San Francisco #1: City Walking Tour and The Golden Gate Bridge

Published: September 25th 2017
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I had arrived yesterday morning, but didn't really get up to much. Just had a chill day going to the supermarket, I was so excited by that, being able to buy cheese, deli meats, and hummus, that wouldn't cost the price of a kidney. I had also taken a walk along the beach and caught my first glimpses at the Golden Gate Bridge.

However, back to today. I was staying in the Fort Mason area of San Francisco at a hostel. One thing about travelling in the US, I am not used to paying Western prices for hostel accommodation. At least breakfast is included in the price. The hostel has a cafe and the breakfast is served in there. There was quite a decent spread on and I got some fruit, juice, bagel and a coffee. That left me feeling full and ready for my walking tour of the city. The hostel offers quite a few different tours/activities, one everyday I think. I think the tour I was doing was called 'The Hills of San Francisco Walking Tour'. Our guide, I think his name was Henry, met us in reception at 9 am. Outside, before starting the tour properly, he stressed that this tour was completely free. I presumed that meant he didn't want a tip. he was already in a hero in my book.

We set off from Fort Mason and he explained a bit about the area. I enjoyed walking through the Fort Mason area and learning its history. I am glad that I chose to stay here as opposed to a hostel in the downtown area. My shuttle driver yesterday had been telling me that Fort Mason was really nice and a good area to stay in. This was confirmed when I was chatting to one of the girls on the tour, she was staying at one of the sister hostels in the downtown and said someone had tried to snatch her bag the moment she had set foot out of the hostel. We walked through a small part of Fort Mason and I soon found out why the street names are inscribed on the curb. When there is an earthquake, the street signs fall down, so having them on the ground saves confusion.

We headed up a few steep streets, our guide was a super fit old guide and we were all huffing and puffing trailing behind him. We soon came to Lombard Street, which is one of the famous streets of San Francisco. It is located in the Russian Hill neighbourhood and claims to be the crookedest street in the world. The street is filled with eight hairpin bends. I was surprised at how pretty it was. The sections between the hairpin bends are filled with greenery, a very nice touch. The walking tour had led us to the top of Lombard Street and we walked down the path, which was a straight shot, not like the twisty, turny road. I think we saw a few cars heading down it very slowly. We also saw the steepest hill on Filbert Street, needless to say we didn't go up it. We walked through some cute little laneways and also saw the school that was used in 'Mrs. Doubtfire'. We were in the Little Italy District and we came to a cathedral, St. Peter and Pauls' Church. Our guide told us to take a look at the name plaque on the side of the building. The address is 666 Filbert Street. I wonder if they chose this location on purpose as they wanted to get rid of any devilish influences or it was merely an accident. I think everyone must get a chuckle out of reading the address board.

We walked up Telegraph Hill, that was a bit of a steep walk, to reach Coit Tower. I liked the look of Coit Tower, it is unusual landmark. It is also known as the Lillie Hitchcock Coit Memorial Tower as she left the money to the city to build the tower to beautify the city. The tower was built in 1933 and is art deco in style. It resembles the nozzle of a fireman's hose, whether this is how it was meant to be or is purely coincidence is a matter up for debate. We headed inside the tower and had a bit of a look around on the ground floor. There is an observation deck, I don't know how much it costs to visit it as we didn't have time, but there was a pretty big queue for it. The walls of the ground floor are covered with murals, which are really cool. The murals were painted during the Depression when a group of San Francisco artists lobbied for a job and were successful. The murals depict life during the depression and cover a wide variety of themes, some of the images are controversial. I loved the murals, they had a very socialist feel to them, in my opinion. I really wish that I had been able to spend longer at the tower. It is definitely on my list of things to do if I ever return to San Francisco.

At this point we took a break. There was a small grocery store a couple of minutes walk away, so I headed there with a few of the others. A coffee was needed to keep me awake. We had already crammed a lot into the morning and there was still more to see. We chilled by Levi Plaza and used the nice toilets in the building. There is a small museum, which we had time to look around. We headed to what I felt was like the downtown area, it probably wasn't. There were bars and restaurants in this area and some cool murals on the sides of the buildings. It was a cool area, but I would definitely say it was bordering on the sketchy side, too.

Chinatown was our next destination. It is the oldest Chinatown in North America. San Francisco's Chinatown is the largest one outside of Asia, and it is bloody huge. We wandered around the main streets and then headed down some small alleys. We went into Ross Alley, which is home to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie factory. We weren't allowed to take any photos instead, but we did get to sample some fortune cookies. The factory is pretty small. We wandered about a bit more, past some shops selling all kinds of animals, turtle for dinner anyone? One thing I noticed when walking around Chinatown was that quite a few windows had anti AirBnB stickers up. It seems that tourists are driving the locals out, which is sad. It is even worse because the rents in San Francisco are crazy expensive. We headed to the Cable Car museum. San Francisco is famous for its cable cars, so it was good tot head in and have a look about and learn a bit more about the cable cars. The museum has been there since 1974. The museum has a few old cable cars and wheels, which were interesting to look at. There is a deck in the museum and looking down from it, you can see the engines and wheels that pull the cables. The engines and wheels are named so that you know which one corresponds to each of the cable cars lines. Our last stop was Grace Cathedral, which is an Episcopal church. The Cathedral was big and pretty inside. I enjoyed taking a look around it.

