The last stop-off on our amazing Trek America trip was San Francisco – one of the cities I’d been most excited about visiting. From the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz, there was so much I’d been looking forward to, and I ended up discovering even more. With just 48 hours in the city, it was all systems go on packing in as much as possible – here are some of my highlights…
1 | The Golden Gate Bridge
Starting off with a pretty obvious one – the very first thing we did after the drive from Yosemite to San Francisco was head to the Golden Gate Bridge, one of San Fran’s most iconic sights. Hopping out of the van, we took full advantage of the ridiculously photogenic views while strolling across the bridge. It took way longer to walk across than I was expecting – about 40 minutes, but that might have been due to a LOT of stopping along the way to admire the views.
After the walk, we took a quick drive in the van to an amazing vantage point to look down on the bridge from the cliffs along the bay, and took our last group photos with a pretty INCREDIBLE backdrop. It may have been the end of our Trek America adventure, but there was still plenty of fun to be had in San Fran…
2 | A Homely Hotel
After we’d walked the iconic Golden Gate bridge, it was time to head to our last hotel and for our Trek to come to an end. Cue lots of hugs and goodbyes and sad times (although a few of us were staying in San Fran and met up over the next few days, which was awesome). I loved The Good Hotel as soon as we walked through the entrance and saw a giant photo wall of previous guests – unfortunately, the photobooth that used to be in the lobby is now gone, but looking through previous traveller’s photos made me feel like I was part of something pretty awesome. And the cute little message board of ‘things to do during your stay’ definitely warmed my heart a little.
I had a twin room to myself, and it was lovely – big windows with wooden shutters, a really comfy bed and a BATHTUB. Obviously, I treated myself to a warm bath and an episode of The Night Manager before heading out for evening exploration and dinner. The whole hotel is eco-friendly, and has free bike hire in the lobby as well as use of the pool facilities at the Best Western across the street.
The only downside of the Good Hotel is that it isn’t far from the edge of the Tenderloin area, which means that the nearby Mid-Market few blocks can feel a little intimidating for those not used to city life. There are a lot of homeless people, but I still felt safe and as long as you go about your business and avoid gawping, I found the whole area to be perfectly harmless. Personally, I quite enjoyed gaining an understanding the more ‘real’ side of San Francisco – like any city, not everywhere’s sunshine and rainbows and shiny tourist attractions. Although, with Uber being so darn cheap in the US, I’d recommend getting a cab back to the hotel late at night.
3 | Alcatraz Island
One of the most obvious ‘to do’s in San Francisco is a visit to Alcatraz Island – I actually have a full post coming on this, so won’t say too much here but it was one of my highlights of the entire trip. Make sure you book in advance though, as it’s very hard to get tickets on the day, especially during peak times.
4 | Fish and Chips on Pier 39
Fisherman’s Wharf, and in particular Pier 39, is one of the major tourist areas and somewhere a ‘seasoned’ traveller would probably sneer at slightly. But I say, GO THERE. In the blazing hot sunshine that we lucked out with, I loved looking out over the sea and walking past what seemed like millions of boats sitting the the harbour. The vibrant shops and eateries are a colourful feast for the eyes – and while I was there, I couldn’t not grab a fish and chip lunch!
I’d read on a few blogs that despite its name, Fisherman’s Wharf isn’t the best place for seafood – but with no WiFi to look up other spots on Yelp and a rumbing stomach, I popped into Fog Harbour Fish House for a table for one.
Fog Harbour Fish House is a really nice restaurant space – with clean decor featuring touches of the nautical and huge windows looking out over the bay. I went pretty simple with my order – Anchor Steam beer battered fish with french fries and coleslaw. The fish was really well-battered, nice and crispy, and the fries were cooked brilliantly. The portion size was just right to fill me up, and I was definitely impressed with Fog Harbour’s service and food. Some of the dishes were quite pricey and it wouldn’t really suit as an everyday lunch spot – but for my last full day on holiday, I was pretty happy to eat here.
5 | Sweet Treats
After my lunch, I was totally open to the idea of dessert – luckily, I stumbled across Fudge House, aka THE HOUSE OF SWEET SUGARY WONDER, and picked up one of their chocolate covered Oreos. Despite it almost melting in the time it took to take this photograph, it was probably one of the yummiest chocolate-based things I’d had all trip. Definitely worth a browse and for picking up some sweet souvenirs – I defy you not to eat them all before the plane lands on Heathrow runway, though.
6 | San Francisco Dungeons
I pretty much have no good pictures from this because a) you obviously aren’t allowed to take pictures inside and b) I didn’t originally intend to blog about it. Just this one I took in the toilets, planning to print it out and hang it over my loo for when boys are round.
Usually, chain-style tourist attractions aren’t my bag when I’m travelling – why would I bother looking at waxworks of celebrities I’m not at all interested in that I could probably see in London, Madame Tussaud? However, anything horror-based totally draws me in, and I LOVED the London Dungeons when I went there for a pretty awesome second date a couple of years ago. So I thought I’d give the San Fran version a go. Because, if anything, turning off my camera and phone for a bit is pretty healthy.
Turns out, the actual setup in terms of room layouts, etc, is pretty similar to the London experience, but with San Fran stories instead, obviously. I befriended a nice American lady whose sons wouldn’t come in with her (they were 17 and 19…pfft), and really enjoyed getting my jump-scare kicks and the fun performances. It only takes about an hour, so didn’t cut into my day too much, and it fed my irrational desire to always do things that are a little bit terrifying.
7 | Record Store Rummaging
As a music lover, despite not actually owning a record player, I love flipping through vinyl and the atmosphere of independent record stores. I stumbled upon Grooves during a mega-walk up Market Street, and just had to dive in for a rummage about inside.
Although a lot of the music on offer wasn’t my usual listening choices, I found the worn covers and well-loved records such fun to look at. I didn’t actually pick anything up and wish I’d had the chance to check out Ameoba Records on Haight St. too, but there’s something about record stores that just make the music fan in me incredibly joyful.
8 | Street Art
Who doesn’t love a bit of street art? Sometimes, one of the best (and free) things you can do in a city is just walking around. Getting lost, taking in the sights – and that’s what I did with my last afternoon, taking my aforementioned mammoth stroll up Market Street, towards The Castro district. On the way, I took in some incredible street art – from intricate murals like the Carnation Mush wall, to simpler, cartoon-like imagery – and a really intriguing fence covered in marble-painted padlocks. Who needs Paris and love dedications when you have funky colours, right?
9 | The Castro District
By the end of my walking, I was pretty sweaty and I was convinced my glutes had basically turned into Beyoncé’s, so my final destination was the Castro district. One of the first gay neighborhoods in the United States, I just had to check out the famous Rainbow Crosswalk. Particularly in the wake of recent events in Orlando, LGBT+ communities are such important spaces for cities to have, and the Castro felt so welcoming and diverse. I’m quite sad I didn’t get to spend more time here, as it was just lovely.
The people in the Castro were really friendly too – when I heard an ‘Excuse me, miss’ from a front porch on a quiet street, the cynical Londoner in me was ready to scurry off. But the US had obviously softened me to, y’know, actual interaction with strangers, and I turned round and said hello to a smiling man in baggy jeans and a bright t-shirt, who proceeded to compliment me on my hair colour and tell me to have a nice day. Amazing.
10 | Dinner and Drinks in Little Italy
After a tram ride back to the hotel and a shower, I jumped in an Uber to go and meet some of my fellow Trek family for dinner and drinks on my last night. In the US, UberPool is a pretty popular option, and I got chatting to my Irish taxi buddy on the journey. It turned out we were headed to the same place. Which isn’t THAT weird, as USA Hostels is a pretty popular destination.
After we said our goodbyes and headed in, I met up with one of the girls from my trip and we were standing outside waiting for another companion, when Mr Irish Uber man came out. I said hello…and so did my friend. Turns out, they’d been on the same tour down under a few months back. SMALL WORLD EH? And then it got even smaller…our other friend turned up in a taxi, and immediately recognised him from a completely different trip. Seriously! It’s amazing how small the world of travel is, really…
Amused by our discovery, we headed to Little Italy for dinner and to meet our Aussie and Swedish Trekker pals. We were sold on Mona Lisa restaurant by the exterior alone, and the interior was equally well-decorated. Unfortunately, the pictures I took just don’t do it justice. We drank wine and ate some rather tasty pizza, chatting away about our days exploring San Fran.
For a round of final drinks before I headed home the next day, we stumbled upon Vesuvio Cafe. I didn’t realise at the time, but it’s actually quite a well-known historical bar, which was frequented by the likes of Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan and Francis Ford Coppola. When it comes to bar decor, I like my watering holes with busy walls, character and a great atmosphere – Vesuvio ticked all the boxes.
The next morning, I had to say goodbye to what had definitely become my favourite US city. I packed my bags, printed my boarding pass and grabbed some breakfast at Dottie’s True Blue Cafe, before heading to Sephora to grab some supplies (Kat Von D’s Tattoo Eyeliner is a thing of wonder) and hopping on a train to SF airport.
Despite only spending 48 hours in San Francisco, I’d fallen for its charms, diversity and vibe. I’d enjoyed the buzz of LA and Vegas, but San Fran felt like the place I’d want to make my home if I found myself living in the States. Honestly, I’d have loved to have spent another day or two here – but it gives me all the more reason to go back one day, right?!
Have you been to San Fran? What were your favourite parts?
Thinking of taking your own US trip? Here’s ten things you should know about Trek America!
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