San Francisco is one of the most eclectic cities in the United States. It’s home to hippies, hipsters, techies, immigrants, yuppies and one of the oldest gay scenes in the States.
It is not your typical American city and it can easily be included as one of our favorite city since there are so much to see and do. Overall it seems that California is quite different from the other states that we had been before.
We arrived to San Francisco after our road trip in the southwest region and we stayed there for a few days visiting relatives in addition to going around the city. If we count the days we were actually visiting then it has to be around 4 and it was overwhelming. Going back at some point will allow us to see even more places and get a better feeling of the city.
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of San Francisco’s most famous attractions as well as a piece of engineering art. You can walk across the bridge if you want, we didn’t, drop in at the visitor center to be briefed on the history of the park, or just stare at it from the multiple viewpoints that provide you with different angles and take a huge amount of beautiful pictures.
You are wondering why we named this section “The foggy Golden Gate Bridge”. Well… our experience started badly, due to visiting the city in the summer season or better due to the fog season.
If you visit in the summertime, you are sure to witness this softness creeping over the harbor and around the Golden Gate Bridge. You might see it at other times of the year, but summer is the most likely. The fog is so famous that locals even gave it a name — Karl.
So after two failed attempts, trying to “distinguish” the bridge from the thick amount of fog, we decided to search online in order to understand why this city is so foggy.
We found out that the temperature differences explain why the Bay Area gets so much fog in the summer. There is a system of high pressure over the Pacific Ocean called the North Pacific High and as a result it creates strong big clockwise winds over the ocean. Those winds push the surface water of the ocean away from the California coastline. Very cold water from the ocean rises to the surface and when the sea breeze blows over the colder water it creates the fog.
Karl comes inland in the summer for similar reasons as the wind: While it stays cool by the ocean, the high temperatures inland create lower pressure, and the fog is sucked in through gaps in the mountains, like the Golden Gate.
Going there by bus
If you are lucky and see it under a sunny full clear sky, this bridge is really amazing! It is worth it!
While being at the bridge you can walk along the harbor towards the center of the city in a park called Crissy Field, which features a beautiful beach, restaurants, piers for fishing, and parks for Frisbee. You’ll find a lot of locals running, walking their dogs, or lying on the beach. It offers sweeping views of the entire harbor.
The Palace of Fine Arts is a Roman-style remnant of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The outdoor rotunda and its lagoon are one of the city’s most photographed sights. We had a very nice time walking around and admiring the structure.
This former federal prison on Alcatraz Island was home to some of the worst criminals in the US. It was shut down in the 1970s and has since become a national landmark people can explore. Due to limited time we decided to avoid going on a tour to Alcatraz, but we could witness it from the harbor.
Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 is a huge hit with tourists and it’s not hard to see why. The crowds add to the appeal of the area filled with shops, restaurants and… sea lions! This area covers numerous blocks along the waterfront and is one of the most popular things to do in the city. There are street performers, souvenir shops, and tons of mainly touristic restaurants. This is a good place to wander and explore for people watching, but we didn't find anything worth of interest to eat. The food is overpriced and, and probably not that good.
One of the most popular things to do at the piers is finding out about the numerous sea lions that are lying around. California sea lions have been hauling out on Pier 39's K dock since the fall of 1989. By January 1990, the population had reached 150 and today is closer to 300. The sea lions have always frequented the San Francisco Bay.
It is quite funny to just stare them fighting for their place on the pier, screaming and pushing in the process. There were many empty piers around but they seem to be fighting for specific ones! They probably know better why!
Riding the cable cars is sold as an excellent way to tour the city and experience various neighborhoods in San Francisco. They seem to be fun to ride and they help you avoid walking up and down some hills. However, the one-way ticket is $7 which we think is quite expensive since it goes only to some specific stops. We decided not to ride these traditional and iconic cable cars but we had the chance to look them going on the beautiful streets of San Francisco.
While walking, make sure to stop at Lombard Street (located south of Russian Hill Park) and see one of the world’s iconic zig-zag streets. The history of Lombard Street is worth knowing. During the 1920s, people in San Francisco were beginning to drive around in automobiles, but many of the hills were too steep to navigate. A local man named Carl Henry came up with the idea of using a curved street to help vehicles move downhill, although it would mean several sharp turns. An engineer named Clyde Healy created the design, and overall the hill’s slope went from 27% to 16%. Now you can watch the cars and bikers navigate the sharp turns as tourists gawk at them. The zig zagged Lombard Street full of cars and pink flowers is a must-see on a sunny day.
This part of town is also one of the most iconic images of San Francisco – the old fashioned, painted, Victorian style houses. Sometimes referred to as Postcard Row, this area of houses popped up during the Gold Rush and has been kept as a tribute to the city’s past. It’s a great stop for a picture opportunity!
Like we did with other big cities in the states, we went around the china town, the italian area and so on. The city differs enough from any other in the country and does not suffocate you with big buildings. Some streets are quite calm to walk around and enjoy the city. It is easily our preferred city in the states and it is easy to find out why! We enjoyed it and we would go back again and again.