America Roadtrip Part 1: San Francisco, a set on Flickr.
I’ve been back from my big America trip since Sunday and it’s been an adjustment, returning to real life!
I’ve been sorting through the myriad of photos I took selecting the best ones; here’s a selection from the first section of the holiday, in San Francisco. I’ll do a short write-up on the other bits over the next few days.
I was expecting to love SF and I did, albeit perhaps not quite as much as I thought I would. It was, however, by far my favourite of the three cities we visited on the trip.
We had an apartment in Haight-Ashbury which turned out to be an excellent location, as nowhere was too far away. There were plenty of interesting shops, restaurants and bars literally around the corner. Haight-Ashbury was quite an upmarket area in the Victorian era but come the 1960s and it was hippy central. To an extent, that feeling persists now, with shops selling Himalayan items and the like. If you went the other way, the lovely Golden Gate Park was just a few minutes’ walk away. It’s a very large park, with a lake, Japanese Tea Garden and the Conservatory of Flowers, designed to look like Kew Gardens. San Francisco is the sort of place where a park can have a large group of people drumming together and a little further on, a smaller group roller skating to music, and nobody bats an eye.
On our first full day we all agreed that we had to start by going straight to the Golden Gate Bridge. We eventually found our way to Fort Point which has great views from the San Francisco side of the bridge. We wandered along the waterfront in the sunshine, which was excellent. On the pier there I was amazed to see sea lions frolicing together in the water! After that we drove over the bridge to Sausalito, a little town on the other side. It’s supposed to be a very attractive little town but it had started raining quite heavily so we didn’t stop. Instead we drove back into the city, after a little run between the bridge toll booth and the side of our car! We went downtown and parked near Union Square. We had a quick look around, including at the cable car turn around, dodged another heavy rain shower and ended up having dinner at John’s Grill, which features in The Maltese Falcon. Afterwards it was back to Haight-Ashbury where we walked around Golden Gate Park.
Going To Prison
The following day we went to Pier 39. It’s a bit of a kitschy tourist trap, stuffed full of souvenir shops, but it was fairly interesting to wander around. It is also well-known for the sea lions which gather on an empty pier. There were probably a hundred or so and in contrast to the playful swimming of the sea lions I had seen in the Bay the day before, sea lions are very lazy and slow on land. The only exception was a fight between two of them, where one was trying to get onto the pier and the other didn’t want to give up his spot and kept knocking his rival into the water!
I was very keen to try the traditional San Francisco dish of clam chowder in a sourdough bowl. I’d heard Boudin Bakery was the place to go so when we found it I joined a long queue. I was impressed by the loaves of bread they had for sale in the shape of various animals, such as crocodiles! My chowder was tasty and worth the wait. After lunch we wandered down towards Pier 33, from where the Alcatraz boats leave.
We’d originally intended to do a night tour, but they were full before we expected, so we ended up with a day tour. The tour is extremely well organised, with an excellent audio tour telling the story of the prison, from its beginning as a fort, through its life as a military prison, to a civilian prison and eventual closure in the 1970s. There were also reminiscences from inmates, guards and their families who had lived on the island. The most interesting stories, I found, were those of the various escape attempts. On one such attempt, three men did escape and do this day, it is not known if they survived the mile-long swim, the cold and the treacherous currents to reach land. If you have a clear day, without the famous San Francisco fog, there are great views of the city skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge from the island.
Bits and Pieces
Our third full day was occupied with fitting in all the smaller tourist attractions. The first of these was Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. This provides fantastic views over the city. From there we had a walk around the North Beach area which was famous for the Beat generation. The next stop was Lombard Street, a short residential street of only a few hundred metres long, with eight wide sweeping turns to get down the steep hill. We drove down that, parked and walked up it. Fortuitously there was a cable car stop at the top, so we caught the cable car towards Union Square. Health and safety hardly exists – you can hang off a pole on the open sides! That would never be allowed here. After a busy day exploring the city we went out to a few bars in Haight-Ashbury and the Mission district, catching a couple of live bands by accident.
Golden Gate Bridge Redux
Day 4 began with a visit to Baker Beach, which I knew provided more excellent views of the Golden Gate Bridge. After enjoying the view and clambering over the rocks (and taking lots of photographs, of course) we drove over the bridge again, heading for Muir Woods. This is an area of redwoods, well-known as the tallest trees in the world. They were impressive but it’s difficult to get a sense of scale from the bottom looking up! We found a walk which took an hour or so and got chatting to a couple of older local men. They recommended a detour which took us to the top of a hill providing an excellent viewpoint over the woods and to the sea.
Unlike most of the other big places we went, we were able to do everything we wanted to do – perhaps because we went there first.
I really enjoyed San Francisco and would love to go back, but there are so many other places to go first! Our time in the city done, we drove to Yosemite National Park.