New Year resolution #5 dictates that in 2017 I will venture only to foreign lands I have yet to discover. Whilst the years of my life seem to race by with an ever more zealous velocity, I’ve become increasingly conscious that there is so much of the world I still haven’t had the chance to explore. After all, no one knows their expiry date on this earth and there is, alas! so much earth to get around. I’m not sure if I’ll survive 12 months without an Italian escapade but I am, rest assured, starting the year with the best intentions to broaden my travel horizons as far as they will stretch my wanderlusting self. On the topic of new explorations, I am shamefully reminded of my blogging idleness in having let three months lapse since my trip to California last autumn. Yes, in October I finally ventured over the pond on my debut visit to the US to spend two weeks on a family visit to San Francisco, and here is my account of that time.
San Francisco is one of those destinations that requires no introduction (fact – now that’s not me being idle). Despite having a suprisingly low population for such a reknowned metropolis (less than 1m) it is famous the world over and widely considered one of the planet’s most iconic and desirable cities. Blessed with a spectacularly hilly landscape on America’s beautiful Pacific Coast, it undeniably possesses the enigmatic backdrop of an icon. If the strikingly radiant Golden Gate bridge is the landmark that put the city on the map, it certainly wants for nothing in distinguishable sights that are uniquely San Franciscan: the love-it-or-hate-it year-round fog that rides spookily up the ocean and envelopes the city; the vintage streetcars that scale its hilly streets; the row upon row of grand colourful wooden homes; and, lest not forget, the dark of presence of Alcatraz Island, the site of a former prison once home to some of the country’s most notorious criminals. Renowned for being at epicentre of the 1960s hippie movement, the city also boasts a rich cultural heritage and seems to have retained much of its liberal politics. There is an incredibly casual and laidback feel about the place and people appear notably far more relaxed, unhurried and unpretentious than many of us metropolitan Europeans.
I got snap happy with my new Nikon and here are some of the sights that I encountered during my stay.
CHINATOWN – the largest Chinatown outside of Asia
San Francisco has a huge Chinese population and boasts a lively, unabashedly ostentatious Chinatown. Below are some of the vivid murals adorning the streets.
East meets West
GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE – the most photographed bridge in the world (probably!…)
Frequently cited as one of the wonders of the modern world, this magnificent, earthquake-proofed suspension bridge crosses the strait of the Golden Gate (the entrance to San Francisco from the Pacific Ocean) joining the city to the Marin headlands. The bridge is famed for its radiant red colour but this wasn’t part of the original plan; the steel that arrived in San Francisco to build the bridge had been coated in a burnt red and orange shade of primer to protect it from corrosive elements and the architect Irving Morrow only then decided he preferred a vivid hue to a more conventional choice of colour. The “international orange” paint chosen is surely the reason behind the bridge’s worldwide fame and has the advantage of increasing its visibility during foggy weather.
Typical San Francisco style homes are tall, colourful and bespoke looking houses. The city might be famous for the “Painted Ladies” (a particuarly smart row of coloured houses) but the truth is that the entire city looks like this.
In the Presidio district, an upmarket area overlooking the ocean, many of these houses have adopted the Spanish colonial style of architecture like the ones below. You’d be lucky if even a lottery win could secure one of these grand homes (perhaps rollover week…)
The stunning St Ignatius Church sits on a hilltop and is part of the University of San Francisco. It’s grand style has been described as Jesuit Baroque, inspired from both Italian and Spanish Baroque architecture. This is another worthy landmark on the San Francisco skyline.
GOLDEN GATE PARK
A huge park spanning several blocks and leading to the Pacific Ocean. The park boasts a series of lakes, woods, Botanical gardens, a Japanese tea garden, a bison paddock and a windmill. When I visited it was glowing in the early autumnal hues. The BEST thing about this park, however, is that it is host to a huge population of friendly raccoons. I was lucky enough to spot a family of nine shuffling about in the reeds.
Raccoons: I fell in love with these little creatures!
The Japanese tea garden graced with temples and buddhas is a great way to spend a relaxing afternoon – a cafe inside serves traditional Japenese dishes – I enjoyed the miso soup and green tea ice cream.
San Franciso is dotted with hills offering countless views of the city and bay below. The below shots were taken from Twin Peaks: the first looks downs to the financial district populated with skyscrapers, conjuring up the atypical American city skyline, whilst the second looks across to the fog lurking up the bay – a common sight in the city.
View of the city skyline looking back to the city on a boat trip to Sausalito.
Vintage style streetcars
People here are nuts for gourds so lots of pretty colourful displays in the markets all over town. Had a chuckle at these charmingly named “apprentice pumpkins”.
These tsunami warnings sent a cold shiver down my spine as I attempted to push the city’s natural disaster zone status to the very recess of my mind. San Francisco lies precariously upon a series of faults, placing it at high-risk from earthquakes and seismic activity. The last major earthquake took place in 1906 and measured 7.8 on the richter scale. The California Academy of Sciences (inside the Golden Gate Park) has an excellent exhibition on the subject and even a simulation Shake House that you can go inside (just in case you don’t get to experience the real thing on your visit!)
THE PACIFIC COAST
Saving the best to last, the city’s greatest feature is it’s enviable location on the Pacific Coast. Everyone loves a beach city, and San Francisco is no exception. There are probably not many days a year when you can sunbathe on the beaches (though I spotted nudists in October so I guess there’s always someone game!) but the coast offers some stunning rugged scenery with great hiking across the bridge in the Marin County.
Ocean Beach – wild, windy and wonderful – can be reached easily by tram from the city centre. A three-mile large expanse of sea, sand and dunes, this beach is noted for its strong currents and waves. Unspoilt and surprisingly uncommercial, this is a great spot for a long walk by the sea.
Baker Beach – located just south of the Golden Gate bridge this is a lovely golden sandy beach which enjoys panoramic views.
Rodeo Beach, Marin Headlands – just over the bridge from San Francisco is the Marin Headlands, a lovely area of lush wilderness and coastal gems. Rodeo beach is a truly spectacular spot popular with surfers and surrounded by hills offering great hiking routes.
It is by this beach that I enjoyed my first (and only) coyote sighting! Definitely one of the higlights of the trip.
And, that pretty much wraps up my trip to San Fran. If anyone has any thoughts, comments or recommendations on the city I’d love to hear them.
Until next time.