Day 1 - The Streets of San Francisco
Your feet will want to go wandering the minute you set foot in ‘San Fran’ - not walking, but wandering. This is possibly America’s most laidback city and the only way you to experience it is by living it. Its city centre, like so many in America, is a series of gridlocked streets except these live off a different kind of atmosphere. Here you won’t find yourself dodging a tide of people every minute or two, while hot dogs or t-shirts won’t be waved under your nose by those hoping to make a quick buck.
Take some time out to familiarise yourself with your immediate surroundings. Get your bearings. Have a look around the streets encompassing your hostel and get to know the ‘streets of San Francisco’. Once you do, downtown is where you should be heading for.
Union Square in the heart of downtown San Francisco generates a constant buzz. Bordered by Geary, Powell, Post and Stockton Streets, its centrepiece is a well groomed park which presents you with the perfect place to unwind when you want to get away from the streets which are lined with restaurants, shops and boutiques.
Both the Financial District and Chinatown are both within walking distance from Union Square, although the latter is by far the more interesting. Tourists throng its main thoroughfare, Grant Avenue, but the narrow streets which branch off it like tributaries off a river are interesting.
This Asian district’s best feature is its restaurants. Stop off at one of the many restaurants with a frown caused by hunger and $7 in your pocket and you will leave satisfied, with a grin from ear to ear and a stomach incapable of fitting any more.
Day 2 - A day in the park
Enjoying the great outdoors and wide open spaces while marvelling at one of the world’s most astounding man-made wonders isn’t something which many American cities can boast. San Francisco on the other hand can, and in great proportions.
West of the city centre is Golden Gate Park. Spanning out over 1,017 acres, it can claim to be one of America’s best inner-city parks and whiling away a whole day here is effortless.
If rowing rocks your boat, you can embark on a short spell in the lake. But if flourishing gardens, grassy meadows and winding walkways are more your thing then staying on dry land is advised. This park has Japanese Gardens to explore, two museums in which to feed your brain full of more knowledge and even a forest to get lost in.
Of course you can’t visit San Francisco’s largest park without eventually crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. This 1.2 mile bridge took 4 years to complete and joins this bohemian city with Marin County. Walk the bridge and you will reap in breathtaking views at either end as well as at lookouts along the way. If you have time to spare when you finally cross it make a U-turn at Alexander exit and continue up the hill for some amazing views of the bridge and the city skyline.
When darkness falls Haight St in the infamous district of the same is where the hippies converge. It is also where you will find San Fran’s coolest and funkiest bars, nightclubs and restaurants. Don’t miss a night out here.
Day 3 - Alcatraz
Known as ‘The Rock’, Alcatraz Jail hasn’t operated as a federal prison since 1963. In the 29 years previous to the day ii finally shut its doors (or cells as the case may be) it was here that such criminals as Al Capone, George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly and, most notably, Robert Franklin Stroud, the ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’ were incarcerated.
Now the world’s most infamous prison is one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions. Guided tours, run by a company called Blue and Gold, depart from Pier 41. The experience of walking through the cells is an eerie one, even more so if your head is wedged between earphones which play the walking tours. Make sure and get one as walking around these lonely corridors you can hear the inmates rattle their cups along the bars which caged them while they cackle menacingly.
Just down from Pier 41 is Pier 39, a part of the city which has succumbed to the thousands or tourists which flock to San Fran every week. It can be tacky, particularly with all the fairground attractions, but the resident sea lions on the rocks and the atmosphere make it an enjoyable part of the city to stroll around for a while.
You can make your way from Pier 39 to Bay Street with little effort. This is where you should embark on a cable car journey (the cars are as much a part of the scenery as anything else in San Francisco) which will take you to Powell Station at the tip of the city’s SoMa district. Full of late night hotspots, there is much fun to be had here, and the cable car journey is worth the trip on its own.