Our first full day in San Francisco began early as I battled the rush hour traffic to return the rental car by 9am. Once this was done I took a leisurely stroll back up Market Street to our home for the next five days, Noe Street, near to the Castro and Mission districts. Chris (aka Drakey), a friend from the UK working over here, was kind enough to put us up for our time in San Francisco. Once I got back to Noe Street and reunited with Kirsty, we headed out to the Haight-Ashbury area and a street of vintage shopping. We didn’t buy anything but browsed a fair bit. They had vintage full Adidas tracksuits, tempting but at around $150 a bit out of my backpackers budget. Further up Haight Street and about 10 vintage stores later, we made it into the Golden Gate Park. We walked around, made it only about half way through but had a good look. It is a massive park after all. The AIDS Memorial garden was very moving here. One area, the circle of friends, is inscribed with the names of friends and loved ones who have died of AIDS related illnesses and it is hard not to feel emotional when looking at such a memorial. Once out of the park we walked a fair way across to the Mission district, known for it’s Mexican and Central & South American cultures. Over that way we ate some El Salvordian snacks (Pupusas) and went to look at some wall murals along Balmy Alley. Quite amazing; the whole alley has given their wall space to artists to create murals relating to the culture and history of the communities there. In the evening we had a few drinks for Chris’s birthday at a pub close to home, Danny Coyles. The main birthday celebrations to come on Friday.
Day two began at a slow pace, getting up relatively late and having a coffee at a local cafe with wifi to catch up on emails and internet stuff. We then caught a bus down Fillmore Street making our way to the edge of the bay to view to the Golden Gate bridge. Such an iconic structure although I have to say the best view is when you are on it, driving into San Francisco. Close to here and just a short walk up a mountainous hill we looked out upon the ‘crookiest’ street in the world (allegedly), Lombard Street. Here the road zig-zags as the gradient is too great for a straight road. An odd sight and the houses are beautiful here, must be a great place to live if not for the hills. Feeling peckish we made for Chinatown and stumbled across the United States oldest Dim Sum restaurant, serving for 94 years (again, allegedly). With a full belly, we then headed home via a the ‘F’ tram to Safeway to pick up some groceries to make a hearty beef stew for dinner. We teamed this with a bottle of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir bought from Portland. A nice way to end our second day in San Francisco.
We had tickets booked for Alcatraz on day three (Friday) so we got up early and joined the workers heading into the city on the ‘Muni’ train. We got to Pier 33, picked up our tickets and a cup of coffee before waiting to board. Everything is very well organised with not much queuing or waiting around so before long we were stepping onto the ‘Rock’. The main thing to do here is the Cellhouse tour for which there is a complimentary private headset audio tour and unlike most of these which can get annoying this is actually really good. You are talked through the daily life and various events such as breakouts and riots by former guards and prisoners. It adds a sense of drama to what you are looking at and allows you to navigate the crowds without feeling like you are one of a herd. Along with the buildings on the island there are great views looking back across the bay of the downtown area and the two bridges. Back on mainland, we headed to the extremely touristy Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, for some lunch. Fish seemed appropriate so Kirsty had fish and chips and I had a Clam Chowder. I’m sure won’t be my last in the States, it was delicious. With weary legs we climbed another inevitable hill and steps to reach Coit Tower, a monument to the city’s fire-fighters, which you can usually go up but which was closed for refurbishment. We felt they could’ve had a sign at the bottom before the climb but there were still good views from the hill on which it stood – Telegraph Hill. You could see all the ups and downs of the surrounding streets and back across the bay. In the evening we went out to celebrate Drakey’s birthday which we did in the style of the Beat Generation at Vesuvio in North Beach. Back in the 1950’s this was a popular hangout with the likes of Jack Kerourac. We had a great night hanging out with Drakey and his friends, indulging in cocktails, beers and generous pours of tequilas. We had planned to head on from the bar to another but that never happened and we ended up staying until closing.
The next day Drakey had a plan to take us Angel Island. This looked in doubt as we all awoke after the night before but persistence prevailed and we got up, showered and made ready for a day of hiking and views over the bay. Angel Island is a short ferry ride (20 minutes) from San Francisco and once you get there you have a choice of hikes and picnic options. We took the route up to the summit of Mt Livermore. The views up there were stunning, you can see all around the bay, both bridges, Alcatraz, Sausalito in Marin County and the step streets of San Francisco. We had some lunch then headed back down for a trek to circumnavigate the island. The paths were narrow, winding and took you through some beautiful areas of dusty tracks lined with wildflowers into forested areas before getting back to the ferry pier. Back in San Francisco we detoured on the way home to an ice-cream shop called ‘Humpry Slocombe’. They specialise in bizarre flavours such as Bourbon and Cornflake, Carrot Mango Sorbet and Peanut Butter Curry. We all indulged in some tastings before choosing our scoops. I’m not a massive fan of ice-cream but this was good and definitely worth the detour. Being dinner time we had food on the brain so after a short rest back at Drakey’s we had another of San Francisco’s treats, a Burrito. Cheap and tasty, this did the job before we headed out to the legendary Boom Boom Room for a night of crazy beats, mad organ and sporadic saxophone to round off our time in San Francisco. Skerik (saxophone), Will Blades (organ) and Big Thomas (drums) were their names and they combined to create some great music that the crowd clearly enjoyed through a haze of smoke. Will definitely have to make it back to San Francisco some day.