Ah San Francisco, you were all sorts of crazy and fun. I wasn’t totally sure what to expect from this city, but I knew I was excited to visit especially as I’ve wanted to go to Alcatraz FOREVER. It was the first stop on our Californian road trip, we stayed over for three nights before picking our camper van up in nearby Burlingame and heading to Yosemite. Despite battling a bad case of jet lag, we managed to tick everything off of our to do and see list. San Fran was also our final destination, as we headed back here to drop the van off and spend a couple of extra days in the city before flying home.
Location: San Francisco, California
Length of Stay: 4 nights
Vital Info: It gets CHILLY, so make sure you bring a jacket.
Where to Stay
On our first visit to the city, we booked into the Mystic Hotel by Charlie Palmer, which we found amusing as Charlie’s name is Charlie Farmer and yeah there’s a little insight into our hilarious sense of humour. When trying to find a hotel for SF it was a bit of a nightmare, it’s just SO expensive. Our three nights at the Mystic Hotel cost around £700 or so, which was on the cheaper end of the scale for a decent, central hotel. The location was great, just around the corner from Union Square and in the hub of all the action. Our room was a good size, with a lovely marble bathroom, giant comfy bed and a pretty sweet breakfast in the morning. No complaints here, and if we ever found ourselves in San Fran again I would probably re-book this hotel.
On our second visit at the end of the trip, we booked in at Hotel Epik. Whilst the hotel was totally fine, and a nice urban style boutique, the area wasn’t so hot. It’s located in the Tenderloin part of the city and although this is just a 10 minute walk into the centre, it’s notorious for crime, drugs and alcohol. I felt quite unsafe walking around past 5pm as the streets became a little scarier than the day however it was a fair bit cheaper so it has its pros….and a fair amount of cons (lolz).
[The Mystic Hotel by Charlie Palmer, San Francisco]
What to Do
For us the city was split into two parts, the main city hub with all of your shops, Union Square, Civic Centre and where a lot of cool tech companies are (we saw Twitter HQ!), and then the Pier. These are two areas we mostly stuck to, apart from a partly doomed hike up to Twin Peaks which I would recommend you wear comfortable shoes for and on a day with minimal fog. Although the view from the very top of Twin Peaks didn’t offer much due to said fog, it was a lovely walk in the sunshine and we caught some pretty great views along the way so I would definitely recommend adding it to your itinerary…
Yeah, it was a little windy and yeah my wrap over skirt blew up several times but hey it was good exercise (you will have thighs of steel by the end of it, one word: HILLS) and a great way to see a more residential side to the city plus a zillion cute neighbourhood dogs.
If it’s shops you’re after then San Francisco has plenty, there are all the major department stores such as Macy’s, Bloomingdales and so on, plus a fair amount of boutiques and regular high street haunts. We didn’t do much in the way of shopping as we had a whole month ahead of us, and y’know I didn’t want to splurge all my cash in one go but we had a little mooch…
My favourite area of San Francisco was Pier 39, it’s just SO cute and has this retro feel. We got pic n mix from the sweet shop, wandered around all of the boutiques, ate lunch with the perfect view of the harbour and a bunch of seals and drank cocktails in the Hard Rock Cafe. Not a bad way to pass a day. It also helped that the sun was shining, albeit it was still a little chilly. If you’re heading to SF, pack plenty of layers! I ended up being a typical tourist, as Charlie had to dash into a shop to buy me a SAN FRANCISCO hoody but it saved me from hyperthermia so all good. Alongside the pier itself, there are tonnes of restaurants, attractions and if you want to hire a bike you can also do this here. It’s a very touristy part of the city but it wasn’t too packed and there was a really positive, fun vibe going on there.
If you walk a little further you can also start to get a good view of the Golden Gate Bridge, I didn’t get any photos for some reason (blaming the jet lag) but let’s face it, we’ve all seen it 149384 times.
And the moment I’ve been waiting for…ALCATRAZ! I’m the kind of girl that can binge watch American prison documentaries for about 6 hours on a Sunday afternoon. I have a strange obsession with them and Alcatraz is somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for so, so long. Isn’t that odd? I have no idea why a prison draws in my interest so much but given the amount of visitors there were in just one day it’s clearly not just me…
We pre-booked our tickets in the UK about a month before we left, I would recommend doing this as they do actually sell out and unfortunately all of the night tour tickets had gone. Despite this we still had an excellent time! The boat ride over is around 20 minutes, and you’re greeted with a short speech from one of the staff. We chose to then participate in a guided tour (you don’t have to but I would recommend it!) followed by the standard audio tour. We were there for around three hours, and it was every bit as fascinating as I had imagined. I even bought a book all about Alcatraz from the gift shop, which admittedly I’m still yet to read…
Where to Eat
I love visiting a new city mainly as there’s always so many new food options to try out! Eating out is one of my favourite activities, and luckily I’d downloaded the Happy Cow app so that I could scout out all the best vegan restaurants or restaurants with vegan friendly options. It was a complete lifesaver for this trip and we found so many amazing places through it! For a quick lunch bite to eat, there’s a Loving Hut in the Westfield shopping centre which is right in the middle of the city centre. The Oreo chocolate cake is to die for. Brenda’s French Soul Food served up an amazing Tofu hash for brunch, and for dinner Delarosa and their vegan pizza’s (with vegan cheese!) was perfect. If you want to stock up on a few essentials, then I’d recommend heading to Trader Joes, a supermarket I grew very fond of in America. I *may* have brought a tote bag from there and I may use it for all my shopping now in the UK. When can I be a Cali girl?!
And there it is, our time in San Francisco in a nutshell! If you have any particular questions about SF do feel free to leave a comment or drop me an email I’d be happy to help. Stay tuned for our next stop on the California road trip: Yosemite National Park…