San Francisco has only one drawback. ‘Tis hard to leave.
I do share Mr Rudyard Kipling’s sentiment above because once you set foot in San Francisco, it’ll give you 1001 reasons to stay. Pretty houses on rolling hills overlooking the bay? Check. A true melting pot of cultures and cuisine? Check. Movie setting for “Vertigo” and “Dirty Harry?” Check and check. I might be exaggerating a bit but at every corner you turn, the view is picture-postcard perfect. I could go on forever telling you about how great this city is but here’s a highlight of my four-day stint at The City by The Bay.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is by far the best Chinatown I’ve ever visited in the United States. Welded together with the ‘Little Italy’ neighborhood of North Beach, this enclave is bustling, packed and thoughtfully narrow just like what I had imagined it to be. The best way to explore this area is by jumping-in straight away into the streets and alleys to join the buzzing crowd. There isn’t any significant places to drop by but it’s always fun to poke around and observe the daily activities of the locals. One particular feature which made this Chinatown my personal favorite is its alleys. These alleys exude a ‘martial arts action movie‘ aura where you could imagine a bunch of people suddenly bursting out of a second floor window, crashing on a pile of fruits and begin an elaborate chase scene across town.
Beyond the Chinatown-North Beach district is the historic Fisherman’s Wharf. Sure, it has become one of the most touristy spots in San Francisco but it has everything for all sorts of travelers and tourists alike. There are plentiful of attractions on the piers like Aquarium by The Bay, the Maritime National Historical Park and the ride to Alcatraz (more on that later) but its seafood is not to be missed. Fresh snow crabs are aplenty while desserts can be indulged at the iconic Ghirardelli Square. Seafood and chocolate sundae, what more can you ask for?
Break the rules and you go to prison, break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz.
This is the notorious ‘Rock’ where many convicts tried to escape but none survived. Alcatraz Cruises is the sole operator to the island and once there, the tour will take you through the prison as if you’re a newly-arrived convict. Meander through the processing line, small prison cells, mess hall and exercise yard as if you were Al Capone or George “Machine Gun” Kelly. For those interested to delve deeper into Alcatraz, I would recommend the free audio tour which provides a pretty comprehensive history and facets of life in prison. What makes this penitentiary beautiful and frustrating at the same time is while the inmates enjoyed a full view of the gorgeous Bay Area, their freedom is barred from living the life because of their crimes committed.
GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
Main span: 4,200 feet. Length of one cable: 7650 feet. Diameter of one cable: 36 inches. Wires in each cable: 27,572. Total wire used: 80,000 miles. Weight of cable: 24,500 tons. End product: one heck of a view.
I wished I could stay there for a week and explore other neighborhoods such as the Haight, Castro, Mission and SoMa but we had to make our way to Seattle (on our first 22-hour train ride!). This city is socioculturally infused to the communities who built it but it also contributes to the development and identity of the United States as a nation. With all the tech companies calling this place home, it is no surprise that San Francisco is the model 21st century village. San Francisco is sexy. San Francisco is suave. San Francisco is seductive. San Francisco, I’ll be coming back for you.
This post is part of The Great American Adventure backpacking trip in summer 2010 with two of my buddies. With Amtrak’s USA Rail Pass, we visited 11 cities, 4 college towns, 2 national parks and 1 town dubbed The Sex Change Capital of the US.