I can’t believe it is already two months since we visited San Francisco. So, without further delay (and before it is another month), it is time to reflect on our week in San Francisco. What shall I say? It was A M A Z I N G. This was the first time Mr T and I visited the West Coast, having previously only touched down in New York. Let me tell you, the West Coast is a completely different world. And San Francisco is nothing like New York City (and I don’t mean it being better or worse…. Just completely different). So enough of the introduction, let’s dive straight in. Let me tell you all about our week in San Francisco.
Our week in San Francisco: Saturday
Our week in San Francisco started with the inevitable 11-hour flight from London to San Francisco.
By the time we landed in SFO, cleared border control (which took forever and there was me thinking the queues at JFK were bad) and took the BART into town, it was already around 5 in the afternoon. Time to check into our hotel, the Cova Hotel San Francisco.
With the seven-hour time difference between San Francisco and London, 5pm there was actually midnight in London. No surprise we were already exhausted and longing for our bed. But we knew better than to give in. Also, we were curious to explore San Francisco at least a little straight away.
After dumping our bags in the room, a quick freshen up and a change of clothes we were ready to hit town. Given the location of the hotel, we did as we were told and avoided Ellis Street. But we memorized the suggested route wrong and walked down O’Farrell Street instead of Geary Street, which wasn’t any better than Ellis Street. So, our very first experience of San Francisco was a fairly dodgy one. With random people urinating at street corners and frequent drug use. How’s that for a first impression?
But once we got near Union Square, things started to look up.
We continued towards the Ferry Building, in search of some food.
Having done our research we knew that the ferry building was home to a food market, so heading that way seemed a good idea. However, we didn’t actually get that far. In Market Street we spotted Super Duper Burger. And what shall I say. It didn’t take us long to forget all about healthy eating intentions and get burger and fries for dinner. And when I say fries, I mean a proper portion of dirty fries, loaded with garlic and cheese. Which were super yummy… but were also upsetting my stomach for the next 24 hours. So not my brightest idea.
But the burger pretty delivered what it promised. It was super-duper yummy.
With dinner over, we decided to walk a little more and headed (once again) in the direction of the Ferry Building. Only to discover that the food stalls were mainly open during the day, so come 6pm most of them would close. Good thing we didn’t bank on getting dinner there. So instead we had a quick ice-cream for dessert.
And since we were by now ready to immediately pass out (it was after all in the middle of the night in the UK, although it was barely 8pm in San Francisco) we decided to head back to the hotel and call it a day.
Thanks to Citymapper (seriously what did people do before Smartphones and Citymapper?) we quickly worked out that streetcar line F would take us back towards Union Square.
Before we boarded the streetcar, it was time to finally activate that Muni weekly ticket that we had purchased earlier that day (more on public transport in San Francisco and how ticketing works to follow shortly in a separate post).
Our week in San Francisco: Sunday
Being awake far too early (oh how I ‘love’ jet lag), we were ready to hit the streets by 8am already.
With no itinerary fixed for the day, we decided to head towards Golden Gate Bridge. A quick glance at the street map showed that we should be able to just walk up Larkin Street to get roughly into the right direction. And whilst this was right, what the map didn’t show was the enormous hill we would need to crawl to get there.
Lesson Number One for San Francisco: If a route looks short, it will most likely involve one or several hills.
Lesson Number Two for San Francisco: You always walk up hill, but very rarely downhill. At least it feels that way.
But back to our walk towards Golden Gate Bridge. Crawling up Larkin Street, we came past Holmes Bakery. Being no stranger to Instagram, I instantly recognised this as the bakery with the iconic neon ‘I got baked in San Francisco’ wall sign and the queue for their cruffins.
But since we were on a mission, we decided to skip the queue and buy another pastry, that was readily available. And as for the iconic neon wall sign? It was out of order (and remained out of order for the reminder of the week, how’s that for an epic Instagram fail).
As we kept meandering the streets, we eventually came across the cable car tracks on Hyde Street. Cable Car? Forget Golden Gate Bridge (for now), let’s do a cable car ride instead.
Once we’d worked out how to identify a Cable Car stop and boarded the next Cable Car that approached, we were on our way. Not a clue where it would take us, but it didn’t really matter. After all, our sole mission was to explore San Francisco, but we didn’t have to stick to a rigid itinerary. Well apart from the pre-booked tickets for Alcatraz, but that wasn’t until Tuesday.
