Two Summers ago my best friend and I set off on a two week adventure to travel America, it was the most fantastic time and also the most tiring. 4 cities in around 15 days and we tried to cram everything in to every minute we had! We drove Belfastto Dublin, flew Dublin to San Francisco, flew San Francisco to San Diego, traveled by train from San Diego, drove from San Diego to Los Angeles, drove Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Then home was flights from Las Vegas to San Francisco, San Franciscoto Dublin and drive back up home to Belfast. We did actually count up all the miles we had traveled over that time, but I can’t even remember what it was; definitely it was a lot!!
Out of all the cities we visited my absolute favourite was San Francisco, however you probably had a clue about that one when you read the title of this post. So why out of all those places have a picked San Francisco? That I can’t put my finger on, or at least struggle to put it into words, I suppose when you know you know and I’m sure any of you reading this know what I’m talking about, it’s just a feeling you get, like a feeling of home in a sense.
I absolutely loved the city and the atmosphere, the buildings, the food, the views, the art, the natural beauty, the man made beauty, the people, the mix of hustle and bustle and calmness. I had a pretty rough flight over on my first long haul flight and even that wouldn’t put me off returning; it’s right up there for one of my top honeymoon destinations, I’d love to share it with my other half!
SO LET ME SHARE WITH YOU SOME OF MY FAVOURITE BITS OF SAN FRANCISCO (THE PARTS WE GOT TO VISIT) AND MY TOP RECOMMENDATIONS!
THE WEATHER IN JULY
First off check the weather! We went the first few days of July and experienced our first ever 4th of July, day 1 we headed out in our shorts, strappy tops, sandals and a light jacket ‘just in case’. Oh my word were we frozen! They don’t call it the windy city for no reason, oh boy that wind would have cut you in two, especially sitting on the top of an open top bus or standing at the looking point for the Golden Gate Bridge!
Don’t be fooled by those smiles and the sunglasses, we were covered in goosebumps and shivering like mad!
Free Tours by Foot put it perfectly; ‘Oh, July in San Francisco. The month that tricks visitors into thinking it will be a lovely California summer–until you show up and freeze! While most of California will be somewhere between hot and REALLY hot, San Francisco lives in its own climate system where the city stays cool for most of the month.’
It can also get foggy pretty fast so take this into consideration when you want to visit Golden Gate Bridge, as it will just disappear.
SO TIP NO.1 – IF YOU GO IN JULY WEAR LAYERS AND BRING SOMETHING WARM, OR AT LEAST BE PREPARED TO BUY SOMETHING WARM.
Next up Alcatraz, I feel this needs to be at the top as you need to book it asap, like as soon as you book your holiday as it sells out super quick, don’t leave it until you get their to buy your tickets! There are many websites you can get your tickets from, we used Alcatraz Island Tickets with an adult ticket $46 so around £32.50.
You head to Pier 33 – Alcatraz Landing to pick up your tickets and get the boat over, they suggest you arrive a little earlier than your departure (I can’t remember exactly how long but it will say when you book your tickets). There is a wee cafe and souvenir shop, and lots of pieces of information and displays to look at while you wait.
I don’t want to share too much about Alcatraz Island with you, you need to go and see it yourself, so I’ll show you a few things (also if I started with the photos I took you would be here all day).
Again wrap up or at least bring layers, you are on a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it can be cold, especially the wind (well at least in July for us it was).
You can go straight up to the prison yourself or you can take a tour with one of the rangers; we decided to do this and really enjoyed it, he was able to tell us about the history of the island, pointed out sights of interest and told us about the wildlife now living on the island. I would highly recommend this and it’s free.
When you get into the prison you are given a radio/audio device that you use as a guide around the prison. As well as your tour guide they tell you about the film Escape from Alcatraz (the 1979 film) and there are stories from inmates, wardens and the warden’s children (all voiced by the actual people, not actors), it really is so interesting and the sound effects take you right back to it feels like you where actually there.
There are also a few of the cells you can go in yourself and others that have been set up how they once were.
The views around the island are also absolutely stunning.
With fantastic views of the San Franciso (that is as long as it’s a clear day and the fog isn’t setting in).
SO TIP NO.2 – BOOK ALCATRAZ ISLAND WELL IN ADVANCE, WEAR LAYERS OF CLOTHING TO STAY WARM AND WEAR SENSIBLE SHOES YOU CAN WALK IN AS IT’S ALL HILLS UP AND DOWN.
THE ART AROUND THE CITY
I love a bit of art, maybe not so much art gallery art, but street art and those pieces that pop up here and there especially. This is another reason why I loved San Francisco, it seemed that no matter where I turned there were art work and sculptures.
SO TIP NO.3 – KEEP YOUR EYES PEELED, YOU WILL SEE BEAUTY IN ART AND SCULPTURES WHEREVER YOU GO.
