The drive from Yosemite to San Francisco was again pretty easy although it was busier, especially as we hit the 5 lane highways again! We got great views driving into San Francisco as we came over the bridge just north of the city. We then drove along the sea front past the restored piers towards our hotel. It was a really nice drive, and good introduction to the city, although it was pretty busy due to the Saturday farmers market.
We found our pre-booked hotel easily enough and ventured out in a very sunny San Francisco!
We got our first glimpse of the Golden Gate bridge walking through a park where people were drinking, jogging and having BBQ's. Wouldn't have minded joining them, not the jogging though!
We went to Pier 39 and watched the entertaining seals mess around and generally annoy each other before heading to a bar which had beer tasting. Ofcourse, we go all the way to San Francisco and the first thing we do is rate beer! The bar staff were impressed as we had judged each beer out of 20 and worked out the best and worst.
We ate at a nice place by the touristy area before heading back to play cards and sink a few beers and a few more G & T's.
The next day Emmas parents had booked Alcatraz for us all -it had a 2 day waiting list so it was a great idea to book ahead. The island is now a US state park and they have done well to keep it looking as it was when it closed. They have left the graffiti on signs from when the Indians occupied it the 60's.
After watching a short video on the history and ecology of Alcatraz we made our way into the famous prison where we started our audio tour. 3 former prisoners and 3 former guards told their story as we walked around, adding chilling sound effects at times.
We heard about prisoners who spent a year digging a whole in the back of their cell and escaping sucessfully after creating heads out if soap so the guards would think they were in their beds! The government said they perished in the icy cold water around San Francisco but their families claim they have received postcards from them! The FBI case is still open.... We heard about riots and attempted escapes which ended with guards and prisoners dying. What we found strange was that the guards and their families lived on the island!
We were exiting through the gift shop where a former inmate was signing his autobiography. He had a couple of notable replies to the following questions...
Q. How bad were you?
A. I was the baddest of the bad!
Q. I guess it was easier to rob a bank in those days?
A. Anything's easy with a machine gun!
Naturally we purchased and got his autobiography signed!
We then returned for the mainland where we decided to hire a bicycle. We ended up 'saving money' and getting a tandem! Emma says it cute, Kris says its embarrassing! It was a tough ride in places but the highlight was cycling accross the iconic Golden Gate bridge and then the massive downhill that followed! We caught a ferry back before meeting up with Emmas folks.
After the success of the beer tasting, we decided to try wine tasting at a nice wine bar on Pier39. We tried our best to sound professional and pretend we knew what we were talking about, but to be honest most of the whites tasted the same!
The wine spurred us on for a few more drinks, so we went to a near by Irish bar that served good food and bad kareoke. The Elvis look alike was ok, but it was more fun watching truly awful singers take their favourite songs and give it a terrible twist! Our bill came to over 100 dollars which triggered an automatic 18% service charge and then the tax on top, so an extra 30+ dollars we hadnt accounted for. We have been leaving tips in America and we've tipped more if we have enjoyed the dinner or the waiter more but its annoying to get a large amount forced on us. On the subject of buying things, every price you see is not including tax, which is annoying when you get $2 ready but you then need 30 cents extra!
The next day we started our 2 day bus tour. The first thing of note was an evacuation alarm which rang at 12noon. Luckily this was a weekly alarm test for earthquakes, although if it was real, you would think people would realise what was happening before the alarm sounded.
We did the complete loop of the bus tour, which among many other locations took us to the Golden Gate Bridge. Only problem was that it was ridiculously windy, made even worse by being on top of an open top bus! She did warn us but it was freezing! We stopped both sides of the bridge to get some good pictures and then headed up town to see the painted ladies (decretively painted houses) and the Bohemian area of Haight and Ashbury, before getting off to make our way to the wiggley road (officially called Lombard Street, but I think wiggley road describes it better!). We started at the bottom, watching cars tackle the 8 hairpin turns! Then we climbed the very steep steps that run along side the road (although Emma's mum did initially protest about having to do this, but being the supportive family we are we walked on up them anyway). From the top you could see just how steep it was, and obviously only tourists in their rented cars were tackling the bends! Any locals took the normal roads just a block away!
That evening we went for food in our local area (Union Street). Apparently there is a ratio of 1 restaurant per 23 people in San Francisco which seems a lot until you take a look around America's supermarkets and their eating habbits you can see why! We all decided on the turkey dinner and it was great!
The next day we used the open top tour bus to return to some of the key places, including a wonder round Haight and Ashbury. We went into a few second hand clothes shops, including ones that had clothes from the 50's 60's and 70's. The 60's and 70's were the hay days of the area, the place to be if you were a hippy. And many hippies are clearly still trying to cling on to those days in this area, it made it very interesting though!
We then took a long walk to across San Francisco to catch the trolleybuses to Coit Tower. The trolleybuses were all donated or bought from various cities and kept in their original vintage condition, ours was from Verona so all the signs were in Italian.
Coit Tower is perched on a hill (a lot of hill walking is required to get around San Francisco!) and provided us with panoramic views of the city, including Golden Gate Bridge and the wiggly road!
We jumped back on a trolleybus that took us to the turn table of the famous San Francisco cable cars. Famous as they are the worlds last manually operated cable car system, and have been an iconic element of San Francisco since 1873. They were invented after the inventor saw 5 horses die after a horsedrawn cart slipped backwards down the steep hills in icy conditions. The problem is that the the cable cars are so famous that the queue was HUGE! We waited for about an hour, listening to a tramp sing his awful rendition of 80s classics and watching the men manually rotate the cable cars on the turntable (they are single-ended so have to always be rotated to head back up the hill). But at least we all managed to get great seats on our cable car though, with me, Kris and Dad hanging on the side as we headed up hill! I think everyone was quite surprised that we jumped off at the first stop, as everyone rides the cable car from end to end, purely for the sake of riding it, but it actually took us closer to our hotel!
We ate at another really nice bar not far from our hotel, the food in San Francisco is definitely the best we've had in America! And then headed back to the room for a few gin and tonics and cards, how we like to end most of our evenings!
The next morning we got up early, had another breakfast of boiled eggs and toast - the Marina Inn speciality / only option! And then headed off to pick up our third and final car that would take us to LA.
San Francisco has a bit more history than most American towns due to the gold rush in the 1850's and you can see it throughout the town. Its a very cool city with lots of interesting architecture and topped off with a nice relaxed feel to it!