So, we enjoyed an almost empty cable car up and down the hills of Hyde Street, but instead of staying on it until Fisherman’s Wharf, we got distracted instead.
The top of Lombard Street, (allegedly) the world’s most crooked street. We got off the Cable Car to walk down Lombard Street instead. Not without Mr T having an envious chat with a guy setting up his drone for some amazing bird’s eye shots of Lombard Street. We quickly learned that without a drone, getting a half decent shot of the bends and turns was sheer impossible. Doesn’t mean we didn’t try regardless.
With Lombard Street ticked off our mental To Do List for San Francisco, we continued down towards Fisherman’s Wharf. As it was still early on a Sunday morning, we might as well tick that another one off our list before the crowds awake. And it paid off.
We had the sea lions at Pier 39 almost to ourselves. And they sure knew how to deliver a show. We spent ages standing there, watching the sea lions go in and out of the water. Some of them sunbathing very relaxed whilst others were fighting each other for the perfect spot on the pontoons.
After all that excitement we needed some coffee (also because the filter coffee served with our hotel breakfast wasn’t quite to my liking). We entered Pier 39 and after a brief look around decided on Peet’s Coffee. Which was a winner in our book. Spoiler alert: we liked their coffee beans so much that we ended up going to Peet’s most of the week (abandoning my usual … ahem … Starbucks). And even brought a bag of coffee beans home with us.
Caffeinated and rested we decided to once again make our way towards Golden Gate Bridge. I mean, how hard can it be? From Fisherman’s Wharf, we could see Golden Gate Bridge spanning across the bay.
Along the waterside, past the Maritime Museum, up the hill towards Fort Mason.
Whilst enjoying the view of Golden Gate Bridge from the top, we noticed a farmer’s market down by the docks. And yes, you guessed it. We got distracted again and headed straight down to the docks. And a good thing we did. As it turned out the Fort Mason Farmer’s Market is only open Sundays (and only from 9.30 am to 1.30 pm). So, it really was now or never.
With beautiful sunshine, live music playing and it being almost lunch time, this was just the perfect opportunity for a little break. We bought a portion of cabbage and pork dumplings at Happy Dumplings, snacking tomatoes and juicy Californian clementines and sat down in the sunshine to enjoy our al fresco lunch.
In order to finally make it to Golden Gate Bridge, we opted for a bus. Route 28 took us directly to the Golden Gate Visitor Centre.
Once we’ve enjoyed our first fix of close up views of the Golden Gate Bridge, we were faced with the decision of taking the next 28 bus back or walking all the way back through Presidio. In the hope of more stunning views along the way (and since we obviously hadn’t done enough walking yet), we opted for the walk.
But to be honest, we underestimated the distance a little bit and eventually started looking for alternative ways to get back towards Fisherman’s Wharf. As there were no busses in Presidio, we would either need to head away from the seashore to catch a bus further inland. Or continue along the coastal path and make it past Crissy Field and towards the Yacht Harbour, which we did.
Whilst the walk along Crissy Field was quite a pleasant one, it was a little longer than we actually wanted. So, on the hunt for a bus stop, we eventually arrived at the Yacht Harbor. During a quick coffee stop we evaluated our options. And decided to try a Jump Bike to get us back to the Ferry Building. This was the first time I even heard of Jump Bike, let alone tried one. These electric bikes were dotted all around town and could be unlocked and used with the Uber app (more on Jump bikes and other ways to get around San Francisco in a separate post soon).
We cycled for approx. 40 minutes, then ‘dumped’ the bikes in one of the side roads and headed towards Union Square. After all that walking and cycling, we fancied a little shopping break.
Dinner that evening was at Elephant Sushi, a small sushi place just off Union Square, that we came across the day before (when it was closed) and quite liked the look of.
And I must say, it was worth it. Very yummy.
Our week in San Francisco: Monday
Inspired by the views of the Golden Gate Bridge the previous day and the prospect of glorious sunshine for Monday, we opted for a bike tour to Sausalito that day.
When preparing for our week in San Francisco, cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge made it onto the bucket list fairly early. And Mr T sure was all for it (he has developed quite an affinity for cycling in recent months). Only question was whether I would rent myself a ‘normal’ bike or opt for an electric bike to level the playing field a little.
