Road Trip: San Francisco


In the coming weeks I'm (finally!) going to be sharing with you my snapshots and experiences from my trip of a lifetime; a West Coast road trip. I've been sat on a hard drive full of photos for the last year and a half, and have decided it's time to publish these in the form of a few travel guides and our road trip itinerary. So let's get this show on the road, with our first stop – San Francisco.

A city I've dreamed of visiting since the age of 11 – I have Midtown Madness 2 to thank for that – San Francisco was the one place I said I'd always be able to die happy if I got to visit. Fast-forward 14 years, Dan and I were sat in his bedroom discussing our plans to travel the world, when he made the suggestion for us to do the trip I was so desperate to take the following year. Within 5 minutes of him saying, "f*ck it, let's do it", I was already researching the best time of year for us to visit the West Coast.

After a full year of planning our route, choosing our hotels and booking our attractions, on September 7th 2016, we boarded our Aer Lingus flight from Birmingham, UK to San Francisco, CA. I genuinely can't think of any time before when 14+ hours has flown by so quickly, but the whole journey there was a complete blur!

Within about an hour of reaching our hotel, we'd checked in, freshened up and made our way towards Lombard Street – a road I'd driven down so many times on Midtown Madness! Being our first night in San Francisco I wanted to make sure we made the most of the time we had. And what we didn't know upon leaving the hotel at 17:30 was that we'd picked a pretty quiet time to visit the infamous street, meaning that we managed to get quite a few photos with not many people in them.

From there we walked to Coit Tower where I must have spent a good 20 minutes stood on a wall staring out at the feint outline of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. I remember this being a proper pinch yourself moment as the sun was setting over the Bay. Literally, even to this day it all feels like a dream.

By the time we'd walked from Coit Tower to Fisherman's Wharf for dinner, we'd both had enough after what had been an awfully long day. Unsurprisingly, we both slept so well that night and meant that our first full day in San Francisco started on the right foot, and a good job as we walked over 23,000 steps that day... oh yes, we were that crazy couple that didn't hire a bike!

That day we covered a fair bit of the city (with the help of Uber – I seriously couldn't have walked any more than what we already did), from our hotel in Fisherman's Wharf to the Golden Gate Bridge, seeing the bridge in the flesh was at the top of my bucket list and she was even more beautiful than I imagined. Never thought I'd say that about a bridge, but you know, it's a pretty spectacular bridge.

We only had about 3 days in San Francisco – split over the start and the end of the trip – but as you can imagine, I crammed in as much as we could before we picked up our ride to start our 'road trip' part of the holiday. In hindsight, I wish I'd planned even more time there as we only just about scratched the surface. Everything from the pretty, colourful buildings to the amazing views over the bay, from the food and the culture, San Francisco really does have it all.



WHERE WE STAYED

We stayed in Fisherman's Wharf at the start of the trip, calling the Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf home for the first 2 nights. I'd always wanted to stay close to Pier 39, so with the Pier within a 5-10 minute walk, it was the ideal location to base ourselves during our time. With this being my dream trip, there were a few destinations I wanted to splash the cash when it came to accommodation, and our first couple of nights had to be luxurious... especially after a long-haul flight!

On our last night of the entire trip, we again went all out staying at the Westin St. Francis – one of the nicest suites we've ever stayed in – slap bang on Union Square. This gave us a great opportunity to have dinner at the Cheesecake Factory in Macy's.



WHAT WE DID

As you can imagine, there's so much to see and do in San Francisco, but here's just the few (or many) things we managed to cram into our very short window in the City by the Bay!

+ Lombard Street
This is one thing you definitely can't go to SF and not do. With eight hairpin turns, this steep one-way street is lined with flowers and gorgeous houses. It also offers a great view of Coit Tower and the Bay.

Coit Tower
If you're after views over the Bay, Coit Tower should definitely be added to your list. There's a small entry fee to pay to go up the tower but the views from the base alone are amazing so add a few more feet into the mix and you've got yourself a pretty incredible setting for a few snaps.

+ Pier 39 / Fisherman's Wharf
What's a trip to San Francisco without a trip to Pier 39? You'll find everything you need here, whether you're after shops, restaurants, arcades and California's very own sea lions (they're pretty noisy)!

+ Golden Gate Bridge
Nothing compared to seeing the Golden Gate Bridge in all of her glory. There's something that's always mesmerised me about the bridge, whether it's the colour or the design itself, it's just a spectacular piece of architecture that looks even better up-close!

+ Golden Gate Park
Is there anything more British than heading to a park when the sun's out? Because that's exactly what we did. Whilst in the park, we visited the Botanical Gardens and the Japanese Tea Garden. The latter was superb and if anything, I wish we'd have not spent the money going into the Botanical Gardens and done more whilst in the park.

