplace of the “Summer of Love” in 1967 and home of the hippies. Haight Ashbury is now full of awesome street art, trendy coffee shops and the best music store I have ever stepped foot in, Amoeba Music. Honestly, I have never seen so many CDs and records in one place and it is refreshing to see in this digital age!
After a quiet hour or so wandering along Haight (this district probably comes to life after dark), we stumbled in to Golden Gate Park. Golden Gate Park is a huge urban park, home to the Botanical Gardens, beautiful Japanese Tea Garden (which was covered in blossoms) and California Academy of Sciences. It was a nice retreat from the hectic city.
We hailed a cab from Lower Haight to Soma SteatFood Park for lunch. Set underneath a busy freeway in the Soma District, Soma Streatfood Park plays host to some of San Francisco’s best food trucks. It was a casual venue to try some of the cities delicious multi- cultural culinary delights.
From Soma, we took the long walk back to Fisherman’s Wharf via Union Square. It was a great way to explore the different districts of San Francisco and take in the incredible vistas from the hill tops.
We boarded the ferry from Pier 33 to Alcatraz and took in the stunning views of the sun coming down over the bay and Golden Gate Bridge.
No visit to San Francisco is complete without a trip to Alcatraz and the night time tour is not to be missed! To secure a place, book far in advance.
The night time tour is more intimate as they reduce the capacity of guests. Included with our ticket was a narrated audio tour of the main prison building, plus special presentations that are only available to guests attending in the evening. When you see Alcatraz looming in the distance, it is hard not to be curious about its history. This tour gives you an immersive experience in discovering the island’s stories.
The night we visited ‘The Rock’, we had perfect weather conditions and the clearest view of the skyline as the sun came down on our first day in San Francisco.
Book tickets for Alcatraz Island via http://www.alcatrazislandtickets.com/?gclid=CJa8-ZumvdMCFcO77QodWOcNcA.
Woke up and strolled along the bay side to the Ferry Plaza Building for some breakfast. We stumbled upon a beautiful spot called Boulettes Larder and enjoyed wonderful views of Bay Bridge as the commuters arrived into the city from the ferries. The sun was glistening on the plaza as we chowed down on some fresh kale, poached eggs and garlic salt. A perfect start to the day.
Collected our bikes from Bay City Bike Rentals and set off for our 8.7 mile cycle from Fisherman’s Wharf, across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and finally to the little town of Sausalito (where Otis Redding sat and wrote “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”). Being a novice cyclist, I was apprehensive about this activity but once I set off, I soon found my stride. The majority of the route is on cycle paths except the final mile from Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito.
After many ‘pinch me’ moments on the bridge and a rewarding lunch on the dock in Sausalito, we took our bikes and returned to Fisherman’s Wharf via the ferry, again taking in the spectacular views of the bay.
A full days rental was $32 for 24 hours per person or $8 per hour per person.
For our final evening in San Francisco, we took a walk through Chinatown (the largest in the world) and enjoyed some happy hour drinks at the trendy outdoor bar, Jones.
Final dinner at Leo’s Oyster Bar in the Financial District. I had heard it was one of San Francisco’s best new restaurants and it didn’t disappoint. From the on-trend 1960’s palm tree South Pacific decor to the vibrant bar area and delicious food (lobster rolls and lobster bisque- my favourites!), Leo’s was the place to eat and to be seen. It is not inexpensive, but certainly worth the money. A fabulous way to close the curtain on our time in San Francisco.
San Francisco is a fantastic place to visit with plenty to see and do. Our three day stay enabled us to touch upon some of the key sights and enjoy the laid back vibe of this global city. I would love to return one day and explore even further- perhaps with “some flowers in my hair.”
I hope you enjoyed reading about my first trip to San Francisco and that you found this post helpful. Do you have any recommendations for visitors coming to SF?
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Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur