The first stop on my road trip down the Pacific Coastal Highway did not disappoint, a fascinating mix of the old and new, the bustling city maintains a ‘chilled out’ vibe unique to California – in my view the West coast is the best coast.
Riding across the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the cliché things that just has to be done – I did it at sunset and it was the perfect time of day. Whilst the locals see it as a way to cross the bay, it was filled with hundreds of tourists just like myself with a rented bike. From the bridge you can look back across the bay to see the city rolling into the shoreline, with a number of small beaches leading to the sea. You are cycling right above the tumultuous Pacific Ocean, which is dotted with those brave enough to kitesurf and windsurf.
“At 3:45am on a rainy day in San Fran, I found myself queueing to get tickets for a tour that morning”
Turning your back on the Pacific allows you to look to the interior of the bay, where the most prevalent thing is Alcatraz Island. The former high-security prison which was closed in 1963 is open to visitors all day and well into the night. The only downside is that tours sell out months in advance, hence why, at 3:45am on a rainy day in San Fran, I found myself queueing to get tickets for a tour that morning. Being on the first boat out at 7am (!) is all well and good, but I would definitely recommend planning in advance. Whilst people are known to have escaped the island that imprisoned Al Capone, no one has ever been reported to have successfully made it to the mainland.
Pier 39 is the most renowned pier along the edge of the bay, with a multitude of quirky shops, as well as their fair share of touristy stores- ‘Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Company’ is very much a real shop. The best part of the pier in my opinion, though, were the seals at the end of the pier. Honestly, there were hours of entertainment in watching obese seals jostle for space on a 4-metre square platform. There are loads of places to eat as well as places to sit and chill, perfect for a break for the unfit tourist cyclist.
“The city acts as a sort of transport time capsule”
The infrastructure and architecture of the city was something I felt was particularly unique; in such a modern city it had retained its simple colourful houses in many of the boroughs, with the garages slotting like a Jenga block under the two-storied houses. The tramlines mean that the city acts as a sort of transport time capsule- people use them as regular transport, that would make any commute more fun surely? The city is incredibly hilly (learnt this whilst on a bike, not ideal) and makes that scene in ‘A Princess Diaries’ where she stalls her car seem all the more distressing! The most famous street is Lombard Street, a twisting, colourful road.
In my opinion, the city just exudes ‘cool’, from the people to the unique stores and coffee shops. The way of life is typical of California without being as hectic as LA, yet still retaining that sense of modernity.
Images courtesy of Antonia Munday.
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