Ed Leahy finally visits a city that has been on his wishlist for many years.
Staring across the vast expanse of water and iron at the skyline beyond, I had finally arrived at the periphery of this famous northern Californian town.
Close to the top of my destination wishlist for many years, San Francisco sat waiting beneath the dense rolling clouds that somewhat stole the view from such a fine vantage point at the far side of the Bay.
Once across this magnificent bridge, the heavy traffic seemed to magically disappear, as the streets of San Francisco spread out in every direction through the sprawling city centre.
Despite the lack of cars, however, the journey across the city was slow, but not at all annoying, as I edged up the steep streets behind slowly moving tram cars. These famous San Francisco streets, which were immediately familiar from all the film and television time they command, give the city a totally unique aspect and seeing them up close, thanks to a very sturdy hand brake, gave me an instant connection with this famously laidback town.
However, I did find it bizarre that for a city as vast and popular as San Francisco, it beggared belief that my list of 'must-sees’ could be counted on one hand.
And with the bridge and sloping streets already checked, next up was the infamous prison on Alcatraz Island.
The boat trip to this most notorious former penitentiary was fully booked two months in advance, so luckily a ticket had been procured long before I ventured Stateside.
The short boat journey provided more great views of the city and the bridges at either stretch of the bay.
The prison itself is impressive in that there is so much history and legend attached to it, while the Hollywood connections add some glamour to this ever-popular tourist haunt.
It really is just an old-school prison, but what makes it intriguing are the tales of kidnapping, hostage-taking and escape attempts, not to mention the roll-call of famous criminals whose journey I was retracing.
The island also provided a village-type scenario for the prison guards and their families, whose lives were also Alcatraz dominated.
An interactive audio tour, complete with authentic prisoner voices, adds to the experience as you look back to what life was like in the jailhouse’s 'heyday'.
Despite my short tourist check-list, there is, of course, plenty to see in San Fran – the people, the buildings, the shops, the trams, the hills. So safely escaped from Alcatraz, I ventured inland in no particular direction.
It was a long afternoon, and my feet didn’t thank me for it, but wandering through the various neighbourhoods, up and down the city’s famous crazy pavements, it totally eclipsed the island visit.
Eating and drinking my way around the quaint bars and cafés of San Francisco emphasised the fact that some places don’t need a huge number of tourist attractions to obtain the moniker of a great city.
Staying at the Good Hotel, the area was far from affluent, but the accommodation was excellent and located only a few blocks from some of the major department stores.
And as night time falls, San Francisco comes into its own with every type of eating experience available. I headed for the Mission district for a sample of the city’s famous nightlife. The area is home to many of San Francisco’s up-and- coming restaurants, with the district currently undergoing a bit of a facelift.
Foreign Cinema restaurant was recommended by a friend and didn’t disappoint as the fine food was enjoyed in the outdoor courtyard where they beam old foreign films onto the wall throughout the evening. It was Fellini week and La Dolce Vita was proving an apt title for my visit to this very vibrant city.
Elsewhere in the Mission, there are bars and restaurants aplenty with Delfina, Bar Tartine, Zeitgeist and Revolution Café some other good spots to visit.
Places to Visit in San Francisco
California Academy of Sciences Located in Golden Gate Park, the Academy of Sciences is the greenest museum in the world, and the only place on the planet to house an aquarium, planetarium, four-storey rainforest and natural history museum under a 2.5- acre living roof.
MOMA, San Francisco The Museum of Modern Art houses much of the city’s best modern and contemporary art.
Fisherman’s Wharf A great place to base yourself for a visit to San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf is full of tourist attractions and great restaurants with a wide variety of things to do for all the family.
City Lights Book Store Located in the North Beach area, City Lights is a landmark independent bookstore and publisher that specialises in world literature, the arts, and progressive politics and has been a literary meeting place since 1953. The bookstore also opens until midnight.
Get on your Bike Cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge and then head into Sausalito for lunch or an ice-cream before hopping on the ferry back across the Bay, or cycle into the Marin Headlands for stunning views and great cycling.
San Francisco Ferry Building Located along the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street, the building is home to an excellent Farmers’ Market, while the impressive clock tower was modelled after the 12th century Giralda bell tower in Seville.
Rooms with a View Enjoy a drink at Top of the Mark, which is a fantastic sky bar with 360-degree views or take lunch at Cliff House overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Drive North There are many gems to be found in northern California and Point Reyes Station is just one, being a cute, small town with great eateries, while the scenic drive north up the Pacific Coast Highway will soothe the soul.
For more information about San Francisco, visit www.visitcalifornia.co.uk
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