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City slickers

My first time in San Francisco

Jo Bird June 2, 2014

Alcatraz

After winning a trip to San Francisco at the Hayes and Jarvis Christmas Party (a long time ago now!), I’m glad to say I’ve just had the most amazing trip to California and was even lucky enough to experience a heat-wave, with solid sun and none of those pesky fogs or bay winds - it was definitely a no layers required trip!

 
Of course, I made use of the hop on/off bus on my first day, starting with the first bus, as I was wide awake at 4am! I hopped off at Golden Gate Park and enjoyed a tranquil start in the Japanese Tea Gardens, followed by Golden Gate Bridge, Haight Ashbury and then decided at Lombard Street to walk the rest of the way back to Union Square via North Beach and Chinatown. I’m glad I remembered some solid walking shoes – boy, those hills are steep! I was like an out of control puppy hurtling back down, not quite sure if I was going to be able to stop! 
 
Chinatown was a real experience, lots of quirky little shops where I could find just about any Chinese ingredient I could think of with lovely, local people guiding me and lots of colourful street entertainment surrounding me too. Finally, I finished back at Union Square just in time for lunchtime live music and an ice cold beer, which was greatly received after a long morning of exploring.
 
In the afternoon, I shopped ‘til I (almost) dropped, with so many shops to visit. Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Saks, is it really wrong to want to buy something in every shop just to get a shopping bag? The Cheesecake Factory on the 5th Floor of Macy’s looked amazing but jet lag had caught up with me. I gave in and headed off to the hotel. 
 
The Handlery Hotel was superb and I got to stay in a grand suite facing the pool, it was so cool and quiet, the concierge were also very helpful and loved to have a chat – I’d definitely recommend this hotel for a stay in San Francisco. That night, I was so tired that even the eerie howl of the fire engines couldn’t keep me awake. There’s definitely a sound to San Fran from the street buskers to the sirens and the occasional ‘ding ding’ of the cable cars, it only takes a short while to become fond of it.
 
The next morning, I moved down to Fishermans Wharf and received a lovely welcome at The Holiday Inn; it had a very nice airy reception and is in a fabulous central location, perfect for all the wharf’s activities. I couldn’t wait to explore the area after my comfortable night’s sleep. Luckily, the sun was still shining and the beer was just as cold, so off I went again with my poor aching knees after yesterday’s jaunt. 
 
Despite being in the same city, there’s such a different feel to the Wharf, the echoes of attention seeking seals, HUGE seagulls and the ominous presence of Alcatraz, that really did look like it was a hop, skip and jump from the shore, helped to create the unique atmosphere. The clam chowder at Boudin’s was truly excellent and if you head up to the restaurants and bars on the upper level you can sit out in the sun and watch the world go by below. A really good way to rest out weary limbs! There are some great shops at the Wharf and yes, it’s touristy but they sell everything and if you’re left handed there’s a shop just for you too.
 
That night, I had pre-booked a night tour of Alcatraz and with quite an ominous feeling, I sailed over. After leaving the boat and entering, the gate shuts behind me with ‘See y’all on Friday’! On the night tour, you get some extra attention including a guide that takes you from the dock up to the prison. It’s very well organised and I learnt far more than I expected. The audio tour is by ex-inmates with background sounds of doors slamming and prisoners calling out. It was one of the most eerie atmospheres I’d ever willingly experienced, as the sun was setting and the lights of San Fran were starting to show. As they say ‘If you break the law you go to prison. If you break prison law you go to Alcatraz.’ It was a thoroughly inspiring trip and I’m relieved to say they did pick me up the same night!
 
My last morning was spent walking along the wonderful beach at the far end and then into Ghirdelli Square for the most amazing chocolate and ice cream! Well deserved after the miles I’d covered on my trip. Then during my last day, I managed to squeeze in a 5k hike through Muir Woods, where giant redwood trees grow in abundance but opted out of the coach trip that leaves you for an hour to stare at the magnificent trees. Instead, I’d booked a park ranger that took our small group of five off the beaten path and showed us all the things we would have easily missed without a guide, including a great lunch in an isolated clearing with a couple from Texas and a geologist from Australia. Well worth it.
 
It was amazing how quickly my time had come to an end. I was exhausted but exhilarated all at the same time. So exhausted, in fact, I successfully managed to sleep almost all the flight home, definitely a first for me!