San Francisco

Trip Start Nov 01, 2009
Trip End Nov 30, 2010

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Flag of United States  , California
Thursday, June 17, 2010


Day 1 San Francisco - We started the morning in Merced making sure we got our free breakfast of cereal and make your own waffles -which Doog made and I helped him eat with lots of syrup. We left our room with than a minute left before the check out time, and then spent the next 20 minutes in the car park using the free WiFi from the motel to get directions to our hostel in San Fran.

The drive was on a highway for the whole way there, not the most attractive of routes, with the only notable feature before San Fran being a huge wind farm. We drove into the centre of San Fran over Bay Bridge from where you could see downtown San Fran, Alcatraz and a hazy Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. we couldn’t help but feel a bit excited about what the next few days would have in store.

After driving a short distance to Jones Street, we left the car for 3 nights in a car park at $20/night, which seemed fairly reasonable. It was a relief to give up the car for a few days after having a close shave going down a one way street the wrong way and needing to do a U turn in a bus only depot. Luckily the policeman parked across the road was more interested in his lunch and didn’t notice the shocker Doog was having…although once again Doog kept his cool and pulled off the maneuver to get us back on track.

Once we had checked into our hostel, had assessed the industrial sized kitchen and that the England v Algeria game would be shown in the mini cinema in the basement the following day, we set about planning our time in San Fran. Above all we wanted to go to Alcatraz, but we found out that the only tickets available online were for Sunday afternoon and we were planning to leave early Sunday for our drive to LA. Slightly concerned we decided to walk to Pier 33, where all the tour boats left from, to see if there were any tickets available at the ticket booths there. Our walk to Pier 33 took us through some of the less touristy parts of Chinatown, where people were selling vegetables on the street and the pong of fish hit you outside every other shop. We battled our way through the masses of people negotiating the prices of various goods until we had left Chinatown and the streets got clearer again.

As we approached Pier 33, we heard a loud “excuse me!” from behind, as a woman flew towards us in an electric wheel chair. She was a very strange lady, who we thought might never leave our side. Eventually, she explained that she had ‘electric cigarett-itis’ as she inhaled on a plastic cigarette with a red LED at the end of it. When she found out that we didn’t have any real cigarettes to give her, she whizzed off looking for other people to almost run over and then ask for a cigarette.

When we arrived at Pier 33, we found that there were no more tickets left there either for Friday or Saturday, only for Sunday afternoon. So we walked around various Alcatraz information boards and through the souvenir shop feeling very sorry for ourselves. On leaving Pier 33, we were distracted enough by the things around us to move on a little from our disappointment. We walked through Fisherman’s Wharf, a pier which had been developed with lots of touristy shops, bars and restaurants along it, with a view of Alcatraz at the end of the pier over the bay. We briefly looked at the view before going into some of the shops to get out of the bitterly cold wind.

After attempting to buy jeans from a Levis shop, which turned out to be a spy shop (they had just not bothered to take the Levis sale sign down) with lots of cameras hidden in pens and things like that, we headed to Lombard Street to see the ‘world’s most crooked street’. The houses on this street must be some of the most photographed houses in the world, as people risked being run over to get the perfect photo.

With one more stop at the supermarket, we headed back to the hostel to cook dinner. En route, we saw one of San Fran’s famous cable cars for the first time as it grinded past us on the tram tracks with people spilling out and hanging from the sides.


Day 2 San Francisco - We woke up at the same time as another guy in our dorm who jumped out of bed fully clothed, in jeans and T shirt, ready for the day ahead - why bother putting on PJ’s when you only have to take them off again in the morning!?

He explained to us how excited he was that he was going to Alcatraz that day. With that Doog and I decided that we couldn’t leave San Fran without a visit to ‘The Rock’, so in the time we had between breakfast and the England game, we booked tickets for a tour on Sunday afternoon, which would mean setting off later than planned for LA.

After watching a terrible England performance resulting in a 0-0 draw with Algeria, we felt as though we had wasted the morning and spent far too much time hanging around the hostel, so we left to get lunch at a near by café called Honey Honey. Over lunch we analysed the England game a little (as it was on both of our minds), which made Doog feel a little uncomfortable - trying to defend players that were not worth defending, in denial of how bad the performance had really been.

No longer hungry, we jumped on a bus with the intention of going to see Golden Gate Bridge. We got there eventually, despite having to change buses after realising we had been going in the wrong direction for the past 20 minutes. Once at the bridge we had a VERY blustery walk across it. Doog had said the bridge was red whereas I had read that it was actually orange and I felt quite smug when we arrived and I was right - it is in fact ‘industrial orange’ (although Doog still thinks it looks red).

At intervals across the bridge, there were phones with numbers that offered counseling on them, for anyone considering jumping off the bridge. Some people had tied little yellow ribbons to the fence with messages attached to them to lift people’s spirits if they were feeling down. Large container ships passed underneath us as we walked and once again Alcatraz and a view over San Fran could be seen. We felt better knowing that we were now going to visit the famous prison.

After walking the whole length of the bridge I was keen to get inside somewhere to get out of the wind that had persisted in blowing us about the whole time. I led the way to the souvenir shop at the start of bridge with Doog trailing a few minutes behind taking lots of interesting photos of the bridge.


