Travelling The United States of America: San Francisco

San Francisco

The hilly city in the bay of fog full of art, free-thinkers and that famous Golden Gate bridge.

Late for the bus – again with Amelia and I struggling with two checked bags each and carry on – we left just after 8am for our flight to San Fran! The airport was only close so we got there super fast, but it was packed!

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The rodeo was in town while we were in Vegas so there were cowboys everywhere! It got to the point where we had no time to get any food and almost missed our flight! I was feeling so sick and was really dreading being in the air! I slept a lot of the way, thank god, only waking up for the snacks, standard.

When we landed I was doing a lot better, but then we had to wait a while for our bags and when we finally got them, our coach still hadn’t arrived. Some of us got something to eat, I got a Caesar salad in a packet hmm very trusting. By then we were informed our coach had forgotten about us, so they told us to get a taxi to our hotel and they would pick up the bill.

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We pulled up at our hotel, Hotel Whitcomb and the taxi bill was around $70, lucky we weren’t paying. The foyer of our hotel was quite fancy, very elegant, but you could tell it was old. We checked in and headed up to our rooms, they were tiny, smelly, very old and not fancy. I highly recommend booking somewhere else! We dropped off our bags and left to all get some lunch.

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At this point I was feeling really sick again, but needed to eat. We got one of the famous cable cars – or in Melbourne what we call a tram – a few stops, on the way it was quite an experience. There was a homeless man on riding up the back and clearly for free because the conductor was trying to get him off! Then we had this lady behind us making these horrible noises with her tongue! Welcome to San Fransisco, wow!

If there was one thing I noticed more so in San Fran at this point was the homeless people on the street, so bad!

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We went to a food court at a Westfield shopping centre, just like in Australia, and the food court had mostly healthier take away options. I got the chicken soup in a bread bowl, hoping it would make me feel better. After hardly touching it I decided it was time to find a chemist to get some medication. I bought some cold and flu tablets and throat lozenges, surely this will help!

After lunch we headed to the hotel, where our coach was waiting for the bus tour. Wow, those tablets were good. On the tour I was continually nodding in and out of sleep, due to the weather being so horrible we couldn’t see much anyway.

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Kiran did tell us – well maybe warned us – about Tender Loin, the bronx of the city, which we happened to be staying close to. We rode over the Golden Gate Bridge and she spoke about how high the suicide rates are from people jumping off it, the maintenance guy working on the bridge is constantly trying to talk people out of it! Again I missed a bit due to the tablets knocking me out!

We got back to the hotel around 6pm and went over the road to the Diner called SAMS for dinner. Ordering a steak for my main meal I got the choice of soup as well, cheddar and broccoli, it was really delicious! Being sick I again didn’t eat much, but it was nice to eat some vegetables! After dinner we were buggered, I had a long hot shower to try to make myself feel better and then took some more cold and flu before bed, Vegas wrecked us big time.

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We woke up feeling refreshed, the first night since being in America that we had gotten 7 hours sleep! I was feeling much better after those amazing cold and flu tablets, they have way stronger than in Australia! We headed down to the restaurant for our one free breakfast. Breakfast was eggs, bacon, a sausage, potatoes (home fries), toast and fruit. It wasn’t very nice at all.

Carl joined us for breakfast and then the four of us headed to Blazing Saddles Bike Shop to do our bike tour. The taxi driver we had on the journey was a very strange man and during the trip we drove through Tender Loin, wow!! There were homeless people everywhere and people on a different planet.

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Whilst stopped at the traffic lights this thing – thing because there were arguments to whether it was a boy or girl – that looked exactly like E.T! Big eyes, the hunched back, it was actually terrifying, kids don’t do drugs. Then we saw the skinniest guy ever in the tightest bright red skinny jeans, so just for the record, stay away from Tender Loin.

We were there an hour early so we headed over the road to Starbucks for free wifi and to kill some time. Once we headed back over Kiran was there to give them our vouchers and we convinced her to ride with us! Our guide was Australian and very happy, we started on the ride along the water and then up this extremely steep hill heading through San Fran on the way to the Golden Gate.