I always think that the best way to properly discover a place is to go on a tour. Our hotel had a pamphlet advertising one of the sightseeing tour buses so we went for that, it took us round loads of San Francisco including Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito, Downtown San Francisco, China Town, Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, Haight-Ashbury and Fort Baker to name just a few places.
Sausalito – situated near the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge
I loved little Sausalito for what I was able to see of it, we got off our tour at the Golden Gate Bridge and changed buses to go and explore Sausalito. Beautiful views, quaint little shops and woo hoo it was lovely and warm, we were very grateful of some heat!
Ok if you are going to San Francisco you MUST have an adventure on a cable car, they are so much fun (especially if you have a driver like ours, who was a great laugh and so knowledgeable)! It’s also a lot more pleasurable heading up one of the MASSIVEand STEEP hills on one of these than walking. We didn’t book this, just happened to arrive at the right time and the right place to a cable car that had room (thankfully we didn’t have to hitch a lift on the outsides), however if you do your research before you go there are lots of different options and routes and info on costs and where to get on etc.
This is where we took the cable car up to, I mean you can’t visit San Francisco and not go to the most iconic street – Lombard Street. It’s iconically famous for a steep, one-block section with eight hairpin turns, and take it from me that road is steep! I’m glad we were going down and not up and I had shoes with good grip, no way would I want to be on anything other than my own feet (not even a car).
Yes there is an option you can take to go on one of these little yellow cars (mind you to me they looked like motorised go-carts!). I think you book these to tour around the city, not just for Lombard Street (again if you google you could find more info, we didn’t use them so can’t recommend them). These however were very brave people, I WOULD NOT be going down in one if I had the choice!
To give you guys the ‘right’ info on this fabulous part of San Francisco I did a little research thanks to Google . . .
‘Birthplace of the 1960s counterculture movement aka the Hippie movement, Haight-Ashburydraws a lively, diverse crowd looking to soak up this historic hippie vibe. Upper Haight Street is a hodgepodge of vintage clothing boutiques, record shops, bookstores, dive bars and casual, eclectic restaurants. Bordering Golden Gate Park, the neighborhood features many colorful, well-preserved Victorian homes.’
I really loved this part of the city and would have loved longer to explore. We only passed it and didn’t get off the tour bus at this stop and instead stumbled upon it the night we went looking for Steiner Street. Even with the place pretty quiet and most places closed for the night the buildings, artwork and quirkiness were inspiring!
Recognise any of these houses on this iconic street? There are hundreds of movies that have been filmed in and around the streets of San Francisco. This street and in particular 2640 Steiner Street became famous in the 1993 comedy Mrs Doubtfire. As well as it being iconic for this reason, the houses in general are stunning.
The Buildings and homes
This is why I had to add in a section on the buildings, homes and architecture, driving around the city on the open top tour bus I snapped most of these buildings and they are too pretty not to share!
Pier 39 is properly amazing, so much hustle and bustle, things to do, things to see and lots of places to eat (be sure to read on to see one of my recommendations). The photos below so pretty much what it’s like but the Pier 39 website (just click the blue writing <—) will give you lots more info and event dates. It really is a must on your list of your things to do in San Francisco, with sea lions, waterfront dining, street performers, live music, shopping and more.
SO TIP NO.4 – GET OUT AND EXPLORE, THERE SERIOUSLY IS SO MUCH TO SEE! I RECOMMEND A ONCE AROUND THE CITY ON THE SIGHTSEEING TOUR BUS, STAY ON THE WHOLE TIME, AND THEN DECIDE FOR THE NEXT DAY WHERE YOU WANT TO GO AND WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE. THIS WAY YOU GET AN IDEA OF WHAT YOU NEED TO SCHEDULE INTO YOUR TIME.
We didn’t do a lot of shopping when we were in San Francisco (not for the lack of shops or not wanting to shop), we had to pace ourselves as we still had a lot of traveling to do in front of us. Thinking back some of the things I did buy myself were a few pieces of costume jewellery (we did go into Tiffany’s but funnily enough we might not have been able to have afforded food the rest of the holiday if we had treated ourselves), a new French Connection backpack and a few souvenirs.
SO TIP NO.5 – FOR A SPOT OF PURE SHOPPING YOU WANT TO GO IN AND AROUND UNION SQUARE (HOWEVER THERE ARE LOTS OF PLACES AROUND THE CITY TO SHOP)
WHERE WE STAYED
We stayed in the Harbour Court Hotel, very close to the Embarcadero and right down by Pier 14 in Downtown San Franscisco. The location was fantastic for us, staff were lovely, the room was a fantastic size, it was clean and we had everything we needed.
We didn’t go for the breakfast option and just ate out, but it was great to have some complimentary tea or coffee to sit in or take out with us each morning. If you are looking for a hotel recommendation we really liked here.
