San Francisco, the highlight of my USA trip, is an amazing place. I stayed here an entire week, and I think it was the perfect amount of time to really get to know the place and see what it has to offer. So, in a nutshell, what makes this place special? Is it the great seafood straight from the bay? Is it the awesome hilly landscape that makes the city unique? Is it the tourist sites to see the amazing Golden Gate Bridge, or Alcatraz? Is it the proximity to USA’s wine region, or amazing national parks? Is it the way people there are so relaxed, laid back, and give off a good vibe? Well, of course it’s no one thing that makes a place, but all together, all the little bits and pieces that make you love the place as a whole.
I stayed at a hostel called the Green Tortoise, and I am pretty sure it’s the best hostel I stayed at in the States. They had breakfast and 3 dinners a week included, the breakfasts were decent and dinners were excellent – they had a Mexican chef cooking it real Mexican style. They also had a huge common area where it was easy to meet new people and chat over a beer. So my first day I grabbed a map and headed for Fisherman’s Warf, a good a start as any to see a bit of San Francisco. On the way I took this snap of “the crookedest” street in San Francisco, yes they actually call it that.
I got down to the warf, checked out some of the cool shops and restaurants and made note of the great looking seafood places that I knew I would be back for later. I crossed to Pier 39 where you can find wild sea lions just lounging around all day, as happy as can be.
There are plenty of warfs and piers all around this area, so it was fun to explore. San Francisco is famous for sourdough bread, and here was a shop making interesting things with it.
One pier had a submarine,
And also a ship. You can see Alcatraz in the background.
Some statue pointing to the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
Then I climbed up and up until I got to the top of “the crookedest street”, and looked down. I would say that most of the people driving down it are probably just doing it for fun, and I actually hired a car a few days later and did it myself. It was lots of fun! :)
San Francisco has a few different quarters just like most other cities, such as a Chinatown, a Little Italy, a business district, and a market district. When I was in the business district I found plenty of similarities to Brisbane’s business district; it was same same but different.
Walking down to what’s called the Embarcardero, which is basically a long walkway around the bay side of San Francisco. Here you can see Coit Tower in the background.
One day I hired a bicycle and went for a really nice long ride all the way around the bay, crossing over the Golden Gate Bridge to the other side, and then caught a ferry back with the bicycle on it. Here’s the bridge.
Up on the bridge looking West.
On the other side of the bridge looking back at San Francisco.
The ferry swung past Alcatraz on the way back.
So the next day happened to be my birthday! Yay! So I hired a car! Big treat for me, considering I hadn’t driven in about 10 months, and was going to be driving in the states and see some really cool stuff. I hired it for 2 days. The first day I found a friend in the hostel who was keen to come wine tasting with me in the Napa Valley – which is the main wine area in the States. We only went to one winery – Beringer, but it was enough because they had a good selection and were apparently the oldest running winery in the Napa Valley.
Beringer manor, which was the original house owned by the Beringer family since 1875 where two brothers lived there and were so pompous they had the door done with self-portraits in stained-glass.
Interestingly the winery was built into caves in the side of mountains to keep the wine at a nice cool temperature. Over the years they had earthquakes and cave-ins, but the caves are still used today for tourism. So we spent the day driving around the valley, quite a nice scenic route, was enjoyable.
When I got back to the hostel, that night they had a "beer olympics" which was organised by our hostel, along with a few other hostels in San Fransisco. What happens is everyone goes down to a bar selling cheap beer, and we get into teams of three or four, and then compete in various drinking games like beer-pong or flip-cup. My team won, and we got a couple bottles of wine! Fun!
The next day we went for a day trip to Yosemite National Park. It was really really cool and I wish I had stayed a few nights there!
It’s well known for the granite cliffs, the cool rivers, glacial waterfalls, and bears.
And of course Giant Sequoia trees - the tallest trees on Earth!
All in all a lovely place, I really want to go back and do some camping and hiking.
Back at the hostel that night, they had organised yet another fun event. This time it was a paper-scissors-rock competition. It's of course an individual event, not with teams. There were about 150 people in the competition, and basically they organised it so you take a card with a picture on it and have to find someone who has the same card, and then you go against them best of three. Then you report the winner to the person in charge, and so on. This goes on for about 9 rounds, and then the top 10 people are called up for the finals. I was in the top 10, and quickly found myself in the top 4 after a couple easy wins. The top 4 was difficult. There was this girl who I'd already lost to in one of the early rounds, she was completely random and unreadable - unlike many of the other people I had faced. But I managed to beat her in the end and won the whole tournament! I got a $100 bar tab, which was great! Happy birthday!
The day after I had previously booked to go to Alcatraz. In peak times you need to book a few days in advance because tickets sell out. Arriving there by ferry:
I’m sure you know a bit about the famous high security prison, and maybe have seen one of the movies about it. But anyway the place has a somewhat eerie feeling about it, even during the day when the sun is shining brightly. They’ve done the whole tourist thing for it really well, there’s lots to learn and see, and it was very informative. The audio-guide tour was excellent, it really gave a good insight into the place. Some of the cells are shown below. Note at the bottom right some have solid doors - those are for solitary confinement where it's pitch black inside.
They had different "classes" of cells depending on how well behaved you are, and how long you are staying. Some of the worse cells look like this:
Some of the better cells look like this, where the prisoners are allowed some personal effects.
As I was walking out of the prison complex, I walked through the typical tourist shop with all the little tourist souvenirs, and I saw an old man sitting at a table doing a book signing on an autobiography of his time spent in Alcatraz. His name is Robert Luke and he spent 5 years there for armed bank robbery. To be honest he gave me the creeps. I guess I can't judge someone by looking at them though. Anyway! That’s probably about all I can show you about San Francisco. Probably my favourite place in the States, loved every minute of it! :)