Friday, July 11, 2014

If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair...

Walking tour of San Francisco

Early Tuesday morning, I said goodbye to Ann and the City of Angels and caught the 6.55am flight to San Francisco. I was seated next to a beautiful Mexican lady named Paola; she was a journalist and former news anchor for the Spanish television network, Telemundo Media. The short flight of just over an hour passed quickly and we descended into Oakland.
One of the many helpful signs at USA Hostels San Francisco

I caught the BART train into San Francisco and made my way to the USA Hostels San Francisco; one of the top rated hostels within the US and my accommodation for the first night. An impressive hostel with clean, modern facilities; I was booked into a four-bed, female dorm with an en suite bathroom.

San Francisco Bicycle Rentals
After checking my luggage, it was time for a twenty-minute walk down to the Ferry Building to pick up a bike from San Francisco Bicycle Rentals and ride across San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge. The weather couldn’t have been better for my four-day stay in the City by the Bay; bright sunshine and cloudless, blue skies – with hardly a wisp of the infamous San Francisco fog.

The Golden Gate Bridge
It was an easy ten-mile bike ride from the Ferry Building in San Francisco, across the bridge to the picturesque town of Sausalito. I rode along the Embarcadero past Fisherman’s Wharf, along the Marina Boulevard past the Palace of Fine Arts, through Crissy Field and up onto the bridge – stopping for numerous “Kodak Moments” as I went.
About to pedal my way across

Looking up at one of the Art Deco styled bridge towers
The Golden Gate Bridge was built between 1933 and 1937 and spans the channel of water that links San Francisco Bay with the Pacific Ocean, known as the Golden Gate Strait. For many years it was the longest suspension bridge in the world.

I wandered around the tourist town of Sausalito for an hour or so, enjoyed a late lunch of grilled cod and salad, then caught the ferry back to San Francisco, taking in close up views of the infamous former prison island, Alcatraz.

The next day, I joined a group of fellow travellers from the hostel for a walking tour of San Francisco. Brendan, our tour guide, kept us entertained with fascinating snippets of the city’s history or “bullshit facts” as he so quaintly put it. Who knew Chinese fortune cookies did not originate in China? They were allegedly the brainchild of a Japanese man, Makoto Hagiwara and originated in San Francisco.

Brendan took us through Chinatown, the largest in the US, past the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company in Ross Alley; past City Lights Bookstore and the historic bar, Vesuvio Café – famous hangout of Bob Dylan. We passed the extensive queue at Mama’s Café – famous for it’s breakfasts and the pizza shop where Francis Ford Coppola is said to have written the screenplay for The Godfather

We hiked up Telegraph Hill to see the Coit Tower and enjoyed the view looking out over the city. Coming back down, we passed through Levi’s Plaza, headquarters to Levi Strauss & Co, the dry goods company founded in 1853 by German Jewish immigrant, Levi Strauss. In 1873 Strauss joined forces with Russian immigrant, Jacob Davis and they began manufacturing the world’s first denim jeans.

Just as fascinating as the tour was meeting my fellow tourists; I talked with people from all over the world, including Kathleen, an urban planner from Caracas in Venezuela and Daniel, a university student from Taipei in Taiwan.

Late in the afternoon I made my way to the accommodation I had booked through Airbnb. I had a room on the 10th floor of a brand new apartment building near the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF is widely regarded as one of the world's leading universities in health sciences).

My hostess, Trang, was a lovely Vietnamese lady who was studying dentistry at the UCSF and her adorable nine-month-old son, Tirian. Trang had grown up in Vietnam and had worked as an air traffic controller, then an airhostess in Taiwan before coming to America; her husband is an oncologist, currently working in Houston, Texas.

A bowl of clam chowder on the go
San Francisco is a food lover’s dream, famous for its seafood, sourdough bread and chocolates and only an hour’s drive from the Sonoma and Napa Valleys wine regions. Fortunately it is a very hilly city, so there are plenty of opportunities to walk off any calories consumed!
You won't regret visiting this little beauty!

Lone Sailor Memorial
Day three saw me joining a group of thirty other global travellers for an all-day luxury bus tour of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Upon crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, Keith, our driver and tour guide, pulled over at the memorial to the Lone Sailor and we enjoyed a champagne breakfast, looking back towards the bridge.

Our day included visiting the famous winery, Jacuzzi; named after its owners, an Italian family who immigrated to America in the early 1900s and developed an aircraft manufacturing company and the now famous hot tubs.

The start of the day...
The Sonoma and Napa Valleys wine region was first developed in the 1850s and is now well known internationally for the quality of the wine produced there.

The Bartolucci Family’s Madonna Estate was the setting for our picnic lunch and I, along with my new wine-touring buddies Hazel, Paul, Casey and Lisa, went shares in a rather excellent bottle of red. Jamieson Ranch Vineyards was our final stop for the day and we enjoyed a glass of classic Napa Valley Chardonnay in the late afternoon sunshine, looking out over the vineyards.
With some of my wine-touring buddies at Jamieson Ranch Vineyards

By the time Keith had the bus turning for home, we had John Denver playing at full noise over the stereo system and the bus was considerably rowdier than when we had set out that morning.

The end of the day
We arrived back into San Francisco around 5pm ish and Hazel and Paul (who were visiting from Boston, Massachusetts) invited Casey, Lisa and me, up to their room in the Westin Hotel to enjoy the views and another glass of wine.

Segway touring, San Francisco style
For my final day in San Francisco, I booked myself onto the advanced Segway tour which encompassed numerous steep streets, including twice descending the famous Lombard Street, known as “the crookedest street in the world”, with its eight tight, hairpin turns.
Looking up towards the beautifully landscaped, Lombard Street

On my last night, Trang, invited me to join her for dinner. She cooked a delicious meal of broth, packed with beef, vegetables and noodles. The meal and conversation was a lovely conclusion to my time in San Francisco.

Good food and great company makes travelling so much better


  1. Girlfriend, I was born and raised in San Francisco and you took in all the best sights the best possible way. What energy you have and you did a great job of capturing the flavor and diversity of Ess Eff (as our late hometown columnist Herb Caen used to call it). You've got a talent for travelogues. Give us more, more, more!

    1. Suzette, thank you for reading and your comments; I loved your hometown! As they say in that classic Australian movie, "The Castle", it's "the vibe"!! So much to see and enjoy there... just wished I had bought more Ghirardelli Chocolate...