Sunshine in San Francisco

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Western USA in an RV

I was eagerly anticipating a visit to San Francisco, which was the first stop on a three week, West Coast family RV trip. I was attracted by the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco’s cable cars, the city’s seemingly laid back vibe and by the West Coast sunshine. This was also my first experience of a trans-Atlantic flight, so I was excited by the prospect of watching multiple movies and TV shows on the twelve-hour journey.

Upon arrival, unsurprisingly, the United States Border Force at San Francisco took their job incredibly seriously, so our family had to collectively suppress our excitement about being on the West Coast. After we got through security, we took the subway downtown.

We emerged from the subway, and were greeted by sunshine in San Francisco. There were multiple street performers, a tram that had just gone past and an infectious excitement and atmosphere in the busy streets. After a fairly short walk, and having dropped our suitcases off at our hotel, we were famished. So we headed to the nearest restaurant, Lori’s Diner, which is a 1950s style diner and has multiple outlets throughout San Francisco. I really liked Lori’s as the service was quick, the red booths were comfortable, the burgers and chips were tasty and it was fairly cheap. After that we crashed in our hotel, exhausted from the jet lag, in very comfortable beds.

The cable cars epitomise San Fran for many. Photographer: Ali Leyland-Collins

The next morning we emerged from our slumbers into another hot and enticing day in San Francisco. After a quick but much-needed breakfast at a nearby cafe, we started our sightseeing. I relished walking up the constant hills in the city, and liked the brightly coloured buildings of San Francisco that gave the city a unique character. Eventually we got on a packed tram that meandered its way through the city, to Fisherman’s Wharf. Strolling through the tourist areas in Fisherman’s Wharf on pier 39, we saw sea lions in the water on a packed waterfront. We quickly found a cardboard cut-out of Rosie the Riveter, where we took turns mimicking her pose. Rosie the Riveter was next to the USS Pampanito, a Second World War submarine on pier 45. The USS Pampanito costs £15.80 for adult admission and children get in free, though they must be with an adult. We took a self-guided audio tour of the submarine, swerving through the different sections before we emerged on the ship’s deck, where all the equipment was beautifully preserved.

Rosie the Riveter: an instantly-recognisable cultural icon of the United States © Wikipedia

We caught a glimpse of Alcatraz Island in the distance, where we were headed that afternoon. I suggest you book a trip to Alcatraz in advance because it does get difficult to get tickets if you leave it too late. With Alcatraz Island Tours, admission is $45.25 for adults, $31 for children and $43.25 for seniors and you can book it 90 days in advance. Alcatraz had been used for numerous purposes: in the nineteenth century it was used by Mexico and then the United States as a military prison, but Alcatraz is best known as a notorious federal prison nicknamed ‘the Rock’ when it opened in 1934 as it was assumed to be an inescapable fortress (and indeed, few ever escaped). The prison closed in the 1960s, and Alcatraz was then briefly occupied by Native Americans in the Red Power movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s before becoming a tourist attraction in the late 1980s.

The boat ride over to Alcatraz was a bit choppy but once we arrived I was surprised at Alcatraz Island’s vast size. The audio tour was incredibly thorough, leading us through all the cell blocks and the exercise yard. I was fascinated by the 1962 prison escape, where a few Alcatraz inmates had used spoons to dig out of the back of their cells, silently built boats in the dark attic of the prison using raincoats and who were never found when they escaped into San Francisco bay.

Alcatraz © Wikimedia

The next day we headed to Hollywood Cafe for breakfast, which specialised in breakfast meals named after various celebrities. I had James Dean’s breakfast speciality that consisted of two eggs, toast, fresh fruit, ham steak or three rashes of bacon or sausage patty. My parents liked Audrey Hepburn’s breakfast special of two pancakes and fresh fruit. Needless to say we were all stuffed after that incredibly tasty and enormous breakfast, which was also reasonably priced.

After that amazing breakfast, we headed out to rent bicycles from San Francisco bike rentals, whose most basic models are now $8/ hour or $30/day to rent. I was confused by how the bicycle gears in San Francisco were set up on the opposite side of the bicycle than they are in the UK. Yet, once I got the hang of the gears, I really enjoyed cruising around San Francisco, up the steep hills and on the flat around San Francisco bay. We then cycled across a busy Golden Gate Bridge, which was swarming with tourists but was worth the trip because the views of the bridge and the city were phenomenal. Shortly afterwards, we made our way to Lombard Street, which was fascinating as a spectacle to see cars descend slowly round the swirly road, amongst beautiful scenery and architecture.

Lombard Street: not somewhere for a cycle! © Allie_Caulfield

After the jet lag had worn off the next morning, we picked up our RV and headed south full of optimism. San Francisco to this day is my favourite city in the United States, mostly because of Alcatraz, where I particularly enjoyed learning about the 1962 escape attempt. Yet, San Francisco was also beautiful, epitomised by the Golden Gate Bridge, though it could also be seen very clearly at Lombard Street. The food we had was delicious and very filling, which was much needed to overcome our jet lag. If anyone has not been to the United States and is not sure where to go, I highly recommend San Francisco as a place to start.

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