Saved: November 27th 2013August 3rd 2010
If Los Angeles was the eighteen-year-old party animal of the family, then San Francisco was the more mature uncle, sophisticated and educated, with an air of grace about his person. “We love San Francisco,” said the elderly gentleman, his dentures wanting to escape his mouth as he spoke. Angela and I were sat in a restaurant and the man was sitting at the next table with his wife, a retired teacher. When we mentioned that we had just come from L.A, both their faces scrunched. “We don’t like it much there,” said his wife. “That’s why we live here.”
The Larkspur Hotel was a small establishment in the centre of the city that offered free wi-fI and a free breakfast. I shook my head as I found this out, wondering why most of the big name hotels couldn’t do the same. I’d lost count of the number of so called up-market hotels we’d stayed in who not only had charged a fortune to spend the night in their establishment, but then had the cheek to ask for an astronomical fee for internet access. Union Square
Angela had been put in charge of sight-seeing in San Francisco and
the first place we went was Union Square, a busy area surrounded by department stores and small theatres. Its name came from the fact that during the Civil War, supporters of the Union Army had held rallies there. In the centre of the square was a large column featuring a woman holding a trident. It was where Alfred Hitchcock had filmed the opening sequence of The Birds
. And despite the breeze, plenty of people were about, most of them sat on the steps that faced Macy’s department Store. The next day a blues band would be banging out tunes on a stage in the square, but today a large area of it had been set aside as some sort of art gallery.
After a spot of lunch in the Cheesecake Factory (where we got talking to that old couple) we headed up the hills into Chinatown, the largest outside Asia. It was surprisingly cold for an August afternoon, and the biting wind had us both tightening up put coats.
From the Dirty Harry movies I’d watched as a kid, I’d known that San Francisco was going to be hilly but to actually walk up some of the steepest
paths ever created by man was something else. But at each intersection a fine view was to be head, with roads disappearing over the undulating land and modern skyscrapers jutting up into the sky, including the magnificent Transamerica Pyramid, the tallest in San Francisco. Chinatown
The entrance to Chinatown was heralded by the green tiled, Dragon Gate. Angela and I ambled along the long street beyond it, lined with shops selling all sorts of touristy knickknacks as well as more traditional Chinese offerings. But Chinatown didn’t just cater for the tourists; it was also a living, breathing part of the city, where two thirds of the ethnic Chinese population of San Francisco lived. We spent a good while there, browsing the shops or just people watching. Nob Hill
The next day was an overcast and windy morning and it was bloody cold too. In fact it reminded us of an Autumnal day in England as we zipped up our coats and slipped our hands into our pockets. We headed up a hellishly steep hill towards Grace Cathedral, apparently San Francisco’s favourite. Built at the top of the excellently named Nob Hill, the cathedral had
actually been built to survive earthquakes, of which there were many, and although we didn’t go in, we did notice the particularly fetching entrance, known as the Doors of Paradise, all bronze and gold, depicting scenes from the Old Testament. Cable Cars
“So much for these cable cars,” I said, as we traipsed up yet another hill. We wanted to get down to Fisherman’s Wharf, but this being San Francisco it meant clambering up extreme hills to get down the other side, over and over again. “We might as well walk there.”
The cable cars (more like trams to be honest) were all made from wood and were kitted out in 19th century style fittings. The person in charge (known as the grip person) used a hefty handbrake-type thing to operate the levers and he also rang the bell to warn other road others of his intentions. We heard plenty of bells and saw lots of tracks, and even saw loads of cable cares too, but all of them were full to the brim with people, either sitting inside the open-air compartment, or else hanging onto the poles outside. We traipsed onwards and upwards. Fisherman's Wharf
Eventually we came to the start of Fisherman’s Wharf but before we began our touristy thing, I spotted a camera shop selling something I’d never seen before - add on lenses for compact digital cameras. I went in and inquired about this new innovation and was told that they had been brought over from Japan only the previous week. “We have two types,” said the young man behind the counter. “Wide angle and telephoto, and they attach to your camera like this.” As I stood mesmerized, he put some tiny ring on my existing lens and then attached the new lens, all done with magnets. After a demonstration of the capabilities I bought both lenses, wondering why no one had invented them sooner.
