Apr 13

San Francisco, the city at the top of our list that didn’t disappoint


So on we went, Santa Barbara disappeared into the distance as the Greyhound rumbled on down route 101 aside the ocean towards San Francisco. Being excited was a complete understatement! This Greyhound trip restored our faith in the service. On this occasion we were accompanied by fellow backpackers, James and Peggy, English and Australian respectively. They were such an awesome couple, both with such a refreshing zest for life and what the world has to offer. It made the journey go much quicker!

The nine hour trip to San Francisco was softened by the free WiFi, comfy seats and normal people (plus the token ex-con). We arrived early evening, tired and feeling gross. We jumped into cab to Chinatown, which was to be our home for the next  seven nights. Almost immediately, we were surprised by the incline the taxi was taking, which then abruptly stopped half way up outside of our accommodation. We pretty much crawled up the hill, checked-in then began to explore straightaway. Our calf muscles were shot to bits within an hour, the place was buzzing, cable cars raced up and down the hills like a roller coaster, you could hear the screams of the passengers as the descent began!  We retired to our room early after enjoying an excellent Chinese meal. We were drawn to the restaurant by the smiling face of Barack Obama pictured with the staff on the wall by the menu. Sold.

Exploring the city

San Francisco is forty seven square miles. For some reason, I’d thought this seemed quite small before arriving. When comparing it to what we are used to, Southampton, Southsea, Camberley etc – San Francisco seems huge when faced by all of the hills and sky rise buildings. We were on foot most of the time, so we purchased a couple of ‘Muni’ passes for the week. These allowed us to travel around by bus, train or about three variations of cable car! There’s so many ways to get around and it’s so cheap!

The first day was spent exploring. We walked down to Union Square, which is reminiscent of London’s Leicester Square and continued on down to Fisherman’s Wharf. San Francisco has such a great mix of city metropolis combined with a traditional fishing heritage. When you’re on the water front and walking around Fisherman’s Wharf, the vibe is lively, touristy but feels very ‘seaside’. We bumped into our new travel buddies James and Peggy outside of Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. It’s a restaurant inspired by the classic film, Forest Gump. Fi bought couple of great t-shirts from the gift shop, one read ‘My mumma says I’m special’.

We continued to mosey around Fisherman’s Wharf, enjoying all it had to offer. On the sidewalk, we passed a couple of street artists creating Golden Gate Bridge inspired artwork with a space age twist. They used spay paint and cardboard as their tools, to achieve amazing effects. Here’s the video of the live artwork being created, which I bought for $15, it’s currently winging it’s way back to the UK. The YouTube video is a bit long, but well worth the watch to see these talented dudes in action.

We took the slightly longer (and steeper!) route home in order to visit Crookedest Street. To witness cars meandering down this absurd road is quite the attraction. Most that drove down seemed to be tourists, so we’re not so sure it’s a commuters route!

Bike riding to Sausalito via Golden Gate Bridge

Early doors on a bright Tuesday morning, we had arranged to meet our travel buddies James and Peggy at Pier 39 (Fisherman’s Wharf). It was quite a strange feeling meeting friends at a prearranged destination, without the fallback of a mobile to confirm that they were on their way. Fear not, they did arrive, so we immediately hired a collection of budget bikes to aid our ride to Sausalito.

As Golden Gate Bridge drew ever closer, we weaved through the sea of segway riders and stopped for several photo ops. We had decided to cycle directly underneath the bridge, where we’d heard that there was a little surf spot. When we arrived, there was a ferocious swell and a lone surfer preparing to make his way down the rock face to tackle the waves. The tourists gathered, including ourselves, to observe and photograph this guy catching some great waves directly under the bridge! It was such an amazing and rare photo opportunity to catch this on a clear, sunny day!

Our mouths opened in awe as we headed across the bridge, the scale of it is truly unbelievable until seen up close. It seemed to go one forever and the paths along the bridge were cramped with pedestrians and cyclists fighting for space – the ride got a little hairy at times! Once across, we began a high paced down hill ride right into Sausalito, where on arrival, we put our feet up and all enjoyed a massive burger and yummy ice cream. Whilst casually admiring the view of San Francisco, we saw a ferry in the distance. We decided to jump right on with our bikes, to save a massive uphill ride home. Our bums were pretty sore at this point!

