When you think of San Francisco and might think of; the financial centre of northern California, an opportunity to spend a summer living it up with all your friends crammed into a 1/2 bedroom house or even just a great holiday destintion to see the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and learn about the history that lingers in connection to ‘The Rock’ Alcatraz. All of these reasons pointed us to beginning our trip in America here. It was the furthest destination that we wanted to visit which still had good routes and facilites to get to, to kick start our trip!!
We arrived quite late into San Francisco International Airport and what saved us a huge cost and also what helped us majorly in getting ourselves settled, was that we stayed with family relations in San Francisco. (There were 4 of us on this trip, we each have family/friends dotted around America which we made sure to visit while we travelled. This gave us a sense of direction on where we were going. along with a huge saving in our accommodation cost). We stayed in San Bruno which was extemely close to the airport, 5 minutes at most and it was also 20 minutes drive from San Francisco city.
We had 5 days in total to explore San Francisco………here’s what we did!
We headed into San Francisco and got our barings and strolled around Union Square. This is where all the shops were located, Macys, phone shops and more high end shops such as Louis Vitton, Chanel etc. Dogs can go anywhere with their owners. This is one of the first things I noticed, dogs in cafés and shops!
Cheesecake Factory was next on our hit list. I absolutely LOVE cheesecake so I was very excited about this and it did not disappoint. Is was set on the top floor of a high rise building and this a weird sensation heading up there. I was actually dizzy in the elevator and it takes a minute to adjust when you step into the cheesecake factory. This is not a factory despite the name it is a restaurant and they offer a wide range of cheesecakes along with a regular menu! (Portions are crazy big!!)
So typical but this has to be on your list of things to do when in San Francisco.. Ride a cable cart through the city. This will give you an idea of how hilly San Francisco actually is! As we made our way down to the waterfront to Pier 39. Here we had a stroll around as the sun was setting and the atmosphere here was very relaxed. We ate at a popular restaurant known as The Francisan Crab Restaurant which is located at Pier 43, in the heart of Fishermans Wharf. Here, they specialise in seafood! It also overlook Alcatraz on one side and the city on the other. Great place to grab dinner and especially if you are into seafood!
As the day came to an end, we stopped into The Buena Vista. This is a famous spot to grab an Irish Coffee. Apparently this is the first place to serve an Irish Coffee in America after the owner of this bar had an Irish Coffee in Shannon Airport. Tullamore dew whiskey is used so it is a taste of home. You must be over 21 to legally drink in America so make sure you have your ID to hand. Even better hope on a cable cart in the dark!! The views are amazing as you dart around the city.
There is so much to see in San Fran and there really is something to suit everyone! We headed to ‘Twin Peaks” and this is the place to go for the best views in the city. Nestled is a remote neighbourhood, there are two 922 foot hills which boasts high enough for you to get 360 degree views of San Francisco once you get to the top. You can drive up to a certain point and there is only a small staircase to climb. I love outdoors and sceanery so I definately perfered this as opposed to wandering around the city the day before.
Next stop, Haight Street. The Haight Ashbury district is a very different vibe. This is famous for the cultural movements that took place in the 1960’s. Hippie movements where Free love, drug use and communal living became the norm and this is where the ‘Summer of 69’ comes from. The summer of love is the phrase that is used to best describe this particular summer in San Francisco. The streets are full of retro vintage shops and quirky cafes along with a great cookie place; Hot Cookie. They have some interesting looking cookies here!
Take a wander to Doloras Park. This is a city park and is a big area to just chill out for an hour or more. That is what every other person that is here is doing. It is easy to sit and relax when everybody else is doing it!
If you do anything at all in San Francisco ***PRE-BOOK A TABLE & EAT IN CAPO’S*** if you like Italian and especially Pizza, you wont regret eating here. Definately the nicest pizza I have ever had! Finish off the night with a bar crawl and it will be worth the headache the following day!
We didn’t do too much today as we were all suffering with a hangover! In the evening we headed to a great rooftop bar El Techo which is situated above Lolinda’s steakhouse, where we had dinner. This rooftop bar was very busy but it had great views and good vibes. They also do food here so you can eat here if you wish. Prebook though as we waited for aleast 30 mintues to get in, constant queue. Lolinda’s Steakhouse, was an experience to say the least. Fine dining for sure!! It was incredibly dark in there, to the point that I nearly fell up the stairs on the way to our table. If you are a fan of steak’s, this place should be on your list as the food was amazing.
