San Francisco was next on our driving tour after Las Vegas (blog here) and following a brief stop at Yosemite. I’ll be writing a separate blog on our actual SEVENTEEN HOUR drive down the Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles for those of you thinking of doing it themselves (which I recommend).
Incredibly liberal, any city where there are more dogs than children registered in schools was always going to be a favourite for us. A perfect blend of new tech (think Google, IGN, Uber, Airbnb and Lucasfilm), world famous landmarks including the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, and beautiful parks and beaches, San Francisco is truly an amazing place.
(Top 10 tips at the end of the blog)
We settled into our hotel, the recently opened and funky Zephyr Hotel ideally situated just off Fisherman’s Wharf and were spoilt for choice for things to do and places to eat. I reckon you could easily have a 2 week trip here and not get everything done.
And so without further ado, here’s what we got up to in San Francisco;
Tours for one of the most famous attractions in the world leave every 30 minutes – I recommend moving to the back of the boat on the left side to get the best views pulling up to the island. The tour will take you about 1-2 hours plus approximately 20 minutes on the boat. The island is a lot smaller than I imagined it would be and that’s also reflected in the cells, which were a mere 5ft by 9ft. It’s definitely an experience and well worth a visit.
Pier 39 / Fisherman’s Wharf
Pier 39 in San Francisco is everything I’d hoped for. Lots of big sea lions flopped on top one another and barking to their friends to move over. You can watch them swim into the bay and take multiple attempts to jump onto the pontoons to bathe.
Fisherman’s Wharf is a delight of smells, sounds and shops. You’ll be overcome with food options (chowder from a stall is a must), street performers, shops offering art, souvenirs, jewellery and general people watching. Don’t miss the Musee Mecanique full of penny arcade games and most importantly a Hogwarts House sorting machine.
The Japanese Tea Garden
Find your inner peace and some actual quiet in the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. It’s stunningly beautiful and incredibly cultivated. Golden Gate Park is over 1,000 acres and is a well used location in San Francisco, filled with people exercising, reading, meeting friends and generally having a great time in a beautiful park.
Lombard Street is the most famous street in San Francisco where eight sharp turns make it the most crooked street in the world. It’s a lot smaller than I imagined and there were a serious amount of tourists – so much so that police guide both traffic and people in order to keep the traffic flowing. It’s definitely worth a visit but it’s very surreal.
Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most recognisable landmarks in the world. Most likely you will cross it on a bus tour but in order to get a truly great photo visit Fort Point. Situated at the foot of the bridge it offers a perfect view and is well worth a visit.
There was so much to explore in San Francisco but we were very time poor. I’d recommend at least a week here if you have the time. Once you’ve done all the tourist musts, use the bus to get dropped off in the different areas and just go for a wander and explore the city.
10 Tips for your stay in San Francisco
1.If you don’t need to rent a car, don’t bother. San Francisco comes up a little short on the parking facilities and parking is typically…wait for it… $4 for 15 minutes. We booked a parking package with our hotel which worked out a bit cheaper but overall due to the lack of space in San Francisco, parking is at a premium.
2. Despite having plenty of places to eat, breakfast is very popular due to the lack of options in hotels so expect to wait 30+ minutes in a queue.
3. Book Alcatraz ASAP. Alcatraz is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world and even with a tour leaving to go to the island every 30 minutes you may be a bit stuck if you leave it too late to book. Book online at www.alcatrazcruises.com
4. Visit the pier at sunset, it was definitely our favourite time to go there, crowds are thinning and the view is breathtaking.
5. Fort Point was a spectacular place to take a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge – it might not be the easiest place to get to but if you can, it offers a great view.
6. Bring a hoodie. San Francisco is notorious for its micro climates – we’re talking a serious drop or rise in temperature depending on which street you’re on (no joke). Thanks to this seriously weird locational temperature you will find a stall selling hoodies every few metres! If you do the bus tour you will definitely need a hoodie and indeed a coat when crossing the Golden Gate Bridge…possibly a blanket…an electric blanket.
7. Public nudity – yep, you can let it all hang out in San Francisco as long as you have…wait for it…a parade permit. Clothing is optional for such events as Gay Pride, the World Naked Bike Ride and Saint Stupid’s Day Parade.
8. The Little Italy section of San Francisco is a must for food lovers – restaurants galore including The Stinking Ros (specialising in garlic infused dishes),
9. I recommend getting a hop on – hop off bus as San Francisco is just over 120km squared so it’s a tad bigger than your average city. We opted for Big Bus Tours as they came highly rated and the pick up point was just around the corner from our hotel. They stop off pretty much everywhere every 15 minutes.
10. Scoma’s. If you’re going to spend your money on dinner, do it here. They serve locally caught shellfish. I highly recommend their Scoma’s Shellfish Saute Sec (Scallops, Baby Lobster, Prawns, Dungeness Leg Meat Sautéed with Mushroom, Lemon, Garlic, Cream) – definitely the best meal of our whole America trip!