Waking up and casting our gaze out of the 42nd floor of the Hilton at Union Square was a distant far-cry to the Ford Transit that we laid shelter in for the past 9 days. Sure, the views through Iceland were far more dynamic however nothing quite beats the pampered nature of a 4* stay after a camping road trip. Well, maybe a 5* treatment would but beggars can’t be choosers! Our initial impression of the hotel was one of humongous comfort and satisfaction, with our welcome pack awaiting us in the room and the Presidio & Golden Gate nestled in the distance behind the concrete jungle of downtown San Fran.
We were spoilt for choice at the Hilton’s buffet breakfast and could write a novel based on our experiences at the porridge bar alone but this is best saved for later. For now, we will waddle on our with our day, possibly as we’ve eaten too much but hey, we’re in America and were experiencing first hand how bigger can be better!
For us, San Fran is symbolised by it’s iconic attractions: The Golden Gate, Alcatraz, Trams, China Town & more. We were determined to cram it all in in four days and decided to head to Fisherman’s Wharf first via the Muni Tram at Market on Powell Street. Scam artists are everywhere and queuing here is no exception, be wary of anyone “giving advice” for money. Our scrutiny toward one man cost an hour of our time but if we had listened to him and walked to the next stop after the tram’s origin, we could’ve got on a lot quicker! FIRST TIP RIGHT THERE! Don’t queue at the origin, unless you’re in a large group, get your pictures and walk to the next stop before hopping on.
Hopelessly hanging out the side of the tram trying to capture that perfect timelapse was challenging, with several other wannabee videographers trying to do the same. Either way, the persistent sarcasm from the driver is a treat in itself, even if he accidentally mistakes you for the opposite sex…
Pier 39 can be found in the North Beach district of San Francisco and blends local abrasiveness with populous tourism. There are certain trams and transit that can get you around which incessantly pollutes the San Francisco skyline. On the ground, be prepared to dodge pavement hoggers as the densely populated pier becomes a game of human dodgems. One attraction that causes quite a stir are the sea lions that have lounged since the Loma Prieta earthquake hit in 1989. By 1990, they had completely taken over K-Dock and have seen their numbers rise to 1,701 in November 2009, a sea lion record! They’re loud and persistently fighting, perhaps a visual metaphor to the politics being played in America these days. Either way, they’re a necessity in San Fran and it’s great to see such majestic beasts.
As is our travelling tradition, we wandered around Pier 39 to try find the local delicacy, clam chowder. Taylor Street, fairly close by, is home to infamous locations, including Nick’s Lighthouse, where we ended up dining. It has handy take-out options, where we tried the clam chowder & crab. Fishy, fun & slightly messy, it was nice to sit out at a bench nearby and defend our dinner against the bandit-esque seagulls that swooped on anyone not concentrating on their dish. Obviously, we defended well!
We left Pier 39 after wandering around and taking on too much of the sickly sweet donut scent and headed toward Lombard Street, the infamous wiggly street in this hilly metropolis. A quick stop at Pepper Palace to try the Flash Bang hot sauce, something so devilishly hot you have to sign a waiver for, prior to your mouth melting for the next 10 minutes! Lombard street was disappointing, with it’s heavy tourism density and police controls and we quickly headed down to Chinatown.
We entered Chinatown at the opposite end to Dragon’s Gate and the first thing we noticed was the severe drop in prices. Seriously, if every chinatown can manage to lower their pries, why can’t the rest of the economy?! Either way, the authentic feel is one of the most genuine and it even has that lovely Chinese lack of cleanliness….It is the largest chinatown outside of Asia, as well as the oldest in North America. We ended up eating our dinner here, Sam Wo, the renowned restaurant for the “world’s worst waiter.” He has long since retired and we’d never been as annoyed with having decent service! The food however was certainly not cracking and this is a restaurant that shouldn’t be on your places of must visits.
Prior to dinner, we enjoyed a lovely couple of cocktails in Cityscape, the bar and lounge at the top of the Hilton where we were staying. The views are some of the best in the city, the appetisers were delicious and the drinks were magically created. Although pricy ($$$), it’s certainly worth treating the other half, even if it is for a small drink, so you can gaze long into the distance of yet another American concrete jungle. Are dreams made here? Too early to say, although San Francisco certainly isn’t what we expected.