Day 3 San Francisco - We decided to start the day by going for a walk through Chinatown. This meant first walking through Union Square where we got a bit sidetracked and joined a long queue of people waiting for free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, which we ate in the freezing cold at 10 am, even though we were still full from the pancakes we had had for breakfast.

Chinatown was massive. We visited a fortune cookie factory where we bought a bag of 8 fortune cookies, which we ate throughout the day. From the iron fire escape exits, residents had their washing hung out to dry next to pieces of meat that had also been hung from the lines. One of the streets we walked down had been used as a film set for films such as Indiana Jones. We also heard the click clack of Mahjong pieces, a Chinese game that looks a lot like dominos, as the game was played down the alleyways and sidestreets behind closed doors.

The most impressive site was a Chinese temple, which we walked into through a small nondescript door and up 4 flights of stairs to what looked like an apartment. Inside a woman was praying and chanting in a corner and the whole ceiling was covered in lanterns. We felt slightly out of place, not sure what we were meant to look at or what part of the temple was most important or even if it was ok for us to be in there. Doog took a sneaky photo to try and capture the scene.

We walked out of Chinatown to North Beach, another area of San Fran, where we found a street festival in full flow. Stalls ran down the middle of the street, there was a small stage which had comedians performing on it or anyone who wanted to take a turn in working the crowd and there were also street performers and entertainers trying their best to get tips from passes by. We had some lovely noodles for lunch and then after I took a peak at some of the stalls, we went to sit in the main square at the centre of the festival in the sunshine, where beer tents had been set up and live music was being played on a stage.

We sat in front of the stage and watched a band perform, which was very entertaining. The band had twins for backing singers, who although they may have looked the part being very smiley and swinging their arms in time with the music, their voices weren’t exactly the best. At the very front of the crowd was a guy who had his shirt off and was proudly prancing around showing off his body and even tan.After looking in the church overlooking the square, we walked up the hill to Coit Tower. The tower overlooks San Fran and was built to resemble a fire hose. We didn’t go up the tower but we got a good view of the city from the bottom. Having watched a few ships sail around the bay we walked down the hill another way, down some wooden steps past wild gardens and little cottages to Levis Plaza, a square right in the centre of San Fran built in honour of the jeans inventor. The centre piece of the square was a water fountain with stepping stones around it.

Our walk ended at Pier 1 which was home to an organic food retailers and coffee shops as well as a statue of Gandhi. After a very large tea, we got the historic tram to Haights - a section of the city famous for its Victorian houses and boutique shops. A particular famous row of houses are the ‘Painted Ladies’, and we sat watching as the sun slowly cast shadows across their front whilst the rest of the city remained lit up. Soon our large teas came back to haunt us and we made it back sharpish to the hostel on the bus. The journey seemed to last forever, partly because of our toiletry needs but also because our bus tickets were 5 minutes past the expiry time and so we prayed that an inspector would not get on.


At last the day had come for Alcatraz! First though we had a morning to kill until our 3.30 pm departure to The Rock.

We spent the morning in an area of San Fran called The Mission, which is famous for its street art and large murals. We got there by taking the BART (San Fran’s underground system) and found that all the streets had been closed off to cars and was instead full of cyclists and people walking down the middle of the roads. Cafes had spilled out onto the streets and it had a real family feel with kids in seats attached to the front of bikes or being pulled in little carts behind them. One guy cycled up and down the street with loud speakers attached to his bike which played music by the power generated by his pedaling. A band also used pedal-power to play their set and a modern group of tribal Indian dancers danced to the beat of a massive drum wearing large feather headdresses. All this was in addition to the murals which had been our reason for coming to The Mission in the first place. The murals were fantastic, all in different styles, most fairly abstract, some the size of double-decker buses and others painted on garage doors.

Although we could have spent the whole day in The Mission, we had to get back through San Fran for our trip to Alcatraz. We took the BART to Pier 1, where we had lunch before walking to Pier 33 and boarding the ferry to Alcatraz. Looking around the ferry it was clear that there was a general black and grey striped theme going on, with T-shirts, jumpers and tights of some passengers all following this dress code.

Alcatraz was a very exciting place to walk around, we felt as though we were getting a privileged look (along with about 300 other tourists) behind the scenes as we listened to our own audio guides. We learnt about prison riots, escape attempts and about the prisoners themselves. We walked in one of the cells in Block D, known as ‘the hole’ and looked across the bay to San Fran, feeling as though we were looking through the eyes of a prisoner longing for freedom.

Time flew by on the island and as soon as our audio tour ended we had to get the ferry back to the main land, to pick up our car and start our drive to LA - although we would have loved to have explored the prison some more. To get back to the car park, we decided to take the cable car, which although was slower than taking the bus, was a lot of fun. Doog and I hung the side of the cable car on the left hand side near the front, which was a fairly hairy place to be when other trams flew by in the opposite direction.

Once we were back in our car, there was still time for one last tourist attraction - driving down the world’s most crooked street - Lombard Street. As we drove down we waved from the car at the people taking photos of us - we felt like real celebs!

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