San Francisco was the first stop of a three week road trip around California. California has always been a bucket list destination of mine. The beautiful, rugged coastline, combined with the possibility of exploring so many new places, whilst soaking up near-constant sunshine sounded like the perfect destination. Luckily for me, my husband-to-be also wanted the same experience and we decided to spend our first three weeks of married life travelling around California. We began in San Francisco and finished in San Diego, visiting Sonoma, Yosemite National Park, Monterey, Big Sur, Santa Barbara and Santa Monica in between.
Destination one: San Francisco.
After arriving in San Francisco the previous evening after a long day of travelling, our Californian adventure could finally begin. First stop – breakfast. Although there were plenty of places to pick up breakfast around Union Square where we stayed, we ate at the Cliff House, a clifftop restaurant with amazing ocean views. I’d read good reviews and it didn’t disappoint! Wedding diet well and truly over and my first breakfast of french toast, bacon & maple syrup ticked off. There are several coastal walks stemming from Lands End where the Cliff House is located, so we set off through the towering pine trees in the warm sunshine. I’d been prepared for cold and misty weather in San Francisco, particularly in the mornings, but we were lucky to have bright blue skies and warm weather during our time there. Although we intended to only take a short walk around the cliff face, we ended up walking for most of the day, the gleaming Golden Gate Bridge in the distance luring us on towards it. It was a tiring day, but worth it for the incredible coastal views! We finished the day watching the sunset from the Top of the Mark, a bar at the top of the Mark Hopkins hotel, which provides 360-degree views of the city. We sipped cocktails and ate small plates as the sun set on our first day in California.
On our second full day in San Francisco, we visited Alcatraz – a military fortress turned federal prison used to house the most dangerous prisoners. The formidable structure is the solitary building on Alcatraz Island just off the shore of San Francisco. I booked our tickets several weeks in advance, which included access to the island and the prison itself, as well as ferry transfers from Pier 33. A short trip across the treacherous water which prevented prisoners escaping from the legendary fortress and you’re there. As part of your visit to Alcatraz, you are also provided with a Cellhouse audio tour, allowing you to visualise the lives of the prisoners and guards who inhabited these buildings. The tour, narrated by real prisoners and correctional officers, lasted approximately 45 minutes, providing an insight into life on the inside of the prison from both sides. You are guided by the narrative around the cell house and inside certain cells, including the solitary confinement cell. Being able to visualise the lives of the prisoners which occupied these sparse cells makes it a captivating and thought provoking experience. A definite must-see when visiting San Francisco!
After returning to the mainland, we left Pier 33 and headed along to Pier 39, a bustling tourist attraction filled with souvenir shops and restaurants. We wandered the length of this busy pier, pausing for some lunch in one of the many restaurants before continuing to the end of the pier where droves of sea lions jostle and fight for prime position on the boardwalks. After lunch we headed across to Lombard Street, also known as the ‘Crooked Street’, the famous road which zig zags sharply up and down a one block section of one of the many steep hills. You can either navigate the hairpin turns by car, or walk up the steps at the side of the road. After the steep climb up the hill, we took a busy cable car back to Union Square. Riding up and down the trademark steep hills was a unique travel experience, one which we had to try before leaving San Francisco!
We ended our time in San Francisco with the first honeymoon treat meal of the trip. Hakkasan – the most amazing Cantonese food with fantastic service. Although pricey, we’d decided that this trip was going to be one where we would spoil ourselves. And it was definitely worth it! We finished the evening with a cocktail in the Starlight Room, the rooftop bar of our hotel which overlooked the twinkling city lights of Union Square.