There are many ways to describe this amazing city but for me it was one long time dream come true. Ever since when I first saw pictures of the Golden Gate and shimmering sea yeeears and years ago I remember thinking that I just have to see that some day. And when lots of people when talking about California say they want to see LA and Hollywood and all that jazz, I was never truly interested. I somehow knew I’d like San Francisco, that it would be my kind of place. And it was.
A thing that stunned me the most was how incredibly photogenic the whole place was. Maybe it’s the possibly prettiest houses I’ve ever seen, the ever-so mysterious fog that comes out of nowhere and wraps everything around itself or just the sea that hugs the city in a really extraordinary way. I don’t know, but that’s how I got the idea of telling about this trip mainly through photos, a bit like I did with Capri.
What served as our home was the beautiful neighborhood of Noe Valley, just next to (I feel like no one really knows where the line is) the Castro, which is one of the places where the LGBT-rights movement started in the 1960s so it holds lots of historical value and is a really remarkable and cool area. I obviously don’t have a lot to compare to but I felt like Noe Valley was the perfect choice. It was just a muni (metro/cable car system) ride away from the downtown and the seaside areas but far enough to make it feel like a little town of its own. So quiet yet lively place with children and dogs running free which is always a good sign.
Yet another Chinatown to add to my list. I feel like Chinatowns are one of those things that big cities have in common, no matter where you go the Chinatown seems to remain quite the same. In San Francisco it was exceptionally big, I got lost at least five times and started walking the street to the wrong direction.
One thing I really loved were the murals that the city is famous for! It’s amazing what they do to the general appeal of the city, just make it so much colorful.
Peter Macchiarini steps were one of the first ones we climbed and it was the place where it really struck me how insanely many hills the city has and how incredibly steep they are! It was so funny, the cars often had to be parked sideways and as you can see often instead of a sidewalk there are steps. It’s like before there was a city the landscape had shouted “people should NOT build a house and live here” yet they did. Result: funny-looking houses and amazing views. And almost a heart attack for me when we parked our rented car onto our super steep home street and started to drive downhill the next morning. I honestly felt as if I was in a rollercoaster going downwards. Geez, the chills I had.
I feel lke half of the neighborhoods in SF are hills: Russian Hill, Nob Hill and then there’s Telegraph Hill which you can see in the picture down below. On top of it is Coit Tower where we kind of randomly wandered. The views were speechless and the tower’s design was so unique.
One of my favorite places in the whole city was Ocean Beach. Facing the Pacific Ocean, it definitely wasn’t the sunny beach you’d expect California to have. The wind was so hard! There were some hardcore surfers surfing in their wetsuits and it was very funny to watch when you were freezing on the shore.
One other favorite was the Coastal Trail, a hiking trail that goes right by the shore from Golden Gate to Ocean Beach, offering some pretty epic Pacific views. It was like the best nature trail you’ve ever taken, almost in the middle of a major city. Its highlight is Land’s End. It was one of those places that really take your breath away, as cliche as that sounds.
We also did two day trips. I called them Roadtrip North and Roadtrip South. Started with north, when we attempted to go to Muir Woods (a famous redwood forest) but after maybe half an hour of circling in the parking lot without finding a single place we thought that this can’t be worth it, let’s save it for the next time (one of my travel mottos, always leave something if/when you come back 😉 ). Then we ended up driving around Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, where we stopped by the cute tiny tiny town of Sonoma. Continuing to Berkeley since my dad wanted to see the campus (I just got studying anxiety, I’m not ready to go back studying yet) and from there to Sausalito, which was such a cute little seaside town.
Then it was day North. We pretty much had no plan other than heading to Highway 1 or Pacific Highway or whatever you want to call the famous scenic route on the California coast. That too, had been a dream of mine for quite some time and I honestly think it’s one of the most beautiful roads I’ve ever been to. We were supposed to drive to Monterey and back but got stuck to some terrible traffic jams along the way so we decided to turn back maybe 40 miles before it, because I wanted to stop in the way back to take some pictures while it was still light. I do not know what it is with these pictures and these views, but somehow the colors are so appealing to me, I put this one below as my screensaver and it just calms me so much. That’s what our roadtrip was, not so adventorous, just driving and when I saw a beautiful place we turned over and I photographed. And then repeat.
