San Francisco is one of those bucket list destinations that has an air of romance to it. Everyone I know wants to go – those who have been want to go back, those who haven’t want to go and see what all the fuss is about. Our Wild West motorcycle tour included a day off in San Francisco half way through the second week, which we were very excited about. We had a hotel for two nights right by Pier 39, and had spoken to lots of friends about what we needed to make sure we did while there. Armed with our list of suggestions we set about cramming in as much as possible.
LincsGeek and I riding over the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco
We had ticked a couple of things off our “must see” list before we even got to our hotel. Jeff, our tour leader, took us the very long way into the city so we could ride our Harleys over the Golden Gate Bridge – an awesome sight that, while busy and narrowed due to road works, was definitely one for the memory banks. From there we rode up Lombard Street, one of San Francisco’s famous steep streets with cable car tracks running up the middle of it – an experience in itself when you’re riding a huge Harley that you know you had no chance of doing a hill start if you needed to stop half way up. At the top we turned right to go back down the equally steep Hyde Street – the section of Lombard Street known as the “crookedest street” with its eight tight hairpin turns was closed for resurfacing.
Once settled in at our hotel, we headed out along the seafront towards market street to explore the area. It was very busy – it turned out it was Pride weekend which explained a lot of the crowds and outfits! It was cool being by the sea and we had a very pleasant walk up and down some of the piers. We got our chain restaurant fix with a meal at Bubba Gump at the end of Pier 39, a Forrest Gump themed restaurant where we ate seafood and watched boats and birds through the massive panoramic windows. More walking and exploring after that – we saw a handful of sea lions by the Pier (although it’s the wrong time for the hundreds they get later in summer and through the winter), and watched a beautiful sunset over the bay.
What is it with American hotels and lack of lighting? LincsGeek took this photo of our room in the Radisson Hotel Fisherman’s Wharf that evening with all the available lights turned on. So dark! Where’s the “big light”?! We found this in all the hotel rooms on the trip – it’s a good job I’m not bothered about how I look!!
Crying out for a “big light”!
Our full day in San Francisco started with a late breakfast in the IHOP (International House of Pancakes for those not in the know) using our hotel breakfast voucher. It was packed, which is not surprising on the Monday morning after Pride weekend I guess, but meant we had to wait a bit for a table. We sat with Rafa and Loli, a lovely Spanish couple who were on their honeymoon and had joined us for the second week of the tour. Our Spanish is pretty non-existant but thankfully Rafa’s English was not bad and was improving all the time.
After breakfast we headed back along the Embarcadero to where we left off the previous evening. Perhaps people watching isn’t as common in some places as others; San Francisco has a dedicated ‘People Watching’ zone with instructions telling people exactly how to do it. It was, of course, an art installation, but it made us smile and we felt obliged to have a go. We walked up and down the piers on our way down to the Ferry Building which was a very organised market full of grocers, butchers, fishmongers and other food merchants. The smell was amazing!
Another thing on our must-do was to ride the Cable Car. We took the California Line Cable Car from Drum right to the end of the line at Van Ness, sitting on the side as it went up and down the steep hills San Francisco is so well known for. It’s quite amusing how everyone sat on the seats slides down to one end as you go up, and slides back down to the other end when the Cable Car goes down. We bought day tickets so we could ride lots – this cost just $6 and was worth it as we used it for transport later in the day. We stayed on at the end of the line while the driver had a quick get-off, and came half way back, getting off at China Town to have a look around. This meant we also got to walk up and down one of those famous steep streets… I can see why they installed the cable cars!
From China Town we walked to Union Square for a spot of mooching about the shops, our only shopping of the whole trip – I loved the Heart Sculptures around the square. Lunch was suitably unhealthy: Ben and Jerrys ice cream and Jabba Juice in the basement of Macy’s. Then there was more window shopping (I didn’t even buy anything from the Converse or The North Face store, although I wish I had done – it just wasn’t a shopping kind of trip) and looking at scenery before we headed back to the hotel on the Cable Car (I loved that Cable Car!) to freshen up before dinner.
Inside the Converse Store in San Francisco – can I have this hanging from my lounge ceiling please?
On the Cable Car the driver recommended we had a look at the Cable Car Museum if we had time, which is actually a combination of museum and viewing area. Free to get in, you can see some of San Francisco’s history – loads of old photographs – as well as see for yourself where the cables themselves run and how the cars work. It explained why the cars were a bit jerky sometimes! It only takes a few minutes to have a look around but I’m glad we found out about it as it helped me learn something!
One thing I promised LincsGeek before we left home was that I’d take him to The Cheesecake Factory on one of our evenings. Timings didn’t work out in LA so we headed up to the top floor of Macy’s in San Francisco and had a great meal there, which ended with Key Lime Cheesecake for me (my ‘usual’!) and Toasted Marshmallow Cheesecake for LincsGeek. The views from the balcony overlooking the city were great, although we were not jealous of the people sat out there to eat – it was breezy and cold as the sun went down.
Overhead power cables for San Francisco buses.
From the Cheesecake Factory, top floor of Macy’s in San Francisco
Right at the end of the day we got another Cable Car must-do ticked off – the carriage was so busy we rode on the footplate back to the hotel. We made sure we held on tight, although I may have sneaked a photo or two on my phone!
San Francisco is a fantastic city – relaxed and friendly, plenty to see and do, lots of places to eat. We shall go back sometime to explore the area even more, but were very pleased for our one day experience.
Read the Wild West Series
- Part 1 – Going Guided
- Part 2 – Fat Boys and Softails
- Part 3 – The Hottest Place on Earth
- Part 4 – Movie Set Scenery
- Part 5 – We’re All Going on a Bear Hunt
- Part 6 – One Day in San Francisco
- Part 7 – The Sea is Still There