Every time I visit a new region or city I have in my mind images of what I thought it might look like and expect. San Francisco was no different. Streets that seemed to fall down the hill in waves, cable cars, sunny weather, the Golden Gate Bridge spanning a large harbour. Famous areas like Fishermans wharf, Alcatraz, Sausalito, Union Square and ‘Painted Ladies’.
Four nights in San Francisco would have to be a minimum. Becoming acquainted with a new destination takes time, hours of research and a ‘plan’. There will always be mistakes and disappointments – For us we didn’t read up early enough to find out the Museum of Modern Art – Moma was closed on Wednesdays !! and we didn’t have another day…
Much of being a ’tourist’ for the first time in a city is about what I call : “Monument Hunting” Not that it is all bad because you want to see all the cities highlights but often the popular well known sites are very crowded and queuing is not an option but a necessity.
First of all you have to research, organise your time in the available days you have and book restaurants, theatres and activities. We are not very good booking months ahead except for hotels. Finding the web site Eatery38 was a godsend. It is an independent review of the 38 best eats and assessed each year.
What do I think is essential is a small battery to recharge your phone , Believe me after you take photos , use maps over and over, scroll where to eat the battery goes down incredibly fast.
Our time in San Francisco was shadowed a bit by the weather. Two days of low cloud and rain and one brilliantly sunny – it certainly makes such a difference no matter where you are.
The first cloudy, windy, showery day found us on the hop on hop off bus getting our bearings. We hopped off to walk across the golden Gate Bridge, hopped on to eat Mexican in Sausalito. We were surprised to see so many pohutakawa trees and sat under a large flowering beauty waiting for the bus to continue our trip listening to the excellent informative guide, through the biggest park in San Francisco – (which looked like it needed a whole day to itself) past ‘Painted Ladies’ – The name given to the iconic houses all over the hill suburbs – these girls have to be painted in 4 or more colours to be given the ‘Painted Lady’ title and they march down the wave like street that descends from the hill top towards the coastline.
The famous Alcatraz sits in the middle of the harbour and day two was brilliantly sunny, very calm and the city looked amazing in the sun. Walking is something you just have to do as a tourist and you see so much more. So… we walked to the ferry terminal to be transported along with so many people in military style efficiency to Alcatraz Island. Of course it holds a gruesome history and has been the scene of many movies. Our reluctance to go was silly and we both very much enjoyed the tour through the scary cell blocks, exercise yard and dining room. Quite a few civilians also lived on the island including children of the prison officers. Today volunteers are working to restore the gardens to their former state. Leaving the island we googled Best Crab Restaurants on Fishermans wharf – one of the 3 top suggestions was ‘Franciscans’ . It didn’t disappoint nor did the stunning view looking back at Alcatraz and the busy harbour full of ferries, yachts and huge container ships – even a flight of Pelicans went passed the window. We certainly didn’t need dinner and ordered far too much. We mentioned this to our waitress she said ‘ You are in America and servings are big’ !!
Day 3 started out cloudy and turned to heavy rain – We booked a trip to the Napa valley wine region, so we were happy to be in a vehicle and dashing in to vineyards for wine tasting. The Autumn colours were beautiful as they always are in vineyards. We were disappointed with our wine tasting but, I am sure it was about the wineries we visited. Sadly, our driver didn’t travel up into the Napa valley very far, and we were surprised by the proximity of the vines to salt marshes and the bay. Of the 3 wineries we went to only one, owned by the famous Jacuzzi family had wines we enjoyed, plus the gardens and grounds were lovely.
It’s important to get away from the main tourist areas to find lovely local restaurants. The web site Eatery38 ( in all large US cities ) – proved to be wonderful to source the two Restaurants we booked. They were were fun, lively and full of locals – always a good sign.
‘Kin Khao’ – Modern Thai, a nice easy 20 minute walk away.
‘Stones Throw’ in Russian Hill ( a fun Cable Car ride in the rain and a 30 minute walk home down the hill with umbrellas) – we highly recommend it.
Great visit San Francisco. We were surprised at the many languages spoken on the streets. A city built on immigration and a very big tourist industry. It was concerning however to see so many sad street people on every block in this very expensive city full of energy and vibrancy.