I am back with yet another series of my travel escapades! I am glad these are becoming frequent around here! 😉
It’s obviously no secret that I really, really, really enjoy traveling! 🙂 Exploring new cities and countries is something that really excites me and no other feeling comes close to it! Each trip requires a lot of planning and research and I always make sure I find out as much as I can about the place before leaving for the trip – just to make sure we make the best of the time we have there.
Traveling and going on vacations is most memorable when we have the best company with us, be it friends or family. A trip can turn sour even when the place you are visiting is amazingly beautiful but the company you have is not great! I have had some such experiences. But now that I have my own permanent travel/life partner always by my side, traveling is beautiful again and I would never have to worry about such situations ever cropping up in the future! 😀 And, it’s definitely a plus when they share the same passion for traveling as you do! 🙂
We had been planning this trip for a long time, even before we decided to go to New York in March. New York was a short birthday weekend trip, so we knew we wanted to go on a longer holiday this time around. We had a lot of places in mind that we were contemplating on seeing. But after a lot of thought we finally zeroed in on California! 🙂
We started our trip on a saturday evening, where we drove to the airport and took a flight to San Francisco. It was a looonnngg 5 hour flight with a lot of delays and hiccups in between, but we finally made it to SFO late in the evening. We opted to traverse through the city by driving around on our own (which is the best option). Hence we rented a car at the airport and drove to our hotel and settled in for the night.
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about San Francisco?
Yes. The Golden Gate Bridge.
That being the first place I wanted to see, we drove there first thing the next morning. And boy, it definitely did not disappoint! The view of the pacific ocean from there is truly breathtaking! It took us forever to find a parking spot but we finally got out and took the beautiful sight in! We spent almost the whole day there by hiking up and down the hill, walked up to the boardwalk, the beach, walked on the bridge, had some lunch, and again drove through the bridge towards the evening. The view was definitely worth all the effort!
One thing we did not expect was how cold it was going to be in San Francisco in June! It was summer after all and here we were wearing our colorful summer clothes strolling along the golden gate bridge and bammm…. the icy cold fog surrounded us out of nowhere! One minute it was sunny and the next minute it was unbearably cold. My hands were terribly frozen and it kept getting colder and colder towards the evening. It was in fact so cold that we walked only till the middle of the bridge and had to turn back around post that. I had of course heard about the famous San Francisco fog and how cold it normally is around the bay area, but I definitely expected it to be a lot warmer in June since it was officially summer! But as Mark Twain once said “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”, and we definitely experienced that for real.
Downtown SFO has a lot of really old and colorful buildings. I was pretty surprised to be honest, since I had expected to see a lot of flashy buildings around the city with very contemporary architecture. But it was very different from what I had initially expected. The victorian and edwardian houses and buildings add a lot of character to the whole city. Apart from a few areas, the city definitely has more of an old world feel to it.
After seeing the golden gate bridge, we drove around the city for a while and finally ended the day with having some dinner at a restaurant called Dosa! It was crowded like crazy and we had to wait for a while but the food was pretty good. You don’t get the usual Indian food here like everywhere else but the fusion dishes they serve are pretty unique and delicious!
On our second day in SFO, we headed out to Union Square in the morning. Union Square is basically a shopping area with various stores all around. There’s nothing really extraordinary here, it has the same old stores with exactly the same stuff that are there all over America. So we didn’t really waste too much time there. We just walked around the place for a while, browsed through some stores, had some lunch and headed back to our car to go to Lombard street.
One thing we realized was how much of a hassle it was in San Francisco to find a parking spot. Everywhere we went, we had to drive around for a minimum of 30-45 mins before finding a decent spot. Most times the parking spot would be pretty far from the place we wanted to visit and the same happened to us when we went to see lombard street. There were too many people who wanted to drive through lombard street at the time we went and so they had blocked the road to avoid any more oncoming traffic. We parked in a nearby parking garage, and walked up to the street.
San Francisco has some of the steepest streets/roads I have seen. Whether you are walking or driving, the varying gradient of the road is sure to catch your attention and give your heart rate a healthy boost. We in fact walked or rather climbed many such streets on our way to Lombard street.
They say that some of San Francisco’s most expensive real estate sits on Lombard Street. This Russian Hill neighborhood possesses stately mansions even with the endless array of tourists pouring down the street every day. When we visited Lombard Street it was summer so the whole street was alive with colorful and beautiful flowers everywhere. We stood around for a while, took a few pictures and walked back. I really wonder how the people who stay in the houses on lombard street even manage. To have that many people and traffic in front of your house every single day must be crazy!
After visiting lombard street, we drove around the city for a while and headed to Pier 39/Fisherman’s Wharf by evening. The weather had turned pretty damn cold by then, so the first thing we did was buy a jacket in one of the stores near Pier 39. This whole area is quite vibrant and has quite a lot of stores and places to see. You can walk around on the boardwalk and look at the sea lions, visit madam tussauds, see ripley’s believe it or not, grab a bite at the rainforest cafe or just walk around the bustling streets and do some shopping.
We spent the whole evening walking around this place, shopped around a bit, had some dinner and finally headed back to our hotel. It had been a really long and tiring day and we couldn’t wait to crash and get some much needed sleep.
