Unlike a lot of cities in America, San Francisco is destined to remain the same size, as the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean hug it tightly on three sides. The only place the city can grow is upward: which makes for a lot of expensive real estate. The city covers an area of just seven square miles, and so the wonderful consequence of having sprouted on a peninsula is that it is one of the most easily explored cities in the world. You don’t need a bus pass or a private plane to get around, just a ready-to-go map and several pancakes, or whatever keeps you going. It’s almost always cool but sunny, so light clothing is perfect with some comfortable shoes.
My mother is native to the bay area, so it has that “home-away-from-home” feel to it, but it still feels like a frontier to be explored every time I visit. On my last trip I went alone – but I was forgiven, and the city treated me to several day-long treks from pier to park, just like when I was a kid. This is not a guide to the 50 best trails in San Francisco, but instead a detailed account of some of the best places to visit and suggestions on how to make the trip your own. The best parts involve only a few dollars, unless you’re hungry – don’t underestimate how much you’ll spend on food. Don’t be the person that buys a fridge magnet containing a percentage of Californian sand to put on your fridge. Not only does it belong in California, you should also be saving your money for the conveyor belt of exciting new restaurants offering never-before eaten dishes.
Before I begin, you might be relieved to hear that besides your two feet, there are plenty of other easy ways to get around in the city whilst still taking everything in. Situated around Golden Gate Park are rent-a-bike stations and roller blades for hire, and although the hype about the Segway never transformed into popular use, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of finding a place to take one of these for a spin. I am telling you to avoid bus tours at all costs, as this is a horribly mechanic way to see this city. You’d be forgiven for booking a boat tour of the bay, as it is a wonderful way to get a detailed look at the underbelly of the Golden Gate Bridge. Of course you can ride the famous cable cars that run downtown, but this is more for the experience than the travel. I really recommend walking to take in everything, but beware: you’ll need a free hand to take pictures, because I find there to be a new way to see an extraordinarily beautiful view of the city at every interval. I will try to avoid using the word ‘favourite’, but I think it will be impossible while talking about San Francisco.
Golden Gate Bridge- source Wikimedia
Golden Gate Park
I always make sure to leave two days open for the Golden Gate Park. Walking among the three miles of lakes and trees is my favourite way to absorb the cool Californian sun. You would have no idea that it is surrounded by cityscape. The biggest problem is picking a place to start – it depends on where you’re walking from. You’d be wise to start from the east, as that’s where everything is concentrated. Just about the only things on the west side of the park are the surviving bison, chewing the grass in the Buffalo Paddock.
Fans of horticulture and Ikebana, pay attention now. East of the Centre of the Park nestles the Japanese Tea Gardens, and the most spectacular flower and plant arrangements I have ever seen are confined to this modestly sized garden. Historians have argued over this as the tide came and went, but the creation of the Fortune Cookie is often accredited to the owners of the gardens. You can nibble one with your pot of tea, which you can sip as you gaze at the bright pink blooms of the Hinodegiri (Azalea). My earliest memory of this eastern haven is running over the carefully crafted wooden bridges, climbing the magnificent moon bridge and chasing the koi carp that swam beneath me. Then, without appreciating the wealth of beauty around me, I fell straight into a pond.
Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park- source tripadvisor
If this is not enough for you, as it is quite small, then the Conservatory of Flowers is a short walk away. Another neighbour of the gardens is the de Young Museum of Fine Arts, easily locatable thanks to the recent erection of the new building that literally twists into the sky. You don’t need to enter the museum itself in order to climb to the top of this building which, if you do, will reveal a view of the entire park. From here you can see Stow Lake, which is perfect for a morning walk. You can hire a paddle boat if you want to get close to the turtle inhabitants, although best not to disturb them. Instead you could paddle your way to the enchanting Pagoda, hiding amongst the trees on the edge of the lake.