When I was getting ready to travel to San Francisco I couldn’t stop singing the theme song from the early 2000’s teen sitcom The OC, California by Phantom Planet.
As a teenager one of my favourite shows was The OC. I was in love with Adam Brody and wanted nothing more than to move to America and experience the California lifestyle. In a way travelling to San Francisco brought back all that excitement for me. In the days leading up to my trip I danced in and out of various departments at work singing California and dancing.
Once in California the soundtrack of my trip was very Summer of Love, which was fitting as this summer marks the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. As my plane landed at the San Francisco International Airport I had Me and Bobby McGee by Janis Joplin playing in my earphones and I was humming along while I looked out my window at the California hills.
On this second day in California it should come as no surprise that I woke up and the soundtrack to my day was California Dreaming by the Mamas and the Papas. As I explored San Francisco with Nell I was humming the tune in my head.
Travelling by BART again we headed down to San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum to pick up the Hop on Hop off bus, one of my favourite ways to get introduced to a new city. The Hop on Hop off bus took us through San Francisco’s downtown core, showing us the major sites like Union Square, Chinatown, North Beach (Columbus at Lombard), the Transamerica Pyramid and Fisherman’s Wharf.
In the morning the big red double decker bus dropped us off at Fisherman’s Wharf where we visited the famous Boudin Bakery, home of the Original San Francisco sourdough. Boudin is a must visit when travelling to The City by the Bay. The bakery is proud to be the city’s oldest continuously operating business and has been baking its famous sourdough since 1849.
I am a huge sourdough bread fan and so Boudin was high on my must do list. I happily ate a big serving of clam chowder served in a bowl made of sourdough bread, with a half sourdough bread turkey and havarti sandwich on the side just to get as much bread in as possible! The soup was some of the best I had ever tasted and the bread was baked just right. Both Nell and I were very impressed by all the shapes you could buy the sourdough in: crabs, peace signs and teddy bears were some of the highlights.
With full bellies we wandered The Pier. Built between August 1977 and October 1978 Pier 39 features authentic 1910 wood re-purposed from Piers 34 and 3. The Pier is a hub of tourist activity and walking it is a bit like walking in Disneyland. You can eat on The Pier, shop and visit many, many attractions. It is easy to lose hours here due to sensory overload.
A highlight a visit to The Pier is the California Sea Lions. These huge creatures like to swim and sun on the K-Dock and are VERY LOUD. They bark and bark as they flop one on top of the other to sun themselves. You can’t help but feel bad for the smaller sea lions who find themselves on the bottom of a pile of four or five much larger sea mammals. Overall California’s sea lions reminded me a bit of dogs overheating in the sun, shaking their pelts to dry off and scratching their ears with their flippers.
After a few hours exploring the Pier it was back on the Hop on Hop off bus to the Golden Gate Bridge. Our guide on the bus told us that the walk across the bridge takes 30 mins each way, so we thought no problem one hour and we will be done. Well we couldn’t have been more wrong!
The bridge is an experience in itself and you will want to budget plenty of time to take in the views, especially if there isn’t any fog in sight. A rare but beautiful event, a fog free Golden Gate Bridge boasts views of the entire bay as well as the sail boats and wind surfers below. If you are as lucky as Nell and I were there will even be pods of whales frolicking under the bridge. With all the sights there are to see this windy walk can take you 2 hours or more!
After walking the bridge we caught an Uber from a lovely retiree named Rosie. She had moved to California from a cold and rainy part of the US based on the urging of her son she moved to California to live out her retirement in heat and warmth. Rosie was great! She told us the best place to get gelato sundaes, Ghirardelli’s at The Pier, and chatted with us about the soul boosting benefits of sunshine. Needless to say it was a fun ride and Rosie got a five start Uber rating.
Rosie dropped us off at the main gates of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Before I left for San Francisco I had heard about the area being the oldest Chinatown in North America but it is also the biggest Chinatown outside of Asia!
Walking into Chinatown is a bit like being transported to Asia. Yummy barbecued ducks hang on hooks in restaurant windows and you can stop by a bakery to pick up a yummy BBQ pork bun to fuel your journey. We missed the prime time for Dim Sum but I have heard only good things.
Towards the end of Chinatown if you are lucky you will encounter Jack Kerouac alleyway, leading you into the Italian district known as North Beach, the alleyway features wonderful street art from wall to wall.
Once you leave the alley and find yourself in North Beach look to your left and walk into City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. The independent bookshop was the first all-paperback bookstore in America and boasts an extensive socially conscious, political collection of books. There is so much choice in this shop from poetry to books on America’s current political climate, a small but interesting place to check out when in San Francisco.
From the bookshop it was time to eat! We headed to one of North Beaches many Italian restaurants for a quick bite and some drinks. With full tummies we headed off to the Beach Blanket Babylon, the musical review known for its big, big hats.
The show is a spoof on the story of Snow White and her search for love. During this musical comedy Snow White travels all around the world meeting colourful and notable figures in her search for love. During the play she meets such controversial characters as Putin, Bill Cosby and Donald Trump. She also meets notable icons of pop culture like Madonna and Oprah. The show is full of laughs and clever word play. Known as the longest running musical review in live theatre history the Beach Blanket Babylon is a must see. The hats and wigs are bigger than anything you have ever seen before and the adult orientated theatre offers table service, so you can have some great treats and enjoy a good glass of wine while you watch.
After the show we walked up to Coit Tower, which I had read gives you wonderful views of the city of San Francisco. The tower was illuminated in glowing blue tones and looked lovely in contrast to the dark night skies.
From the foot of the tower you could stand and look out on the city taking in views of the Bay Lights, the nighttime light show by artist Leo Villareal, and look out at the steep streets of San Francisco below. Then it was off back into the city and to the BART to head home and rest to prepare for day three.