Earlier this September, I got to finally cross off San Francisco from my travel bucket list. San Fran has been on my list for a while because I’ve always wanted to visit Alcatraz. I swear, it’s the only reason why I am even remotely interested in San Fran.
I planned the trip a few months ago and the month prior to September, I was agonizing over this trip. I wasn’t as excited as I thought I’d be to visit a new city, and San Fran was the first city that never gave me the travel excited as any other city normally does. I contemplated cancelling the trip so much and expressing my concerns about savings and such. Ultimately, I decided to go anyways because I realized it’s such a hassle to cancel everything and at the end of the day, my trip to San Fran wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be.
Before the trip, Dan and I went to Bandidas Taqueria for dinner. I enjoy Mexican food and tacos but I never saw the hype for Bandidas… I think they’re an overpriced hipster Mexican joint. I enjoy their chips and guac appetizer but aside from that… not a fan of anything else on their menu.
Day 1 – Sightseeing
It started with a 3:30am wake-up call. Dan was nice enough to wake up with me in the early morning to drop me off at the airport as well. I realized how sad it was to see drive off and felt a little guilt that I made San Fran a solo trip (don’t worry, I double checked with Dan and he has zero interest in San Fran and even agreed this was a good city to do alone).
The flight wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately, my entertainment system was broken so I ended up sleeping on the flight and woke up about half an hour before landing.
After checking into the hostel, I made my way towards Fisherman’s Wharf. I was looking at the map of San Francisco wrong and thought I’d be heading downhill… when in reality, I was supposed to head uphill! I’ve heard so many things about SF hills and didn’t think it would be that bad… but oh my god, why SF? Just… why?
It took me about 40 minutes to walk to Fisherman’s Wharf and I loved every minute of it! I got to see the major streets of SF but also residential streets as well. I don’t know about you but I also love seeing quiet residential streets in new cities to really grasp the culture and the feeling of living in the city.
I dedicated this day to a day of sightseeing because Dan gifted me a voucher for those doubledecker sightseeing busses… I know what you’re thinking – seriously, Claire? But yes, I desperately wanted to try one out and SF was a great city to do!
The tour bus starts in Fisherman’s Wharf and circles around the SF area. It’s a hop on/off tour but I sat for the majority of it because the major points I wanted to catch were on the other side of the city. It was still awesome to see the major tourist attractions without having to walk or hop off!
If you ever want to try out these hop on/off tour buses… go for it! Get a Groupon because I wouldn’t recommend paying full price for the service. If you sit on the top, don’t expect to hear any audioguides because it’s so loud.
I got off just down the street from the hostel and decided to check in in hopes of getting there early with a lower bunk… sadly I got the upper bunk but the girl below me was a very nice Australian girl.
Now, call me a loser but I ended up taking a nap because when I settled into the hostel, I was sooooo tired… beyond tired!
I don’t care how lame it was but I took that two hours nap and felt sooo good. Mind you, when I woke up from my nap, I also felt so lazy and decided to just call it a day. I Facetimed Dan, read and watched Netflix until I fell asleep. I didn’t feel like I wasted a day or anything – my body really needed that and I knew I would have longer days to come. I still wanted to relax on this trip as well!
Day 2 – Alcatraz
On my second day, I walked over to the Painted Ladies. I love Full House and Fuller House so I was pretty excited to head over here. It wasn’t too bad of a walk from my hostel – just under 30 minutes or so. BUT, I had to talk through the Tenderloin in the early morning. Mind you, I’m just a 5″ little Asian girl so I was super nervous walking through Tenderloin. I could’ve avoided it but I was following my GPS and decided it was too late to take another route now that I’m committed to it… and I have poor sense of directions so veering off my GPS route would get me even more lost.
If any of my readers are from Vancouver, the only way I could describe Tenderloin is that it makes Hasting area look normal. I walked by a weed deal transaction and saw people shoot up between parked cars. It stunk of vomit, piss and poop. I saw a few fights/arguments, and drunk people stumbling down the streets. I was so, so happy to leave the Tenderloin area but I was clutching my bag so tightly, haha.
After Painted Ladies, I headed towards Lombard Street to see the famous turning street.
Finally, I made it down to Fisherman Wharf and the Piers! On Day 1, I only went down to redeem the voucher and didn’t see much of it.
