If you’re going to San Francisco…

I’m gathering up my things ready to disembark the Coast Starlight when the gentleman at a nearby seat, realising my destination as we approach the stop, starts telling me about San Francisco.
“It’s a dirty city,” he says.
“And you’ve gotta watch people. Some of them are real snooty. And it’s a Mafia town so, you know, be careful. There’s a lot of places you don’t want to find yourself. There’s a lot of bad people and money’s tight right now.”
In the dying minutes of the train trip I have managed to find the one person who doesn’t think San Francisco is the bees knees. But whatever. If sleeping in a train carriage and waking up every 45 minutes to switch positions hasn’t damped my enthusiasm, this old dude isn’t going to either.

A fellow passenger explained the logic in why Amtrak doesn’t roll its way into San Fran. “If it did, it would have to miss Oakland and that would be silly.” Instead it stops across the bay at Emeryville and a bus takes passengers across the Bay Bridge into the city in about 15 minutes. I got talking to an Australian girl while on the bus and we exchanged Facebook details. As she was getting her bags she asked me if I knew where I was going. “Nope, not yet,” I said, and headed off.

I’m usually a terrible planner, in the sense that I can’t not plan nearly everything. Even on days where I decide I’m not going to make plans, I still have some idea of what I’m going to do. San Francisco has gone a little differently. There was no wifi on the train, which was unexpected. That meant I couldn’t do some of the where-should-I-go research I would have liked to do. Instead I was dropped off in the city centre with a new plan: find a washroom and wifi. Both were found within a couple of blocks. A quick Google revealed the hostel I wanted to stay at was only a few blocks away so twenty minutes later I arrived at the Green Tortoise Hostel. My friends Taryn and Hope, who are exploring the US at the moment, stayed here a few weeks ago and had a good time. I was in luck for a room and scored an early check in, although all I did was lock up my bag and head out again.

My time is San Francisco is a little disjointed so to get my bearings I decided to jump on one of the hop on-hop off buses. I walked down to the Ferry Building and along the piers, heading in the direction of the Fisherman’s Wharf, one of the main stops for the tour buses. Despite the people at the hostel warning me it was a bit chilly today, I left my jacket behind and enjoyed the sunshine. San Francisco is a popular docking choice for cruise ships and numerous cruises run out to Alcatraz and under the bridges so the waterfront is a busy little area. It is no more busy than at Pier 39, home to a huge mix of cafes, restaurants, shops (even a store selling items for people who are left-handed) and lastly, a Bubba Gump Shrimp & Co restaurant.

The area is packed with tour companies, bike hire, cruises and all sorts of deals for San Francisco’s attractions. And nearly every restaurant is offering what seems to be San Fran’s city dish – clam chowder. I decided to indulge and was dished up a huge serving of chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.

After lunch I jumped on the bus and let Ron, my driver and guide, show me the city. Unfortunately I didn’t time it too well. The wind picked up so sitting on the top deck of an open-top bus wasn’t the best place to be. But I enjoyed it anyway. The tour loops the city, stopping at museums, the Golden Gate Bridge (which apparently costs $6 to drive over), the Golden Gate Park, Haight-Ashbury (a big hippy area in the ’60s – an influence that has yet to fade), a drive past The Painted Ladies (pictured below), downtown and into Chinatown, where I got off to start heading home.

I returned to the Green Tortoise pretty exhausted, with little exploring under my belt. The hostel offers a free dinner three nights a week and one of those nights was tonight. Guests are invited to help cook so I joined dope-smoking Italian chef Giulio, and two Swedish medical students who are taking eight months off, Martin and Johan, to make pasta, salad and garlic bread for about 50 people. When dinner was ready most guests at the hostel came together to eat. It’s a great idea, especially for people like me who are travelling solo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *