Tuesday, 22 September 2015

San Francisco | Stop One | Travel

Road Trip West Coast USA | Stop One | San Francisco
For my dads 50th my mum planned an amazing tour of the West Coast USA, and (a fair while later, I have put all the varying stops into some blog posts for you to check out!)
Stop one on our road trip of the West Coast was none other than San Francisco, and in all honesty I wasn't quite sure what to expect. The only preconception I had formed, was pieced together from endless films watching the city of San Francisco being destroyed (seriously though, what is up with that?!) and, of course, originated from religiously watching The Princess Diaries. Back in the day when I was absolutely determined I had been born into the wrong family, and my true parents were royalty, sitting out on a tropical island somewhere, waiting for me to come back to them. Yeah, seriously. Don't pretend like you haven't dreamt the same thing.
I have always considered that the best way of travelling; arrive at a country with limited knowledge/expectations and you're bound to be blown away/pleasantly surprised. Clearly, you reading this, have either already visited San Fran, or don't agree with me and are trying to gain some background knowledge- fair enough. That's why I write for you lovely folks.
So, in a summary for you all, I would describe San Francisco as Brighton, but really big, like, on steroids big. Obviously, this will only make sense to you Brits, that have ventured to the icy waters of our South Coast. So, for those of you who are all, 'Brighton what now?!'- basically, it has a very laid back vibe, very large gay community, hippys scattered everywheeeere (not joking- it's hard to differentiate between them and the homeless people, especially on Hait Street). And you will, most likely, be able to smell a certain 'herb' down nearly every street- you know the herb I'm on about.
But there is more to this city than it's peace loving, easy going vibes. It is easily the most culturally diverse city I have ever been in, especially with it having the largest Chinese population outside of Asia. That's mental. Definitely check out China Town if you have the time- I hear the food is increeeedible. Unfortunately we didn't get the chance to swing by there, there is just way too much to do!

Our Itinerary 

We arrived in this lovely city at around 5pm on the 8th July, 14 hour flight completed (in complete luxury nonetheless) feeling jet lagged out of our minds after no sleep for around 32 hours. We dragged ourselves to a Mel's diner just around the corner- gotta love a good hamburger and milkshake on a jet lagged tummy. No shame in saying we ate, checked into our hotel and completely conked out ready for the day of exploring to come.
We stayed in a rather nice hotel, Hotel Zelos, by union square, it was quirky and lovely and the restaurant (Dirty Habit) did the yummiest breakfast. It was a stones throw from the end of the cable car line (Powel-Manson Line) it was surrounded by shops & nestled right in the centre of all the restaurants. You could walk out the hotel and keep walking right in a straight line (everywhere in america is straight) for around 20 minutes, but don't worry, no hills this way- how very surprising for San Francisco. And end up by the coast where the Bay Bridge touches shore. (restaurant reccomendation here!)
The way I see it, there's really two places that you want to be staying at if you're being a classic tourist in this lovely city, firstly, around Union Square where we were based, great for you shopaholics and city lovers, or, and if I'm quite honest, personal preference would have placed me better here, down by Fishermans Wharf.
We spent 5 days in San Francisco which was absolutely enough time for us, and with hindsight we would have perhaps cut down time spent here and spent longer at (my favourite place in the entire world) Yosemite. We got tour bus tickets because, whenever arriving in a new city I always think it's nice to get a bus around to get an over all feel of a city and pick out the bits you want to explore further. 
9th July- First day, we strolled (definitely more like hiked) from Union Square to Fishermans Wharf through the outskirts of China Town. We picked up our tickets for the tour bus and took the first bus out across the Golden Gate Bridge. After doing our fantastic modelling poses on the cable cars.
 By the way- weather was awful. Low lying clouds apparently, not rain, either way my hair was soaked.. I do love a cheeky tour bus even when the weather is dire, and I have to say the tour guides were hilarious. The views from the Golden Gate Bridge were literally just clouds upon clouds upon clouds so later on in the week we decided to make the same trip when the weather was a little brighter.
After a few hours cruising around the area of The Golden Gate Bridge, we found ourselves soaked, freezing our butts off and wondering why we had got on a plane for 14 hours to revel in the delights of a weather forecast much gloomier than back home in rainy England. And in need of some cheering up we opted for a big meal at one of the many restaurants lurking around Fisherman's Wharf. The good thing about San Francisco is, wherever you eat it is bound to be amazing, all the seafood is unbelievably fresh and boy oh boy, you can taste the difference.
Dad loving his crab bib.
We rounded off our first day taking the second tour bus route through downtown and then jumping off at Pier 39 to, surprise surprise, find some Sea Lions. There were signs leading up to the viewing dock saying that due to breeding season we were unlikely to see any of these cute little blubber butts. But they totally knew we were coming and saw not one but four of these little (big) cuties.
After much shopping (basically trying on loads of ridiculous hats) we were collectively shattered so caught the cable car back to our hotel.
10th July- Today was Alcatraz day. And if you're ever planning to get to Alcatraz when visiting San Francisco, book well in advance. It gets busy very quickly and the only way we managed to secure tickets was through the company we did the tour bus with. We caught the cable car and headed down to Fisherman's Wharf again and had a stroll amongst all the old boats docked up before meandering over to pier 33 to catch our boat from the mainland to The Rock armed with ice cream.
 Alcatraz smells so bad first off. There's no sewage connection and you can tell this before you've even trod a foot on the island. But bad smells aside, it is well worth a visit, jam packed full of history, not just as a maximum security prison but also as a military fort and a site of a Native American occupation.
After trekking round Alcatraz for hours walking in the footsteps of convicts such as Al Capone and the Birdman, we headed back to shore and hiked up and down endless hills on the hunt of the famous Lombard Street. It was a super trek, but it makes you feel less guilty about stuffing your face with all the American goodness.

