At the beginning of the month, I took a trip to San Francisco for the first time. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from the city — I had heard so many mixed reviews about it, and admittedly I didn’t research it to death like I have before other trips I’ve taken.
Here are some of the things I did on my trip, along with a few thoughts, of course:
Bay Sail Under the Golden Gate Bridge
I know this is going to make me look stupid, but I honestly didn’t know just how much water was surrounding San Francisco until I was looking at maps trying to figure out where to stay. Once I realized that San Fran was clearly influenced by water, I figured a bay sail was necessary to truly experience the Bay City! City by the Bay, the Bay Area… it all makes so much more sense now.
So, I booked a 90-minute sail that went from Pier 39, under the Golden Gate Bridge and back. It was freezing. I was wearing jeans, a button-up flannel, a sweater and a windbreaker and my hands were numb.
But, it was not expensive, and the views and all of the great photo opportunities made it worth it. I mean how else are you really going to see the bridge from all angles, not to mention Alcatraz! It looked creepy just SITTING there. I took the sail on my first day in town, so this was the first time I’d seen the bridge and I was surprised at how much fog was still around at 3:30 pm.
I’d read that this was a fun place to just go walk around, but I’d also heard that it’s a great place to get stabbed in broad daylight, so there’s that. I heard so much about the city before my trip; some people said it was their favorite city, and others said it was dirty and dangerous.
There were tons of restaurants and shops around Fisherman’s Wharf, and I ate dinner there after my bay sail — I had a fried shrimp basket and a beer. I enjoyed the atmosphere around Pier 39 more (they are a very short distance from each other), but Fisherman’s Wharf is a vibe all on its own. I didn’t feel unsafe here, although I did leave before the sun set.
Conservatory of Flowers
This was on my list as a must-see, as it houses several rare and even endangered plants and flowers. The Conservatory is fairly small, but they have it PACKED with all sorts of different things. They also have it divided by the type of climate the plants need, so while one section may be for high-altitude plants that need cool air and sun, another section is for tropical plants and its hot and humid.
Depending on how into plants you are, you could fly through it in 30 minutes or really hunker down and spend hours in this place. I left after about an hour. It’s a great place to take pictures and the entire grounds are beautiful!
Golden Gate Park
The Conservatory is really close to Golden Gate Park. I didn’t initially think I’d be able to make it here, but I am glad I was able to. The entire park is pretty huge — I’m not sure how it compares to Central Park or Balboa — but you could spend an entire day here.
I didn’t venture far because I had something booked later that afternoon, but I did visit the Japanese Tea Garden and have a mug of Gojicha. I also bought myself a set of handmade chopsticks that have little koi fish painted on them. I will feel very authentic when I eat my veggie sushi — ha!
There was an Aids memorial and sanctuary, which I walked through and really enjoyed. I had never heard of it before and there were several plaques and engravings throughout, which was really nice.
Alcatraz Federal Prison
Before I even booked my trip, I wanted to visit Alcatraz. The price of a ticket includes the cruise to and from the island, and an audio tour of the prison. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but this was amazing!
I know I’ve mentioned here before just how much of a scaredy cat I am, but I still love true crime — I know, it makes no sense! I’ll risk a night of sleep to read a good murder mystery. Some of the world’s most infamous criminals paid time at Alcatraz and walking through the prison fulfilled all of my true-crime-CSI-In-Cold-Blood-Ear-Hustle dreams!
I really enjoyed the audio tour because you wear headphones, so you can really get in the zone and don’t have to worry about other people being too loud for you to concentrate. They also give you plenty of opportunities to go in a jail cell if you want — I definitely did!
The Coit Tower is a well-recognized piece of the San Francisco skyline and a treasured part of the city’s history. It also has some of the best 360-degree views of the city, if you’re willing to go to the top. The tower is located in Little Italy, and is quite a hike just to even get to it.
I visited the tower on my last day in town and honestly, I was exhausted and I was certainly tired of hiking up all of the hills (which no one talks about) in the city. So, when I finally made it to the tower and the employees were being ridiculously strict about which direction you could walk and some secret way to get in line, I was over it.
But, I still made it to the top, and yes the views were really great — but it was so foggy you couldn’t see any part of the bridge.
When I’m trying to cram in lots of sights, I often let my food adventures sit on the back-burner. But, San Fran makes it pretty easy to do both. I devoured a brunch board from Le Marais Bakery (biggest croissants ever) and really loved the pizza and staff at Tony’s Pizzeria.
I knew I had to go to Mr. Holmes Bakehouse, but I figured it would be more of a photo-opp than a foodie-experience. Wrong! The donuts were more impressive than my $18 brownie sundae at Ghirardelli, where the staff was incredibly rude. I also grabbed some shrimp and crab chowder in a sourdough bread bowl from a place off Pier 39, which was nice after the chilly bay sail!
Finding a good hotel where I would feel safe being a solo traveller was a bit of a project, but I stayed at StayPineapple, which sounds so silly, but this ended up being the NICEST hotel I have ever stayed in! The staff was so sweet and the room was gorgeous, with a very comfy bed. I will definitely stay here again!
All in all, I had a great time in San Fran. Coincidentally, today I started a new gig that’s based right in Union Square! I will still be staying in Austin, but am looking forward to going back to visit for the needs of the job.
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