Back in April, I went on a Californian adventure with my family, who initially took a lot of convincing until I said that I would plan everything. We flew to San Francisco and stayed there for 2 nights, before continuing down the Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles. There is so much to see and do in San Francisco, so more than 2 nights is ideal, but if that’s all that you have then it’s still an adequate amount of time to explore Fog City. Here’s what we managed to squeeze in:
Alcatraz held some of America’s most notorious criminals until it was closed in 1963, and was well known for being inescapable. After its closure, Alcatraz was briefly occupied by Native Americans, who were planning to make it into an ‘American Indian Cultural Centre’, however this did not happen. The island was taken over by the National Parks Service and opened to the public in 1973. You can reach the island by the Eco-Friendly Alcatraz Cruises boat, from Pier 33.
I cannot recommend going to Alcatraz enough. For your ticket money, you get return travel on the boat, the best audio guide that I’ve ever listened to for inside the prison (and this is coming from someone who generally has a strong dislike for audio guides), access to the beautiful gardens and stunning views of Downtown San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area has done an incredible job of creating an engaging way to tell you the history of the island and penitentiary, whilst also keeping it in an excellent condition. I would suggest getting the earliest boat that you can, in order to beat the crowds once you get to the island.
For more information, visit alcatrazcruises.com
Coit Tower is a 64m high tower located in Pioneer Park, that you can take a lift to the top of for a small fee. The ground floor of it is free to enter and contains brightly coloured murals that depict the history of San Francisco, California and the US in general. Once you have reached the top of the tower, you will have 360-degree views of the entirety of San Francisco and its surrounding area; the tower itself can also be seen looming over the city from many places. From the top it is easy to see just how hilly the city is, and how this hasn’t stopped people from building their world-famous houses.
You can either walk up to the tower entrance through Pioneer Park, or you can take a bus. For more information on the Tower, click here.
Lombard Street is famous for being ‘the most crooked street in the world’, with 8 sharp turns squeezed into one block. This was made to reduce the impact of the steepness of the hill that the block is located on, which you can only drive downwards on.
It’s an incredibly touristy area, but I don’t think any trip to San Francisco is complete until you have witnessed tourists driving down the street, hanging out of the sunroofs of their rental cars with selfie sticks poised for action. The beautiful houses that line the street are unmissable, along with the views of Coit Tower from the top of the hill.
You can reach Lombard Street on foot, or you can take the Powell-Hyde cable car.
Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge, which actually looks more orange than golden, can be spotted from many different places in San Francisco – that is, unless it’s hidden by the fog. The bridge itself is awe-inspiring, partly because of its fame and partly because of it’s elegant design. Once you catch a glimpse of it between two buildings, you have to stop for a moment to admire it. It connects San Francisco with Marin County, and is actually a part of Highway 101 (aka the Pacific Coast Highway), so it’s where our road trip officially began.
There are many ways to access the bridge, and whether you are driving, cycling or walking across it, then there are parking lots at both sides of the bridge where you can get great pictures from.
For more information, visit goldengate.org
Once we arrived after our 11 hour flight, we headed straight for Fisherman’s Wharf. It was a Sunday evening on a beautiful day, and it was absolutely crammed with tourists. I felt the same panic and claustrophobia that I felt in Times Square because of the people going in all directions and honestly, it left a bad taste in my mouth.
However, we returned early the next morning on the walk to Pier 33 and later in the afternoon, and I could appreciate it much more once it was a calmer Monday. One of my highlights was the Musée Mécanique, which contains antique penny arcade games, and is great for any fans of The Princess Diaries movies – it contains the arm wrestling machine from the first movie!
Pier 39 is also great if you’re a fan of sea lions – they can be found basking in the sun most days and enjoying the attention of the tourists. There is also the world famous Boudin Bakery, where fresh sourdough bread is made daily which can be bought to take-out, or can be eaten in the café (amongst other things).
For more information, visit fishermanswharf.org
Ghirardelli Square can be found at the end of Fisherman’s Wharf. Just before you get to Ghirardelli Square you will find a cable car turnaround, which is where the cable car line ends, and the car is turned back around to go in the opposite direction; it’s actually a very interesting process, especially if you’re new to the whole cable car thing. Once you actually get to the Square, there is an array of local shops and restaurants, and of course a huge Ghirardelli Chocolate store and café to fulfil all of your chocolate needs (I highly recommend the milkshakes). There are some great views of Golden Gate Bridge too (TIP: get there at sunset to get some breathtaking pictures of the Bridge).
For more information, visit ghirardellisq.com
These are the main things that we managed to squeeze into our short but sweet time in San Francisco. There is so much more in this city of sloping streets, cable cars and bright buildings to see and do, and I plan on returning ASAP to see them all!
How would you spend a few days in San Francisco?