From the emergence of the flower power generation in the 60s, to the 21st century’s electronic revolution in Silicon Valley; from the home of Mrs Doubtfire, to Alcatraz, America’s most infamous prison. San Francisco is one of those places that is inexplicably part of social consciousness; everyone has heard of it, and everyone wants to go. It is also, arguably, the coolest city in California (sorry LA).
We spent only a brief time here whilst blasting through Cali up to Yosemite National Park. Of course, you could spend weeks in this vibrant city and not run out of things to do, but unfortunately time was not on our side. So, here is everything we managed to cram into our 36 hours:
Fancy seeing a bunch of wild sea lions sunbathing? Of course you do. Go to Pier 39, full of tourists, expensive food, tacky souvenirs, but totally worth it to see a load of blubbery sea lions clambering over each other to get the best sun spot.
The Painted Ladies
There are few cities in the world in which something as simple as resident housing so encompasses its identity. San Francisco is one of them; you simply can’t visualise San Fran without its beautiful houses on mind-blowing steep streets. ‘The Painted Ladies’ is an affectionate name for a row of houses on Steiner Street. They have that quintessentially San Franciscan ice-cream colour and ornate style. We’re not entirely sure why these houses in particular are such a big deal as almost every house in the area is equally beautiful. But whether or not you want to go out of your way to see the Painted Ladies themselves, you really must take a stroll around the residential areas- they are truly iconic.
The Painted Ladies
More beautiful San Franciscan houses
Another icon. Lombard street is a perilously windy, and really rather beautiful, road in residential San Francisco. With a gaggle of tourists at the top and bottom, craning over each other to take pictures, and people inching their way down in their cars, it really is a sight to behold. We did brave the drive, and came out unscathed- but others are not so lucky, so drive carefully or your paintwork may suffer!
The Castro District is known for its links with the LGBT community and Gay Pride events. For us, this was a must-see spot. It’s a really vibrant part of the city, with huge murals of Harvey Milk -California’s first openly gay elected official and LGBT martyr- painted on the side of buildings, and rainbow coloured crosswalks directing your way to sex shops, book shops and bars.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is home to the largest Chinese community outside of Asia and is the largest of its kind in North America. It has a regrettable history due to California’s anti-Chinese laws, forcing the city’s Chinese population into what was essentially a ghetto. These days though, it is a vibrant place with amazing shops, restaurants and bars and, of course, beautiful Chinese architecture. Chinatown is a core part of San Francisco and an important part of Californian history. It is, in our opinion, a must-see!
Oh, and Golden Gate Bridge
Of course. There’s nothing like seeing an iconic piece of infrastructure. It’s as exciting as seeing a celebrity in the flesh, except instead of getting an autograph and a selfie, you get to pay $7.50 to drive over it. But in all seriousness, you simply can’t visit San Francisco without seeing Golden Gate. After driving over it, we went to the bottom of Fort Point and got a great view:
View from Fort Point
Honourable mentions and pointers:
Before we left San Fran, we stopped by ‘The Mill’ for breakfast. On the surface it seems crazy to be paying $6 for toast, but trust us, it is so much more than toast. It is delicious bready perfection. And their coffee’s not too bad either.
One last thing- Why why why is San Francisco so cold?! Mark Twain apparently once said ‘the coldest winter I ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco’. Mark, we totally get you. Everywhere in California was about 10°c warmer than San Francisco. We went from wearing shorts and flip flops then crossed the San Francisco border and out came the wooly jumpers. So, word to the wise- if you plan on visiting, bring a jumper or two!
San Francisco, it was truly a pleasure. We will be coming back, and we will be spending more than 36 hours next time!