In 2015, I was spending my summer in Southern California on a month-long study trip with my school. I had not initially planned on going to San Francisco, but after much talk with my fellow roommates at the hostel in Venice Beach, I decided to spend my next weekend up state.
Fortunately, I had family living in the city and they let me stay by them. All travelers I’ve met have noted how expensive San Fran is, and it definitely was. Right now, it’s more expensive than New York especially in terms of rent. Why? Well, apparently it’s due to the booming tech industry and rise of the infamous Silicon Valley nearby that churns out young millionaires causing the property in the city to rise significantly.However, nobody I met said it wasn’t worth it as San Francisco was by far one of the best cities to experience on the west coast. They were right.
I only had 4 days to explore, and to be honest it was not enough. It will take you at least 2 weeks to do more things. Unlike most cities in California, San Francisco has good transport and it’s small and easy to learn your bearings. My cousin drove me around the first day showing me the layout of the city and giving good tips. However, it takes forever to get from point A to B, due to the crazy steep heels and heavy traffic. Most people opt for their own car to avoid the long commute. However, as a tourist I rather enjoyed public transport and I was staying really near the city centre.
Seeing as I didn’t have much time to use the slow moving transport to get everywhere, I chose to use the open roofed Hop on-Hop Off Bus to take me to the Golden Gate Bridge. I was going to choose the one day ticket of $30, but the operator for some reason was super gracious, and gave me a 2 day ticket valued at $60 for just $25!! Was I lucky or not? Whoopee.
The China Town in San Francisco is home to the biggest expat Chinese community outside of China. It’s colourful and busy and you can def strike a bargain at the many stores along the street. I just got me my magnet souvenir and took pictures. Oh, and I also got a quick haircut for $5.
From Chinatown I walked down to Union Square. Not much to see there, except go shopping. All the famous departments stores such as Macy’s, Saks and other popular retail and brand stores around there. I then hopped on the famous wooden cable cart from Union Square down to the waterfront to Fisherman’s Wharf.
I walked along the pier from the main Wharf to the popular Pier 39 and took a cheap tug boat cruise around the bay for $10. They’re pretty hidden, and they are situated behind the bungee jumping for kids section. You can even spot some seals lounging along the pier. Be sure to get the best seafood offerings at various restaurants around here.
You can also catch a boat or ferry to visit the famous Alcatraz prison island across from the harbour.
This was the day I scored that lucky $25 2-day ticket! It was a Saturday, so the traffic was crazy. Also, it was unusually hot for San Fran as it was 30 degrees celcius!
The Golden Gate Bridge
It was the ideal day for visiting the windy and cold iconic Golden Gate Bridge which lies over the Pacific Ocean. I went up to the North Point Vista and then walked along the bridge back to the other side. A walk along this bridge is a must-do! I wish I could have rented a bike and cycled up to the bridge from the Wharf, but I didn’t have the right sports clothes with me.
Shopping & Nightlife
My flight was late in the afternoon, so I went to the beautiful Botanical Gardens South of the city in the morning. Plus, I still wanted to use my Open Bus tour ticket. The gardens are huge, and they have some American buffalo on the grounds, lots of lakes, wide lawns and you can sit and picnic anywhere! If you go through the gardens, you come out on Ocean Beach, where Baywatch was actually filmed.
We also checked out some of the popular neighborhoods with the famous Victorian styled houses that you see on Full House. I also went past the George Lucas Museum, but I didn’t have time to check it out.
Overall, I found San Francisco is really cool. The vibe, the people and the city itself is definitely worth seeing and experiencing. Plus they have Sanrio headquarters there too! It helps to know somebody there if you’re on a budget as accommodation prices are ridiculous.
Otherwise, go check it out!
- The Golden Gate Bridge is super windy, it was refreshing on a really hot summer’s day, but otherwise bring a jacket if it’s not under 30 degrees!
- Avoid going to the Bridge on a weekend. Sadly, I had no choice but to go on Saturday. Traffic to and from the bridge was jam packed and it took hours for our bus to arrive and to get back to the city centre. Be warned.
- Read well on the area you are staying in. Yes, San Francisco is expensive but that’s a reality. Fellow classmates of mine thought they hit it lucky when they found cheap accommodation outside of the city, but the area was super dodgy and they witnessed a murder right in front of them! They spent the evening with the police as witnesses.
- The bus system in San Fran is actually pretty good. San Fran isn’t a big city and I think the public transport here is rather efficient and easy.