Our stay in San Francisco got off to a pretty grey start. In fact when we arrived on the Thursday evening, the weather was so bad that our first port of call was a Uniqlo to buy waterproof jackets!
By Friday morning the skies hadn’t changed much, but we didn’t let that dampen our spirits – we were off to Alcatraz! The three of us jumped aboard a boat at Pier 33 and began the journey to The Rock.
This tiny little island has served many purposes in it’s life, but the most famous of which has been housing one of the world’s most notorious prisons – Alcatraz.
Known as “the prison within the prison system” Alcatraz opened in 1934 as the first maximum-security penitentiary in the US. Most inmates ended up here due to bad behaviour or escape attempts in other prisons across the country. As the signs say, “If you break the rules you go to prison. If you break the prison rules, you go to Alcatraz.”
A self-guided audio tour takes you around the entire facility providing history, insights into day-to-day prison life and tales of the most infamous inmates (such as Al Capone). You enter the cellblocks, the solitary housing unit, the dining hall and more.
I’ve never seen inside a prison before so the experience was fascinating, if a bit morbid. The whole place has a slightly eerie feel which just adds to the experience. The tour itself was so detailed and highly engaging – all three of us agreed that it’s easily the best audio tour we’ve ever done. Definitely a must-see while in San Francisco!
Safely deposited back at the Pier, we warmed up at Boudin bakery over soup served in a a loaf of their famous San Francisco sourdough bread. Every bit as delicious as I’d hoped!
We then explored the rest of the waterfront which was mostly disappointing. Highly commercialised, full of chain restaurants and souvenir shops clamouring for tourists attention. The only highlight was the large group of rowdy sea-lions who have made Pier 39 their home! I could’ve watched them for hours.
After swinging by Ghirardelli to pick up a few free chocolate samples we continued up a HUGE hill to what felt like the very top of the city all in a quest to find Lombard Street. This ridiculously steep one-block section of road has no less than 8 hairpin bends, making it “The Crookedest Street in the World”!
Our whole SF experience was shaped by the next decision we made. Tired and thirsty from so much up-hill walking, we looked for the nearest decent bar (preferably with a happy hour – as always) and stumbled into in unassuming place in Little Italy called Pete’s.
Within the next few hours we had consumed many beers, made great friends with the bartenders, Dan & Vito, and were unable to turn down the shots of bourbon that started flowing. We finally left with a list of the best bars to visit on a Friday night, and a promise that we’d go back for brunch the next morning.
Our entire Saturday can be summed up by the photos below.
Dan & Vito spent all day ordering us food, pouring shots of whiskey, making amazing experimental cocktails and entertaining us with stories of life growing up in the Bay Area. We didn’t leave the bar once between 10am and 5pm (when Ally had to go for his flight) and honestly I have no regrets! Those two guys absolutely made our San Francisco trip and I can’t imagine having experienced the city without meeting them. I’m also not sure if I’ll ever have a better margarita than Vito’s.
Ally left San Fran that night without even seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, but he definitely had more fun than that would’ve been!!
Martin & I however set out the next day on a mission to make up for our lack of sightseeing, starting with a coffee, a bagel, and a stroll past the “Painted Ladies” & some of their other attractive friends.
It’s a good place to window shop for your dream house. I think my mum would choose this pale blue & white one…
…but sadly the last Painted Lady sold for over $3 million – I don’t think any of us will be buying one any time soon!
We continued up the hill (one of many!) to the famous Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood; the centre of the 1960’s hippie movement and the gathering point for thousands during the Summer of Love. The area was also home to many of the 60’s biggest psychedelic rock stars – The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane to name a few.
At the intersection of the two streets it’s always 4.20!
Nowadays you won’t find many shops giving out free food or selling LSD like back in the 60’s, but the area still has a unique atmosphere and attracts some pretty free-spirited people.
Luckily for me, hippie culture usually always means good veggie or vegan food can be found close by! And this was especially true in Haight-Ashbury. We stopped in at Vegan-Burg for an awesome lunch and admired their photos of all the famous vegetarians who have eaten here.
Fuelled, we were ready to tick off the final “must-see”.
We walked through the expensive suburb of Presidio and along the ridiculously windy beach at Crissy Field until we got our first view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Built in the 1930’s, this iconic art deco bridge is still San Francisco’s number one tourist attraction. Honestly? I don’t see why! Yes I’m glad I saw it and yes I took the usual touristy photos, but I was nowhere near blown away by it.
At the end of the day, it’s just a big bridge! At least we gave sightseeing our best shot though.
We jumped on a bus back to the pier, then meandered towards our hostel admiring the buildings and cursing the steep hills one last time.
And just like that, our California adventure was almost over. There’s only one place the two of us wanted to end the trip; one of our all time favourite restaurants, Cheesecake Factory! We ordered up our usual appetiser selection then headed to the airport stuffed and ready for whatever Texas had to throw at us.