Whilst New York didn’t exactly wow mother dearest, today we’re flying to San Francisco, the 1 US destination that mum has always wanted to visit. I’m just excited to be flying Virgin America!
The flight west is quite surreal. Most passengers are watching the free news channel reporting an anti-Trump protest near San Francisco Airport. The protests at the rally the day before turned violent and I’m concerned about what I might be taking mother in to. Being a coast to coast flight, most passengers are not Trump supporters, or at least no one around me is admitting to being one. We watch Trump clambering over motorway embankments to get to the venue where the rally is being held as protesters are blocking the main entrance. He makes an inappropriate joke about crossing boarders in his speech. He leaves the event and starts making his way back to the airport where his private plane is waiting for him. It’s at this point when mum looks out of the window on the approach in to land and there’s Trump’s motorcade beneath us. It’s quite odd to watch something on TV and be able to see the real thing out of the window. As we taxi to the gate, we pass the Trump plane. It’s bizarre to think that man is now the president so the USA.
After a minor debacle with our booked transfers, we arrive at the Marriott Fisherman’s Wharf (another hotel I could never afford to stay in, were it not for my travel agent discount). We unpack a few things and take a walk down the ‘wharf. I’d completely forgotten about some of the wharf’s most famous residents until I hear them off the end of the pier! It was pretty cool to watch them sunbathing and sloshing about in the water. They apparently took roost on the pier during an earthquake in the ’80s and never left, despite the council’s best efforts to shoo them away.
We’re up early the next day for our trip on the open top bus tour, which included a guided walking tour of China Town. Mum was particularly interested in China Town and it was one of the highlights of the trip. I loved the lanterns strung across the street and we promised that we’d come back at night to see them all lit up. I’m a big fan of walking tours, you see and learn so much more than just sitting on a bus. A bus tour can be a great way to get your bearings in a new city though.
We make our way back to the wharf for our ferry to Alcatraz, something else that mum was looking forward to seeing. The ride over to the island is calm and we enjoy the sun on our faces with incredible views of the Golden Gate and Oakland Bay Bridges. Alcatraz Island is surprisingly picturesque. We watched a short video introduction to the island before picking up headsets for a self-guided audio tour. The Rock is a fascinating place and its impressive that it’s short operation as a prison left such an impact on the world. Stories of escaping from Alcatraz are stuff of legend but you can actually swim to the island as part of an organised group. Not that we did!
No trip to San Francisco would be complete without a ride on a cable car. It’s quite expensive for what it is but still loads of fun. We rode the Powell-Hyde Line right from North Point Street up to Union Square so we felt like we got our money’s worth. From Union Square, we jumped back on our tour bus and headed to Haight-Ashbury, the old hippy district and where the Summer of Love kicked off in the sixties. The area still has a very chilled out, hippy vibe although no one can afford to live here other than hipsters working for tech companies. The vintage clothes shops send mum in to a spin as she dashes in and out quickly before she gets tempted to buy anything. It’s no good though, a handbag with matching shoes are soon purchased but they look fabulous so I let her off! As the sun starts to set, we head to China Town for dinner and watch as the pretty lanterns spring to life.
Back on the bus and over to the Golden Gate Bridge, one of my highlights. The wind coming off the Pacific Ocean takes your breath away, and it wasn’t warm! My hair says it all! But the bridge is stunning, resplendent in orange. It might not be the biggest bridge in the world, or even in San Francisco but it’s certainly beautiful. We stop at the view point for a little while and enjoy the view of the bridge and city beyond. We brave the top deck of the bus back over the bridge as we head back in to the city.
En-route back to the hotel (which has free Wi-Fi, by the way!) we decide to hike up a mountain in the direction of Lombard Street. Mum nearly has a coronary but the views back over to the bridge and down the crooked street are worth it. Plus, we must have burnt a ton of calories! We walk down Lombard and stop to take some snaps. I was surprised that the street is open to cars and the there was no shortage of drivers waiting to test their skills. Thank god that American cars are automatics, I wouldn’t want to test my clutch control on those hills!
We stop by the hotel so mum can upload her day’s pictures to Facebook, we’re 8 hours ahead of home here, before heading back out for an early dinner and the night bus tour. Now, we’d been lucky with the weather in San Francisco, we saw hardly any fog and the sun shone down on us every day, but as we sat eating dinner we watched as the fog rolled in off the ocean and covered the bridge. It looked spectacular and I was glad to have seen it. Until we had to board the bus for the tour wearing completely inappropriate clothing! It was bloody cold on that bus!
The night tour was good though and it was great to see the buildings from a different perspective. The drive over the Oakland Bay Bridge was terrifying on the top deck and we both agreed to sit downstairs for the journey back. At least it was warm downstairs too!
As our short time in San Francisco draws to an end, I’ve already made the decision to come back one day. There’s not masses for tourists to do but enough for a few days and there’s so much outside the city that we didn’t get chance to experience. The city has a cool vibe, created by the hipsters and tech companies but there’s also real life and a lot homelessness. The 2 personalities of the city are laid bare and it makes for an interesting trip.
Date of trip: April/May 2016
Price paid: £388.00pp for 3 nights RO at Marriott Fisherman’s Wharf Hotel with Virgin America flights from New York. The 48 hour Hop on, Hop off bus tour including Alcatraz and walking tour of China Town was £75.00pp.
Points earned: 2000 Virgin Flying Club point for flying with Virgin America.