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On the journey we passed the really nice and rich area, which we were yet to see that part of San Fran having experienced Tender Loin! We then stopped at these beautiful gardens called the Palace of Fine Arts. The statue in the middle of the gardens was built for the World Fair, but unlike most, it wasn’t torn down. The guide told us that George Lucas actually got inspiration for R2D2 from that statue.

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We continued on through Golden Gate Park and stopped at these old shipping yards or wharf where they have a little cafe and gift shop. We got some water – I really needed it, the ride was intense – and some snacks for the rest of the ride. We rode on towards this huge hill to get up to the Golden Gate and it was hard.

It was a huge ride at this point, but so worth it! Once we got to the bridge we were weaving through people walking in the bike lane, but the bridge had amazing views of the city and Alcatraz and the whole experience was just so awesome! We stopped at the end of the bridge and were given the option to continue on to Sausalito and get the ferry back or to turn around and go back the way we came, we decided to go down to Sausalito.

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That ride down was terrifying, it was all down hill and on the main road, I pretty much had my breaks on the whole time!

Sausalito was stunning, so gorgeous! Reminded me of somewhere in Europe with the houses levelling up the cliff and looking onto the water. The old wood framed buildings and the cute awnings on the shop windows, it was just beautiful! It would be amazing to stay and explore. We rode through the town then got on the ferry to head back to San Fran.

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It was a nice boat ride back, but extremely windy! Our guide headed back to the shop and we rode to the pier, near Fisherman’s Wharf, to get our free lunch from Contiki. The bakery our lunch vouchers were for was a bakery famous to San Fransisco called Boudin Bakery. They had everything made with bread, bread crocodiles, crabs and heaps of other animals and objects, so artistic.

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We all got the famous clam chowder in a bread bowl and when ordering gave our names at the counter, on the docket my name was spelt M-u-r-a-y-a! That is hands down the worst attempt I have seen at spelling Mariah ever!! Anyway, we sat in the outside covered area and really enjoyed our lunch, soup on a cold windy day when you are feeling sick definitely hits the spot!

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Leaving our bikes chained up we headed over the road to get some photos with the wax figure of Robin Williams outside Madame Tussauds, he even had hair on his hands it was so life like! Then we went to the gift shop, no surprise there. I got a San Fran zip up jacket because it turned out I never brought one with me!

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Amelia bought the whole shop almost! She also asked why San Fransisco had a strong marijuana smell – because we had definitely noticed that along with the characters we saw – and if it was legal. Turns out it is legal only for those who have permits and to obtain a permit wasn’t very hard, someone just needed to complain of health issues. That explains it! We got our bikes and headed up to Pier 39 and it is stunning!

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They had a huge christmas tree, little shops and restaurants. Such a nice area, I highly recommend staying near the piers! We also looked in the NFL shop, I bought my brother a Jarryd Hayne Guernsey, the Australian playing for the San Fransisco 49ers, it was on clearance because he had been dropped again.

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After looking in another gift shop, same stuff different store, we heard the rain. Oh no, the bikes would be getting wet! I bought a poncho and Amelia still had her one from the hop on hop off bus tour in NYC! Carl and Nicole ran to the bikes and got shelter waiting for Amelia and I to get ours. By this point it was pouring, the streets were actually flooding!

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We ran for our bikes and I got the bike lock off but couldn’t do it up and Mill put hers on backwards so it was banging on her wheel as she rode. I held my lock while we all raced in the pouring rain to the nearest shelter down the line towards the bike shop! As we were approaching shelter my bike back wheel wouldn’t go any further so I dragged it to the shelter! Oh my god, it was hilarious we were all soaked!

Especially Nicole and Carl, they were dripping! When I got undercover I realised the strap that goes around the lock had was stuck in the back wheel, like really stuck! We were all drenched, cold and we couldn’t stop laughing! At one point we couldn’t see whilst riding due to the water in our eyes!

