California. A state I daydreamed of visiting from the time I was 12..something about the sunshine, beaches, and maybe some surfer boys (I was 12 gimme a break) just got me. Well last week I finally got to visit the Golden State & man was it ever golden. Friday - Monday I was gifted with weather to rival most of North American in December..Sunny, +17' c & not a cloud in the sky, perfect exploring weather.
So with that it was up WAYY too early (not even the security lines were open at the airport yet) and off to San Francisco. First glimpse out the window just before landing & I knew I was in for a treat, not a clue what I was flying over but the coast appeared & the turquoise ocean put on a great show just before touching down in SF to some much needed sunshine. From there I was immediately greeted by one of the many insanely welcoming & friendly Fran Fran residents who graciously gave up some local spots I should check out & made sure I got on my way in the right direction. That alone was a breathe of fresh air coming over from a less than friendly city myself.
Backpack in tow it was up to my home away from home for the weekend, HI-San Francisco Downtown where the welcoming feeling didn't end. The building is gorgeous & the staff are beyond awesome. Free breakfast + cozy rooms are also nice bonuses. With Carmen (yes I named my camera Carmen..as in San Diego) in hand I took off to lay my eyes on a little orange bridge SF is so well known for. First street I found myself was one of those streets that makes SF famous..long & STEEP! But I kicked it's ass climbing all the way to the top & was gifted with a pretty killer view of the ocean, and the Fairmont San Francisco, to which I took a little peek around and damn that place is beautiful. Having worked for Fairmont before I'm always impressed by the properties they have around the world & this one was no exception, all done up for the holidays too!
I wandered down from there and through China Town (I say wander cause I knew what I wanted to see but not entirely sure how I was going to get there) and ended up at The Embarcadero (Port of San Fransisco) and came face to face with the bridge..The Bay Bridge that is. Connecting SF to Oakland it's impressive in itself as the World's widest bridge thanks to Guiness World Record stats with a whopping 10 lanes total! Needless to say, shes no Golden Gate but she is a rockstar! If you continue east from there you'll find yourself with lovely ocean views & Fisherman's Wharf.
I didn't spend a lot of time here on Day 1 but did return on my last day (so keep reading to hear about it). I was on mission "Find Golden Gate Bridge" & had every intention of doing so knowing that the sun would set just before 5 pm. So I took a little break in a park just past Fisherman's Wharf where who should I see walking his dog..none other than Jon Lovitz ( he's been in Matlida, The Wedding Singer, A league of their own just to name a few). So I gawked for about a minute & then continued on my way towards Fort Mason where I had read that the views of the GGB could be first seen. And I did not read wrong! Through the trees I got my first glimpse, and knew I needed to get closer! With the sun setting it seemed I wasn't the only one headed in that same direction and quickly struck up a conversation with some locals about their amazing city & again had my day made better by the sheer welcoming feeling I got talking to this group of people. They said I was headed in the right direction, and we parted ways when I still felt the insane pull to get closer. And man am I glad I did..I couldn't have imagined a better set up for my first sighting of the Golden Gate Bridge..a clear sky & a perfectly fiery sunset. Not bad right?
After taking about a billion photos..as one does when on vacation & has a love of sunsets, it was back to the hostel for me to crash hard for the night & get an early start on day number 2!
Rise & Shine! Getting out of bed in a new city (and in general) is made so much easier by bright rays of sunshine pouring through your window. With that I was quick to pack up my bag & head off on a day full of adventure & a bit of fan girling. First stop? The Painted Ladies, or as most people know them The Full House houses. IF you gre up in the 90's like I did then you most likely had a huge crush on Uncle Jesse (I mean John Stamos, come on who doesn't still now?) or you'd at least heard of Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen. Well as most know the show isn't filmed in FD but the opening credits were, so I went off to check them out!
