Save the best till last. With California we did. It has been the best of all the states. It seems strange to group all the versatility of the golden state into one collective. Our 3 week here travelling through their various micro climates has been great. We also couldn’t have asked for a more enjoyable city to explore than San Francisco – with its incredible colourful buildings lining the streets ascending and descending the steep hills – to finish our tour of California and our 90 days in the USA. Now on a bus heading for LA we began an approximate 28 hour journey to Fiji at 6.20 am this morning.
Having meticulously planned getting to the Vallejo Ferry Terminal after our 2 days in the Napa Valley, the 12pm boat we wanted to catch had mechanical failures and so they were laying on coaches to drive you across the bay bridge into San Francisco. We were now faced with two options, wait for the 2pm Ferry in the next door coffee shop or leave there and then but miss the chance of a boat ride. We went with the former, and both glad we did, we spent the two hours planning our 4 days in San Francisco and the views from the Ferry of the bay, the city, the bridges and even Alcatraz island were definitely worth the wait.
There are apparently government limits on how Airbnb operates in San Francisco, ironic since this is where it’s based! So we settled into to a hostel right in the centre of town which was convenient. As we’ve found throughout the trip, they’re not actually as cheap as you might expect (especially when you’re paying for two beds) so we chose a 4 bed mixed dorm for our 5 night stay. We shared with a bloke from India and a girl from Germany when we arrived, both said they were leaving the next day (nothing to do with us I hope!) Anyway we got back after our first day exploring the city to a room to ourselves but also a blocked sink! We reported it to reception and they promptly apologised and upgraded us to a private room, still in bunk beds but no more awkward good nights or good mornings! It also meant relocating from the 6th to the 2nd floor which was perhaps even more welcome than the privacy. The “breakfast included” with our room rate actually turned out to be a big communal vat of pancake mix placed in the kitchen from 6.30 until 9am and so, over the course of 4 mornings, our pancake cooking ability has greatly improved. That’s what travelling is about right? Broadening horizons? Perhaps not quite what we had in mind, but I will never cook pancakes again without heating and greasing a pan first!
The good weather finally ended on our first evening in San Francisco and the heavens opened, the rain continued though the night but had thankfully stopped by the time we woke up although the notoriously foggy/overcast conditions remained. We set about exploring the urban architecture which it amazingly offset by the bay area’s rolling hills. Despite the dreary weather, the colours from all the buildings shone brightly as did the tiled steps that we climbed up to get a glimpse of the city from above. There’s no need to pay money to go up a tall building in this lovely city, just climb up one of the many hills!
Throughout our stay we hopped on and hung off the iconic cable car railway as it rolled up and over the hill that stood between us and the northern coast of San Francisco. Yet more versatility for the count. With only 3 routes left in the city and each car only running about every 10 minutes, holding probably only 30-40 people the queue at the bottom was always pretty long. We managed to find a bit of a work around for this though as they weren’t filling the car at the start of each route instead leaving space for people to get on en route. Some time we could walk only 100m and get on at the first stop by passing a 60 minute wait. #LivingLikeALocal. The views down the roads during the ride were really spectacular especially when you caught a glimpse of the bay or a bridge. The rest of the time, like the child I am, I just enjoyed the novelty of hanging off a moving vehicle.
Vintage cable cars aside, the Bay Area’s main attraction is the Golden Gate Bridge. The city offers stunning views of it from almost half of its 3 sided coast line and so we took full advantage. San Francisco is one of the few places that has a (UK inspired) Parkrun, and what better place to host it than pretty much under the the bridge. Despite the terrential downpour we arrived at the 9am start time to chat to some of the other runners. Suzanne’s Woodford Green vest attracted attention from someone claiming that was where he went to school. Turned out that he had lived in San Francisco for 25 years but had emigrated from east london, where he grew up on the same street as me! All be it 30 years before I was there, but small world eh? Laying the gastroenteritis deamons from the Washington Parkrun to rest, despite going slightly off course I ran much better and set a course record (on account of the days course being the used for the first time.) The weather meant it was run fast or freeze/drown and to be honest, once we turned back on ourselves and could no longer see the bridge I just wanted to get it done ASAP!
We’d planned our proper sight seeing trips to the bridge on day with better weather forecast. Fortunately the prediction were correct and we had glorious sunshine to walk the coastal path from Lands End to the bridge welcome centre watching as the huge red suspension bridge got closer. The back drop off the beautiful landscape made for some beautiful scenery and some incredible photos. As we walked round the cliffs and down onto a beach under bridge we stopped for a bit of a rest to take in the views. We ended the walk at the welcome centre where there is an outdoor exhibition explaining how the bridge was built, how it survives the weather and why it was designed the way it is.
Having got closer and closer to the bridge as the week went on it was only right that we eventually crossed it! We hired bikes and headed out of the city via the bridge to Muir Woods, a National Park National Monument north of San Francisco with some very tall redwood trees. It was a 35 mile cycle round trip up some quite steep hills. Quite a tough cycle on hardly the lightest bikes but the views throughout the trip were great as was the forest for a little explore and a picnic stop. We also got some lovely views of the city from across the bay and the bridge and of course got to look up at the iconic towers which were just a bit taller than the trees (although not by much!)
Away from the bridge we walked from the top of one of the many hills down Lombard street to the seafront and the San Francisco piers. Lombard Street is too steep for cars so they had to zigzag the road down the hill! We walked down the pedestrian steps thankful that we decided to check it out from the top and not the bottom. When we got to the sea the abundance of souvenir shops was understandable given the number of people swarming around the piers. Alongside the shop and restaurants the pier has platforms reserved for wild sea lions to bath in the sun during the day. There were loads of them, chilling out, getting annoyed at each other and fighting for the best spot to lie and generally not caring one bit about us humans watching from the side or the boats floating past. Lads. It did illustrate just how eclectic the city is: a financial district and wild sea lions within a mile of each other. And perhaps that why it was so fun!
The only thing we might have done differently was the timing of where we visited that would have saved us from a days drive to LA immediately before a red eye flight. But hindsight is a wonderful thing. At least the hostel gave me a chance to swap my book, and the new one has started well. Perhaps with such a lot of travelling time to come followed by two days on a beach it won’t take me 2 months to finish this one!