Monday, July 23, 2012

Travelling - San Francisco

In keeping with my goal of writing about travelling more, I'm going to write a little summary of the main things I did while visiting San Francisco.

To give you an overview here are the main things I saw/did:
1. Stayed at the Green Tortoise, also know as the best hostel ever
2. Took a walking tour of the North Beach area
3. Wandered Fishermans Wharf
4. Saw Lombard Street and the Cable Cars
5. Biked across the Golden Gate bridge and saw the Palace of Fine Arts
6. Went to Alcatraz and took the audio tour

My time in San Francisco was far more relaxed and 'go with the flow' than I'm used to travelling, but as I discovered, it was a way more enjoyable way for me to travel. I had lots of ideas about what I 'should' do with my 6 days in the city, and I did most of that, but I also ended up doing a lot of wandering with new friends. I still saw lots, but most of it was just decided the night before (which probably sounds normal, but I have a bit of a hyper-organisation problem!) So keeping in mind the relaxed nature of my time in SF, here are the highlights of my time in the City by the Bay.

1. Stayed at the Green Tortoise Hostel, also know as the best hostel ever

There is no way to describe the awesomeness that is the Green Tortoise. If you read the reviews online it's almost consistently the same thing, hard to explain, but amazing. I think what I loved about it the most was how easy they make it to meet new people, which was especially important to me because I was travelling alone for the first time. They have three free dinners a week, which you can volunteer to help cook and meet people, but simply attending the dinner is a great way to meet people as well. They had an amazing common room, cheerful staff, and an event every night! They also had lots of deals with tour companies to help save their guests money. The location was great, however some people might have an issue with the neighbours. There were at least 3 strip clubs within a stones throw from the front door and many more down the street, I honestly thought this would be a problem, but it ended up being a non-issue. It actually kind of made me feel safer at night because there were bouncers and security guards around the street! Main point here: if you're going to SF stay at the Green Tortoise, and if you have time take a ride on the Green Tortoise Bus! (I'll be writing another travel post about the Bus in a week or two!)

2. Took a walking tour of the North Beach area

I took a walking tour with Discover Walks which is a newer walking tour company in SF. It was a free tour, but as with most free tours, it is expected you tip. It was a perfect little tour (90 minutes total) for the first day because it toured the area almost entirely around the Green Tortoise Hostel I was staying at. It gave me a good overview of the area around where I was, including where to get dinner or drinks along with lots of fun historical facts. The tour guide I had was fun and told us lots of funny, interesting, and sort of off beat stories and facts about the area. I would definitely recomend it as a first day activity.

3. Wandered Fishermans Wharf

It's a classic tourist activity and because of that, well, it's super touristy. The sea lions were so freaking adorable though, I'd still recommend going! Pier 39 was over the top, but walking around the whole area was actually quite nice (both the The Embarcadero and Jefferson Street were nice). You can see Alcatraz from the other piers and the ocean is beautiful. There are lots of kitschy little shops to wander through, and definitely enough to keep you busy for a few hours. If you keep walking a bit, you get to a cute little beach and park area at the end of Jefferson Street. An added bonus, if you're interested in eating some cliche American foods (which, I mean, who isn't?) there is an In-n-Out Burger on Jefferson Street as well.    

4. Saw Lombard Street and the Cable Cars

Lombard street was crazy cool, and walking up it definitely counted as my exercise for the day! I didn't actually ride any Cable Cars, but one nice driver that was parked let us take some pictures on one. Both of these things were free and fun, but neither were very time consuming. The area around Lombard street was really beautiful though (as is the entire city) so we just spent time walking around these areas.

5. Biked across the Golden Gate bridge and saw the Palace of Fine Arts

One of the things I had hopped to do before I got to SF was to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, and I am SO glad I did. We rented bikes from Dylan's Tours (with a discount because of the Hostel) and headed out to the bridge. The bike from the hostel to the bridge was a bit of trek on its own, but there was a lot to see along the way, and we even ended up making a impromptu stop at the Palace of Fine Arts. The Palace of Fine arts is a Theater, but we just explored the outdoor rotunda and surrounding area. It was a nice break mid bike ride and was a beautiful area. After the little stop, we continued on to the Bridge. As we got closer and could actually see it from a distance, it became clear how cool this Bridge actually was. I don't know if it is just because it is famous, but the closer we got the more amazed I was at how beautiful this Bridge was! Biking across was amazing (but very crowded) and provided a view of the city that was stunning. Once we got to the other side we biked into this town called Sausalito, which is amazingly beautiful and looked like it was placed on the side of the hill straight from Europe. Apparently there is a ferry you can take from here back to the other side of the bride (with bikes) and I would recommend looking into that, because biking back was super tiring. (Did I say beautiful enough in this paragraph? I can't think of another word though, this entirety of this day was beautiful)

6. Went to Alcatraz and took the audio tour

Alcatraz, the famous prison, is another super touristy thing to do in SF, but one that I really enjoyed! The island itself is now part of the National Parks, and is actually quite pretty. The audio tour of the prison is really well done and the narration is done by a former prison guard which I thought was pretty damn cool. If you do one 'touristy' thing I would suggest doing this. The views from the ferry over are an added bonus, and you get the 2nd best view of the city once you're on the island (the bridge was my number 1 favourite view).

There was lots of additional wandering, park sitting (and napping) exploring, eating, coffee drinking and general 'taking it all in' which I would also highly recommend. Only other recommendation I'll share is for the garlic lovers out there. You have to LOVE garlic, but if you do, I would suggest going to the Stinking Rose restaurant, their tag line is "we season our garlic with food".

To see my post on Portland, Oregon click here
To see all other travel related posts click here


  1. This is so helpful right now Carly! Great synopsis of the sites!

    1. ah, so glad! Hope you are having a blast! :)