ARRIVING IN SAN FRAN
As we stepped off the BART and lugged our heavy cases up the escalators, we were greeted by the sound of music, cheers, the most amount of rainbow flags you’ve ever seen in one procession…and a man with his penis out, stood with his hands on his hips, stark bollock naked. He wore nothing but glitter face paint, trainers, a pair of sunglasses and an expression that read ‘this is totally normal’. It was Pride, and we’d officially arrived in San Fransisco.
Aside from being slightly shocked by the sight of the naked man and the few others that followed (I’m no prude but it’s always a shock at 4:30pm in the afternoon amongst shoppers and kids walking about, but anyway…), I was excited to be in San Francisco. In that moment I wanted to dump our luggage and join in with the celebrations but we had a hotel to find and right then, that was the main priority.
We asked for directions and had some fire-women dubiously point us in the direction of our hotel. We weren’t sure why they hesitated at the time, but as we trudged up the street away from the procession, we started to notice that San Francisco wasn’t all rainbow flags and celebration.
STAYING IN THE WORST NEIGHBOURHOOD
There were a lot of homeless people and other people just sat out on the street, some just hanging around, others visibly on drugs and some just shouting for the sake of shouting. I wasn’t sure what to think and if I’m honest, in that moment I didn’t really want to be there.
I didn’t feel like we were in the safest area to stay in and we later found out, that we weren’t. We’d arrived in The Tenderloin and this place has a bad rep that goes way back.
Now when you search this area online (which we *cough, Damien* didn’t unfortunately do before our trip), you’ll see mixed reviews. Some articles describe The Tenderloin as the worst part of San Fran, with the highest crime rates and somewhere to avoid, whilst others try and show off its best bits with a ‘it ain’t that bad’ attitude…I’ll give my honest opinion as a tourist from overseas, and as someone who has spent a lot of money to go to somewhere like San Francisco on holiday and simply say, don’t stay there.
I’m all for submerging myself into the culture and staying somewhere that’s nothing like home but I’d rather not stay somewhere that makes me feel on edge when walking down the street, if it can be avoided. Now there are some alright parts of The Tenderloin, but it just so happens that we stayed just round the corner from the worst part of it, and so you can see why we were displeased with our location choice. Well why the heck did we stay there? You might ask…well quite simply (as mentioned), we did very little research and in a city of overpriced hotels, this one appeared somewhat less overpriced (plus Damien booked it, so again, I put the blame on him).
It was only on our second day, after walking down the worst street in the neighbourhood, that we realised we’d definitely made a bad choice with our location, and after debating whether to book a new hotel, we then decided to scrap that idea in favour of taking Ubers everywhere instead.
Ubers became our mode of transport when travelling across the city and when exploring different areas, we simply walked. I’d advise taking comfortable shoes because what they say about San Fran being hilly is no joke and you’re bound to find yourself doing a lot of up and down hill walking.
The cost of Ubers also weren’t too bad at all (compared to at home in England) and we could usually get to where we wanted for less than $10.
When we arrived in San Francisco, we first got the Bart (short for the ‘Bay Area Rapid Transit’, or more simply put, the train), which took us from the airport to central San Francisco, not too far from where we were staying. This cost is $10 each for a single ticket but after learning how it wasn’t much more to take an Uber, we decided to take an Uber when later heading back to the airport.
THE TOURISTY STUFF
Of course, no San Fransisco trip is complete without a bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and as I recently spoke about in this blog post here, this was one of my favourite experiences during our time in San Fran. Lucky for us, we’d picked a clear day and the view up close of the Golden Gate Bridge was stunning. It’s now certainly been added to my list of favourite sights to see and if you do take a trip to San Francisco, I’d definitely recommend you hire a bike and take the bike ride over to Sausalito across the Golden Gate Bridge. There are lots of different places to hire bikes from but we used the company Blazing Saddles for our bike hire and it cost us around $35 to hire for the day (although I believe booking online may offer further discounts).
Another thing I marked off my tourist tick list, was a trip to Alcatraz. We were seriously lucky to get tickets though, as we hadn’t pre-booked and after checking online to find they were all sold out up until August, I actually thought we’d missed our chance. Not one to give up too easily though, after turning up one morning, to our surprise there were just two tickets available for that same day and of course, we snatched them up. Never have I been so excited for the prospect of going to a prison but I knew I had to visit this place. I wasn’t disappointed either, and whilst initially skeptical about the idea of it just being an audio tour, I quickly found myself becoming fully immersed in the experience and I loved it. I even went into full tourist mode and purchased a novelty Alcatraz keyring at the end.
THE AREAS & MAKING FRIENDS WITH THE LOCALS
There are so many different areas of San Francisco to explore and each neighbourhood feels so different. Two of my favourite areas were Cow Hollow and North Beach. Cow Hollow, had a great little community vibe with a cluster of nice restaurants, bars and little boutiques. It was probably one of the least touristy areas we visited too and I like how it gave a sense of real San Fran living.
North Beach is another area I loved and although a lot more touristy, there are still lots of spots away from the most obvious and popular places, which are also great to explore.
One night, after previously being suggested by a local (whilst in a wine bar in Cow Hollow actually), we found ourself heading into a little local jazz bar up in North Beach. It was a pretty unassuming place (I unfortunately forget the name), and likely a place we wouldn’t have ventured into if we hadn’t been prompted by the local we’d got chatting to the night previously. I always love getting suggestions from locals when exploring someplace new, because otherwise it can often be all too easy to wind up in the most touristy place ever. This place was definitely not touristy, it was a proper old dive bar…and we loved it!
Soon we got chatting to a local at the bar and she took us around her favourite spots in the neighbourhood. It was such a fun night and although it was followed by a terrible hangover, I’m so glad we got to experience a night with the locals in San Fran.
I won’t go on too much about what we ate in San Francisco, or else I’m afraid that will take up a whole other blog post. But what I simply will say is that we ate, a lot. I feel like whenever someone from overseas visits the US on holiday, they go with the intention of super sizing everything and eating their bodyweight in carbs and sugar (please tell me I’m not alone here). San Francisco was no exception to my, when in America rule of, ‘go big or go home’…and that’s exactly what we did until it finally was indeed, time to go home.
So there we have it. A somewhat prolific blog post about my first ever trip to San Francisco, which I hope you could find someway informative, or if not that, then at the very least entertaining. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, as did Damien and I’d definitely be keen to go back again. From San Fran, we actually went on to visit Portland, where we stayed for several nights for our friends’ wedding, before flying back to San Fran for one more night, and then home. I vlogged quite a bit of all of our trip, so if you’d like to see more of what we got up to, you can scroll down to the bottom of this page and watch the vlog there.
Anyway, that’s all for now and I’ll leave a quick low down of everything below too!
THE LOW DOWN
When We Visited: June to July 2018
How Long We Stayed: 4 nights, then flew to Portland for 4 nights, then back to San Fran for another night.
Area We Stayed In: 1st The Tenderloin, 2nd Hotel The East Cut
Favourite Areas: Cow Hollow and North Beach
Would Recommend: Hiring a bike to cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge over to Sausalito and having some lunch whilst you’re there. Visiting Alcatraz (make sure you book in advance ahead of your trip to San Francisco).
Food To Try: If you’re in the Cow Hollow Area and you’re a fellow pizza lover, try the margarita pizza with burrata, you won’t be disappointed! Also there’s lots of good seafood in San Francisco too.
Would I Visit San Francisco Again: Yes