Being a tourist in San Francisco

I have had occasion to go to San Francisco a few times, basically due to work related travel. The first time, I got a chance to travel on a type of tram (a cable car running on the ground). Lots of fun and very enjoyable. Later, on different occasions, I got the chance to see some more sights in the city (tourist places, not the night life / clubbing culture). San Francisco has an incredible reputation as a very liberal city, with a very mixed population (it is apparently the first city in the US where the white population is now less than 50%). Plus, it has pretty good weather; visitors not from Iceland don’t freeze to death in the winter in San Francisco, unlike many other cities in the US :-).
So, as I mentioned, I got a chance to travel to San Francisco in the month of December. I like weather with a nip in the air, and that was exactly what I got. The first few days were spent in San Jose doing the usual company related drudgery, and then the first weekend came. There were a group of us, and we decided to spend a bit of money (although you can use a combination of the usual bus / BART / Caltrain stuff) and hire a cab that will take us out for a period of around 8 hours through the city and nearby places (imagine hearing from your friends again and again about the scenic Pacific Highway !).
The cab arrived sharp at 9 in the morning, and off we went. Given that we were somewhat of a novice to the whole area, we asked the cab guy to take us around a few of the places (of course, we did mention a few of the places we knew about such as – Golden Gate Bridge, Pacific Highway, Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz). Off we went first to the Golden Gate Bridge (wikipedia) and then the highway beyond that. The Golden Gate Bridge is a mighty structure, worthy of admiring, and wondering how much time and effort went into building such a structure.

A close up of the majestic and mighty tower of the Golden Gate Bridge

Moving beyond that, soon we reached a beautiful stretch with a great view of the water (from a height) and some distance beyond the Golden Gate Bridge we reached a small township and a beach where there were a number of people surfing (when asked about how cold it was, the cab driver told us about the wet suit that the surfers were wearing which insulated them to some degree).

A beautiful yet rocky shoreline just outside San Francisco

A favorite location for surfers just outside San Francisco

None of us knew anything about surfing, so we just sat and watched for some time; then we returned back to San Francisco for some more sight-seeing. We came to the Harbour, and could see Alcatraz from a distance; however, tickets for Alcatraz needed to be booked earlier and it took more time than we had. So, we settled for a cruise on the Bay (there are several cruise ships that take you for a 1 hour tour of the Bay). The cruise had a running commentary, and the ship took you under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz (was very pleasant).

A cruise ship carrying tourists around the San Francsico Bay

A close up of Alcatraz (The Rock) in San Francisco Bay

1 hour over, I dragged my colleagues to the cable car station (wikipedia) of Fisherman’s Wharf. This is more of a tourist attraction, but it is fun travelling on an open tram that runs on the up and down roads of San Francisco. The best place was to sit on the outside plank, so that you had the most fun. This takes you to Union Square, and then back. On the way, people can many times get on and off when it is running, and on several streets, cars have to follow because there is not enough space to overtake.

Seating inside a cable car in San Francisco

San Francisco Cable Car on its regular route

Next, we went off to the Crooked Street (a portion of Lombard Street). This is a section of the street that is one-way and has many sharp turns (8 in all as you head downhill). From the top of the street, you get a great view of the downhill sections of San Francisco. It was fun going down this winding road, and wondering about the people who actually live there. And then, before you know it, our trip to San Francisco was over (we exhausted our allotted time and had to head back to our hotel in San Jose).

Blurred photograph of a journey down Crooked Street in San Francisco


  • Patrick Jones says:

    Nice post. Good pics, especially that of Alcatraz.

    The movie ‘The Rock’ comes to mind.

  • ashish says:

    Yep, it does; especially since the movie had some great scenes of the up and down roads, the tram, and so on ..
    It was fun to see the place and realize that this was the supposed setting of the movie.
    Thanks for the appreciation.

  • nandanjha says:

    Golden gate is really a massive piece of work. Just like you, I have been to SFO few times but never spent lot of time there.

    I would want to drive up the crooked street. Roadside Cafe and the activity level adds to overall feel. Never been to Alcatraz.

    Very well paced story. I could just read it with no effort. Great.

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Good to see you back after a long interval and that too with an excellent post containing some awesome pics. The bay cruisewith Alcatraz`in the background must have been exciting.

    Your post took me back to my childhood days. In Delhi too, we had trams (though not all that clean and good looking) that ran between Subzi Mandi to Jama Masjid and Bara Hindu Rao to Fountain (Just opposite Gurdwara Sees Ganj Saheb). Trams though cramped up, did provide the facility of getting in and out, wherever you pleased. These were taken off the roads owing to some traffic compulsions.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Nice post. Reminded my California trip in 2006. Next time you can visit to Mystry place and NAPA valley for real good wines.

    Nandan, I drove my car on Crooked street, the roads nearer to it are very steep, like 60 degree angle. And the worst part is, crossings has STOP signs, so every car has to stop and go and their are highly chances that you can bump in to the car behind you.

    Driving on Crooked street felt like driving in Ramnagar city near Jim Corbett :)

  • nandanjha says:

    I was a fellow rider there and I guess we were in a car which has a feature which stopped it from going back, sort of reverse-stop. Lombard Street is the one I think you are mentioning and its really one fun drive with roads elevating sharply and all that.

  • I think it is Lombard street. Car ke features mein alag se baat karta hoon :)

  • ashish says:

    Yep, the Bay Cruise was great – I had my fill of the Golden Gate after that (must have taken 20 photos of the Bridge from different angles)

  • nh24 says:

    Dear Ashish,
    Your fantastic post read like a breeze. Thanks for sharing beautiful snaps and the write up.
    Rajeev Tivari

  • Geetha Saravanan says:

    Really nice photos and nice story. Loved the bit about the cruise and the tram rides and the downhill road. The movie ‘The rock’ and American TV show ‘Full House’ (about a family living in San Fransisco) kept coming to mind. You must have enjoyed your trip as much as I having reading your story.

  • Karthik says:

    This brought back many memories of SFO. I spent almost 2.5 months in this area. Visits to MuirWood forest/Great America et al.. Great time!!

  • Rahul says:

    Nice post. All I need is some info about the nightlife to decide whether I can start planning a trip :)

  • manish khamesra says:

    Hi Ashish,

    Pictures of Golden Gate Bridge and the tram has come out nicely. I liked the tram one much more. It is so beautifully decorated :)

    Ram Uncle, I was not aware that there was a tram running in Delhi too. Things change a lot. Tram has its own charm. City planners find some mode of transport unsuitable at some time and then sometimes the same transport returns back after many years. Transport system also has capabilities of bouncing back like the fahions of yesteryears.

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