+ The Painted Ladies
One of the most photographed locations in San Francisco, this row of houses encapsulate the architecture that's found around the City. If you're a sucker for a pretty building – like me – then you'll love everything about these houses! Also the view of the City from Alamo Square is worth the trip there alone.

+ City Hall
If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know I have a penchant for pretty buildings. I first fell in love with City Hall after seeing photos of the building on Luke Beard's Instagram account a couple of years before our trip. What I wasn't prepared for, was how stunning the architecture is in person – serious wedding venue goals.

+ Alcatraz Island
Or The Rock, as it's otherwise known, if you're going to visit San Francisco then this is one tour you need to do. I'd read a lot about doing the night-time tour, but with this being the most popular, booking early is a must. It's a self-guided audio tour allowing you to roam the island at your own pace and with so much history to take in, you'll need a good couple of hours!

+ Union Square
Fancy a bit of shopping or somewhere to eat? Union Square has everything you need, all in close proximity to each other. We spent a fair bit of time here on our last day of the trip, which was a nice change to all of the sightseeing we'd been doing over the previous 2 weeks.

+ Sausalito
Whilst not exactly in San Francisco, Sausalito is found just over the Golden Gate Strait which offers fantastic views of the City, as well as plenty of boutique shops and eateries. Whether you cycle there, get the ferry or drive, it's not to be missed.






WHERE WE ATE

Disappointingly, whilst we didn't put food high up on our priority list (definitely not like me) we did manage to find a few good spots to eat. And with even a couple of days in San Francisco, I found a new love in breakfast and sourdough.

+ Hollywood Café
We stumbled across the Hollywood Café quite last minute when looking for somewhere local to go for breakfast. The reviews had people queuing to get into the small café, but as we were only a couple of minutes away, we only had a short wait before we were seated at a table. I cannot fault the food and the portions were typical of what you'd expect in the USA – absolutely huge!

+ Boudin Bakery
Another eatery we happened to stumble upon, Boudin Bakery was another firm choice for breakfast after I got sucked in by the baked displays at the bakery/café on Pier 39. Their Original San Francisco Sourdough is literally the best bread I've ever eaten, and suffice to say, that I've been eating sourdough ever since – if only I could get their Mother Dough over here...

+ The Cheesecake Factory
Whilst not specific to SF, what's a trip to America without a visit to The Cheesecake Factory? Also any restaurant that sells Spinach & Artichoke Dip is right at the top of my list! One thing I would say if you haven't eaten here before, skip the appetisers and mains, and head straight for pudding (which is what you're there for in the first place). The portion sizes are absolutely huge, so we ended up giving half of my main to the homeless guy outside.






PRO TIPS

+ Layer up!
I made the wrong assumption when we left the hotel on our first full day that it'd be warmer than England. I was so wrong. Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge in just a t-shirt and cardigan whilst the wind was blustering was a big no-no. It wasn't until we got in an Uber to Golden Gate Park that our driver told us that the fog usually burns off about 1pm. Oh yeah, and the fog has a name. Meet Karl, everyone.

+ Wear comfy shoes
An obvious one, but if you're going to be the crazy type of people that want to walk everywhere then ensure you have on comfortable shoes. Whilst I had on Vans that did the job, I reckon if I'd had a bit more support on the sole of my foot those steep – very steep – hills would have been a little less painful on my calves the next day.

+ Research your airport transfers
After booking our flights into SFO, I set about finding our options for airport transfers. Taxis were looking to work out about $50-70 dollars to get into the City, so I set about looking into hotels that provided airport transfers. This was one of the reasons we chose the Sheraton over other hotels in Fisherman's Wharf as their transfer bus worked out at $17 per person – a lot cheaper than taxi!

+ Avoid parking 
If you're planning on doing a road trip, then note that parking in the City is a nightmare. This is something I'd read up about through TripAdvisor forums, meaning that we picked up our car on the day we were due to leave the City. We also ensured that the hotel we stayed in on our last night back in San Francisco had parking within the hotel. We hadn't researched Uber at this point for transfers so this could have been an even cheaper option.

+ Book ahead!
If you're looking to do a tour of Alcatraz, especially one of the evening tours, it's wise to ensure you book your tickets ahead of time. There were only a limited number of spots when I was looking at the evening tours, so I set myself a reminder to book as soon as the window came open. Also what we didn't realise was that Coit Tower was closed on the day we made the trek up to Telegraph Hill. It was still worth the climb once I saw the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz in the distance though.


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