After our excessive weekend in Vegas Mary and Kosta went back to work and Fish and I flew up to San Francisco.
This was the first time we weren’t being shepherded around by friends or family and we were being total tourists. One of the draw cards to San Fran was that my friends, Danny and Alisha, were living in Berkeley. Let me digress for a moment and explain something critical about San Francisco that you probably don’t know until you get there: San Francisco itself is quite small but it’s situated on an enormous bay. Across the bay are the ‘cities’ of Berkeley and Oakland but in essence all three of these cities blend into one and form The Bay Area. We stayed in Oakland and it was only 15 minutes to downtown SF – the train system connects them all.
We couldn’t stay with Danny and Alisha because they’ve got a 2 month old baby, Ollie, so it wasn’t a good time for visitors for them. We still spent a glorious amount of time with them, but I’ll get to that later… Hostels in America are expensive. Like, $40 for a dorm bed per night. That does not work with our budget. So we Couchsurfed. (It’s probably necessary at this point to explain that couchsurfing.org is a website where travellers and hosts can put profiles up and people can request to stay with them. You leave reviews, it’s very legitimate, I’ve never heard of a bad experience such as robbery, only personality clashes. I’ve been on CS for about 5 years and have met amazing people through it. I’m a strong advocate of it.)
Our host, Danny (very confusing that 66% of the people we know in SF are called Danny), was actually the most accommodating man in the world. He picked us up from the airport and was all about us just having the best possible time in SF. We hardly saw him for the first two days and he was totally fine with that. The best thing was (and we didn’t plan this, it just worked out perfectly) that his place was in downtown Oakland, three blocks from the metro station, and it was one 15 minute train to Danny and Alisha’s stop; and one 15 minute train to downtown San Fran – we were so perfectly connected for our stay. We got in late at night from Vegas so after a short chat with Danny we hit the hay hard.
The first day we were in San Francisco we knocked over a LOT of the major touristy stuff. It was a brilliant day! We walked down to Fisherman’s Wharf via Lombard Street- the windiest (as in curved, not windy. Same word… weird…) street in the world. We then hired bikes and rode what ended up being 30kms – along the water (beautiful parks, beach, views of the Golden Gate Bridge, tourists, sunshine), over the Golden Gate Bridge (very windy, longer than you expect), back over the Bridge and along the water front, through town to Golden Gate Park, back through the Presidio (an area that was an old naval and army base but is now all museums and some houses) and back to Fisherman’s Wharf. It was the most exercise I’ve done in a long time but it was so much fun.
That evening we had dinner with Danny and Alisha. Danny and Alisha were some of the great friends that Lol, Kaysie and I made when we walked the Camino De Santiago in Spain in May of 2012. We have very fond memories of our time camining (definitely not a word, it’s a verb we made up) together and sharing stories. Danny and Alisha gave us a short course in appreciating wine from the Rioja region, and we taught them Peter Combe songs. When we met them they’d just quit their jobs in New York and were travelling around the world. Very inspiring. It was fun then to see them in their home with their 2 month old son. I think it’s a sign of a good friendship when a lot of time can pass but when you see each other again you can pick up where you left off and we definitely had that with Danny and Alisha. (Fish had also met them once before when they were staying with Kays in London).
The next day we had an easy morning and then met Alisha and Ollie in the afternoon. They took us on a fabulous little tour that we never would’ve been able to do without a local guide and a car. We drove up to the Sonoma Valley (just next to the more well-known Napa Valley) and we’re amazed at how quickly the city suburbs turn into beautiful countryside. At one point we drove past a little hill that was covered entirely with white crosses. When we asked about it Alisha said it was a memorial for all the people in the local area that had been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. That blew our minds. Anyway! We went to a winery called Artesa which Alisha is a member of. We got tastings of lots of their wines- a chardonnay, pinot noir, cab sav, a sparkling, and some other grape varieties I didn’t know. They were all amazing and we sipped them while enjoying views all over the Valley and down to San Francisco.