Cal Academy!! What a place, it is a science muesum but on a very large scale!! As they describe it: “Visit an aquarium, planetarium, rainforest, and natural history museum all under the one roof”. We even entered an area where you experience what the shaking of an earthquake feels like. Very unusual experience. There is plenty of options for lunch/dinner here too.
Located nearby the Cal Academy, we visited an observation tower where you can walk around the top floor showing 360 degree views of San Francisco!
The Palace of Fine Arts; Wow what a place. Only a 15 minute drive from the Cal Academy, this is free to visit and I would highly reccommend going here. Structures from 1915 are still standing and they are breathtaking. Reminded me of Rome and I havent even visited Rome before. Ideal spot to just stroll around and take it in. We bumped into a wedding party that were there for their wedding photo’s, this might give you an idea on how nioce this area is, that it was chosen for a wedding photoshoot.
Next on our agenda was renting bikes to cycle the Golden Gate Bridge. This is proberly the most popular thing to do and shows up on almost every ‘Top things to see & do in San Fran’ lists. What I didn’t know is that it was a crazy steep climb to get onto the bridge! I thought I was never going to get there, I would consider myself as having an ok fitness but this really challenged me! When we finally reached the bridge it was amazing, water to the horizon one side and views of the city to the other. It was very windy so scary in places too haha! Once we reached the other side we made our way down the other hills and into Sausalito. A country like town that was built by artist squatters after WWII. I fell in love with this place and wished I could have spent more time here, I would like to stay here if I return to San Francisco. We docked our bikes, had lunch (portion size are very large), had a walk around the waterfront, before boarding the Ferry. When renting bikes you can cycle to and from the bike rental shop or cycle one way, dock your bike and get the ferry back which is very handy because none of us fancied doing that cycle all the way back after the long day. You can see great views of the city and will also see Alcatraz on the way back to the city.
Lombart Street is where we headed next after disembarking from the ferry. This is said to be the most crooked street in the world. It was covered in lovely coloured flowers but it didn’t life up to my expectations. Country roads in Ireland could give it a run for it’s money!
Yes I know we hadn’t been here too long but we finished the day in Foley’s. Irish bar with a Guiness, bacon & cabbage and brown bread! So Irish and it cost a fortune so maybe skip this!
Final Day; Day 5;
First up was heading to Pier 39, this is like a village set on the pier! Restaurants, shops, merry-go-rounds.. lots to see not forgetting the section where a group of seals are laid out in the sunshine before slipping back into the water.
We then walked to Pier 33, to board our boat to Alcatraz! I was so excited about this and it did not disappoint. What an experience & I would highly reccommend. It was eerrie, interesting and fun. On arrival, we were given an introduction by a prison warden and then watched a video on the history of the Island. This is when I really realised the scale of the Island, the size of the cells, the experience of being a prisoner. An audio guide leads you around the island and prison. Sound effects, stories from prisoners, escape stories, equipment, everything is there to see. I was totally lost in it all and found myself still listening to it 2 hours later. The well kept gardens and flowers around the prison suggest the complete opposite of what happens behind the walls. Worth every penny! Purchase tickets before hand too if you can to avoid queues at the Pier.
Back to the city and we packed our bags, headed to the airport, rented a car and it was a long drive to our next location… Goodbye San Francisco…..Next location pending!
- Make sure you bring warm clothes with you to San Fran, a good jacket or hoddie as the weather is very changable. A smog that locals call Karl covers the city at times and brings very cool weather. I was told this before I arrived to San Fran but I didn’t listen and said ‘surely it wont be cold, I’ll be fine’… had to buy a jumper when I got there!
- Pre-book your dinner locations to avoid disappointment.
- Uber can be a great way of getting around short distances if you are tired and lets face it the hills and streets are so steep it makes it harder. You can always just see what an uber would be to get to where you are going and you can decide then if you want to spend it or not. We were time consious the majority of the time.
- San Fran is not the cheapest place at all to visit. We were lucky to have free accommodation. See where you can cut costs, cycle more, supermarket lunches, stick to free to visit areas which you will not be short of.
Hope you enjoyed this first post on my American Roadtrip! There is a lot of information here I am aware but I feel I have seen the majority of San Fran and I wouldn’t be in any rush to go back there. When I got to Sausalito and loved it, I realised maybe I didn’t love the big big cities.