Roadtrip: San Francisco

Leaving Lake Tahoe brought us to the final stage of our honeymoon trip, which we were quite sad about! I slept a lot of the way in the car, so don’t remember an awful lot about the journey, but once we’d descended quite rapidly, the terrain and roads were quite similar to the roads we found coming out of Los Angeles.

When planning our route, we made sure that we were entering into San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge, because the views are apparently better as you enter San Francisco rather than looking at it from the city. The bridge involves a toll, which (at the time) was only $5, however it’s a bit like the Dart Charge or Congestion Charge in London- you’re supposed to register and pay in advance. Oops. We managed to cross it, but we had to log on later and sort the charge, otherwise it would have gone to our hire car company and they’d have charged us an admin fee. We stopped to take photos at two view points first- one below the bridge:

And one above the bridge:

This view point was ridiculously busy and it was tricky parking. The first one was really quiet, so we took our time there. Both are signposted as you approach the bridge.

Once across the bridge, we headed to the airport to drop off our hire car. There weren’t very many (if any) services on the way into San Francisco, so we should have planned ahead and brought a packed lunch. After we’d dropped the car off, we got the train from the airport to the city-centre ($17.50 for both of us) and then walked the short walk to our hotel- the Hilton just off Union Square.

Photo: Mileage at the end of our trip

You’d think being a Hilton, it would be a pretty good hotel. I wasn’t impressed- I found their staff rude and impatient. They were in the middle of a refurb, which meant that the normal places for breakfast were out of use, and the complicated tower/floor/room lift system was made even more complicated. I wouldn’t stay in this particular hotel again.

My husband has a friend who lived in San Francisco while we were there, so he took us out for dinner. It’s hard getting reservations in San Francisco and we weren’t sure when we were meeting him until pretty late in our trip, so we went to an English themed, quite well renowned restaurant- The Cavalier. The food was nice, it was just a bit weird consuming an American’s take on Pimm’s and fish pie!

Because breakfast was hard to come by in the hotel, we ventured out the next morning on an ‘epic adventure to find food’. I call it that because it really was difficult! My husband had found a few places near the hotel, but they were all takeouts, which weren’t ideal. We ventured out a few more blocks and still didn’t find anything. We headed to the mall, but it wasn’t open yet. Eventually, by some random fluke, we found a steak house which happened to sell waffles in the morning. It was very welcome by this point! San Francisco, we discovered, doesn’t have the same mentality to convenience eating as other cities in America, it’s a lot more fast paced and everything seemed to be takeout only.

After breakfast, we caught a tram (Cable Car) and headed towards Lombard Street. A local person gave us a tip about catching trams- everyone headed to queue for the turntable for the tram in the centre, and there was a massive queue. If you walk to the next stop up, which isn’t very far, the tram will stop and let 2 or 3 people on at a time, which made the maximum wait about 15 minutes. You can tell where tram stops are because they’re marked on the edge of the pavement. The trams were pretty inexpensive, but cash only, which you pay to the conductor while the tram is moving. It’s a little bit like a rollercoaster because of the hills, and, if you’re brave, you can hang off the outside. There are buses, but the trams are more fun, and tend to go to more of the tourist places. We couldn’t get off precisely at Lombard street, so we had to walk up one of the hills- very tiring!

Photo: Cable Car/Tram

Photo: travelling via cable car

Lombard Street is a road in SF which has lots of bends in it. It was good to say we’d seen it, but it wasn’t anything amazingly special! We then walked down the hill towards the Bay Area. By now it was about lunchtime, so we headed to Applebee’s for lunch, which had good views of the bay.

Photo: Lombard Street

Afterwards, we wandered along the bay front, looking in the shops, watching street performers and looking at Alcatraz. We tried to book Alcatraz 3 months before we travelled, but it was fully sold out. You have to book online before you go- there is very little chance you’ll be able to get a ticket if you just turn up, as some people start queueing at 5am(!) and there are only about 50 tickets on the day. It also depends on the weather as the ferries don’t run in very poor weather. Cruelly, lots of the tour bus companies were saying they could guarantee entrance to Alcatraz, which they couldn’t. It definitely felt a lot more tourist-trap like than in other places we’d been to. There were lots of free opportunities to learn about Alcatraz without going to the island though- we still learnt a lot about it while we were there.

Photo: Alcatraz from the Bay

We walked along the front towards the Golden Gate Bridge and took more photos. My husband was a bit obsessed with taking photos here, particularly of steep hills. I didn’t overly mind- I appreciated being able to sit down a lot.

Photo: Golden Gate Bridge from the Bay

In walking along the  bay front (look at the bay and head left), we managed to find Ghirardelli’s ice cream, which was amazing. There are 3 sites for you to look at- you definitely need to purchase something to eat, it was the best ice cream I’ve had!

Photo: Ghirardelli’s factory

We caught the tram back to the city, managing to bump into the same couple from Yorkshire we’d got on the tram with on the way to the bay. The cable broke (scary!) on the way back, so we ended up having to get off and walk the rest of the way, ending up walking through Union Square.

Photo: one of the many, steep hills in San Francisco

We went to the mall and had a look at the shops and ate in an Italian restaurant there. My husband, who studied Engineering at University, was fascinated by the escalators which curve and insists on me posting a photo.

Photo: curving escalators in the mall

The following day, we gave up any pretence of being able to walk for breakfast, so went upstairs to the hotel breakfast. It had spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and city from its panoramic restaurant, but you paid for it- $80 for breakfast!! We didn’t realise beforehand, otherwise we’d have gone somewhere else.

Photo: View from the Hilton Hotel Restaurant.

We decided to give the cable car queues a miss because there were major faults and delays today in the system- by this point I was struggling a lot, and walking constantly with breaks is a lot easier for me to manage than trying to stand for long, indefinite periods (to do with pacing myself). So my husband managed to find a mostly flat walk to the bay via China Town and other ‘towns’ within SF. It was quite a good walk, we saw a lot more of non-tourist SF than we would have done otherwise, and stopped regularly for drinks. There were a couple of steep hills, but it was mostly flat- I don’t know how he managed to find it! Once we got there, we saw the same Yorkshire couple as the day before!!

Photo: China Town

We had lunch at the Boudin Sourdough restaurant at the Bay, which is also a famous SF food. They have a factory there, showing you how they make the bread. We did a bit more walking and found an independent ice cream shop and had milkshake to cool off.

Photo: Boudin Sourdough Factory

Photo: Norman’s Ice Cream Parlour

There were lots of street performers at the Bay, some were really good. There was one who was really racist and no-one seemed to be remotely outraged by this and kept paying him. It made me realise that America still has a long way to go in terms of tolerance of other races and nationalities- he would not have got away with his comments in the UK.

We walked back to Union Square via the Financial District (and many Starbucks for pitstops). Again, this was mainly flat! We followed the Tsunami evacuation route (coincidentally) but both decided that if there were a tsunami, you’d pretty much die. SF had an earthquake about 2 days after we left, but no tsunami.

Photo: Heart in Union Square

Our flight was at 6am the following day, so we went to the Cheesecake Factory for dinner at about 4pm and had a really early night. We’d booked a transfer through the hotel, but they hadn’t done it properly. After a bit of arguing with the security man at 3am, we eventually were able to get another taxi.

Our flight on the way back connected via New York, so we had a bit more time in Newark airport. You can order food and drink via iPads which automatically keep you updated as to your flight departure time and gate without you telling it where you’re flying- clever but a bit stalker-ish. We were sad to be leaving America, but had crammed so much into our trip. Flying out of New York gave us glimpses of the Statue of Liberty, Times Square and the Empire State Building again.

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