San Francisco – the city of the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars chugging up incredibly steep streets and one of the most infamous prisons in the world. A city that I have always wanted to visit and in July when I was in the States for my best friend’s wedding, I got a chance to do a whirlwind trip around this city. I literally spent about 30 hours there after the wedding was over and before I flew back to Chile. This, of course, is nowhere near enough time to get to explore a place properly, but at least it gave me a taste of this fascinating city. One day I will go back and explore it’s incredibly diverse communities, like the Castro, Haight-Ashbury and Chinatown a little more…For now I stuck to seeing the main sites for which it is famous.
I flew from LA to San Francisco early on a Monday morning with Chris (Melissa’s brother who lives in SF). It was only 24 hours after the craziness of the wedding and we were both still exhausted. Having being used to the summer heat in LA for the last few weeks I packed light on the warm clothing which was a mistake that Chris only informed me of when we were on the plane. SF is nothing like LA when it comes to climate and we landed to grey skies and a fairly chilly breeze blowing. Although it was probably around 22 degrees, this felt rather cold after the heatwave just a few hours south in LA.
In one day I feel like I walked the length and breadth of SF, even though I only saw a
fraction of this vast city. I suppose it feels like you walk more simply because of the steepness of the streets. They really are incredibly steep, so much so, that cars have to park with their wheels turned at a sharp angle against the pavement and there are signs warning drivers to ensure cars are left in gear and wheels turned etc. I obviously wanted to ride in a cable car (fondly remembering a TV programme called Step by Step set in SF way back when…), but at the bottom of Hyde Street the queue of tourists with the same idea was unbelievable and so I walked halfway up the street and waited at one of the stops where there were no tourists. I had to wait quite a long time for the next cable car to come around as they don’t seem to be the most frequent form of transport. But one eventually came and he stopped and picked me up, which was quite lucky according to another passenger as apparently he had driven right past three stops with other tourists waiting. My lucky day! I didn’t even pay for the ride as the conductor didn’t ask me for money and I had no idea how you actually buy a ticket…freebies are always great when travelling on a budget.
Unfortunately as is the case during the height of summer, there were loads of tourists everywhere I went, which is something I never really enjoy, but I know is unavoidable. This just seemed particularly worse than on other travels in other countries as the tourists were mostly loud American families with screaming kids etc. But despite this, I still enjoyed visiting the crookedest street in the world, walking along the different piers, including the most famous Fisherman’s Wharf, eating fish and chips at a small stand on one of the piers and looking at the old sailing boats on Hyde Street Pier. I also visited
the Castro which is the Gay and Lesbian neighbourhood made famous by Harvey Milk who became the mayor for that area and fought for gay rights and against Proposition 6 for many years before he was assassinated along with the mayor of SF. If you haven’t seen the movie Milk where Sean Penn plays Harvey Milk, then do yourself a favour and rent it, as it is a brilliant movie.
Despite the fairly chilly weather I decided to do a boat tour of the Bay to take in the famous sites of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge (which I learnt is actually orange and not red). The boat was a small sailing boat which was great as it could only take 15 people as opposed to the giant cruisers I saw with hundreds of tourists on board. I also like taking boat rides like this because I think it gives you a different perspective on a city and it was nice to see the skyline of SF from the water.
After wandering around the city the whole day I headed back to Chris’s place and was asleep fairly early due to still being really tired from the wedding etc. So I never explored the culinary side of SF for which it is also famous. One day I will come back and try out some of the famous restaurants and experience the night life…
The next day Chris kindly (or stupidly 😉 lent me his car so I could go and explore Muir Woods on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge, This is one of the last remaining and oldest coastal redwood forests in the world and has trees that are over 1000 years old and really really tall. I was a little nervous about driving as I have not driven on the right side of the road much and never in a huge city. But being an automatic car made it a little easier, so I could focus more on the road and where I was going without having to change gears and pull off on the steep San Franciscan hills. Plus, Americans are pretty polite and law abiding citizens so no one hooted or swore at me for following the 40km an hour speed limit at points and most people follow the speed limit themselves which makes it much easier too. If it had been anywhere in Africa or South America it would have been a different story. It was a lovely drive across the bridge and the forest was so spectacular and definitely the highlight of my whirlwind San Fran experience. It is so hard to imagine that these trees have stood there for so long – if only they could talk. It was great to walk through the forest and amongst these giants and even with quite a few tourists there it still felt very peaceful and made a great change to the crowds back in the city. I would love to have explored some of the longer and less used trails in the park, but I had to get back to the city and catch a plane back to LA. Another time…there is always more to explore and experience…