San Francisco, California

After an 11 hour flight (full of complementary gin and tonics) we arrived in San Francisco in the early evening. As we were travelling on a budget we forwent the taxi option and boarded the BART train into the centre of town. After a connecting bus journey we arrived at our hotel in the North Beach area. Whilst planning our trip to San Fran we spent a lot of time looking up accommodation options. The city is known to be the second most expensive city in the USA and hotel costs certainly lived up to that standard. After much trawling of the internet we came across the San Remo Hotel. This hotel is apparently one of the oldest hotels in the city. It used to be a boarding house (and a brothel) and housed many of the victims of the 1906 disastrous earth quake. The hotel looks like it hasn’t changed much since the early 1900’s although that’s perhaps part of its charm.

Our room at the San Remo Hotel

Although this is no reflection on the hotel, I must say I didn’t sleep tremendously well during our stay at the hotel… perhaps something to do with the fact that through my research I became aware that the Hotel was the supposedly the most haunted hotel in the city and a regular ‘haunt’ for professional ghost hunters….!! The night we arrived we took a little wander round the North Beach area and went for Pizza at Il Casaro on Columbus Avenue and then for drinks at perhaps the most dingy bar we have ever been to (all part of the experience hey!) There’s a time difference of 8 hours between the UK and San Francisco so after being awake for over 25 hours we made our way back to the Hotel for our first night sleep in California.

The next morning we woke up early and made our way to Beacon’s coffee which firmly became a morning ritual. After getting our caffeine fix we travelled down to Pier 33 to catch our ferry across to Alcatraz Island. Visiting Alcatraz was on the top of our to do list in the city and so we made sure we bought our tickets well in advance of our trip. Alcatraz tickets sell out three weeks ahead of time so it’s worth pre-ordering them. Anyone who knows about our unfortunate issue with furry friends in our London flat will understand what I mean when I say that Alcatraz (and many of our USA endeavours) were ‘paid for by the mice’…

After queuing for a little while we boarded the Alcatraz ferry and began the journey across to the Rock. It was quite a misty morning but we still had fantastic views across the Bay and the city.

 

The view out over Alcatraz from the ferry

After disembarking the boat we entered the old prison and swiftly picked up our audio guide tours. The whole tour lasted a couple of hours and was absolutely fascinating. Just walking around the prison felt quite surreal and it was great to learn about life in the prison, some of the notorious inmates and of course visit the site of the famous 1962 escape. Some of the stories we heard were completely unbelievable and it was amazing to see how the prisoners lived and the accommodation of their cells.

 

The cells at Alcatraz

The scene of the famous 1962 escape. Note the dug out vent at the back and the head made from wax in the bed.

After we finished the tour we spent a little more time on the island wandering around and taking in the views. Alcatraz island was not only home to the prison but also housed a whole community of prison workers and their families. The old accommodation and officer’s social buildings have now been made into art galleries and other exhibition spaces which were interesting to see. The island was also occupied by Native American activists in the 1960’s – their time on the island is still visible today.

 

After spending a few hours on the island we boarded the ferry again and made our way back to the city. By this point the mist had faded and it was a beautiful California day. Our next stop was the Coit tower which was a short (uphill) walk from pier 33.


We didn’t have to queue for too long at the tower but any time spent queuing was filled up by observing the beautiful painted murals at the base. After a short wait we boarded the elevator and found ourselves at the top. The tower offers beautiful views across the city and gave us our very first view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m not sure why I found seeing the bridge so exciting – I guess it’s just such a landmark of the city and a bridge that has been iconic for such a long time! After taking in the views of the city we took the escalator back down to earth and decided to go for a wander down to Fisherman’s wharf.

Up at the top of the Coit Tower
The view back out over Alcatraz Island

Fisherman’s Wharf is a really famous part of the town, a busy sea front area full of restaurants and shops. If I’m honest Miles and I weren’t that enamored with the area; it was full of all the tourist cliché’s and so we decided to swiftly depart the area and make our way across to our next point of interest – the Golden Gate Bridge. When reading up about the city and talking to various people we learnt that the best way to see the Bridge is actually to cycle across it. We walked past a bike hire shop just past the Fisherman’s Wharf area and enquired as to prices. We were lucky that our hotel gave us some money off vouchers and so after a talk with the shop attendants (and after watching a short video) we handed over the money and hopped onto the saddles.

 

After a bit of a wobbly start (granted on my behalf only) and thanks to the handy maps attached to the front of our bikes we found ourselves on the cycle route. The cycling track up to the Bridge is completely beautiful and we had so much fun on our journey across. One point to make is that, as is so central to the geography of the city, the ride is extremely uphill in areas! Nothing unbearable but there was definitely was a few shaky (and breathless!) moments!


