“You wouldn’t think such a place as San Francisco could exist. The wonderful sunlight there, the hills, the great bridges, the Pacific at your shoes. Beautiful Chinatown. Every race in the world. The sardine fleets sailing out. The little cable cars whizzing down the city hills… And all the people are open and friendly.” Dylan Thomas, Poet
Who doesn’t love San Francisco? My first visit was in 1985, when I did all the touristy things – riding the cable cars, driving down the crookedest street in the world, hanging out at the charming Fisherman’s Wharf and, of course, seeing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. I loved this town.
So, it’s somewhat surprising that my next visit didn’t happen until 28 years later (or two weeks ago), when my hiking tour of US National Parks finished here (hiking blogs to follow in the next few weeks).
At first I took a trip down memory lane, revisiting some of my favourite places.
San Francisco Bay, Lombard Street and the largest Chinatown outside of Asia.
The bustling and colourful Fisherman’s Wharf…
…where even the sea lions like to linger!
But I saved the best for last – a bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito.
For some bizarre reason, whenever I go for a bike ride in a US city – twice so far – it coincides with a big event. In New York, two years ago, it was the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the city. My self-guided ride took me to Battery Park, where I stopped to pay my respects at the Remembrance Field of Honor. Here there were over 3000 flags; each flag representing one life. It was very moving. I also spent some time watching a parade of firefighters from fire departments right across the country, who’d travelled to be in New York for the anniversary. It was quite a sombre ride.
This time, I found myself in San Francisco during the America’s Cup. It was a festive atmosphere, with people everywhere.
Because I was short on time, I opted for a guided cycling tour, but, if you have more time, it’s really easy to do a self-guided tour – and there are numerous bike hire outlets. We cycled from Fisherman’s Wharf to Crissy Field – a recreation area on the waterfront that was once a US Army airfield – and then stopped for a coffee break at the Warming Hut Park Store & Cafe. The whole time we had views of the Golden Gate Bridge, which at first was partially covered by San Francisco’s infamous fog.
By the time we reached Fort Point – which protected San Francisco from Confederate and foreign attack during and after the US Civil War – the sky was blue and the vista was perfect.
The ride across the bridge was fun, albeit blustery. The day before, I’d walked across the bridge on the pedestrian side, which had people and bikes and was, at times, hair-raising. But there is a dedicated bike lane (on the Pacific Ocean side of the bridge), which is where I’d recommend you ride.
By the time we crossed the bridge and cycled the rest of the way to Sausalito, boats, of all shapes and sizes, had gathered on San Francisco Bay. They were vying for the best vantage point to watch the super yachts – Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA – in the America’s Cup final.
Normally, the ferry ride from Sausalito to Fisherman’s Wharf takes 25 minutes, but today it took about 45 minutes. Not that we were complaining, as we found ourselves in a perfect spot to watch Oracle Team USA’s second win.
It was one of those times when I was in the right place at the right time; without any planning on my part. I can’t say I’ve ever taken much notice of the America’s Cup – except for in 1983 when the yacht Australia II won and our then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, famously said: “Any boss who sacks a worker for not turning up today is a bum.”
But it was an exciting time to be in San Francisco and a rare treat to see a couple of super yachts racing across the Bay – and, I never would’ve predicted that Oracle Team USA would go on to record one of the world’s great sporting comebacks.