Baseball with the San Francisco Giants

We’d taken the opportunity to snap up some tickets online prior to the game. Having made it our mission to see at least one American sport and luckily for us, we caught an exhibition game between local rivals Oakland, who are just across Bay bridge. After taking the MUNI metro we arrived at the stadium. The AT & T park was enormous and from the outside you get a real sense of history when looking at all the plaques of players been and gone. We exchanged our tickets with a big burly security man and made our way up the long corridors into the stadium, to look over the greenest pitch with a view to die for of the bay. The first thing Fi saw and pretty much ran towards, was a giant coke bottle disguising a slide. She wanted to go on, but was double the height restriction. Kids only…boo!

American families seem to make a day of the baseball (it’s a long game). They all wonder around looking for their favourite lunch time fix. Be it, garlic fries, burritos, shrimp, burgers, pretzels, hot dogs – the list goes on, you name it, they’ve go it! With our budget, we could only rely on our pre packed oreos. We found our seats and logged onto the free WiFi. I took the opportunity to FaceTime my brother and gave him a little tour. Then the formalities began and we stood for the national anthem. I looked to my left and realised Fi had gone for a wee, this happens a lot! They are such a patriotic nation and I couldn’t help but feel, this wouldn’t go a miss at some domestic football games back home.

There was such a carnival atmosphere during the game, we muddled our way through and had a fairly decent understanding towards the end. We did notice, that most people got up to have a wander, so we did the same and took advantage of the standing areas that let you soak up a bit of sun, whilst enjoying a great view of the play or the bay behind you. All in all, the game was a brilliant experience.

On our way out of the stadium, we decided to go and see one of the google offices, which we knew was right near Bay bridge. This isn’t ‘googelplex’ but one of its many offices. After wondering for a little while, we found it. You’d never of know it was google had we not done our research. I guess they like to keep it this way, as they’d probably have a million tourists taking pictures outside. We considered handing in our business cards, but thought better. Google would probably expect a little more than a flimsy piece of card to woo them. I’d show you a picture, but it wasn’t much to shout about. However, working in the Embarcadero location is very appealing though.

Angel Island and Alcatraz

This is without doubt, the most popular attraction in San Francisco. We’d luckily stumbled upon the Pier that departed to Alcatraz during our day of exploring. We’d booked the next earliest departure, which was four days in advance. Our boat was leaving at 9am, so we headed down nice and early, the sun was beaming. Our first stop was Angel Island, which is just past Alcatraz, the boat trip was really fun as you get amazing views of the grid system back on San Francisco.

Fi got a little trigger happy with the seagulls! We docked up on Angel island, ready for a tram tour (we had to sit backwards). The only people who live on the island are park keepers, as it’s now a national park. Previously, it was a location where the US Army trained and shipped out their soldiers and then, later it became an immigration centre for the Chinese, aspiring to live in America.

Angel Island is steeped in history, it has wildlife unique to it, tons of deer and walking trails. This would be an amazing place to camp (see happy campers below). We were so lucky with the weather, usually, when you arrive at the highest point on the island, the view is one of pure fog covering most of San Francisco. In contrast, we had a crystal clear view! After this spectacle, we headed back down to get the boat to Alcatraz.

The first glimpse of Alcatraz is one of lots of different buildings. We weren’t sure at first, which part was the jail, amongst all the people racing round. You can remain on the island until the last boat of the day, so we just took our time to see all it had to offer. It only took a few hours to do it all. We didn’t queue for the audio headphones, with hindsight, we probably should of, as this gave an in depth history about the prisoners but, we decided not to walk around with the other zombies mesmerised by what they were listening to. Instead, we curiously read all the information signs. The jail is by far the most exciting. The rest of the island (actually quite pretty) was living quarters for the staff and their families.

The creepiest part was stepping inside the jail cells and the hole where they isolated the meanest prisoners. It was chilling. The gripping stories, was those about the attempted escapes, which you can see just how they dug out behind their toilets. The likes of Shawshank Redemption and Prison Break must of taken inspiration from these sort of escapes. Looking over at San Francisco, it’s no wonder they tried to escape, it looks busy and inviting. Even after a few hours on the island, we were kind of missing it! It could only have been a view of torture for the residents of Alcatraz. However close SF looks, it’s not! It’s well over a mile and one of the most treacherous currents to try and swim through, not forgetting the freezing water! Half the cons in the prison were only there for fraud or tax evasion, yet it was the most secure and privilege restricted prisons ever to grace America.

After seeing everything there was to see, we headed back to get our return boat. Three hectic days of walking, boats, bikes and learning about all these historic places, had knackered us out. Physically and mentally! Later that night we had awesome, massive and best of all, cheap meal in the Cheesecake Factory at the top of Macy’s. This looks over union square. We felt pretty privileged dining with such a view and sat back for a moment and just thought about how lucky we were to be doing all of this. Half our dinner came home with us, due to it’s sheer size!

