So this is my first blog post from my Californian road trip, which has been one of my dream trips for many years! I’m currently writing this blog post in the car as we drive along Route 1, Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Monterey, our next stop.
I’m travelling with my parents and my brother, and we’re moving on after spending our first three nights in San Francisco. We stayed in a hotel just off of Union Square, which turned out to be right in the heart of the shopping district (Mum picked the hotel!) with Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and a multitude of other high end shops on our doorstep.
Union Square is also the best place to catch a tram down to Fisherman’s wharf, a must see location in San Francisco. We rode a tram to Lombard Street, known as the world’s “crookedest street.” The steep street has 5 hairpin bends which are decorated with hydrangea plants, which have created a tourist hotspot right outside the houses on Lombard street.
From here we walked down to Fisherman’s Wharf, taking in panoramic views of San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz Island – the island-prison which was home to some of America’s most notorious criminals, including Al Capone.
Although highly developed for tourism, Fisherman’s Wharf still thrives on the fishing industry, with shrimp and crab-fishing boats providing the staple ingredients for a variety of restaurants along the Wharf. Some of these boats also provide trips around the Bay. For only $15 each, we had a fantastic, but rather windy boat ride to see the spectacular Golden Gate Bridge, as well as a close-up view of Alcatraz. This for me was a highlight of my stay in San Francisco, as you get to see the Golden Gate Bridge from every angle!
After returning to the land, which was considerably less windy, we explored Fisherman’s Wharf further, including Pier 39, a boardwalk full of fun souvenir shops and food stalls, many of which sell the famous San Francisco Clam Chowder in a bread bowl.
We started our second day in San Francisco at Lori’s Diner, an excellent ’50s style diner which served the huge breakfasts with amazing milkshakes. We returned to Golden Gate Bridge, this time to walk along it. From our hotel we got a taxi to take us to the visitor centre (taxis are relatively cheap when there are a few of you travelling in them) where we learned about the building work and cost involved in constructing the bridge. We then set off to walk across the bridge, looking back at stunning yet foggy views of San Francisco.
We didn’t make it all the way along the 1.7 mile long bridge as we decided to head over to North Beach, the Italian district. Here we visited the creative heart of San Francisco, City Lights Book Store which was the focal point for the Beat Generation writers such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. The independent book store welcomes people who come to read and discuss the literature available to purchase, functioning as a sort-of library where you can buy the books!
The Italian district is filled with delis and espresso bars serving authentic sandwiches and coffee. The oldest one of these is the Caffe Trieste at 601 Vallejo street. The simple espresso bar pioneered the espresso coffee culture in America from 1956 – it could be said that they are the reason why you hardly ever see a San Franciscan walking down the street without a coffee in their hand!
We ended our second and final full day in San Francisco with a walk around Chinatown and meal there. To be honest, I wasn’t as impressed with Chinatown as I thought I would be, but after spending a lot of time in London’s Chinatown maybe I had preconceived ideas of what San Francisco’s would be like. We did have a fantastic meal though – we were told by a taxi driver that the best way to choose a restaurant in Chinatown is to go for the cleanest looking restaurant, and this worked out well for us.
Overall, my first impression of San Francisco was of a welcoming cosmopolitan city. I’d like to come back to explore it further, and I’d recommend it to any prospective travellers to California.
My next blog post will be about the start of our road trip along Pacific Coast Highway and our stop in Monterey.
I’d love to hear any comments you have about San Francisco & California in general, so please comment below, and as always you can find me on twitter: @andrea_avena