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There was no way we could get back to the bike shop without riding in the rain. God it was funny, Amelia was asking shop owners if we could use their phone to ring the bike shop to tell them to come get us, while Carl was trying to fix my bike! I was worried at one point the strap would flick him in the eye, it was so stuck!

The rain finally calmed down so we rode back to the shop. Thank god it wasn’t that far! We dropped them off and went to Starbucks to get a drink and dry off.

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On the way back to the hotel, I asked if we could stop at Lombard Street, the famous windy road in San Fran, to get pictures, such a beautiful area. We got to the hotel and then it was time to get ready to go for dinner and our ugly sweater party. Us three girls bought ours at H&M in New York. We all walked as a group, but it was raining constantly so some of us got taxis to the restaurant in Chinatown called Hunan Homes.

Not the nicest looking restaurant but my god, the food just kept coming the whole time there was so much of it! We had soup, duck, sweet and sour pork, just to name a few and the food was beautiful!

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After dinner we headed to our first bar of the night. When I ordered my first drink I gave the girl a $50 note and got $12 change. When I questioned her she said I gave her a $20, I argued but she didn’t respond.

Then when I walked off Amelia made her check the register and it turns out I was right, poor customer service, I wish I could remember the name of that bar. We played a few drinking games to get everyone in the drinking spirit, but after a while most went home. So Kiran, Carl, Hayley, Nicole, Amelia, Zac, Garth, Josh and I went to the next bar, which was very colourful to say the least. When I went to the toilet, downstairs and very creepy, there was a stick on bra just sitting in the toilet cubicle! I will say the music was awesome and heaps of people in the bar were dancing. A sweater is never good idea when drinking though, it gets so hot!

 

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We had to get up early for our SF Adventure Tours, heading downstairs and we had time to go Starbucks for breakfast, two days in a row, record! Then we met the tour guide Eric around 8:15am. We all introduced ourselves to Eric, who was so nice and really funny! He picks you up in a ute that he has turned into a little tour bus and tourists sit in the back of an enclosed ute tray.

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The whole car was done up to look like a surf shack, it was so clever and he has the ute back window down to talk to everyone as well as using a microphone! It was pretty fresh and chilly so thank god for the provided blankets. Before starting the tour we headed to get another couple joining us, they were coming on the tour from Florida and the guy was a journalist for a magazine and he was doing a story on the tour, his wife was just tagging along.

The tour was brilliant, Eric knew so much about the city, he was funny and really tailored the tour to things we wanted to see. He was always asking if we wanted to see certain places and if we wanted to know about anything in particular. I highly highly recommend it, during the tour we really learnt a lot and saw all the sights.

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Firstly, we went past a house of a wealthy man whose mistress lived across the road, with a connecting tunnel to the house so no one knew, we experienced the many massive hills in San Fran – we tackled most of them in the manual ute. We went into The Fairmont Hotel that had a huge house made of gingerbread inside the foyer, they even had a gingerbread dog kennel!

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We then headed to the location from The Princess Diaries where Amelia (Mia) runs into the cable car with her car. Turns out there is no cable cart there, it was just a bus made to look like the cable car! We then headed into the Italian community with all the beautiful restaurants and even the church Marilyn Monroe got photos out the front of at her wedding because her husband, at the time, had already been married so the church wouldn’t marry them.

Then we went to first Ghirardelli chocolate shop and bought so much chocolate, yum! We also saw the size of the sea gulls compared to ours, wow, they looked like they were on steroids. We headed up more steeps hills and past the house from Mrs Doubtfire. Then, being from Melbourne, Eric took us through Richmond – named by an Australian man who grew up in Richmond in Melbourne – it looked nothing like a Richmond in Melbourne, it was so modern! And now RCH (Richmond Club Hotel).