Just opposite the houses is Alamo Park a bit disappointing as it's undergoing some insane renovations so it's all closed off and fenced up leaving it looking a bit sad to say the least. But it doesn't take away from the houses. Plus being up a bit earlier than most meant I avoided any big crowds (wanderer tip #1084, up before most and out after most makes for good photos, less crowds). which is
The houses really are some of the prettiest in the city, and the walk along Steiner street (where they are) is pretty impressive as well with rows of colourful houses and ends at the bottom with an equally as famous house, the one from Mrs. Doubtfire, which is one of my favourite movies! I like visiting places like that knowing it's something I envisioned as a kid being "made up" or just in the movies, but they're actually real! With my house hunt complete it was onto take in The Golden Gate bridge from one the best spots in the city, Fort Point & the visitors center for the bridge. Just a quick bus ride over from Steiner street and you'll find yourself being dropped off right at the doors to the visitors center & have a picture perfect view of the bridge. I literally could not have asked for better weather for this trip, from what I had read I was prepare for Fog City to live up to it's name (SF's nickname) and not get more than a glimpse of the bridge, but I lucked out & saw it in all her glory for the entire trip. At Fort Point there are lots of options on where to get that perfect shot, it's just a matter of walking around a little bit. You can start right at the parking lot and walk towards your left you're given upper and lower viewing sections to take in the bridge & you can even walk right underneath it. Originally I had wanted to rent a bike and ride across the GGB but watching just how many people were doing it I decided I would feel rushed and not enjoy it as much as I was from where I was and opted out. I spent a good 2 hours wandering back and forth taking it all in before hopping on a bus further out towards Land's End.
Just a bit excited here
Land's End is located within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and is a great contrast between the views the city has to offer. From the bus stop you can see the parking lot, and the incredible coast that awaits. There are several trails located within Land's End so I made use of my beautiful day & started off on The Coastal Trail towards Mile Rock Overlook. There's really something for everyone here, whether you're looking for a days worth of hiking or just a casual stroll with the family there's not much to stop anyone from enjoying the views here. As you walk along the coastal trail the views are so gorgeous, and around the 30 minute mark you're actually able to see the bridge from the opposite side of where Fort Point is. Great photo ops are all along the way, great backdrop of the bridge with stunning coastline as well.
Continuing along you're able to veer off in several places to connect to other trails or stay along until you get to Mile Rock, where I was headed in search of a Labyrinth. yep you read that right..a labyrinth. I'd been shown a photo on Instagram of this cool rock formed maze & knew I had to check it out. It's pretty hard to miss once you get up the steep bit of rock to the top but when you finally look down it is actually pretty cool that someone has created this maze. Plus the views from the very top of the rock are insanely breathe taking, so as long as heights don't get ya, climb up that hill and soak in the views. Well worth the climb!
From here you can continue forward along the trail, but I had other plans. I had one hot date...with a sunset! Yep, my end game for the day was to get a sunset view from Baker's Beach of the Golden Gate Bridge, said to be a "must see" for my trip. So off I went & made it just as the magic hour set in. I had read that it was a bit of a hidden spot, but the sheer amount of people down there had me thinking I was misinformed. From families having picnics, to college kids playing football, engagement photo shoots & people like me coming to soak in the view there were a fair few people down the beach. Yet I managed to find a good spot to watch the magic happen. And it did, different than the view from night 1, from where I was the sun was setting behind me and not the bridge this time so I was able to see fog roll in and the colours change from blue or yellow to orange pretty quickly. Strolled the length of the beach to get my fill before the winds picked up & that was my cue to head in search of food & a warm bed!
With aching feet (in a good way), a sunburned nose & a happy soul Day 3 kicked off with another sunshiney wake up and a a great coffee, Most of the time when I travel I like to wing it, but when I only have a short amount of time somewhere I try to make a plan that has me seeing everything I want to, but also leaves a little time to get blissfully lost somewhere. And that's exactly what I did in SF. First stop of the day was the classic SF cable car up towards Lombard street, a street that could give you a case of the dizzy's in a big way. The cable car was something novel that I think if you only visit SF once you should do, and in my case catch a ride on the outside of the cart so you can feel the wind through your hair (and maybe scare your mother if she knew you'd held on my only 1 hand, sorry Mum!). The Hyde & Powell cable car will take you to the very top of Lombard street and you can walk down on either side, there are steps as it is quite steep, to the bottom. Which is where the best view is, zig zagging cars between beautiful gardens overlooked by the cutest of homes & a view from the bottom all the way to the bridge & Coit tower it's pretty amazing! Note that the later in the day you visit this spot the more people there are and it can be quite overwhelming with people standing in the middle of a through road trying to get photos so be careful (or go early to avoid crowds).