One longer stop was Half Moon Bay. The name is as lovely as the place. Erosion has shaped the cliffs in such distinctive formations. And there happened something I’ll never forget, I SAW WHALES!!! Fine, just the their backs and when they sprayed water but still. They were most likely humpback whales since I later heard that they are common there but they could be grey whales as well. Anyways, not important. I was photographing and walking along the beach when my dad started waving at me and I thought that there were sea lions since we had seen them on the way. Two whales, he said, they are really close. For some reason all marine life excites me especially much as you can probably tell from my love for seals, so I got overly excited, just jumping on the beach. I waited for maybe 10 minutes and saw them, super quickly coming up for air, and then disappearing again. They circled in the bay for around half an hour, but I didn’t manage to get a picture since they blended in so well and were so fast. I’ve never seen whales so this was really such a big moment for me 😀 The last time I was so excited was probably when I saw dolphins in Key West. I don’t know, I feel so strongly towards all marine animals.
One long-awaited highlight for me was visiting Alcatraz. We went on a tour that also stopped on Angel Island, a beautiful national park with amazing views to San Francisco Bay and the surrounding area. Alcatraz was so not what I expected. We visited the inside of the prison which was an overwhelming experience itself but what I really was fascinated by was the sleepy athmosphere that the island had, it really felt like the time had stopped. The federal prison closed on 1963 and after that it has more or less served no purpose other than later as a National History Landmark. It has basically been left to kind of “go wild”. It’s home to dozens of seabirds (honestly, they were everywhere) and lots of beautiful plantations, some of the gardens planted by the prisoners. Because of the wind and rain (it’s basically in the middle of the windy bay) lots of the buildings have collapsed and on many places the nature had took over: I saw birds nesting in some old ruins and flowers growing from cracks in the sement. I wasn’t expecting it but despite or because of it’s kind of dark history, it seemed to have this rugged beauty in it. I felt like I could have walked there with a camera for hours and maybe some of these pictures make you understand what I mean.
We lived right in the feet of Twin Peaks, two little peaks looking over San Francisco. We tried climbing them twice but this is where the weather steps in. Never have I ever been in a place where the weather changes so quickly and oddly. It was honestly blue clear skies when we started the walk there and exactly 10 minutes later it’s like a different place! I have no freaking clue where the weird clouds (?) also known as the famous fog comes but suddenly it feels like you’re walking inside of a cloud. 10 minutes later!! And sometimes it changed even faster, it happened in the city as well. You have a t-shirt on and then the sun disappears behind some suddenly appearing cloud and it’s officially 10 degrees cloder amd you’re looking for your fall jacket. The whole city itself had such a weird climate of its own. Also when we drove north to Napa and Sonoma, it was 16 C in SF, then 40 minutes of driving and it was 26. It’s amazing. Well anyways, back to the Twin Peaks. We went there twice and the same thing happened, once we reached the top the visibiltity had gone to zero. I found it so funny and kind of cool but my dad was so frustrated about it and our bad luck.
But I was not willing to give up. On the same night I was for some reason full of energy and decided to give it another shot. So I put my sneakers on and headed to the dark night with a Google Maps route on my phone since I found out there was an easier way to get there with this path consisting of different stairways up the hill. I decided I was going to make this an adventure despite being a little terrified of getting lost because of my terrible sense of direction. I climbed maybe over 300 stairs but they didn’t feel like anything since the adrenalin high. I was so thrilled, the higher I got the prettier it was and I was determined to get there before the clouds. Ahh the feeling when I made it to the top! This adrenalin-Julia is like a different person. I often feel that when I’m somewhere high up, seeing something I’ve never seen.
San Francisco was so good to me, in so many ways. The atmosphere is so tolerant and laid back which made it stand out from some other major cities. It felt like a little hippie town, a metropolis with skyscrapers, a quiet suburban area and a relaxed beach town all at once and a mixture of them all made it really extraordinary. It didn’t feel half as rushed and busy as some other big cities I’ve seen.
Also, it didn’t seem to matter who you were, what you did for a living, where you came from or who you were with and that kind of very liberal athmosphere made me feel like home. It is a very exceptional city and also a little bit odd, it but it seemed to be extremely proud of it. Also, talking to some locals there it became very clear to me that the people who lived there truly liked calling it a home. And I really don’t wander why.