I Left my Heart in San Francisco

I visited San Francisco as part of a larger trip around California several years ago, absolutely loved it and had always thought it would be good to return if I got the chance. With my husband still working out in New Zealand and plans made for our next midway meet up we decided that if we travelled in the opposite direction to our last one back in Singapore, San Francisco suddenly seemed a very good place to head to once again. Despite a lot of travel to new places together I can't pretend that I wasn't a little chuffed that this was the first time we were heading to a city and a country that l’d visited but that my husband hadn’t. With his volume of work travel this is quite an achievement believe me! 

We had lots planned for our visit, obviously the touristy things that I'd done before but with a bit longer there this time taking the opportunity to enjoy more of the city a little too. Despite the epic hills (Edinburgh's are nothing in comparison) San Francisco is a city that’s easy to walk around and enjoy without any particular plan in place too. The city, like I think most cities in America, is very easy to get around with its grid layout and we explored neighbourhood after neighbourhood over the course of our visit. 

Another good way to get an overview of the city is to join one of the city bus tours, these hop on and off buses are also quite handy when you want a break from walking up and down those hills. You can buy your ticket from one of the ticket offices around the city and as in most cities offering these tours choose from several options depending on your interests. Once you have your ticket you can board any of their buses at any of the tour bus stops.

Hearts in San Francisco art in Union Square

We opted for the classic tour which took us on a large loop around the city to all the key points including, by far the highlight, a trip across the Golden Gate bridge. I would recommend you try and get one of the buses with a live guide rather than a recording. We were lucky to get a great guide for the majority of our tour who was incredibly knowledgeable and shared lots of interesting details with us. For the final part of our tour (when we were using the bus as a convenient way to get back to our hotel) though we only had the pre-recorded tour option and this definitely isn't anywhere as good in my opinion. 

If you don't fancy a tour bus how about a trip on the famous cable cars instead? The first cable operated street railway opened in 1873 on Clay Street and following the success of this route others around the city followed with twenty-three lines eventually opened between 1873 and 1890. Originally an essential way of getting around the city nowadays they are mainly used just by visitors and only run on three preserved routes. We took the cable car twice, the first time we got to stand for our ride holding on to the poles, so much fun! On the second I got a seat right at the front which was the perfect spot for appreciating just how steep those hills really are. The queues to ride (we queued a lot on this holiday but every time was for a very good reason) are generally long, even if you get there early as we did but it's worth it. How can you visit San Francisco and not ride the cable cars?

Our exploring both on foot and via the bus tour took us naturally to the Fisherman's Wharf area. Fisherman's Wharf takes its name from when Italian immigrant fisherman flocked to the city in the mid to late 1800s to take advantage of the influx of population due to the gold rush. Despite its obvious very touristy side it's still home to many fishermen and their fleets. In all honesty it's probably not the place to go to if you don't want to visit multiple gift and novelty shops and restaurants etc. but nonetheless you have to see it once at least, right?

If you don’t do anything else whilst you're in that part of the city then do go and see the famous sea lions and their playfulness at Pier 39, plus it's this part of the city that you need to head to get the boats to Alcatraz, and that is definitely worth doing. Pier 39 is also home to those same novelty shops and various restaurants etc. but the sea lions make it worth a stop off. The sea lions have always been present in the area but after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake they came in much larger numbers to this area and have remained since. They now live on the wooden docks previously used for docking the boats, the boats having since relocated elsewhere.

Sea lions at Pier 39

Close by is the Ferry Building which was recommended to us by lots of you and is the terminal for ferries that travel across the San Francisco Bay, something I confess I hadn't appreciated was still the case until we were there and saw the commuter ferries. Designed in 1892 and completed in 1898, it replaced a wooden predecessor built on the same site in 1875, before the completion of both the Bay bridge and the Golden Gate bridge the Ferry Building was the second busiest transit terminal after Charing Cross station in London! By the 1950s though and with a large decrease in usage the building was converted to offices and the public spaces broken up. Following extensive renovations in the late 90s the Ferry Building was reopened in 2003 and is now a marketplace filled with food purveyors, eateries and a few other shops on its lower level. 

Whilst we didn't eat there in the end (so many places to go and such a limited amount of time) we did stop in on a couple of bars for a glass or two of wine. The first place we chose actually wasn’t anything very special so we quickly moved on and inside found a much better place, the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, where we were able to enjoy some Californian wine before heading off to dinner. Between here and the Pier 39 area we found a very nice little tapas bar called Coqueta which was a good stop for a late lunch after our visit to Alcatraz. As for eating at the Ferry Building I think we'll just have to find an excuse to return again at some point.

Ferry Building

Seeing San Francisco on foot as I said is definitely the way to really appreciate just how steep those hills are but the views from the top of them are well worth the climbs. I only wish I’d got a few evening shots as we travelled around at night, perched at the very top of a street with the city stretching out beneath us was quite something to see. Another thing to do whilst exploring those steep hills is visit the insane Lombard Street, though the famous part with its eight sharp turns is actually only one block of a much longer street. Handily if you don't want to climb the hills you can take a trip on the Powell-Hyde cable car route and get off right at the top. Built in 1922 it was designed as a way of dealing with the hill which was too steep for a lot of vehicles to handle. Nowadays you need to be prepared for the crowds of tourists wanting to get that special shot and the constant slow stream of cars driving down the hill. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live on that block of the street. 

Union Square

With street art and murals everywhere in Chinatown, the oldest in North America having been established in 1848, as well as a myriad of shops and restaurants to explore. The annual Hearts in San Francisco art installation in Union Square for the purposes of fundraising and inspired by the Tony Bennett song, 'I Left my Heart in San Francisco' and the kitsch appeal of the Museum of Ice Cream, San Francisco has something for everyone. What are you waiting for and when can I go back? 

Looking back to the city from Alcatraz 


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