Can I just say… I am in love with the Piers and Fisherman Wharf! I can’t believe SF has this on a daily basis to visit! I would love coming down here just to relax and watch people. Not to mention shop and eat as well.
I booked for the night tour which departed the Pier at 5:55pm. It’s about a 20-minute ride to the island and because it was a night tour, we had a live tour guide for the first bit.
It was one thing to see the island from afar on land, but it’s another to be on a ferry heading towards it. It’s almost an eerie feeling because you knew this was how prisoners and residents (and yes, residents! Children lived on the island as well) arrived. To make it even better, we were lucky and got regular SF weather where it was chilly and cold with fog. Our tour guide told me that this was the type of weather most prisoners endured and not constant sunshine.
The tour guide was amazing. He pointed out several things that I would’ve missed if I walked the island on my own. When we docked, our tour guide led us up to the building and told us some facts and trivia about the prison, followed up several programs that will be hosted after the tour.
Unfortunately, when I booked the tour, I thought it was an actual tour guide throughout the prison… it ended up being a self-guided audio tour as well. I wasn’t impressed. But, to be fair, the audio program was AMAZING! The emotions, background tracks, and acting, and the fact that it was voiced by actual prisoners really made it feel as though you were in the prison. There were so many times that I just had to turn around to make sure that there wasn’t a gigantic rowdy crowd behind me or that someone hasn’t slammed the metal door shut.
The downside of the night tour is that it’s freezing. I waited for the ferry back to the city for an hour and it was brutal… insane that people used to live on the island. But, seeing Alcatraz in the night was so haunting. If you picture the boat leaving without you and spending the night there… it’s pretty isolated, scary and cold.
When I got back to the island, I hitched a cab back to the hostel only because it would’ve taken me about an hour to walk back. The cab driver was soooo sleazy! He was hitting on me throughout the ride, and even tried to pressure me into cheating on Dan. Needless to say, I didn’t tip and he was upset that I was adamant about going back into the hostel and not coming out to a club with him.
Day 3 – Chinatown
On my last day, all I had left to see on my itinerary was Chinatown. I moved a few things around so I managed to do a lot of things on Day 1 and 2. I was bummed that I missed the Tenderloin Museum and walking tour because they weren’t open on Monday… not even because it was Labour Day, but they plainly just don’t open on Mondays.
I mean, I did walk through Tenderloin but I wanted to see the museum to learn about its past… oh well, perhaps next time if I ever came back.
I made my way towards Chinatown, North America’s oldest Chinatown. I love how every city’s Chinatown is different… but yet, so similar! Vancouver’s Chinatown is dying so it’s great to see how other Chinatowns are still thriving.
After Chinatown, I was blocks away from the shopping district where I went into Ross and Marshalls… and found an entire section on essential oils! If you recall from my previous post, I recently got into EOs and am obsessed with expanding my collection. Unfortunately, I decided to pass on them because I won’t be bringing my diffuser with me to Australia and it wouldn’t make sense to buy a bunch and have them sit in my mum’s garage for a year.
Eventually, I caught the train back into the airport and left for Vancouver. My commute back home was shit because Dan was already asleep and no Car2Gos or Evos were around the area… and to top it off, the moment I got off the skytrain, the bus that brings me just outside my house left. I ended up cabbing it home which was less than $20 but a car share or bus would’ve been cheaper.
So, all in all, my trip to San Francisco was pretty neat. If I’m being honest, if it wasn’t for Alcatraz, I wouldn’t have come down to SF. I’ll give this city a solid 3/5 stars.
I hate telling people that SF wasn’t what I thought it would be. It wasn’t because I travelled alone or anything, but I think it’s because I held SF on such a high standard for so long, I was ultimately disappointed when I visited the city. When I told my colleague how I felt about the city, I was surprised to see that she agreed with me as well and ultimately branded SF as just one of those cities you gotta see at least once in your lifetime.
I don’t have any tips for those visiting SF aside from…
- Skip the night tour of Alcatraz… it’s not an actual live guide. Book the last daytime tour for a cheaper rate and you can still catch the prison in dark.
- Even though it’s in California… it’s so windy and cold! Pack a jacket or a hoodie, even in the summertime.
- Don’t stay overnight in the Tenderloin… and if you are interested in visiting that part of town, bring a buddy with you. I went in the morning but I can’t imagine how it would look like in the middle of the day or at night time.