We were due to pick up our pre-booked bikes down at Fisherman’s Wharf. But first things first. To get there, we took another trip in the Cable Car from Jackson to Fisherman’s Wharf. Followed by breakfast at Boudin Bakery.
Fed and watered it was time to pick up our bikes (booked online, to save some money).
And off we went, along the water, across the Golden Gate Bridge and on to Sausalito (full post on our day trip to Sausalito coming soon).
When setting off that morning, I hadn’t decided whether I would ‘only’ do the trip to Sausalito and then take the ferry back from there (one way was approximately 14km / 8.5 miles). Or whether to double the tour and make it all the way to Tiburon before boarding the ferry (something Mr T was fairly keen on doing with or without me…. Me? Not so sure yet).
Turned out, the tour wasn’t as hard as I thought. And after a long break to explore Sausalito and grab lunch, I decided to go the extra mile(s) and join Mr T all the way to Tiburon.
Back at Pier 41, we disembarked the ferry and headed to the bike store to hand back our rentals.
To end the day, we went for a stroll through Chinatown before dinner at Mel’s Drive-In Diner (I mean, all that cycling must be good for something).
Our week in San Francisco: Tuesday
Tuesday was our day to go and explore Alcatraz Island. We had pre-booked our tickets well in advance (something that was recommended by quite a few people, as tickets can sell out fast) and had opted for one of the earliest slots in the morning. Which meant a rather early start to the day.
I’ve written in great length about our trip to Alcatraz, so no need for me to repeat myself (unless you really want this post to drag on for even longer… No? Thought so, me neither).
As we arrived back at Pier 33, we decided to stretch our legs and take the stairs up to Coit Tower. Ok, I’ll be honest, I got a little confused here. We’d seen Coit Tower a few times as we were out and about in San Francisco. So, I knew I wanted to go there (especially since I read everywhere what an amazing view of San Francisco you would have from Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower). I also read about the Mosaic Stairs in San Francisco. And when Mr T pointed out that there were stairs leading up to Coit Tower literally opposite Pier 33, I put 2 and 2 together… and arrived at 5. Turned out these weren’t those Mosaic Stairs (the Tiled Steps are actually on 16thAvenue, so not really anywhere near. And somehow, I managed to completely forget about them again until it was time to head back to the airport… too late then). Instead these were the Greenwich Steps. Not quite as picturesque. But you get some nice views down to the piers. But other than that, these are stairs. Leading up. No idea why I thought that was a great idea. As if my legs weren’t still hurting enough from the cycle trip the previous day. But hey, once you get past a certain point there isn’t any going back (well there is, but it doesn’t make any sense). So might as well go all the way up Telegraph Hill.
Coit Tower is an Art Deco concrete tower, built in the 1930s. At just over 60m it stand proud on top of Telegraph Hill.
If you want to go up Coit Tower, you will have to pay an entrance fee of $8 / adult (which I find quite reasonable). And there is some good news: Coit Tower has a lift to get you up to the 360 degrees viewing platform.
The viewing platform has window openings all the way around, but no roof. Meaning that you are fairly exposed to the elements. When we visited, it was very windy, which unfortunately meant that the windows were shut. But we were told that on nice and sunny days the glazing would be taken out, giving you an unobstructed view across San Francisco.
But even behind glass, it was still a great view.
But Coit Tower doesn’t only have the view. It also houses a selection of murals at ground level, picturing scenes of California life. The murals can actually be viewed without a ticket (and I totally failed to take even one single photo of them… sorry).
By now a little hungry (and unwilling to walk any more, even if it was downhill), we boarded a bus back towards Fisherman’s Wharf (so yes, if you want to visit Coit Tower by bus, that is totally doable) to grab some food and enjoy an al fresco lunch by the sea. Which sounded like a great idea, but was spoiled a little by those heavy winds. Note to self, do not let go of anything whilst eating or it might land in the water.
After all the sightseeing, we spent the rest of the day shopping around Union Square. Before heading to Little Italy for dinner.
Woohoo, good news. You’ve made it through Part One of our week in San Francisco. Yes, you’ve heard right. You are only half way there. But don’t despair. I’ve decided to divide my lengthy travel report into two parts. So with Part One over, you can take a little breather and come back for Part Two later (well, let’s hope I won’t need another two months to finish writing Part Two, I’ll try my best).
*This post does not contain any affiliate links. Any places mentioned are merely my own recommendation, I did not receive any incentive to write about them.