San Francisco, California
A 13 hour flight away from London, San Francisco sits perched on the far side of the West Coast of the USA. Basking in the Californian sunshine, this beautiful city plays host to many hidden gems tucked away in the hills. If you don’t have much time to spend in San Francisco then planning is key. I knew there were a few things that I wanted to tick off my bucket list but as I learnt, I think it’s always good to ask around and find out if you might be missing out on anything. I’ll go through in detail further down but Alcatraz was one of the most surreal and most memorising places I have ever been to and I would have completely missed out on it if I hadn’t asked around. Planning your time may seem less fun than winging it but trust me you won’t regret it when you get to see everything in just a few days. I had 3 days in San Francisco and worked my way through a Golden Gate Bridge bike ride, Alcatraz, Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street, China Town and Union Square – scroll down to find out how you could do it!
We stayed at the beautiful Hotel Majestic, situated in the West Addition of San Francisco, just off of Van Ness Avenue and around 2 and a half miles from the sea surrounding Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s around an hours walk all the way down to the pier, but getting on a bus instead of conquering the hills of San Francisco just wasn’t an option for me. So stepping into Starbucks at 6am (due to jet lag not organisation) meant we had the entire day ahead of us. We used our cute little city map from the hotel and realised if we pretty much walked straight down the hill, we would end up at the sea. We had a few things to check off the list so organised our walk so we hit all of them on the way.
It seemed to be that every single road had something beautiful to offer. Please don’t be put off by the hour walk if you do stay somewhere close to us – it is absolutely stunning! Whether you adore the colourful houses all close together, or the fact that you can see the sun glistening off the ocean in the distance, make sure you walk! Our first official stop was Lombard Street. A 1 block street, designed in zig zags that form a 40 degree incline and is by far the steepest street I have seen! The only thing is that to walk down Lombard Street, you have to get up the other side. I cannot tell you what this feels like. Feeling as though you are walking vertically, you actually think it is impossible to reach the top – but once you do the view is incredible and even prettier from the bottom.
Decorated with beautiful flowers and the most colourful properties, the street was apparently designed this way to make it easier to drive down compared to its steepness before. Take it all in, get to the bottom and take some snaps – it’s stunning!
From Lombard Street you can see the sea and the pier so we kept walking downwards and eventually reached Fisherman’s Wharf. Of course if you mapped it there are probably quicker ways of walking there other than ‘following the sea’ but I loved taking in all the scenery and really wanted to saviour my time in San Francisco. We reached the Fisherman’s Wharf around 8am in the morning so not much was open but the relaxed vibe and quiet atmosphere was beautiful. After taking a few selfies with Alcatraz in the background and making a mental note to buy all the San Francisco merchandise in the world when the shops were open later on, I was certain I heard Sea Lions. Rounding the corner this is what we saw…
The Sea lions made Pier 39 on Fisherman’s Wharf their home after the San Francisco earthquake struck in 1990 and the Marina staff and the Mammal Centre decided to let them stay, contributing to the conservation of San Francisco Bay. With zero predators and a constant supply of food the Sea Lion numbers hit a record of 1,700 in 2009 and you can imagine that the noise level is absolutely insane! You have to see them though so get down there!
Next we headed to Union Square on the tram to go shopping as my feet were already dying and I desperately needed trainers! The square is full of your shopping delights such as Macy’s, Barneys and Bloomingdales as well as all your other designer stores and your more casual ones such as H&M. Realising that we were only 25 minutes away from our hotel, we took the hilly walk back for lunch and prepared for our trip to Alcatraz.
Leaving from Pier 33, we booked our Alcatraz trip online before leaving London which we were told was the best way considering the trips get booked up rather quick. Our boat was completely full so I would definitely recommend booking tickets through http://www.alcatrazcruises.com to ensure your spot.
We caught the 2pm cruise over to the island and as you gradually get closer, you realise just how real this actually was and just how far it is back to the mainland. You are free to explore as much as you like until you are ready to catch the next boat back. We opted for the audio tour where you have your own headset that takes you through the history of the island and the prisoners that were inhabited there. I know it doesn’t sound like the most fascinating thing to do but honestly, this was one of my most favourite moments of my time in San Francisco.
Learning about Alcatraz was fascinating. Known as The Rock by the prisoners it housed, the audio tour explains stories of planned and failed escapes and tales of some of the most famous criminals such as Al Capone and Robert ‘Birdman’ Stroud. I won’t ruin the history for you but Alcatraz is definitely not to be missed.
The cruise back to the bay is beautiful as the San Francisco skyline starts to come into view and you realise that anyone who even tried to escape from Alcatraz didn’t have the slightest chance.
On a lighter note, as we arrived back in the bay, it was alive with people on a sunny Friday evening, having dinner along the pier and spending time with friends and family in the amusement arcades and bars. Dying for food we stooped at Wipeout Bar and Grill for Fish and Chips and a beer to top of the best first day in San Fransisco.
Come back for Day 2!