I recently got back from a weeklong trip to San Francisco with my Mom. To be truthful San Francisco has never really crossed my mind when considering places to visit but my Mom had been talking about it for a while and was really keen to go. She mentioned it to my step-dad who didn’t want to so I offered to go with her. Booking the trip was a nightmare because my Mom’s so fussy but in the end we chose a week, Mom found some flights she was actually happy with and before we knew it we were jetting off!
There was a lot about San Francisco to love so I thought I’d write a quick blog post about some of my favourite sights!
Golden Gate Bridge
Probably the most obvious and iconic landmark in San Francisco. Most people hire bikes and cycle there from the city centre and then cycle across the bridge, either by themselves or in a group tour. This is sensible as although the bridge looks relatively close it is quite far. Nevertheless me and my Mom decided to walk towards it from Fisherman’s Wharf – we did mention the bikes but I’m not sure I’d remember how to ride one. I know they reckon you never forget but I have serious doubts about that.
The walk wasn’t horrendous compared to central San Francisco as after the first hill it was pretty much all flat until you’re almost right at the bridge and then there is a bit of an uphill climb. It’s just quite long and on the day we walked although the sun was shining the wind was horrendous.
By the time we reached the bridge we were quite tired so we only walked halfway across it. I think we’d have only done that anyway as the bridge was so windy that my Mom was holding onto the poles as she was worried about ‘getting blown off the bridge’.
I’m normally the type of person to be like “it’s just a bridge, big deal” but there was something about it that just made it seem special and I’m glad we decided to walk there.
Another obvious ‘must see’ whilst in San Francisco. My Mom was stressing me out by telling me how quickly they sell out and that we needed to book it in advance but she didn’t seem to do anything about it until luckily one day she forwarded me a confirmation email to say she’d booked it. Make sure you buy from the official website though, there are a lot of rip-offs and we even heard one Australian family on the boat coming back talking about how they’d been scammed on one of these sites.
There are a few buildings on the island but the most interesting one is obviously the Cell House. Upon arriving you’re given an audio tour guide which I normally avoid like the plague as they just irritate me but I was keen to learn more about the prison so I accepted it and I’m glad I did. It was really interesting and kept you moving from one place to the next. At first it was a bit annoying as everyone was clumped around the one section of where the tour was meant to be but it thinned out as the tour went on making it less frustrating.
What I liked was that it wasn’t just ‘the building was built in this year, it served this purpose’ – there were stories about the prisoners and life there. My favourites were about the attempted escapes. There was one where supposedly in the canteen the prisoners began to riot because they were served spaghetti again or something? Either way, the audio tour was really interesting.
Also I never knew that the prison officers lived on the island too with their families. They’d bring their wife and kids with them and they’d just live on the island – they never had any contact with the prisoners but it’s bizarre! The kids would catch a boat to the mainland when they went to school and I believe there were a few boats a day so families could go over to San Francisco, do what they fancied and then return back home at the end of the day.
Anyway, Alcatraz is a must see when in San Francisco but make sure you book it in advance. There were still some available tours when we went but my manager at work told me she’d visited and unfortunately it had been sold out when she was there. Don’t risk it as Alcatraz is not somewhere you’d wanna miss visiting!
San Francisco Play House
My Mom knows I’m a massive theatre fan so before we left she researched some theatres in San Francisco and some shows that were on. One of the shows she suggested was one called ‘Significant Other’ – we weren’t sure but decided we’d make our minds up when we arrived.
In a weird coincidence it turned out that the show was actually playing inside our hotel! On the second floor of our hotel was the ‘San Francisco Play House’ and any hotel guests got a discount on their tickets. On our second night we decided to get tickets as we couldn’t miss out on seeing a play right inside our hotel.
More people turned up than I’d been expecting and it was an interesting show. I wouldn’t say it was ‘ground-breaking’ or anything but I’m glad we saw it. The basic plot is about a gay guy who watches his three best friends get engaged, married and essentially move on with their lives whilst he worries he’s getting left behind. It was quite a simple show but I was impressed at how they all remembered their lines – I know that’s their job but there was one scene with just two actors where they both had long lines of speech at a time and it was just pretty impressive.
My favourite part was probably that once the play was over instead of having a long walk back to our hotel we literally just jumped in the lift and we were back in our room within minutes. How convenient!
I think this place was somewhere I would’ve spent more time with my friends. It’s full of gift shops, arcades and places to get food. Me and Mum did spend some time here more than once and it was strange because it didn’t feel like America, I could’ve just as easily been at Blackpool. It was a lot of fun though.
