San Francisco has many nicknames including Golden Gate City, Frisco etc. However, it gets its name from St Francis of Assisi and was named by colonists from Spain back in 1776. It is also home to famous brands like Levi Strauss, Cisco, Twitter, Pinterest, Uber, Craiglist, Mozilla and my hot favourite – Airbnb.
There are many sights to see in San Francisco, and you need at least a week to drink in the SFO sights. Also, check out these other fascinating American cities.
Must visit in the Bay City
We went to Fisherman’s Wharf which is the first place any visitor should go! Scores of people can be seen wandering around sipping lattes, watching the sea lions (there are hundreds of them perched atop the rocks at the pier), eating hot dogs or just wandering around.
The sea lions fondly referred to as the Sea Lebrities, are fascinating. Some of them live year around on the sea docks at Pier 39. They sunbathe on the docks and make a lot of noise. I also got the standard tee and shot glass at the nearby Hard Rock Café and grabbed a coffee. You can also see some restored 19th-century ships here and visit Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. The Aquarium at the Bay is pretty amazing and you get to see fantastic sea life at close quarters.
The ferry boat from Pier 41 took us to do some sightseeing. The winds were strong and they near blew away my hair! The water was choppy, and the boat rocked around quite a bit. I knew in those couple of hours that I was not cut out to be a sailor and sail the seven seas! The view of the SFO skyline is superb.
The Infamous Alcatraz
The boat took us under the bridge and to the infamous Alcatraz Island. Originally it served as a prison for some really bad people – murderers and their ilk including Al Capone – but now is primarily a nesting ground for seabirds. It is said that nobody ever escaped Alcatraz – the treacherous rocks around the island and the bitterly cold waters ensured nobody escaped alive. It is also said that those who have tried, died and their ghosts now haunt the waters around the island – and have scared the beJesus out of some tourists. (Okay, so I totally made that up, but am sure if some ghost-busters cared to explore at dead of night, they would see some ghouls!)
We got off the boat, fingers and nose frozen and headed straight to Chowders to taste their famed clam chowder. A thick and hot soup served in scooped out sourdough bread, it was like manna from heaven. Once that was done, we set our sights on more sites!
The Golden Gate Bridge and More
We walked across the famous Golden Gate Bridge – a magnificent suspension bridge (built way back in the 1930’s) spanning the strait which connects the SF Bay and the Pacific Ocean. This also served as the exercise for the day, at 1.7×2 miles of walking against strong winds, with waves that almost wet my feet, all while trying not to fall into the crazy deep below. I grossly exaggerate but it was quite the adventure. We had a coffee in Sausalito, took photos with the bridge in the background and then walked back again!
Crookedest Street is aptly named because that’s what it is. Its actual name is Lombard Street but of course, nobody calls it that. It has eight hairpin bends and stretches down a hill from the Presidio to the Embarcadero. Paved with red bricks, the recommended speed is 5mph! I drove down as slowly possibly at 1 mph – foot on brake, heart in mouth and grinning broadly to acknowledge the loud cheers I got!
Since I’m a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus fan, I did that as well. Take the 2 day tour – it’s slightly expensive but well worth it. You get off at places that interest you and then get back on the bus once you’re done. There are four routes which take you around the city, including a night one.
Go to the California Academy of Sciences if you have a day to spare. There is an Aquarium, Museum of Natural History, Planetarium, a rain-forest which spans 4 levels, penguin splashing pool where you can also feed them, and a colourful coral reef which allows diving.
For those with a culture bend – visit the Palace of Fine Arts, The SF Symphony, SF Opera, or the SF Ballet based on your personal interest. Another often visited place is the tiled steps on 16th Avenue. They start at Moraga and 16th Street and go up to 15th St. Climb 163 steps which are wonderfully tiled with a mosaic depicting a sea flowing up to the stars. There are great photo ops en-route and an awesome view at the top. If you do this on a full moon night, the stairs are said to glow. I didn’t, but you should if you can.
Driving out of SanFran
The Half Moon Bay at San Mateo (I’m guessing it refers to St Mathew – darn, I’m getting good at this), is a must visit. Stop at the Jetty and watch the unusual waves at this man-made-break. They looked quite regular to me – but then I come from beachy Goa!
Also, go to Monterey Bay, just south of SF and San Jose. If you’re lucky, you will see some otters, bottlenose dolphins, and seals. The Monterey Canyon, which is somewhere in the middle of the bay, is the largest underwater canyon in the world with a depth of up to a mile! Of course, I didn’t see this canyon as I’m a little leery of water and being in it! But this is good GK for all my readers.
From Monterey, we got onto the famed 17-mile drive. Home to famous people like Clint Eastwood and Condoleezza Rice, you can see ranch houses and big castle structures. As you drive along you see the famed Lone Cypress tree which grows on a rock jutting out into the sea. It’s not really lone anymore as some trees have mushroomed nearby. These trees live for 300 years – at last count, it has completed 250 years! There is also another ghost Cypress tree you will pass which is dead i.e. has given up the ghost!
I saw some pink shrubs growing on the beach sands. I’ve never seen anything like it before. As you drive on you will see huge residences, cypress trees, the Spanish Bay, pebble beach, Point Joe, China Rock, and bird rock (looks white possibly because of the bird droppings). This is where seals, otters, cormorants, gulls, pelicans hang around and socialise! You can even play golf if at the Pebble Beach Golf Links – if you’re an avid golfer and have loads of money to spare! You also have to pay a fee to drive on this road but the stellar ocean views and other viewpoints along the way make it worth your while.
Quaint seaside towns
On the other side is Carmel-By-The-Sea. A quaint little seaside town full of arty stuff. Incidentally, it has an unusual law. You can’t wear heels which are higher than two inches – it’s prohibited! Chances of tripping and falling on the cobbled roads and sidewalks are high and they are not keen on being sued! There are also a lot of up and down roads as the area is hilly. I huffed and puffed my way around, into some art shops, boutiques and souvenir stores. Cute little sidewalk cafes are aplenty. The Indian in me found things extremely expensive, but the tourist in me prevailed and I bought a few mementoes.
San Francisco was a great trip and I hope to make a more leisurely trip someday soon so that I can catch everything else these was to see in San Francisco.