The next morning we headed towards the Muir Wood National Monument. To visit this place we had to drive through the golden gate bridge again and since we had some time on hand, we decided to stop near the bridge one more time.
Note: The best time to see the golden gate bridge is definitely on weekdays! We had previously gone to see this place on a sunday and it was crazy! There were just way too many people everywhere and we had to park really far from the bridge and walk all the way back and forth. Bus loads of people come on weekends and it takes a lot more time to traverse through the crowds and do anything in general. This time we went on a weekday and hence we found a parking spot right near the bridge and it was a definitely a very pleasant experience! For me, this is probably the only place in SFO that I absolutely loved and the view is spectacular and absolutely worth seeing. Photos definitely don’t do any justice to the actual sight!
After walking around the bridge for a while, we headed towards the Muir Woods National Monument. The drive to Muir woods is really beautiful. The Muir Woods National Monument is a part of the golden gate national recreation area. It protects around 554 acres of redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) forests in San Francisco.
Muir Woods has over 6 miles of hiking trails which take you all around the dense, beautiful redwood forests. It is very peaceful and quiet inside the forest since almost everyone follows the signs placed along the path which insists that you speak in hushed tones and not disturb or scare the animals that might be in the forest. You can see deer running around the trail and hear the beautiful sounds of nature. I would definitely go back there again sometime if I get a chance. Next time I would probably opt to take the ocean trail. It is not an exaggeration to say that you sometimes get the Avatar/Pandora feeling while walking around in this forest.
After visiting the Muir Woods National Monument, we drove back to the city and headed towards the Palace of Fine Arts. The Palace of Fine Arts is a beautiful place with a vast history. They say that it was built for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition, which was a world’s fair to honor the completion of the Panama Canal that followed the devastation of the 1906 earthquake and fire. It was rebuilt in 1965, and the renovation of the lagoon, walkways, and a seismic retrofit were completed in early 2009.
The Palace of Fine Arts is a beautiful place and we really loved walking along the calm and serene walkways. There are a lot of birds and various kinds of ducks around the lagoon. We spent quite sometime there just admiring the beautiful structure from all angles and just sat around looking at the lagoon in peace. It was wonderful.
After seeing the palace of fine arts, we drove to fisherman’s wharf to grab some dinner. Post that we drove around all the prominent places in the city once again since it was our last evening in SFO. We walked around the bay area, had some dinner and went to see the bay bridge by evening. The bridge was beautifully lit up in the evening so we took a detour and decided to drive through the bridge as well. It is not as fascinating as the golden gate bridge, but is definitely still worth seeing.
On Day 4 of our stay in San Francisco, we woke up early to catch a ferry to the ‘famously infamous’ Alcatraz island. After seeing various movies and TV shows based on Alcatraz, we were too eager to explore the place all by ourselves!
Alcatraz, also known as “The Rock” was home to America’s most dangerous criminals till it was finally shut down in 1963. It was a military prison from 1861 – 1934 and was turned into a federal prison from 1934 – 1963. When you look at Alcatraz from the shore, it doesn’t look too far. You can see it from various spots in the city. It is probably around 1.5 miles from the SFO bay area. They say that reportedly 36 men attempted to escape from Alcatraz and almost all of them were either captured or drowned while swimming ashore. The cold waters of the pacific along with the strong, unpredictable currents, powerful tides and the dense San Francisco fog apparently confused the prisoners to swim in the opposite direction and eventually drown. If you have seen the movie, Escape from Alcatraz (which they say is based on a true story), 5 prisoners are said to have escaped in 1962 and their whereabouts are still unknown. Most people say that they succeeded but there’s no actual proof of the same.
When you enter the main prison, you can take an audio tour where the tour narrators are some of the correctional officers who had previously worked in Alcatraz. Everyone gets their own individual player and headset and you need to hit play when you go near the sign that says start. Once you play, you are taken around the whole prison and told stories about various prisoners who once lived there, the lives that they led and also the various riots and escapes that happened in the prison. The audio tour keeps you completely engrossed till the end. It’s an amazing experience. I had expected the prison to be dark and dingy but it was far from it. It’s pretty airy and bright and has flora and fauna all around the island. It has various migratory birds around the place and also provides stunning views of the San Francisco city from there. It is hard to imagine that it once held America’s most wanted criminals under it’s roof.
Once you are done with the Alcatraz tour, you can walk around the place on your own, buy some sovereigns in the gift shop and take the ferry back to the city whenever you want. It took us close to 5 hrs to explore the whole place, so going to the island on an early morning ferry is the best. You can book your tickets almost 3 months in advance and since most slots are always sold out, it’s better to reserve your tickets well in advance.
We got back to SFO by afternoon and went to the nearest restaurant to grab a quick lunch! Post lunch, we did some shopping, drove around the city one last time and headed towards the airport, since we had to catch an evening flight to Los Angeles!
Overall, we had a very memorable stay in San Francisco. We managed to see quite a lot of places in the few days we had there. We still have a few more places we want to see around SFO but that is for another time.
Until next time… it’s Adios folks!