After my insanely jam-packed road trip around the West Coast of America last year, I learnt that trying to fit in seeing every single sight in a short space of time is an itinerary destined for disaster. One of our many stops along the 3500 miles that we drove definitely lived up to its name - the famous Fog City, a.k.a. San Francisco. Due to its micro climate, the Bay is often shrouded in fog and cloud, so there's never really a guarantee for sunshine.
Although I would almost never recommend staying in a city for less than 2 nights, one night was all we had time for.
So that begs the question, how much can you do in San Francisco in 24 hours, despite the fog?
The answer: a fair bunch.
After checking into our hotel around 4pm, we headed to the place any trip to San Fran should start – Pier 39. Famous for the number of daily visitors it attracts, the bad weather was no match for the determined tourists. The pier was full of families of all different nationalities wearing their newly purchased San Francisco hoodies in an attempt to shelter themselves from the wind and rain. I can imagine walking along the San Francisco Bay would be glorious on a sunny day: brimming with souvenir shops, seafood restaurants and street performers to serenade you whilst you spend all of your money.
Pier 39 is also famous for being home to hundreds of sea lions. Unfortunately, we missed them as they tend to leave for their breeding grounds around June-July time. So, if you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the sleeping ocean-puppies (as I like to call them), make sure you plan your trip with this in mind.
After our dosage of crowded tourists, we grabbed some take away dinner and headed back to our hotel for an early night before getting up bright and early for our pre-booked visit to Alcatraz Prison. (Make sure you book on early as it gets super busy in the summer months). As seen in the 1979 film (you guessed it) ‘Escape from Alcatraz’, the island has been opened to the public since the 70s, after almost 40 years of historic happenings. It’s only a 15-minute boat sail from Pier 33 and with tickets at $38, the amount of history to soak in is 100% worth the money.
Included in the ticket price is a full audio guide showing you around the main prison cell area, giving you insights into how three prisoners managed to ‘escape’ the prison; how the Indian’s took over the island in 1969; and the Alcatraz riot of 1942. If you’re like me and you love that weird sensation of standing in the place where something so historic and monumental happened, you can’t miss this. We spent about 2 hours on the island before heading back to the bay, so we still had plenty of time to explore the city.
As a girl who grew up watching Princess Diaries, I knew San Francisco was famous for its steep roads. Known for being one of the world’s windiest streets, Lombard Street was originally designed to help drivers of early automobiles manoeuvre themselves up the steep road. It’s worth hopping off the cable car to walk down (or up if you’re feeling fit) to watch drivers warily manoeuvre the tight turns. Or if you’re brave enough and have access to a car, drive down it yourself!
Despite the beautifully kept flowers and houses, it’s generally a very bizarre thing to see: all these tourists (me included) taking photos and gaping over something so mundane as a street. You can find Lombard Street between Leavenworth and Hyde.
If you’re a fan of colourful wall murals, vintage clothing and good food then this is the place to be – think of Camden but a bit more 60s and… American. I’m a sucker for quirky architecture and anywhere that gives off some sort of bohemian vibe, so I immediately fell in love with Haight Street when we stopped here for lunch. Despite being the hive of the Summer of Love and home to the ‘flower children’ over 50 years ago, hints of hippie culture are still very much present today. Walking down this trail of shops and restaurants felt like I was catching a real-life glimpse of the era I’ve always loved to live vicariously through videos of Woodstock and music of the Beatles.
Local business owners are super friendly and chatty, especially those that have stayed put since good old days: the flower power veterans. This is the perfect place to stock up on your tie-dye shirt collection, try some organic vegan food and take in the creativity and culture that is still undoubtedly alive.
Recognisable for its cameo in the opening credits of Full House (I’m questioning the fact that I know this without having seen a single episode), 710–720 Steiner Street was another sight I wanted to tick off the list before leaving. One thing I learnt during this 24 hours was that when it comes to aesthetics, San Francisco did not disappoint. (…If you can put up with the fog, that is!)
The famous ‘postcard row’ is situated across from Alamo Square (a great spot to chill on a sunny day I can only assume). I was told that the best time to photograph these beautiful Victorian homes is when the sun is setting (again, on a sunny day) – who doesn’t love that golden hour glow? Which obviously I wasn’t able to do, but they were still just as eye catching amongst the sea of thick grey clouds.
Golden Gate Bridge
Obviously, only spending 24 hours in San Francisco was a bummer, but to add insult to injury, we didn’t catch a single glimmer of sun whilst we were there. When looking out from the Bay and barely being able to make out whether the bridge did actually lead to Marin County or if it was just leading to an infinite vortex of nothingness, my San Francisco Instagram dreams were crushed. For weeks leading up to this trip I was so excited to get that perfect shot sitting and looking out over the bay with rich blue skies and the sun beaming down on the red steel structures of the bridge. You know, the shot everyone takes. We waited until the last minute to see if the fog would miraculously give way just before we left like some cruel joke. But alas, Fog City was not budging, and that was easy to get frustrated about.
Instead of mourning my beautiful Instagram homage to San Francisco’s infamous landmark, I tried to be grateful that I was getting to experience San Francisco how it truly is, and still remember that I was lucky enough to be there in the first place.
Also, it’s given me an excuse to go back and get that photo.
I’m sure there were plenty of sights I missed on this fleeting visit, so if you have any other recommendations please let me know so I can add them to the list that now has ‘SUNNY GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE PHOTO PLEASE’ written at the top.