There was a carousel at the end of the pier and I’m normally a sucker for carousels but to ride this one cost like five dollars so me and Mum gave it a miss. Behind the carousel was a stage – I’m not sure if they have different shows every so often but while we were there it was one guy called Bob who put on a show. I’m pretty sure he had different ones but the one we saw he rode a unicycle and stood on some cylinders – it’s difficult to explain but it was pretty impressive.
My favourite shop on Pier 39 had to be the Christmas shop. Whenever I go away my Mom always asks me to bring back a Christmas decoration themed like the country I’ve been to which is usually the most difficult thing ever to find so to find a whole Christmas themed shop in San Francisco was awesome. There was literally a decoration for almost everything in there. We’d actually already bought a Cable Car themed decoration from one of the gift shops in China Town but the shop was still amazing, a must see for any Christmas fan.
Beach Blanket Babylon
I didn’t really know much about this show but Mum was adamant it was ‘the’ thing to see whilst in San Francisco. Apparently the show began in 1974 and is the world’s longest-running musical revue. Mum was even keener to see it when we found out the show was actually ending later this year – it would be our only chance to see it.
Unfortunately we waited until the night we wanted to see it to go to the box office to enquire about tickets (fun fact, the Americans kept calling it ‘wilcol’). We were told tickets were sold out until the following Wednesday (when we’d be back in England) but if we wanted we could wait outside the theatre as sometimes people came along to sell their tickets. The show didn’t start until 8 and it was 6:30 by this point so I wasn’t keen as I highly doubted we’d get two tickets but Mum was determined, especially after one woman told her she had just one ticket. We only needed to find one more and then we could both go.
It got very complicated, the woman with the original ticket went outside and then we found another woman selling one ticket but we weren’t sure they were in the same part of the club (I said it wouldn’t matter but Mum wasn’t sure) so she went in then very kindly came out to tell us she had been seated in the part the woman with the original ticket had also been seated. It was getting close to show time so I paid the money for this woman’s ticket, my Mum went in with that ticket, bought the ticket off the other lady we’d originally seen, came back out to get me and soon we were both inside. I was originally seated away from Mum anyway but it turned out the seat next to her was free so I moved. I had a worse view next to her but it didn’t matter.
The show was bizarre to say the least. It was basically a musical following Snow White was looking for love and all the characters wore bizarre costumes with oversized hats or wigs. There were a lot of pop culture references and I was surprised at the scene where they took the piss out of Donald Trump and his family as all the Americans thought that was hilarious – which to be fair, it was. I’m so glad I got to see it and it was definitely worth the wait outside the theatre.
Sea Lions at Pier 39
Probably my favourite part of Pier 39 was that off to the left of the pier there was a large gathering of Sea Lions. They’re below the pier and unless you jumped into the water or had a boat you can’t get near enough to teach or harass them so they’re pretty much left alone. There are a few signs up asking people not to feed or bother them and people stuck to that rule. There’s usually a crowd of people on the pier watching and taking photos of them but the sea lions are still pretty much left alone.
As there were so many of them I wondered if they were there of their own freewill and it turns out that yes, they are. There was a sign up nearby that said the sea lions had shown up a few years ago to the annoyance of people who had boat slots in that particular area. There was a debate apparently but it was decided the sea lions could stay and a lot of boats had their slots moved to a different part of the pier.
The area didn’t smell brilliant and the sea lions made a lot of noise but it was interesting and nice to be able to see the sea lions without feeling guilty the way you do when you visit a zoo or aquarium. I’d definitely recommend giving them a visit when in San Francisco.
Everyone at work kept telling me I’d need to ride the cable car and I assumed they meant the ones you get that take you over the city, you know the ones I meant? It turned out they were cute old fashioned trams and there was a stop at the end of the road where our hotel was. On our first day we walked pretty much everywhere and I had not realised when people said San Francisco was full of hills they MEANT it. So when we next needed to get to Fisherman’s Wharf from Union Square we paid the seven dollars each to catch the cable car.
We rode it twice and both times managed to get the best seats – there are two compartments to the cable car, one indoors section and an outdoor one where you can either sit or stand and hold onto the pole. It did look cool to stand and hold on but my legs were already aching and we had two seats in the front of the outdoor section so they were good seats!
The ride on the cable car was amazing and a bit scary at times – whenever it went downhill I’d be struck with the worry that the cable car would just start rolling down at full speed but of course it didn’t, they were driven very well. It was an absolute must in San Francisco and I’m glad we got to ride it twice.
So there we have it, those are my favourite sights from San Francisco! If you’ve visited feel free to leave me your favourites or let me know which ones you’d love to see one day.