After an enjoyable flight, we began our trip in San Francisco, a city I’ve always been interested to visit. We packed a lot into the two full days we had there, and I can’t remember exactly what order we did them in, so rather than doing it chronologically, this is a post about all the things we found it possible to do in two days in San Francisco. I think it covers pretty much all the classic ‘must-do’ San Francisco stuff. :)
The main attraction of this most touristy of San Francisco’s many piers/wharves is its colony of sealions, which you can find by walking to the end of the pier on the left-hand side. The sealions are rather fabulous, lounging around in the sun all snuggled together, and talking to each other a lot. There’s a bit of a fishy smell in the air around there though!! You can see the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
Seals and sea lions seem to me to be water-bourne dogs, and like dogs, they seem to love sleeping!
Click the play button below to hear what they sound like and see one of them swim!
We had breakfast at a place on the side of the pier – our first breakfast of the trip, and we were blown away by the size of our breakfasts! We’d forgotten quite how huge the portion sizes in the US can be.
Cycling to the Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge didn’t seem very easy to get to by public transport, so we rented bikes for about $7 an hour (there are LOADS of bike hire companies) and cycled along a beautiful coastal route to reach it. This takes you on a 45-minute route around the Bay, with stunning views all the way along. The bikes were great, and had little storage things on the back for our cameras, water etc.
Just before the bridge, you cycle across Chrissy Field, an old airfield (we just can’t seem to stay away from them!). Although it’s no longer in use as an airfield, you can still see the old hangars, and there are big old photographs on the side of them showing the planes that used to fly from there.
We decided against cycling across the bridge, as we were told it’s absolutely freezing and we were in summer clothes, but we figured that it looks best from below it anyway! We did, however, go into the little gift shop near the foot of the bridge, which is well worth a look; I bought a beautiful notebook, and I could easily have bought half the shop if I’d had room to take anything much back.
The cable car is one of the city’s most historic features, so of course we had to try it. There was a bit of a queue when we got to the stop near Market Street, but it was moving fairly quickly as they come every 10 minutes or thereabouts.
Despite still being manually operated with a series of levers, they seem to manage San Francisco’s remarkably steep hills with ease. For maximum enjoyment, we opted not to sit down but to perch ourselves standing up on the runner and cling on for dear life as the cable car hurtled up and down hills and round corners!
You can click the play button below to get a better idea of what it was like!
The views as the Cable Car descends into the Bay Area are stunning. [Click the play button to watch]
This infamous prison is much closer to the city than I was expecting, so you can see it very clearly when you’re in sight of the bay. We booked tickets a couple of months before we flew out, as it gets fully booked a long time in advance. Once you step off the boat (which departs from Pier 33), you’re free to wander around the island at your own pace.
In the actual prison block you are given an audio guide that tells you all about the prison, and it’s narrated by former prisoners and prison officers, which was really interesting.
One of the things we learned about was the famous attempt by the Anglin brothers to escape from Alcatraz, which is an intriguing story that remains unsolved (and which has been in the news this week because there’s apparently new evidence that they might have succeeded!).
The views of the San Francisco skyline are pretty great from Alcatraz, too.
And so are the views of the Golden Gate Bridge:
Also known as “the Crookedest Street”, there’s a famous section of a longer street that has a series of sharp bends to make it easier for cars to handle the steep hill. Cars can only go down it, not up it, and there are steps either side for pedestrians, who can go up and down.
We chose to go down, keen to avoid having to walk up yet another steep hill! There are great views of the Bay from the top, and a classic view of the twisty road from the bottom.
You can also drive down it of course, but we thought it more fun to watch other cars attempting it at the maximum 5mph (complete with GoPros sticking out of most of their windows!).
The Cheesecake Factory
This is located on the 7th floor of Macy’s department store, so it has a good view of Union Square.
We had a slice of cheesecake each, but – as all things in America seem to be – they were absolutely massive!
The ‘Painted Ladies’
‘Painted Ladies’ is a term given to San Francisco’s beautiful Victorian houses. The most famous row of them is to be found on Alamo Square, which was fairly straightforward to get to by bus. There are loads of lovely old houses around this area, so you can wander round and admire them. This row is the most famous, with its backdrop to the modern city.
The Mission Quarter
I’d known about the Mission Quarter for several years, because there’s a Mexican place in Oxford named after it; this part of San Francisco is noted for its excellent Mexican food. We also had a recommendation from some friends to visit the Mission Cheese, an upmarket little wine and cheese bar where you tell the staff what kind of cheese you like, and they give you three different kinds of cheese for you to try with your wine. Most excellent, if a bit pricey.
We followed this with a burrito at Mateo’s. If you’re thinking of trying a burrito, take my advice – order one to share! One each was too much, especially after the cheese.
From San Francisco we made our way to Yosemite National Park, which shall be the subject of another post.