1 Day in San Francisco:
It was a bizarre welcome to San Francisco. Getting off the bus at Union Square and walking down Powell Street at 6pm was like walking through the film set of 28 Days Later; destitute, broken souls roaming aimlessly with cold turkey eyes. We were warned about this by someone on the train, but we didn’t expect to walk straight into it all. The air was thick and cold, mist and bruised cloud lurked, threatening to burst at any moment. The street was dirty and steep, our legs numb from 52 hours of cessation on the Amtrak California Zephyr (Read here), giving their all to pull our belongings along. The sound of loud music suddenly thumped - a rude awakening as we reached the front doors of the Encore Express Hotel. ‘Hotel’ was a stretch; it’s a ‘hostel’ at best. Also a recording studio. The bans in session when we arrived will not make it. Trust me. The steep staircase to reception had the eye-stinging aroma of cat piss. Our room was big and open; shared bathrooms had burglar bars and the long halls lined with young travellers nursing headaches from the night before. The toilet doors have to be knocked on before entering using a swipecard. I don’t care how express it is, we won’t be having an encore of this place. We sought out a cafe selling artisanal cakes, wraps and coffee; the only eatery that seemed inviting and actually open. Young students sat in the back of the room sucking up the free internet. At last; food and drink. No train food, no zombies asking for money and no thrash metal rattling the room.
The next day, we woke very early to make our way to the famous Golden Gate Bridge. Our intention was to go and see the world famous Alcatraz first, but unfortunately, a Google search told us that tickets need to be booked weeks in advance. And we were not going to wait in line at 4am to then be possibly told that the day was sold out. So, instead we viewed it from a distance, as we fooled around on the beach waiting for cafes to open for breakfast.
It is a bit of a walk from the hotel to the bridge - 1 hour 30 mins. Or you can catch the bus (28mins) taking the 30,70 or the 101 from Van Ness Ave & Sutter St. It’s worth getting out as early as possible, whether it’s summer or winter, the weather in San Francisco is so unpredictable. One minute the sun is beaming gloriously, the next it’s windy, drizzly and freezing. I was shocked at how cold it was. So much for getting rid off my lily-white/off-grey English skin tone. Don’t be fooled though, even through the thin clouds, on a cold day, you can get burnt. Especially if you’re as translucent as us. I found out the hard way when I took my leggings off at the end of the day to discover the most embarrassing burn lines. They were there for weeks. HAHA! The walk to the bridge is really beautiful. As you pass the dock, the ocean, herons, dog walkers being pulled along by 10 excitable pups and joggers kitted out in extraordinarily fashionable get-ups, you get a feeling of real San Francisco flashing by.
But don’t forget to fill your gut with a bit of breakfast before reaching the bridge, because there is NOTHING to eat around it. Thank goodness for Toast on Church Street; a proper old school diner with retro stools, the smell of coffee filling the air and well cooked breakfast standards… hello my old pick-me-up friend…after devouring some delicious omelettes, it was off to the bridge with us.
Just by the bridge, the pavements are predictably chocker-full of tourists taking luxuriant, all-pouting selfies. Instagram must be awash with trout-lipped Golden Gate selfies. A gift shop sells all sorts of overpriced tat masquerading as artistic souvenir, and gulls swoop above the scene. Even the chilly breeze couldn’t ruin this holiday feel - there’s something 1950’s picture postcard about it, especially as the tram drops off the excited children and oldies ready to tick something off their bucket lists.
By the side of the bridge, the old rusty cast iron chains add that maritime shabby chic feel; the sense that time has worn on this ole bridge. Clouds above move at the speed of light, concealing, then revelling the huge frame of the bridge. It’s actually irritating. One minute you can see it, the next it’s smothered in mist.
The walk up to the bridge is steep but just as intoxicating as the bridge itself…
Here’s our 360º video, to give you a taste of what it’s like to be on Golden Gate Bridge. Click and drag, or tilt your iPad or smartphone in any direction to view.
Once the bridge, the tranquility is soon broken by swarming daytrippers, locals dodging the tour groups and cyclists buzzing past with attitude, children yanking on their parents arms, screaming for yet another ice cream. It’s actually hard to find somewhere to stop and look at the thing.
You’re always in someone’s way. And then there are the warning signs - do not to jump! Call this number…maybe some of the jumpers are just frustrated tourists. When you can find a spot, the views bring you back to peace. Breathing in the clouds as you watch San Francisco from a birds’ eye view, the ocean below appears still, quiet, the only ripples are provoked by the wake of boats whizzing past hundreds of metres under your feet.