Laundry and the Fortune Cookie Factory

There is effectively a laundry street on the outskirts of Chinatown that Fi had been eyeing up all week. We went on a mission with our laundry in tow, rather than doing it in the sink. It was cheap and had industrial size machines. Whilst waiting for the washing to do it’s thing, we went on the hunt for some food.

We grabbed some $1 char sue pork buns from a street cafe, they resembled baseballs and were so good! The sun was shining bright again, so we sat on the kerb outside the launderette in the sun reading our Lonely Planet California guide. A man appeared out of no where, and started chatting rubbish to us about how we need to see the ‘real’ San Francisco with him and his ‘real’ friends. He continued by saying this could only happen if we changed our shoes! He wanted an email so we could hook up. We were hesitant, as the way he came across had immediately put us on edge. We wondered whether he might actually be a swinger!

Travelling opens you up to conversing with such a variety of people, from so many different backgrounds. It’s great. We have met some lovely, helpful and interesting people coupled with a few crazies but they are equalling amusing. As time went on, we started to feel really at home in San Francisco. We even blended in a bit more like locals, we assisted those lost on some of the streets and Fi helped a elderly, local Chinese lady do her washing, neither spoke the same language but they communicated perfectly.

We had a little bit of spare time whilst the washing was in the tumble dryer and no one was going to steal our rags. We headed off again to go and find the oldest fortune cookie factory. If you didn’t know, they were invented in San Francisco. This hasn’t been made into a tourist spot, so it’s a real gem! Located down a dingy alleyway in Chinatown, is this tiny little factory with four people making hundreds of fortune cookies. We went in, took a photo, bought a bag and that was that. Nice and simple, no frills, no crowds! Our walk back to our washing was a content one, stuffing our face with fortune cookies.

Extending our stay

Due to the Greyhound routes and costs to stay in the Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, we decided to extend our time in San Francisco and use this as a base to travel out from. We had barely scratched the surface of potential things to do and see here in SF. We did have to find a new place to stay though. Local hostels and our chinatown hotel had no space due to the busy Easter period. We found a cool hotel down on Sutter with amenities you tend to take for granted in everyday life, such as a fridge and a kettle. Although fairly insignificant, these two things allow us to food shop, have cheap breakfasts and lunches instead of having to eat out. These have become must haves and are now factored into our budget. The hotel happens to provide free wine from 5-6pm, alcohol is not that cheap here, so this was an amazing treat for us!

We also booked our day tour to Yosemite in a environmental van, this was one of our top places to see in USA, so we were super excited (We will write up a separate blog with lots of pretty pictures).

After leading such a hectic lifestyle for the last few weeks,  it has been nice to get some downtime to write up this blog, check out the news and update the photos on here. Since being in San Francisco, gonetravel.in has been seen by some great design folk, retweeted by Lonely Planet, and has prompted a few Californian’s to contact us to meet up and offer their advice about travelling. We’ve had views from all over the world according to our trusty google analytics – last time I looked we were pushing 1k unique visitors! It has really pleased us that so many people find what we are doing inspiring and actually want to read about little old us. We’ve decided to try pass on what we learn to fellow travellers, by writing up travel tips after each of our five main destinations. So, look out for those.

New places bring old faces

A few years ago, I remember Darren signing up to do compete in the America’s cup. Who’d of thought, way down the line that our paths would cross in San Francisco at the beginning of both our adventures. It was really good to meet up with Darren, I hadn’t seen him for a long time. He had even got married in that time! We met his brother Stuart too, an absolutely cracking bloke. We enjoyed a few drinks in Fisherman’s Wharf and finished up in our favourite spot, the Cheesecake Factory above Union Square. We both wish Darren the best of luck with his adventure, over the coming months and onwards. See our instagram snaps

Almost time to leave San Francisco

With only a few days to go, today, we have booked a bus ride to Muir woods, over the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge where the tallest trees on Earth live! Watch the most recent Planet of the Apes, for reference, the apes go to play there – I like apes! This again was, something we couldn’t leave San Francisco without doing. We also hope to watch Darren set sail on Saturday from the start line under the Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco is everything and more, rolled into one. A big city vibe, a bustling fishing town, ocean views, active lifestyle, great public transport and only a day trip away to go snowboarding or surfing. Not forgetting, it’s a design and technology hub. We’re definitely leaving a little bit of our ‘Hearts in San Francisco’.

Que Tony Bennett.

We are now off to find Fi a stylus so she can draw on her iPhone (and improve her drawings on Draw Something!).

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Big love to all back home. Tom & Fi xxx