Don't get me wrong, I love camping and being in the great outdoors and on my 14 day trip along the Pacific Coast I had the opportunity to stay in some truly incredible camping locations. But, as we packed up our kit and with some sadness left the beautiful Yosemite National Park there was no denying we were all looking forward to arriving in San Francisco for some city action and a bed, yes a real bed, with lovely clean white sheets to rest our heads upon.
On the majority of our west coast tours you'll make a stop in this super awesome city! Call it San Francisco, call it the City by the Bay, but whatever you do, never ever call it Frisco – the locals hate it!
Driving into San Francisco it wasn't long before we had the likes of '(I left my heart) In San Francisco' blasting out of the stereo, we all knew that the next 48 hours were going to be awesome and we couldn't wait to get out there and explore one of America's most iconic cities.
11.00 – 12.00
Our tour leader very mysteriously told us he was going to take us to a place most people just drive straight pass, as the songs about San Francisco continued we pulled up next to a gigantic sculpture and just across the way were some fantastic views of the city. We had arrived at Treasure Island and were greeted with unprecedented views of the whole bay, we could see Alcatraz and depending on fog (of which we had none) you can catch your first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge.
On our drive we experienced the highs and lows of a drive through San Francisco, there are some very hilly streets and I was glad to not be in the driving seat. The houses we drove past were quintessentially American and one movie that will spring to mind is Mrs Doubtfire, which was indeed filmed right here, you can even go and visit the very house that appeared in the film.
12.30 – 15.30
Make sure you pay a visit to Haight-Ashbury a place oozing with hippy vibes and lots of quirky cafes, hipster shops and the local people are, well, different! If you're not used to strangers rambling weird anecdotes to you on the street then at first you might get a bit weirded out, but if you stick with your fellow trekkers you'll be fine and most of the time they mean no harm. For me they just added to the quirkiness of the place.
If you're like me and love to shop and if you're like the majority of my group and didn't bring enough warm clothes, you can wander around the great selection of second hand stores, that actually sell really awesome clothes for a ridiculously cheap price. For music lovers walk down to Amoeba Music and be amazed at the amount of music they have inside, it used to be a bowling alley and now it's home to one of the biggest collections of CD's (new and used) in the world.
Before you leave you have to take a walk around Golden Gate Park, you probably won't have time to do all of it as it is a whopping 1,017 acres and has so much going on, such as lakes, gardens, museums, galleries. To help you see more, the park has a free shuttle service from 9am – 6pm.
Feeling hungry? Head to Cha Cha Cha for some delicious Tapas, mmm Tapas!
16.00 – 17.00
It's that moment we've all been waiting for; a nice hot shower (not that the campsite showers weren't nice or hot but, there is just something comforting about a shower where you don't need to wear flip-flops) and to put your 'nice' outfit on, which has no doubt made its way right to the bottom of your backpack. Have quick power nap if you need, but there is a city out there waiting for you to enjoy it, so don't hang about.
17.00 – 18.30
The great thing about San Francisco is its size, there is nothing better than a city that is packed full of awesome things to do, but doesn't overwhelm you with its sheer size, San Francisco is exactly that. Take a tram down to the Fisherman's Wharf, sample some salt water taffy or treat yourself to some delicious seafood. But, the main attraction here is a smelly one and one you definitely must go and see and that is the Sea Lions of Pier 39. There are hundreds of them and you'll no doubt smell and hear them before you see them, although sometimes they just up and vanish in the middle of night causing quite a stir, this is due to it being mating season, but they will come back, eventually.
18.30 – 20.00
There is something magical about the Golden Gate Bridge and to see it from the river as the sun is setting behind it was one of the highlights of my time in San Francisco. I was lucky with the weather and we had clear skies but it was still rather chilly, so make sure you wrap up warm or better still grab one of the very fashionable coats that are provided on board. Once the captain has done his safety speeches, you will be treated to some yummy snacks including artichoke dip, which was so delicious I was googling recipes for it as soon as I got back. There is a bar on board and we were given two complimentary drinks included in our ticket but, if you tip big you might get a cheeky extra one as well! This was a great way to see the Bay and get a different angle of the iconic bridge.
20.00 till late
Even though we had some great food on board all the fresh salty air had made us hungry so we decided to stay at Fisherman's Wharf and tuck in to some more lovely food. As this is a very touristy area a lot of the restaurants are quite expensive but, there is one restaurant I would definitely recommend and that's Bistro Boudin. When you're there make sure you order the Boudin Sourdough Breadbowl, which is a delicious traditional Clam Chowder which we featured in our Trek food post a months ago. Make the most of your time in San Francisco and visit some of the cool bars that make up the cities eclectic nightlife. If you like the hard stuff head over to Tommy's Mexican Restaurant who's mission it is to 'serve the world's best tequila' and with over 300 different tequilas to choose from, they're doing a pretty good job!
9.00 – 14.00
A couple of days before arriving in San Francisco we all booked ourselves a tour of the infamous Alcatraz. If this is something you want to do then I would definitely suggest booking a few days before you arrive as this is an extremely popular activity. We took the boat across to Alcatraz and we had our first experience of that famous San Francisco Bay fog, which for me added to the atmosphere when we set foot on this notorious island. I had many preconceptions about an audio tour but, the audio on this tour was fantastic! The audio guides you around points of interest and really helps to the set the scene with voices from prisoners and guards, it is really well done. The tour lasted about 2.5 hours and we also went to a talk from a Park Ranger who told us all about the escape stories and who doesn't love a good escape story, right?
14.00 – 19.00
Make sure you sample some of the famous Dungeness crab along the waterfront before heading towards the city, there are tons of vendors and the price is pretty reasonable. One of the most famous streets in the city is the hilly Lombard Street that consists of eight extremely tight turns, if you stand at the top of the street, you will get some really great views of the city and the crazy motorists who attempt to drive down.
If you're like me and you're huge a fan of Jack Kerouac, an American novelist and poet who became one of the biggest and most iconic names in the literary world in the 50's, then head to North Beach and check out The Beat Generations regular hangouts. Jack was just one of the many poetic genius' who lived, wrote and partied in San Francisco, and the Beat Museum ($5) is a great insight into their lives and San Francisco back then. There is a big Italian settlement here so you'll find heaps of great restaurants and amazing gelato.
If this doesn't float your boat then head over to Union Square which is a shopping paradise, here you can find a Macy's and a Sak's Fifth Avenue, you could literally spend hours here. If you're looking to do an All-American shopping haul, this is a great place to do it.
In the evening head over to Chinatown, which is pretty much a city within a city and is home to the biggest Chinese district outside of China. As you walk through the huge dragon gates and explore this exotic area, you will get a great idea of the unique and interesting culture of the Chinese. One of our tour leaders took his tour group their recently and they met the lovely ladies who make the fortune cookies before ordering some delicious and authentic Dim Sum.
If you don't want the night to end in Chinatown head over to Mission District and listen to some live music and you'll soon see why all the cool kids hang out here.
9.00 – 11.00
As you make your way out of the city a great place to stop and say goodbye is on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, here you'll find a car park with great views. We bought some croissants and juice and had one last hour taking in the total awesomeness of this great city from afar!
This is by no means an extensive list of things to do in San Francisco and I'm sure before you go you'll have an idea of the things you want to get up to!
I really did leave my heart in San Francisco and I do think if I could live in another city anywhere in the world, it would have to be the City by the Bay.