After an extremely windy but beautiful drive on highway 1 and a much needed coffee stop (complete with picturesque riverside views) we arrived at the famous Golden Gate Bridge- gateway to San Francisco. We decided this impressive structure warranted a stop off at both Marin Overlook (above the bridge) and Fort Baker (below the bridge). With the city and wonderfully blue skies as a backdrop it was easy to see why this is probably one of the best kept bridges around – 1000 gallons of paint per week are used to keep her looking tip top!
We then joined the other traffic taking a ride over to San Fran but not before paying a $7 toll for the privilege- we decided we would prefer her weekly make over to comprise of half the paint if it meant half the toll!
Normally first thing on the ‘to do’ list when entering a major city with Winnie would be to stress about where we would be laying our heads for the night but not today. Family friends Floyd and Pema had heard we were headed their way and had very kindly offered up there cosy basement- perfect. We felt very welcomed straight away and can’t emphasise enough how nice it was to be able to explore this fab city with out worrying about what to do with the car, where to stay, whether we could afford it and so on (thanks guys).
As if they hadn’t been generous enough, after we were settled in, they took us to a local favourite of theirs for lunch and a catch up- their treat! The burritos were great, as was the company.
We spent the rest of the day checking out The Mission, the part of town Floyd and Pema live in. This up and coming area is pretty cool and has so many restaurants and bars that even long term residents must still be discovering new gems. On our stroll we came across some amazing street art covered alleyways and The Mission. This sturdy church was built in 1776 which makes its San Frans oldest oldest building- surviving 238 years in this earthquake prone city is no mean feat.
Before calling it a day we took a small detour to the wonderful Tartine Bakery. At around 7pm we were slightly worried it would be shut but when we arrived we realised this was a silly concern. To get our scrumy croissants and coffees we had to join the queue that spilled out on to the street- totally worth it though! Comfy bed here we come!
The next morning bought more yummy food. Pema treated us to a home cooked breakie- the perfect start to our sightseeing filled day. We then left Floyd and Pema to their sunday, and with an underground stop a block away from theirs we were at Union Square in no time. First things first, a cable car ride to Fisherman’s Wharf- a must do while visiting the city. We choose to take the standing spots on the outside making this experience more like a theme park ride than a mode of transport. Hanging of the side while we sped down the renowned hills of San Fran was great fun.
By the time our journey was over it was lunch time, cue famous Ghiradeli Square. We had a quick savoury bite before the good stuff. As Ghiradeli is famous for its chocolate goods we thought it only right to give them a try. We shared a warm brownie sundae and a mocha milkshake both huge but delish!
The rest of the day was spent walking along the seaside putting all those calories to good use. First we went by the pretty marina and then to Chrisie Fields to watch the kite and windsurfers showing off under the Golden Gate Bridge. On the way we even saw people swimming which is pretty mental giving the temperature of the water- fridgy!
Nearby we wandered around the super photographable Fine Arts Palace. Unsurprisingly this grand location is popular for wedding photos, and the numerous bridal parties make for good people watching while strolling around the park.
Our stroll continued back to Fisherman’s Wharf and down the end of pier 39, to see the resident sea lions . We sat with donughts from one of the numerous eateries on the pier and watched them lazily bask in the sun- there were hundreds!
Stopping made us realise how tired we were so we grabbed a simple but tasty burger from cheap and cheerful In ‘n’ Out before hopping back on a cable car and heading home.
The following day bought another full day of walking- this time to check out the Castro and Hait neighbourhoods as well as the gorgeous Golden Gate Park.
Castro is home to the Harvey Milk Plaza- a plaza commemorating the first openly gay politician to be elected to public office in the USA- Harvey Milk. Having made huge head way in the fight for gay rights Harvey’s name is on a plaque under a huge Rainbow Flag in the centre of the square. As one would imagine this area of town is the gay Capitol of San Fran. It is also home to the Castro Theatre- a beautiful old theatre now showing movies, both new and old. Unfortunately we missed out on sing ‘a long Sound of Music by a day- as you can imagine Mike was devastated! But in all seriousness we were really disappointed that they did not have anything on the remaining nights we would be in San Fran.
Hait is a neighbourhood of San Fran situated on some of the biggest hills in town and therefore it has some of the best views in town. We stopped of at Alamo Square, a small area lined with quaint Victorian houses with the city scape in the background. Next was an even steeper climb to Buena Vista Park which allowed almost 360′ views of the city. The park itself is rather rustic, with huge trees all around it would be easy to forget you were in a city if it wasn’t for the view.
Hait is also known for having some of the yummiest cafes around and not wanting to miss out we sampled one for lunch. Cole Valley Cafe did not disappoint- the sandwiches were insane, as were the coffees. We also took some cakes to enjoy while chilling in Golden Gate Park- yummy!