The walking tour had left us downtown and since I was hungry and wanting to conserve some cash, I decided to walk back to the hostel for lunch. The street layout is very clear here, so I didn't get lost on my walk back, but it did take me about 30 minutes if not longer. Time for some butties and a rest. Just what I needed the walking tour had been pretty intense, especially with all those hills. Once lunch was done and dusted, I was ready to head back out. Since I was armed with my camera today (I didn't have it yesterday), I decided to head back towards the Golden Gate Bridge and get some photos of this iconic spot. I followed my route from yesterday, through the Fort Mason park area, past the docks and the marina to the beach. It is definitely deceptive how far away the Golden Gate Bridge actually is. It looks pretty close, due to its size, but I think it is about 3 miles away, walking from Fort Mason.

I walked through the park at Fort Mason, which is pretty. There were a few people chilling in the park, I bet when the weather is better, it is a lot busier. I am still finding it weird to adjust to the fact that summer is freezing in San Francisco. A friend had warned me, telling me that most people come unprepared because everybody thinks California + summer = hot. Definitely not the case. I was wrapped up in jeans, two jackets and a scarf, and the wind was whipping through me. Exiting the park, I walked along Marin Boulevard past the yacht harbour, spying on all the pretty boats. As I was walking along, I could see Alcatraz in the distance. I was getting excited for my visit there tomorrow. I also liked looking at the houses across the street from the harbour, some of them were very fancy. I could happily see myself curled up on one of the upper decks on an evening with a glass of wine or two. There was another section of parkland, which I headed across and was soon on the beach. The beach, Crissy Fields East Beach is only a narrow strip of sand, but it is a nice spot. There are great views of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. It's a shame the top of it was shrouded in fog, when I was there. If the weather had been nicer, I would have loved to have chilled on the beach for a while, but it was just too windy. At least the windsurfers were making good use of the gusts. I continued past the marsh area to the former airfield. Crissy Field was a U.S. army airfield until 1974 and is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. I walked to Torpedo Wharf and had a look at the views from there. Since I was almost at the bridge, it was time to cut inland so that I could reach it. I followed the trail up some stairs. There were loads of gorgeous flowers in bloom in this section of my walk. There were also the remains of the old battery here, which I had a little look at.

I came out at the road and before me I could see the Golden Gate Bridge. The construction of the bridge began in January 1933 and it was finished in April 1937. Before the bridge was built, people wishing to travel to Marin County had to take a ferry. The bridge is over a mile long. It is such an iconic image of both San Francisco and the US, that it is easy to forget it is an actual working bridge. I definitely wasn't expecting all the traffic especially the trucks driving over it. It was very busy and very noisy. The walking path is separated into two, one part for walkers and the other part for cyclists. Why do the cyclists get the cushy part next to the traffic? I didn't want to walk too close to the edge because it is a long way down. I stopped a few times to take in the view and some photographs. I loved the view across in the direction I was heading. Marin County and Sausalito looked so pretty. I don't know if it was the light or what but the countryside was gorgeous. There were quite a few other tourists on the bridge, too. It took a while, but I made it to the other side. I headed down to Vista Point. What amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge! I'm glad that I decided to make the trek across. Also the weather had cleared up, the clouds that had been shrouding the bridge had disappeared and I now had a wonderfully, clear view. There was an interesting monument at Vista Point dedicated to the branches of the American military. There were bronze (?) pictures depicting the different branches in operation and also a statue of a man/soldier and his kit bag ready to head off. I think one of my favourite pictures I've taken is of that statue with the Golden Gate Bridge behind it. I also noticed the Californian state flag, I don't know why, but I didn't states to have their own flags or to fly them proudly. Very interesting and I would now be on the look out for these flags in the other states I would visit.

Now it was time to head back as I had the long walk ahead of me. I made it back over the bridge pretty quick and I went to have a look at the visitors centre, which of course was closed, since it was after 5 pm. I really think with the light nights and masses of tourists that these places should stay open later. I contemplated getting the bus back into town as it would save my legs. However, the queues were pretty big and I wasn't sure if there was one that would take me near the hostel. Since the weather had gotten better, the walk back was much more enjoyable. Walking through Crissy Field Marsh, I spotted the biggest bird I have ever seen. That thing was a beast and the photo I took doesn't capture its true size. Back at the hostel, I was hungry once again. Another salad with hummus and cheese for me. I had moved to a bigger dorm room, so after being in a 4 bed dorm the night before, I was now in an 8 bed one. It wasn't too bad and I spent the evening chilling, reading and faffing about on my laptop.

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