Fisherman’s Wharf was filled to the brim with tourists. They crowded into the tat shops and gathered outside restaurants reading the signs outside. Angela and I were doing exactly the same thing and after coming out of the Tannery, a refurbished 1907 warehouse, we spied a couple of enterprising tramps sitting by the side of the road. Both had impressive beards and one wore a large black sombrero hat, but what caught our
attention was the sign one of them was holding: NEED MONEY FOR WEED + BEER, it read, all in capitals, and then, almost as an afterthought, + food. I gave them a dollar in return for a photo.
The weather was still dodgy, with cloud skimming the tops of tall buildings and covering the top half of the Golden Gate Bridge, which we could see in the distance. We could also see Alcatraz Island, all broody and sullen in the mist. After Angela and I had an amble past the old ships that were left as a sort of maritime museum, including the USS Pampanito, a vintage submarine from WW2, we witnessed an audacious mugging in broad daylight.
The young woman was walking along the harbour front with her newly-purchased corn dog. As she looked for somewhere to sit, suddenly, from out of nowhere, a large seagull swooped and grabbed it from the white tray she was carrying it in. Angela and I had been walking in the opposite direction at the exact moment of the heist, and saw the seagull fly right past us, a large corn dog sticking out from its chops. The woman meanwhile was
screeching and flapping about in panic, unable to comprehend that she had just been victim to a professional mugger. Pier 39 and the Sea Lions
After the excitement of the seagull, we walked to Pier 39, famous for its resident sea lions. According to the information given, they had arrived in 1989 after the earthquake and had stayed ever since. There were lots of the large brown mammals there, most slumbering on floating wooden jetties or swimming in the sea, and a few were barking too, a loud, reverberating noise that carried a fair distance.
Pier 39 also contained an Alcatraz Shop filled with every imaginable bit of tat imaginable. Alcatraz keyrings, Alcatraz pens, Alcatraz chocolate, Alcatraz fridge magnets and Alcatraz clothing was everywhere. I was not surprised to find an Alcatraz dog coat, complete with prison stripes, on offer. “I reckon we should go to Ripley’s Believe it or Not,” I said as we left the pier. “And I know it’s tacky, but I’ve never been in one before.” Ripley's Believe it or Not
A fossil from an alleged Fijian mermaid was one of the oddities in display inside the tourist attraction,
as was a fish covered in wool, supposedly to keep it warm in the icy depths of the Arctic Ocean. All fun stuff to look at as we wandered through, but there was some good stuff too, especially the strange art on offer. One was particularity good, we thought, featuring a portrait of a small child wearing a woolly hat. But what made it special was that up close it was made up of coloured plastic wall pins, the same type sold in supermarkets for a few pence.
The real reason we had come to Fisherman’s Wharf though was to go on one of the many boat tours that operated from the harbour front. It was now mid afternoon and we couldn’t hold out for the weather improving any longer and so we bit the bullet and boarded a small boat parked at a jetty. Very soon were out at sea, shivering in the arctic wind. The sea was quite choppy too, especially when large freighters passed us, but with the promise of seeing the Golden Gate Bridge close up, everyone on board zipped up their jackets and battened down the hatches. Golden Gate Bridge and Alkatraz
“Why is it called the Golden Gate Bridge?” I asked Angela as we approached the giant dark red suspension bridge, we were close enough now to see cars traversing the bridge. Angela said she didn’t know but did say that she’d had enough of the cruise now. It was cold and it was too bloody windy. I nodded in glum agreement. And it was August for God’s sake!
After a turn under the bridge, we headed back towards the coast, passing Alcatraz on the way. Tours to the actual island were possible to do, and indeed as we circled the far side of the island, a large Alcatraz Tour boat was moored letting off the tourists. Twenty minutes later we were back on dry land heading back to the hotel. The next day we had a flight to catch to Tokyo. Strengths:
-Quite a compact city
-Seems to have bit of class Weaknesses:
-Cold and foggy weather in summer
-Trying to catch a cable car is difficult unless you enjoy queues.
There are more photos below