Travel Blog

Read all about our journeys, experiences and observations from the team at Gilpin Travel.

12 Aug

San Francisco in June 2011

Travel Blog by Kim, Corporate Client of Gilpin Travel

1313384015_Alcatraz2.jpgSan Francisco has always been on the “bucket list” and this opportunity presented itself as a stopover en route to the UK.

Staying at the Hilton on O’Farrell Street, it was conveniently located to Union Square and Market Street, where a reasonable walk leads down to the Embarcadero and the Ferry Building.  However, once at the Ferry Building, it is a 20 minute plus walk along the front to reach Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf.  The hotel had all the standard features of a Hilton and was very busy.  Breakfast was expensive but there are lots of eateries close by.  Tip: recommend David’s Deli on Geary Street.  Great food at a great price!  There’s also an Irish pub just along from the Hilton serving traditional pub fare and Guinness.

The Union Square area boasts a variety of shopping options from the multi-level Westfield Mall containing Macys, Nordstrom and Bloomingdales as well as other well-known stores ranging from high street to luxury.  Trams are close by as is the local BART and Muni train services.  Tip: there is a fantastic supermarket / deli located in the basement at Westfield called “Bristol Farms” – brilliant for general supplies, fresh salads and food to go.

Our time in San Francisco was action-packed commencing with a City Tour to get acquainted.  First off, Lombard Street (the crookedest street in the world) with its beautiful houses and eight, tight hairpin bends where downward traffic physically can’t exceed 5mph.

Next on the agenda was the painted ladies of Alamo Square (remember the opening scene from that 90’s TV series “Full House”), that’s them!  It was then onto Chinatown (average), Golden Gate Park (outstanding) the Palace of Fine Arts (unexpected stunning architecture) culminating in a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge (the reason we were here).  Unfortunately, it was shrouded in fog and very windy.

From the bridge it’s a short drive into Sausalito – no fog there and a good five degrees warmer than SF City.  It’s a beautiful town with a great view back to the City but it felt like a different world, very serene with eateries of every description and boutique shops best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. 

Unfortunately, we were on a timetable that necessitated no hanging around and a 35 minute ferry ride back to the City.  However, there were plenty of “Kodak” moments of a “fog free” Golden Gate Bridge and the infamous Alcatraz.

Alcatraz is worth visiting and well set up for the hoards of visitors.  It’s desolate, foreboding and windy. The commentary received through personal headsets is informative especially as it uses inmates’ recollections and personal experiences to give life to the visit.  Tip: If your time is short in SF and Alcatraz is on your agenda, book well in advance – it fills up quickly and you may not get the date you want.

Fishermans Wharf is an eclectic mix of sights, sounds and smells.  The sour dough bread bowls of clam chowder, the Ghirardelli Chocolate factory, old sailing ships, multitudes of souvenir shops and many food options.  There’s also get a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge here if you’re lucky!

Pier 39 is further along the Embarcadero, although when we visited there were only a few seals in situ who were oblivious to their adoring fans, but did deign once or twice to lift their sullen barking heads for a photo opportunity.  There is also an abundance of shops and restaurants.  Tip: Can highly recommend Neptunes located at the end of Pier 39 for fabulous seafood and views over Alcatraz and the bay.

In a change of pace, a visit to Yosemite National Park is a must and offers a great contrast to the SF cityscape.  It’s a journey of around 4 hours, so it is a long day trip.  Yosemite is home to groves of giant Sequoia trees, the granite cliffs of Half Dome and El Capitan, many jaw dropping waterfalls, wildlife such as black bears, birds, flora and fauna. 

Yosemite’s winter had been particularly severe this year with a higher than average snowfall, the bonus for us though meant the waterfalls were at full power, at a time of the year when they have virtually disappeared.  The outstanding vistas, waterfalls around every corner and contrasting rock formations that stretched into the sky meant the camera was constantly poised for that next photo.  You won’t be disappointed; Yosemite is well worth a visit and gave an extra dimension to this city stopover.

San Francisco really is a brilliant city and coupled with its environs will provide many “rocking chair moments”.  Try walking the hills, not only great exercise but also gives an unparalleled appreciation of the city’s magnificence.  We will be back – there’s still much to see and do. Tip: The SF weather is unpredictable, windy, foggy and sunny all at once and with the wind chill factor it was colder than we expected for the time of year.  Warm clothing layers are definitely the way to go!