(lengthy post ahead, because I have the tendency to ramble!)
A business trip took me halfway round the world to the sunny state of California, where I was for approximately three weeks. Over that duration, I was in San Francisco for a total of THREE (yes, you read correctly!) times, and sad to say, I have yet to visit most of the typical touristy attractions. What I did get to experience was the horrendous traffic congestion and foggy weather that is San Francisco. One thing to note though, are that San Francisco’s attractions are pretty widely spread out, and that involves a lot of travel time.
Upon arriving at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), we cleared immigration, picked up our bags and went to join the long queue snaking around Hertz to collect our rental car. We were there for close to an hour before getting our car, and off we went to explore San Francisco before heading off to our next destination. (TIP: If you have Hertz Gold, utilize it as this helps you get your car much faster! Alternatively, use other Car Rental services as the queues are much shorter)
First stop, Chowders’ at Pier 39 (which was the most touristy attraction I visited)! After parking somewhere slightly further away ( parking in SF is always pricey, it cost us $10 for an hour’s parking). The food at Chowders wasn’t much to shout about, but it is one of the cheapest options, with fish and chips being around $10. You can get a bread bowl with chowder (you have a choice of either red or white) and sit by pier to take in the sights (and if you’re lucky, see some smelly but adorable sea lions sunbathing on flotillas) while eating! A variety of shops line the pier, and you can spot the occasional busker too!
Our next visit was a week later, and it involved lots and lots of hiking. As our trip pretty much happened a few weeks after the release of Planet of the Apes, we decided to visit the sights in the movies. Our first stop took us to Muir Woods National Monument (Entrance fee is $7). Walking next to these majestic Californian redwoods made me feel really tiny! The trails here are pretty much flat, and this is definitely a recommended spot for nature buffs!
Our next stop was Marin Headlands, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Marin Headlands had rugged, rocky landscapes dotted with wildflowers along the way. The main attraction is the Point Bonita Lighthouse (Note: open only on weekends) , which was accessible by a 0.5 mile hike and passing through a tiny tunnel. The strong wind blowing and the grey hued skies and sea set the perfect ambiance for visiting a lighthouse.
We headed into the city shortly after that via the Bay Bridge (NOTE: Travelling by the Golden Gate Bridge requires either FasTrak or an electronic pass, which you can call to request and pay for one, take note of operating hours though, it was closed before we could call hence the 2 hour detour) and were hit by a horrible traffic congestion that took us almost an hour and a half to reach Golden Gate Park (was supposed to visit Fort Point but it was already closed by then). If possible, try to visit San Francisco on a weekday to avoid jams like these, and ALWAYS bring a jacket along, as it gets pretty chilly on a windy day!
Dinner was at Boudin, which serves excellent sourdough breadbowls and clam chowder IMO (mine got cold pretty fast, it was 16’C in the height of summer, can you imagine that!). Boudin has cute sourdough animals above their kitchen, worth checking out if you’re there! We headed off to Ghiradelli Square, after dinner. A visit to SF is never complete without Ghiradelli chocolate! (I personally recommend the Midnight Reverie, and the dark chocolate with sea salt and almonds, as well as the dark chocolate with raspberry filling!)
Our last stop of the day was at Treasure Island, a hidden gem slightly off the Bay Bridge. This man-made island has a few wineries which operate in the day, and at night, it offers pretty stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco. The sight alone was worth the teeth chattering and endless shivering (who wears shorts and a sleeveless top to SF anyways? Me, apparently =P)
Our last visit to SF was before we flew back home. This time around, we visited the Palace of Fine Arts. The weather was bright and sunny, and lots of families were milling around the grass, and we even spotted some couples taking their wedding photos there! Not a surprise as this Roman-styled rotunda and its columns, and the surrounding lagoons is one of SF’s most photographed sights.
Restrooms are not available at the Palace of Fine Arts, so we walked a short distance over to Marina Green. The waterfront part has a grassy area and a small stretch of beach. This is a good place to just relax and catch the last few rays of sun as it sets on the Bay.
I think its pretty easy to fall in love with San Francisco, with its eclectic mix of neighborhoods, the sights, and THOSE San Francisco Bridges (FYI, the red’s the Golden Gate Bridge, and the grey’s the Bay Bridge). Only in San Francisco, where summer days are much cooler compared to spring. Driving in SF is pretty hard for those who aren’t confident in their driving as its akin to riding a roller coaster – SF is famous for its many steep slopes and plunges and its traffic jams! I’d say driving in SF is a whole new experience, a good one nonetheless.