Golden Gate Park is a huge strip of greenery that heads all the way from the edge of Hait to the sea. It’s the perfect break from fast city life and to get back to nature. You could spend days exploring all the different areas. From amazing botanical gardens, super still lakes, numerous sports areas and the sea you could never be short of something to do. We choose to eat our cakes at the start of the park which was a bit of an experience. We had obviously found where the homeless peeps hung out on a sunny day and we sat watching numerous drug deals going down- hmmmmm. Assuming we had just found the wrong area of the park (people had been telling us how brilliant the it was) we explored further. Mode of transport- tandem! It was brilliant fun! We passed pristine lakes, bright green fields, old wind mills and even a bison paddock.
When we got to the coast we cycled a rather gruelling hill to The Cliff House with great views of the ocean- we were only there very briefly as the menu was a little on then pricy side.
On the way back to The Mission we stopped of to check out the super famous and seriously windy Lombard Street. The 6 or so switchbacks on this road were San Frans answer to people speeding down the last road that was too steep- awesome! We also checked out the Civic Centre with its beautiful City Hall and Symphony Hall. Back at The Mission dinner was another burrito at a no frills local favourite in the Mission (La Taqueria) – bueno!
After a good nights sleep we were ready and raring to go- Alcatraz here we come. Now probably the most well known tourist destination in San Fran, Alcatraz was once a maximum security prison, putting up high profile prisoners such as Al Capone, ‘The Bird Man’ and Micky Cohen. As one of the prisoners once said ‘break the law and you go to prison, break the rules in prison and you go to Alcatraz’.
Before its heyday as a maximum security prison, Alcatraz was a defensive fort and a military prison. However when the defences became out dated is was up for grabs. A high security prison was an obvious choice given the forts location. It was decided that Alcatraz would in fact be inescapable as if a convict got out of the building they would never make it through the shark infested waters to land. A few brave men tested this theory and although there is a possibility three succeeded (their bodies were never found) it is assumed that no one ever made it.
Not wanting to brave the waters ourselves we took to the ferry boat to get to this desolate island. It was yet another brilliantly sunny day which made for great views looking back at San Fran. When we arrived we took a guided tour from a cute old timer about the history of the island as a fort and military prison. We then hit up the amazing audio tour of the prison itself which gave great insight into how the prisoners lived, who they were and, most interestingly, escape attempts.
Ready for lunch we hopped on a ferry headed for the main land. Today we choose to sample the Fog City Diner where the food, atmosphere and service were incredible. Time for dessert, we waddled to the Ferry Building with great views of Bay Bridge along the way. Now converted into a small market area selling organic, fair trade, eco friendly products, the Ferry Building wasn’t really budget friendly but we did get a few goodies for the road.
As this was to be our last day in San Fran we decided to try and see as much as possible in the time we had left. We breezed from Grace’s Cathedral to China Town to North Beach before grabbing our last city view from Coit Tower and finally taking a sunset set stroll- what a day.
Grace’s Cathedral is a pretty church with colourful stained glass everywhere. It is also the first church to have an AIDs memorial inside which was interesting to see.
San Fran’s China Town is the biggest in the US and was fun for a wander, it’s just a shame we were no where near ready to eat again.
North Beach is the Italian area of the city and is also home to Cafe Triste. Just as Francis Ford Coppola did while writing The Godfather Screenplay we chilled for a while taking in the atmosphere of this tiny coffee house. In true Italian style we order a slice of Tiramisu and an Ice Coffee- ummmm um!
Coit Tower supposedly provides great views of San Fran but unfortunately when we arrived we found it was closed for renovation. Luckily for those that had climbed up via Telegraph Hill (with goodness knows how many stairs) the views from the base are almost just as good. We were even more lucky. We had received insider information from Pema to walk to the tower via North Beach avoiding the stairs and crazily steep ascent- thank goodness as the sun was beaming. We decided to took the stair route down as it was headed in the right direction and randomly saw parrots on route- ‘who’s a pretty boy then’.
For our sunset stroll we took a street car to the Chrissie Fields. Street Cars are what we know as trams but in San Fran they look like wonderful antiques, which in a way they are, these cars are shipped from all around the world to San Fran for restoration. From Chrissie Fields we followed the coast all the way to the bottom of the Golden Gate Bridge watching the sunset show as we went.
San Fran had been epic! With so much to see, do and eat we could have stayed for ever. (San Fran has more restaurants per square metre than anywhere else in the USA and our four day sampling suggest that they are all fab!).
The next morning we made the most of our last hours of luxury and leisurely got ready for the next leg of our trip. We also treated ourselves to one last bite in San Fran- like all the others we had sampled Revolution Cafe was brill.
We then headed out of town to meet Floyd and Pema for lunch and goodbyes at Floyds work- Apple HQ (or ‘The Mothership’), located in Cupertino. We soon realised why they call this place ‘the campus’. It is absolutely massive with numerous buildings, grassy areas and places to eat. And the canteen was mad- there was an insane amount of choice, from the salad bar, the burger bar, the noodle bar, the pasta bar, the ice cream bar, and not to mention the out door pizza oven and BBQ there was something for everyone. And what’s more it all looked really good. Mike’s pasta with huge amounts of cheese and my custom made sandwich were beut.
After filling ourselves to the brim we said our goodbyes and a huge thanks to Pema and Floyd for there hospitality (and lunch) before heading to our next destination- Yosemite.