We then cruised down to Muir Wood – a national park with a lot of coastal redwoods- some of the tallest trees in the world. There’s beautiful walks through there and we managed to wander about for an hour before it got dark. It was so beautiful and it reminded me of Tasmania. And once again it was amazing that it was so close to the city.
We went back to Danny and Alisha’s for a quick dinner to hang out with Danny one last time, then we bailed cos it’d been a big day for everyone and we needed some rest (especially little Ollie who had been a champ all day).
Our last day in SF we walked a million miles up and down hills (I swear our three days in the bay area made up for our sloth-like behaviour over the last week). We did a walking tour in the morning in the Castro which is the gay area of SF (well, everywhere is a gay area now, but it was where the LGBT rights movement started in the 70s). It was pretty interesting and it was cool to see the rainbow zebra crossings and other flamboyant things; but I spent a lot of time in Soho in London so it wasn’t that unusual to me. Also, we’d both seen the movie Milk so we knew a lot of the LGBT rights movement stuff too!
We then walked on to Haight Ashbury which was the area where the Summer of Love movement happened in 1967. My expectations were too high (mind the pun) I think, because it was just a bunch of homeless and/or high teenagers amidst a bunch of shitty shops selling tie-dye monstrosities. That’s a bit rough- it was actually quite pleasant to walk around (tangent: San Fran is absolutely stunning in terms of architecture. It’s probably my favourite city I’ve been to in terms of architecture. Poor Fish got pretty sick of me going “ohhhh! Look at that one!” to every second house we walked past. Better that than the usual which is pointing out every dog we walk past…) Anyway, we had a nice pub lunch (pubs are rare in the States, we were pretty stoked) while listening to a bum jam out some beats on a post box.
We then walked up to The Painted Ladies- a famous row of ornate Victorian houses- made most famous (in my 90s-child-eyes) by Full House. In the same way Fish was judging Vegas on Cops, everything I knew about San Fran was from the opening credits of Full House. There’s a really pretty view of the city from Alamo Square opposite the painted ladies which we enjoyed a bit longer before marching back down to The Mission District.
The Mission District is a hip neighborhood. It’s roots are as the Latin American immigrant neighborhood; it hosted a large punk scene in the 80s (I had Rancid songs in my head the whole time we were in SF, taking me back to my angsty teen years. It was cool being in the places that are referenced in songs that I was listening to as a 14 year old kid in the Mid North of SA) and started becoming gentrified in the 90s with the dotcom boom. Now its kinda a mix between the old and new. We almost felt unsafe of Mission St but one block over on Valencia it was hipster central. We didn’t spend much time in Mission, we walked through and sat in Dolores Park (great views of the city. That’s the pay off for trudging up these hills we’d call mountains at home) and then walked back to the metro via Clarion Alley. Clarion Alley is wall to wall street art. Amazing.
Our last night in SF we spent actually hanging out with our wonderful host, Danny. He was such a great dude. His couchsurfing profile didn’t list his age and we nearly fell over when he told us he was 53. I wouldn’t put him a day over 40; I guess that’s just a testament to remaining child-free. Danny drove us all over San Fran – dinner at a great Japanese place, then along the coast to some beautiful view points that overlooked the city and the Bridge, including Twin Peaks and over the Bridge itself.
We had dessert at a place in Castro where we each ordered a piece of cake but should’ve shared one between the three of us. They were enormous. We took the left overs home for Danny to give to the homeless guys who live on his block. He’s an humanitarian.
Then we had a short sleep before getting up for a 6 am flight. I swear that if I ever become super rich the first policy I’d put in place would be that I never take a flight earlier than 10am. I’m angry just thinking about it… But Mary and Kosta picked us up from John Wayne airport and we cruised on to the next adventure, which I’ll hand over to Fish to tell you about.
Sorry about the length of this post, but we done so much!
Legs by ZZ Top. Because my god did we use them.