We soon found ourselves at the base of the bridge. We spent a good 15 minutes here making sure we had taken the perfect bridge photo. After another uphill burst we joined the cycle path again and found ourselves cycling across the iconic bridge. One amazing thing about the bridge was that half of it was shrouded in a thick cloud, but as soon as we passed the half way mark the cloud disappeared and there was beautiful sunshine. It was really a moment to remember. I remember the wind being so strong that I was terrified of my camera blowing out of my hand and into the water below. Luckily it survived…

The very misty Golden Gate Bridge

The view from the other side of bride – note the sudden clearing of the mist!

After crossing the bridge we carried on with the cycle ride and made our way to the cute waterside town of Sausalito. By this point Miles and I realised that we hadn’t eaten anything since our morning coffee and so we grabbed some sandwiches and beers from a local deli and sat out by the water enjoying the sun and resting our weary legs. After our very uphill 8 mile cycle we decided enough time had been spent on the bikes so we made our way to the pier and boarded the ferry back towards the main city. It’s fair to say we were exhausted – and it must be said a little sunburnt!

 

Sausalito

Still not done for the day we decided to visit another iconic San Francisco landmark – Lombard Street. Lombard Street was constructed back in 1922 is the world’s most crooked street. The road and it’s snaking bends were originally built to reduce the gradient of the hill which apparently was a hazard to both cars and pedestrians. Nowadays there is a tailback of cars queuing up to drive down the iconic road with go pros and camera phones in tow. It’s definitely an interesting stop off!!

 

Lombard Street

 

Looking down on Lombard Street

After visiting Lombard street the evening was drawing in and we decided to have a wander and find a spot for dinner. We walked up Filmore Street and found a very cool looking bar which appeared to have no name. On closer inspection we found out the bar was called The Progress. Miles and I sat at the bar sipping cocktails and, once hunger got the better of us, we ordered a few small plates at the bar including a delicious tempura broccoli dish. A couple of hours later we decided that we have well and truly filled our quota for the day and returned to the hotel for bed.

The next day, after a well-deserved sleep, we headed to grab our morning caffeine fix at Beacon. We then decided take a bus and visit the Palace of Fine Arts, which is a beautiful outdoors structure which you can walk around and take in the lovely surroundings.

The Palace of Fine Arts

After spending some time here we got back to treading the [ever uphill] pavements and made our way to visit the famous row of pastel coloured houses affectionately known as the ‘painted ladies’. The painted ladies have become somewhat of a San Francisco landmark due to their typical Victorian architecture. Although beautiful, we didn’t really see what all the fuss was surrounding these particular houses. We saw much more beautiful architecture across the city, but this particular row of houses has been used in many films/tv shows and was interesting none the less to see.

The Painted Ladies

Next on our agenda was being typical San Fran tourists and hopping aboard the original city cable cars. For a small fee you board the carts which take you on a short journey through parts of the city. Although very cliché this was actually really fun – even if the driver insisted on pulling the bell at every crossroad!

 




After a busy morning we then decided to take a wander and head to a brunch spot called The Grove on Mission Street which had been recommended to us. I had a delicious breakfast burrito and Miles had some sort of avocado/refried beans/egg breakfast bowl which looked amazing. We sat next to this hilarious couple of men who were taking very opening about how their meditation and therapy sessions had opened their eyes and given them a renewed sense of well being – only in California!

After stuffing ourselves over brunch we had a wander up Filmore Street and took in all the cool shops. We then wandered across to the Golden Gate Park which was absolutely beautiful. We took a leisurely stroll through the grounds, took a peek inside the Japanese Tea Garden and did an awful lot of people watching. Unfortunately whilst we were in the park I started feeling a little unwell. We took a pit stop and had a little lie down in the sun and I hoped that it would soon pass..


After leaving the park we took a wander across to the Haight Ashbury district. This particular area is known to be the ‘hippy district’ of the city and there’s no doubt that this is the case. There was lots of interesting characters lurking around the streets..! Annoyingly, at this area I was struck with feeling unwell and very faint again. I ended up at one point sitting on the street corner hoping I wouldn’t fall over. Eventually I decided that I would have to go back to the hotel and try to sleep it off. It seemed the day in the sun yesterday had struck back in full sun stroke force. After a couple of hours nap, I woke up feeling much better, and when Miles returned to the Hotel (he had carried on exploring the city) we headed back out for the rest of the evening. We headed to the Mission District of the city near to Delores Park. This is a really trendy area and had a great selection of boutiques, coffee shops and bars. We visited the many streets lined with great graffiti and street art before stopping off at Taqueria El Buen Sabor for traditional tacos and Mexican beer. After our ‘starters’ we headed further down Valencia street searching for a restaurant to take our fancy. There’s a load of really cool restaurants on this street and we were really spoilt for choice. In the end we decided on a cool Vietnamese restaurant called Mau where we both enjoyed huge bowls of Pho and fresh Spring rolls.

The next morning we started early, checked out of our hotel (with a bag full of free brownies) and headed to the airport where we would be picking up our convertible Mustang and starting our road trip down Route 1 – The Pacific Coast Highway.

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