The 16th Ave Tiled Steps. Snapped a few good shots, enjoyed the view & then made off to one of my (now) favourite sights in SF. A community organized effort started in 2003 to create a beautiful mosaic of tiles on 160+ stairs that lead up to Grandview Park & some great views. But for me, the tiles were definitely the winner of the day! I bet you'll agree...
By the time you reach the top of the steps you can't even see any of the art work, but you do get great views out to the ocean & the further up you climb you get views on the city and of the GGB. A good spot for a rest and if you were me, to soak up all the sunshine goodness you could before leaving back to the gray of Vancouver.
From here I decided it was time to get a little bit lost..so it was off to The Mission District La Taqueria to do just that. Coffee in hand I headed out to check out some pretty wicked murals by local artists, cute galleries & shops & of course take in some amazing architecture & dream homes along the way before indulging in some to die for Mexican eats at . Be prepared for a wait, but the burrito definitely blew my mind and was well worth it. With a full stomach & the sun fully set I remembered seeing online the week before leaving that San Francisco was going to have a bunch of light installations up around the city, so with a quick Google I made my way back downtown to find some pretty lights to close out my last full day in SF.
And just like that I was waking up on my last day of this trip sad to not have a never ending amount of time, but also looking forward to spend the morning exploring one of the most historical spots in San Fran, Alcatraz. here to avoid any possibility of a scam (ie: just taking you around the island to see it). A ticket will run you about $40 CAD, you book a time to go over and make note of times the boat comes back but you can spend as much time there as you'd like. The boat leaves from Pier 33 and in 12 minutes you're standing on the historic Rock. Used as Federal prison from 1933 - 1963, and previous as a Military prison, Alcatraz homed criminals known far & wide- the most infamous being Al Capone (Scarface). There are lots of options to experience the history and the island itself, I opted for the self-guided audio tour through the prison, which is narrated by ex inmates & guards of Alcatraz which takes a little under an hour. Then would up doing a walking tour to hear about 5 of the escape attempts fro Alcatraz. There was so much I didn't know so being there I felt like a sponge soaking up all the information & stories from the Park Employees. I bundled up ( the weather out there was said to be quite windy,and I'm glad I did) & headed off to get my crime on. I'd suggest booking through the National Park Service website-
With about 2.5 hours under my belt, I felt as if I'd seen more than I could have imagined & then it was off back to SF & Fisherman's Wharf (see I told you I would be back). With 2 main goals before heading to the airport I was on a 1. Postcard Finding Mission & 2. Find Sea lion colony Mission. Both were more than simple, one more eventful than the other, the sea lions? You guessed it! Pier 39 is home to a solid amount of these guys, and when I rocked up they were snoozing in the sun cuddled up close to each other. Once a marina for paying boat owners and few sea lions, the city suffered an earthquake in 1989 and all of a sudden became over run with the animals. Trying hard as they might to deter them the city realized that they were in fact bring in more and more tourists. So with that, they closed the marina to boats & it has now been turning into a mini National Park only for the sea lions, pretty cool right?
And then just as quickly as the weekend had arrived, it was over. I was headed back to the airport, unbeknownst to me that my flights back to YVR were going to be delayed a total of 12 hours (SFO-> SEATAC -> YVR) but completely over the moon that I had spent the last 4 days in a city on my Wanderlist. Delay aside, this trip was incredible, and just what I needed to recharge my batteries. While I'm still wishing I was there I'm getting things ready to head home to Montreal for Christmas for the first time in 6 years & looking forward to celebrating with friends & family!