Our Californian Road Trip Begins
San Francisco marked the beginning of our road trip across the Golden State. And what a trip this was going to be! Over a thousand miles of driving, beautiful ocean views, beaches, bike rides, hours of walking, deserts and lots of Californian food and vibes.
After a smooth and comfy flight on the British Airways A380, we checked into our hotel Marriott Marquis just off Union Square which seemed to be the main hotel hub. If you ever stay there, check out the sunset views from the View Lounge on the 39th floor.
As we were in San Francisco for less than 48 hours, there was no time to waste. After dropping off our bags we had a couple of hours left before the sunset. The streets were buzzing, the cameras were flashing and the sun was shining. With a map in our hand which clearly stated which areas were a “no go”, we headed out north towards Chinatown.
San Francisco Chinatown is one of the oldest and most established Chinatowns is the US. It is located in downtown San Francisco and covers over 20 blocks and has a population over 100.000. It is definitely one of the places to visit when in San Francisco.
We started our short tour of the district at the Dragon Gate and walked down, or should we say up, Grant Street which was lined with Chinese gift shops, restaurants and with typical red lanterns swinging above our heads.
As the sun was setting we managed to capture the beauty of this place. From the dragon details on the lampposts, multitude of signs to the abundance of the traditional colour red.
It was hard not to notice the juxtaposition of the traditional district with the modern financial district a couple of blocks away. Transamerica Pyramid was one of the reminders that we were in the midst of a Western city.
There was definitely more to see and taste here but it was getting dark and the travel exhaustion was setting in.
Strapped for Time in San Francisco?
What to do in San Francisco if you only have one full day to explore its sights? Luckily, the city is very well contained and most things are within walking or a cable car ride’s distance. Unlike Los Angeles which is just so vast!
There were a few options to consider. Hop on Hop off bus would tick all the boxes but it sounded a bit boring. None of us had much interest in visiting Alcatraz, mainly because of the kids.
It looked like the best option was to hire some bikes and ride across the most iconic bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, down to Sausalito. But first, we had to experience another “must-do” attraction, a ride in the cable car.
A Ride in a Cable Car
A visit to San Francisco is not complete without a ride on the famous cable car. It is the world’s last manually operated cable car system which was established in the 19th century. There are currently only 3 lines remaining and these attract mainly tourists rather than the locals.
The experience should definitely start at the turntable where the cable car is manually turned round to start its journey again. We were just next to the Powell Street turntable and witnessed the whole process. The queues at the turntables are ridiculous and it is best to walk up a few stops for a shorter wait. We waited around 40 minutes to get on the Powell-Hyde line to take us to Lombard Street.
Once on the cable car, the fun starts. It is fascinating watching the driver manually operating the brake system and the conductor shouting all sorts of instructions to the passengers. I have to say the ride felt safe considering the steep hills it was going up and down on.
It tooks us around 20 minutes to get to Lombard Street, the crookedest street in the world with hairpin turns. The zig zag design was introduced in the 1920s to reduce the 27 degree gradient which was impassable by the contemporaneous automobiles. Nowadays, tourists can walk by the side of the slope, probably faster than the cars which are only allowed to do 5mph.
From here it took around 15 minutes to walk to Fisherman’s Wharf to collect our bikes and start what is going to be the highlight of our road trip.
A Bike Ride across the Golden Gate Bridge
If you only have one full day to explore San Francisco, renting bikes to go over the Golden Gate Bridge is the best thing you could do! I would recommend pre-booking online as you get 20% off daily rates. There are loads of companies offering this service. We used San Francisco Bike Rentals which were located around 5 minutes from Pier 39.
We got equipped with the bikes, locks, maps and helmets in no time and soon joined the busy cycle track heading for the Bridge. There is a lot of uphills and downhills but the journey can easily be done by fitness beginners. After all, the bikes have gears which come in handy a lot.
We took quite a few stops to take pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge as it is just such stunning piece of architecture. Once on the Bridge, the temperature definitely drops down and the wind picks up big time.
The bike ride to Sausalito took around 2 hours. Once there we got the ferry tickets straight away as it could get really busy. We did not get a chance to explore much of Sausalito but the main street looked stunning with galleries, cafes and restaurants.
The ferry back to the Ferry Terminal took around 30 min. It was a real treat as you got good views of the Bridge in the distance. The ferry slowed down just next to Alcatraz so you could see the island in its full glory.
Once off the ferry, there was a bit of a cycle back to Pier 39. It was a pleasant and hassle free ride though as the road had designated wide cycle lanes. The bike ride must have been one of the highlights of our holiday. The sun was shining and you could not beat the amazing views along the way.
Pier 39 was one of the busiest sights we saw during our stay. It was a Sunday and it was also Memorial Weekend, an equivalent of Bank Holiday in Britain. The streets were heaving with crowds which made it quite difficult to enjoy the attractions. The Pier is known for its beautiful views of the Bay, Alcatraz. It also attracts sea lions which make quite a noise to the amusement of the tourists. And the Pier itself? It is a nicer and bigger version of a pier in a typical seaside resort. There were shops, numerous restaurants, an old fashioned merry-go-round and various street artists performing to the crowds.
San Francisco in 24 hours
There is so much to do and see in San Francisco. Honestly, I think we managed to see the most iconic sights in the time frame we had. The city north from Market Street and around Fisherman’s Wharf is beautiful and worth exploring in depth.
After a busy 24 hours in San Francisco, with burnt faces and amazing memories, we were ready for the next chapter of our Californian road trip…
Full San Francisco vlog on YouTube link HERE.
More photos from our amazing road trip HERE (Gallery page)