SO TIP NO.6 – DO YOUR RESEARCH ON WHERE YOU ARE STAYING BEFORE YOU BOOK IT, I DON’T THINK WE WOULD HAVE MANAGED IF OUR HOTEL HAD BEEN AT THE TOP OF ONE OF THOSE MASSIVE SAN FRANCISCAN HILLS!
I have definitely left the best til last, the FOOD! Omw some of the best food I have ever eaten was in San Francisco; the best breakfast and Chinese food I’ve ever had for sure!
For the best Chinese food, in my opinion you need to go to Cathay House in China Town. The food is delicious, lovely hospitality, quick service, large range of food on the menu, good prices and you get some complimentary Chinese tea.
Bubba Gump on Fisherman’s Wharf at Pier 39 is the place you want to go to if –
a) You love Tom Hanks
b) You love the 1994 movie; Forest Gump
c) You love Shrimp
The food here was so good, I’m not the biggest shrimp fan, but this place converted me! We also had tequila slushie style drinks topped with Corona and OMW thatCookie Skillet with basically everything on top, drool! The restaurant is so cool as well, it looks out onto the water and is filled and I mean filled with every bit of Forest Gump (the 1994 movie) memorabilia.
Dottie’s True Blue Cafe is the one place in San Francisco you MUST visit!!! Now there will be a queue be warned and you may end up waiting up to an hour like we did, but Oh My Word is it worth it, seriously this food is to die for!
‘For 20+ years, Dottie’s True Blue Cafe has remained one of San Francisco’s most popular brunch destinations, featured on The Food Network, reviewed by Zagat, and visited by customers from all over the globe. Enjoy brunch favorites like classic bacon and eggs, pancakes and more, plus zucchini cakes, black bean cakes, pulled pork, at least five kinds of hot sauce on every table, a steady rotation of daily specials, and freshly baked house-made pastries and breads.’
The most amazing breakfast I have EVER eaten! We honestly could have ordered the whole menu! Let me try and remember what it was we ordered; freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee, then I went for the breakfast of scrambled eggs, potatoes (which were like fried), bacon and toast and then I had a side of cornbread and jalapeno jelly which was delicious, my first time trying cornbread! Then Sarah went for the same thing but had fried eggs and a side of their pancakes with maple syrup. We were absolutely stuffed but did pick up a sweet treat to take away with us.
These were the options for the sweet treats when we were there, I can’t remember what we picked, possibly the cinnamon and streusal coffee cake, yes I think that was it and we ended up eating it in bed later that night when we got back to our hotel room.
Before we went to America we decided we would try all the different American foodswe had seen on tv and never had before, one was a corn dog and that we had from a cart at Pier 39 in San Francisco. People asked me what it tasted like and its not overly crispy it’s like a cake batter round the side (that of cornbread) and then a sausage inside, it wasn’t bad, Sarah and I shared one, but I don’t think I could have eaten a whole one, it was quite sweet and very filling.
Other food goodies we bought and I recommend you try are Salt-Water Taffy from Munchies Candy in Sausalito, brittle from G.L. Alfieri (inside) and THE most delicious macaroons from a stall (outside) at the Ferry Building Marketplace.
This is the Ferry Building Marketplace and I recommend you pay it a visit, the produce you see at the Farmer’s Market looks and tastes amazing!
SO TIP NO.7 – STICK OUT THE QUEUE AND HAVE THE BEST BREAKFAST EVER AT DOTTIE’S TRUE BLUE CAFE
Writing this post and reminiscing has reminded me just how much I LOVE San Francisco and how much I want to go back to explore more and have more time exploring the places I loved so much before. I seriously think this might just have to be our honeymoon destination, or one of them at least!
SO LET’S DO A ROUND UP, MY 8 TOP TIPS FOR VISITING SAN FRANCISCO
Tip no.1 – if you go in July wear layers and bring something warm, or at least be prepared to buy something warm.
Tip no.2 – Book Alcatraz Island well in advance, wear layers of clothing to stay warm and wear sensible shoes you can walk in as it’s all hills up and down.
Tip no.3 – Keep your eyes peeled, you will see beauty in art and sculptures wherever you go.
Tip no.4 – Get out and EXPLORE, there seriously is so much to see! I recommend a once around the city on the sightseeing tour bus, stay on the whole time, and then decide for the next day where you want to go and what you want to see. This way you get an idea of what you need to schedule into your time.
Tip no.5 – For a spot of pure shopping you want to go in and around Union Square (however there are lots of places around the city to shop)
Tip no.6 – Do your research on where you are staying before you book it, I don’t think we would have managed if our hotel had been at the top of one of those MASSIVE San Franciscan hills!
Tip no.7 – Stick out the queue and have the best breakfast ever at Dottie’s True Blue Cafe