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Along the journey we learnt that San Fran had only two cemeteries, one was at the old military base that we drove through, it now is home to the Walt Disney Museum and is a housing estate, and the other was a pet cemetery, very creepy looking! Eric was telling us that they all got shifted a long time ago to the next town over and now all cemeteries are parks. He also said a lot of the park benches were made from old headstones!

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We then drove through San Fransisco’s park, home to the Japanese Zen garden and the California Academy of Science museum, Eric pointed out that this park was actually bigger than Central Park and was definitely not as recognised as Central Park. We then headed to the Golden Gate Bridge and the old fort resting along side the left side of the bridge. We almost got soaked by the huge waves and swells that were breaking! The fort was all preserved because the engineer of the Golden Gate wanted to keep it as it was, so you can climb up to the roof, which gives amazing pictures. That added to the hundreds of photos of the bridge I already had!

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Next was Twin Peaks, which had 360 degree views of San Fran. On the way up Eric was telling us of the time there was a deer in the city and that it walked over the bridge to get in, how funny would that have looked! The views from the Peaks were amazing, if you plan to go, try to get a clear day because the bay can get so foggy. Our day was beautiful so our photos were incredible!

Next stop, lunch, we went to an amazing burrito place in the Mexican area of the city. I asked if he would take us somewhere that is well known or ‘authentic’ San Fran food, he said the giant burrito, so we ended up there. I got a pork super burrito with Mango juice, oh my god! Best Mexican food ever, Eric was so happy I asked to go somewhere different for lunch because the food was so delicious. We then went down the actual steepest hill in the city, steeper than Lombard! On a full stomach it was very dicey!

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Heading towards the Pier for our Alcatraz tour we went past AT&T Park and found out the Coit Tower was built to thank the fire fighters, it was to symbolise a fire hose. It was built with the money left from Lillie Hitchcock Coit – a wealthy socialite –  when she died in 1929. So then we got dropped off at the Pier to get on the boat to Alcatraz, we said goodbye to Eric and thanked him for the amazing tour and boarded the boat.

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By the time we arrived we had an hour and a half to explore. We walked up to the prison block to do the guided audio tour. Along the way we saw the morgue and other workshop building the prisoners would use to do work and jobs in. The cell block was very eerie and we heard stories of all the escapes and learnt about the different areas of the cell block. One of the cell block areas looked like the one from the Walking Dead the characters all live in for part of the show.

The stories on the guided tour were told from inmates and prison guards, we saw the guards area and were shown some of the best views of the city, this was to show the prisoners the life they were missing!

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We had to cut the tour short so we could get the ferry back in time, which was shattering! I would have loved so much more time to look around. We had a quick look in the gift shop and all bought a book the lady recommended, it has all the escapes and the story of them and the prisoners. I really loved hearing all the Alcatraz stories, I just wish we had more time. We got off the boat and walked from Pier 35 to 39 to meet everyone for the catamaran trip!

On the way we saw Sea Lions lazying in the sun, they were so cute and there were so many of them! We met up with everyone and headed on the boat, which included wine and nibbles!

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On the ride we headed towards the Golden Gate, and turned around once we had gone under. The sun was setting so it was just beautiful! However, it was so windy and choppy on the water so we hit some big swells!

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It was the best boat trip, we had control of the speaker so we just put our music on and hung out on the bow of the boat copping all the wind! Mill and I even reenacted the scene from the Titanic and slow danced – our bridal waltz, it was an awesome experience and I guess our honeymoon?

We are pretty sure the couple that was on the boat got engaged, whoops we probably ruined that romantic moment by putting ‘I’m on a Boat’ by the Lonely Island on, sorry guys!

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When we got off the three of us headed for dinner at Hard Rock Cafe. I had the Apple Pie cocktail with the buffalo wings and potato skins, too much food! I took most of it home in a doggy bag. But the food never disappoints me at Hard Rock! The potato skins are amazing, my favourite! We made our way back to the hotel and some of us had a room party in Gareth and Carl’s room. Next stop L.A!

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Things I would like to do in San Francisco:

Click here for Los Angeles post

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