11th July- Next stint on the tour bus, we took it out of the busy streets of central San Francisco through the Golden Gate Park along Baker beach and by the Sutro Baths and the Cliff House. It was so beautiful and interesting to see the old architecture that wasn't destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. We stopped off in the park and visited the California Academy of Sciences and briefly watched a show in the Korean festival they were hosting outside. Definitely recommend a trip to this little corner of San Francisco and try to stop by the Japanese Tea Gardens if you can.
View of the Sutra Baths
Osher Rainforest inside the California Acadamy of Sciences
Dinner at the Rainforest Cafe afterwards (don't judge I was so excited, I've never eaten here before..)
12th July- Papa Ray Rays 50th! We used our last day on the tourbus' to go back across the Golden Gate Bridge one last time (so we could actually see something this time). There were heavy delays on the roads so it took us about 4 times longer to complete the journey, not that it was a burden with the sun shining, good company and a very amusing driver.
Once returned from our bus journey we wandered around Fisherman's Wharf for the last time, and me being the history nerd I am I  dragged everyone to look round the WW2 submarine, the USS Pampanito. Wasn't the wisest choice what with me being claustrophobic and my mum getting horrendously sea sick as soon as she so much looks at a boat. Was still super interesting but, never again...
 After being mentally scarred by our trip round the submarine, we popped into the Musee Mechanique which was part totally awesome, part totally creepy, and part totally politically incorrect. It's basically a huuuuge warehouse type structure full of antique arcade games (& some relatively new ones too) it's got everything from Laughing Sal (creepy, so creepy) to fortune tellers and shooting games. I got my palm read (definitely inaccurate but makes a nice keep sake).
Aaaaaaaand, my favourite achievement from our trip to San Francisco, I found the arm wrestling machine Julia Roberts had her paws all over in the Princess Diaries. Pretty cool right. Also, if any of you have seen the film you'll see she beat the machine- definitely can't have done, I'm not very strong but even my very well built brothers and dad struggled to win against this one (on the easiest setting!!)
 Finally to round off our last day in San Francisco and celebrate dads 50th in the best Raeburn fashion (with good food) we had tracked down and booked a table at theeeeee best restaurant I may have ever eaten in; The Epic Steak. With views overlooking the Bay Bridge and food to absolutely die for we probably couldn't have had a better evening anywhere else. The only thing I didn't like about this restaurant was if you're under 21 there is not a massive selection for you to be drinking. They don't offer any fruit juices or fizzy drinks but they do their own virgin cocktails that are all 'savoury-tasting' I guess. They like the drinks to compliment the food, which they did do very well, but normally I only drink bitter things if they come in the form of alcohol, but seeing as that wasn't an option for me, I was adventurous and sampled one of the cocktails, whilst Toby stuck to water. Don't get me wrong though- if you'd have asked for a coke or an apple juice or whatever, I have no doubts they would have done everything they could to meet your requirements. Waiting staff in England it's just not the same. I don't know what it is, but our whole time away, never encountered a bad waiter- not ever.

For Stop Two (Yosemite on my birthday eeeeek!) click here!
For Stop Three, Las Vegas click here!
For Stop Three, Grand Canyon click here!
For Stop Four, Los Angeles click here!

and if you also fancy checking out my blog post comparing the Universal Studios VIP experience West coast vs East coast click here!



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