The man and I travelled to San Francisco last week for the first time, and let me tell ya, what a crazy amazing city! I think we sort of knew what to expect, without really knowing what to expect, and that made it extra fun. So according to me, the top 10 things to see or do in San Fran are…
1. The Painted Ladies
I think we’re all familiar with these famous houses! For me, they were exciting to see because I grew up watching “Full House” daily and these were in the show intro every single day. It seems we had the right idea, as we packed a picnic and sat in Alamo Park along with all these other people just admiring the view. It felt surreal. And the park wasn’t too packed that we were crammed right next to other groups. Everyone had beer or wine, as did we, so we fit right in!
2. The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is obviously an icon in San Francisco. The first time you see it, it feels almost unreal. What we didn’t realize was how foggy it would be almost every day we were there. I don’t think we ever saw the ENTIRE bridge at once because parts of it were always covered by fog. But it made for some really neat pictures. We decided to take a city bus to the bridge and walk across it, and then back. The bridge is about 2.7kms across, so it took us roughly an hour to walk across and back. It was foggy, SO windy and pretty cold, but still such a neat experience. The entire time I was saying to myself “I can’t believe I’m ON the Golden Gate Bridge”!! If you’re not into all that walking, you can also bike across (or walk) and take a ferry back. Keep in mind though, the walk way is pretty crowded and I can’t imagine biking it would be too easy with all those people.
This was another surreal moment for me…the first time I saw Alcatraz. When you’re standing on one of the piers at Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s right there. Like right THERE! You can see it from the Golden Gate Bridge too (as long as the fog isn’t too thick.) We booked a tour, and took a ferry over there one evening. Tour guides give you an intro to what the island is all about then you go off on a self guided audio tour (which they’ve done a really good job of). Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to feel while I was there. Walking up the walkway to the prison, walking through C and D block, stepping into a couple of the cells…I was trying to think about what would have been running through a prisoners mind as they took those same steps years ago. Families used to live on the island. I wondered what it would have been like for them. I felt like it was a bit of a sombre experience, but so incredible to see first hand. Naturally when we got home we walked “Escape from Alcatraz”.
4. Fisherman’s Wharf
There’s lots to see and do at Fisherman’s Wharf. Like I mentioned above, that’s where you catch the ferry to Alcatraz, or just take pictures from the pier. Pier 39 is where it’s at though. A nice long pier with tons of clothing, souvenier and candy shops. Lots of cafes and restaurants. There’s a carousel, and when we were walking through, a magician putting on a show for the kids. There’s an Alcatraz gift shop, and just a lot of sites, sounds and smells to take in. Further up at Pier 45 there was Musée Mécanique, a collection of antique arcade games in their original working condition that you could play! Some were really neat, and some were just really creepy! Parked next to the arcade was a huge submarine. We didn’t go in it, but it was quite the sight. Lots and lots to see at Fisherman’s Wharf.
5. Lombard “Crooked” Street
This picture does not even come close to showing you how crazy this street is, but I took this picture (from the car obviously) as we started our trek down. If you look just below the center of the picture, you’ll see the bottom of the street. A looooong way down, with really tight zigzag’s to get there. It’s only one way, and if you’re driving anything bigger than a car you might have some difficulties getting down. And watch out at the bottom, because there’s always a lot of people there taking pictures of the street looking up. It only takes a minute to drive down but it’s just one of those neat things you gotta do while you’re in San Fran! And hope your car has good brakes.
6. Trolley Car
Riding the trolley was super exciting for us because we didn’t think we’d be able to do it! After we walked the Golden Gate Bridge, once of the park staff told us the trolley car workers were on strike and the cars weren’t running. On our way downtown on our very last day in San Fran, we saw one heading up the street. We immediately found a place to park and caught the next trolley. It was pretty full and the conductor told us we’d have to stand on the side. No problem!! That’s totally what we wanted to do anyway! We rode all the way up a giant hill and then all the way back down, hanging off the side the whole way, and high fiving passing trolley cars. Again, it’s just one of those things you have to check out when you’re in San Fran just to say you did. And really, they did it in “Full House” so I had to too!
The Haight-Ashbury area is where you can really let your freak flag fly! So I fit right in. :-p This is basically the giant hippie area of San Francisco, and also where we were staying for 4 nights (with two Belgian travel agents). If you walk down Haight street you’ll see everything from massive music stores, corner stores, high end clothing stores, thrift shops, cafes (we ate at one called the Squat and Gobble…ridiculous name, great food), and of course, lots of stores selling, well, “products for hippies”. You’ll also see hippies everywhere, with the wildest mix matched outfits you’ve ever seen, walking their dogs, or rabbits…or playing chess in the park. I’m pretty sure we saw it all! And by the end of the week, I found my outfits starting to look a little more hippie like…
Chinatown in San Francisco is massive! We went pretty late in the afternoon so didn’t get to see ALL of it before the shops starting closing for the night, but we saw a fair amount. These shops have EVERYTHING! And for awesome prices too. And Chinese food galore!! The trolley goes right by there too so it’s pretty convenient!
9. Winchester Mystery House (San Jose)
The Winchester Mystery House is actually about 45 minutes outside San Fran, in San Jose but WELL worth the drive. This house was Sarah Winchester’s (of Winchester rifles) and she went a little crazy. Having limitless amounts of money, she hired people to continuously build onto her house, day and night, for nearly 40 years. She was trying to deter spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle by confusing them. She built onto the house room by room, with no architectural experience, with doors leading to no where, stairs leading to no where, windows in floors, etc. If you lost your tour group in that house, you may never make it out. It was beautiful and intriguing. She loved daisies and the number 13, and you see a lot of those two things worked into the house all over the place. It was a highlight for sure!
10. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom (Vallejo)
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is also 45 minutes outside San Fran, but absolutely worth the drive. We’d never been to a Six Flags before, and being the rollercoaster fanatics that we are, we had to go. It definitely didn’t disappoint!! Although quite pricey, the rollercoasters were amazing!! I think we decided the “Superman” rollercoaster was our favorite. We went on six massive, crazy coasters, the river raft ride and I FINALLY got to ride an elephant (life long dream right there). This elephant ride was definitely meant to be…elephants are my favorite EVER and this elephant named Kitty, was a hippie elephant. She was so sweet!! I felt like such a kid! Amazing day!!