After the excitement of Goldie, the next thing on the to do list is to find some grub. We’d highly recommend Squat and Gobble. They have an extensive menu, and their Huevos Rancheros was a gourmet gutbusting interpretation of some of the Mexican versions we’ve had since.
It’s then around a 14 min walk to ‘’The Palace of Fine Arts’’; a monument that makes you feel as though you’re walking into ancient Rome. Except it’s situated in a very affluent sort of area with dainty little highly priced houses. The reflecting water and green gardens that surround the structure provide a beautiful place for meditation and family picnics alike.
It’s a hard scene to describe due to it’s unique nature, so watch this 360º video to get a real sense of what it’s like to be there. Click and drag or tilt your, iPad or SmartPhone in any direction to view.
We then made our way to Pier 39. If you’re up for the exercise…it’s a beautiful walk along the beach from the Golden Gate/Palace of Fine Arts area, but it does take 50 mins or so. Or you could catch the bus from Richardson Ave & Francisco St (12 mins). As we strolled through Fisherman’s Wharf - a heavily touristed mish-mash of fish restaurants and tacky electronics stores, we saw a strange Englishman perform all sorts of body contortions for whoever wanted to stop and watch (and then contribute). We were on the look out from the famous Californian Seal Lions, I’d been told hundreds liked to gather at K-dock, sunning their flabby bodies while the waves wobble their jelly. Quite a spectacle I imagine, but that’s all I can do, imagine. We were greeted with just two snoozing Californian Sea Lions, with the backdrop of a grey sky and loads of empty floating structures made to accommodate a higher volume of seals. Two seals? COME ON, life. At least we got to see something, it is nature after all. The others must have been tending to important business I expect, while these two tokens were left to laze about like blobs of wobbly old fat.
Pier 39 was like walking through a cheap fairground (although we’d argue it’s a rather expensive fairground), with shops selling all sorts of nonsense - including ‘the world’s first ever magnet shop’. Thrilling. People bang around you clumsily and loud music blears from literally everywhere. It was nothing short of atrocious. Maybe different if you’ve got kids who want flashing lights and distractions aplenty, but we couldn’t wait to get off this boardwalk of pain and into a bar. And that’s exactly what we did.
The first place we saw just so happened to be Jacks Cannery Bar. The cavernous atmosphere was electric; buzzing with laughter and conjecture in the darkness of an alcoholic hideaway at just 3pm in the afternoon. A local played his guitar in the corner, while people sipped on all sorts of craft and draft beers from a ludicrously massive selection of 68 different types, all on tap. We had a pint of each one of them. Not really. We enjoyed a couple, including the odd shot. With just one day in San Francisco, one can’t help but indulge a little.
Walking away from Pier 39, we moved through touristy tack to quieter, more residential climes as we made our way to Coit Tower. Still a little warm and tingly from the booze, we had more tolerance for crowds but not the constitution for hills. Which there were plenty of. San Francisco is built on 43 hills. Do the math. We were forced by nature into a pitstop at a great little cafe called ‘901 Columbus Cafe’. It’s only a 25 min walk from Pier 39 to the tower, but our feet were singing. The Coit could wait…as the next thing to tempt us was an Italian just down the road. ‘The Italian Homemade Company’, with their promise of cheap yet delicious pastas, sucked us in and plenty of locals (San Francisco peoples love to line up for good food. They love a line). Drinks… Check, Dinner…. Check… now we were ready to tackle those hills again.
From there it’s a 15 min walk up to Coit Tower, and when I say up, I really mean up. People here must have buns of steels. I’m jealous of those Bay Area rumps. However, the views were fantastic, and we weren’t even at the tower yet.
Unfortunately we got up to the tower too late to actually go up it (blame: beer and pasta) But the views were impressive anyway, especially as the sun started dunking its way yellow-gold into the frothy mist that had swallowed the bridge.
As we made our way back down from the tower, the sunset went extraordinary - before the a calm warmth, sky smeared blood orange, we enjoyed the heat from the suns last rays.
Watching the sky collapse in on itself, a golden hue hugged the outline of everything it touched. Silence filled the air with a peace that only mother nature can provide.
The last moments of our short day in San Francisco was dreamy, and memories that we will keep in our hearts.
Click here to read: 1 day in Chicago…. or click to watch our 4 minute mini travel guide: 1 day in San Francisco.