San Francisco

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The City by the Bay, San Francisco is one of the most recognisible places on earth and in my opinion the most beautiful city in the United States. Its distance from Europe (one third of the way round the world!) makes it a long trip for many holidaymakers, most foreigners I met like me were around my age and staying put for a while, or doing a world tour. San Francisco has some of the world's most famous attractions and icons, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and the Transamerica Pyramid.

My first visit was in 2001 for six spectacular days, I tried to do as much as I could in that short space but just couldn't fit it all in. The highlight of my stay was to hire a bike and cycle through Alamo Square, Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, and over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. I was back again in 2010 as part of our California circuit, about half of these photos are from that visit. Each time I had to leave, well you know the saying, I left my heart in San Francisco...

Victorian Painted Ladies, Alamo Square

The Victorian Painted Ladies in Alamo Square, probably the most common postcard scene you'll see in San Francisco is of these little houses on the edge of the park. The whole area is turned out like this, but the prices to buy a pad here are astronomical.

View across San Francisco towards Coit Tower and the Bay Bridge, from the top of Lombard Street. Coit Tower looks vaguely like a firehose, and the Bay Bridge is the only suspension bridge I've seen with four towers (only two pictured here!)

Coit Tower and the Bay Bridge

Crookedest street in the world

Lombard Street is one of the quirkier sights, and certainly popular. It is billed as the "crookedest street in the world", designed to allow navigation down one of the city's steeper hills. Don't bother using it as a thoroughfare though, it's permanently queued with tourists rolling down. Only in America.

Ghirardelli Square, near Fisherman's Wharf is where the world renound Ghirardelli's choclate can be bought. The first time I was here was as a poor student, so when I returned nine years later I was happy to buy that delicious milkshake that I couldn't afford the first time round.

Ghirardelli Square

Freedom and liberty…?

The infamous island of Alcatraz - the tour of the island comes highly recommended, don't miss out by booking too late! I made this mistake in 2010, but had fortunately been better prepared in 2001. The island looks vaguely like a ship in the middle of San Francisco Bay.

On approach to Alcatraz. The sign in the foreground still reads "Persons procuring or concealing escape of prisoners are subject to prosecution or imprisonment". Of all the great escape attempts, many simply perished in the freezing waters of the bay, but three prisoners were never found. The tour guide asked us to keep an eye on each other, you never know, they too could be taking the tour today!

Alcatraz Island

Transamerica Pyramid and Bank of America Center

A closer view of downtown San Francisco. On the left is the iconic Transamerica Pyramid, symbol of the Transamerica Corporation, and highly recognisible with its pointy design and earthquake stabilising lobes housing the lift shafts. On the right is the Bank of America Center, which I was disappointed to find had closed its 52nd floor cocktail lounge by the time I made my second visit.

Looking down California Street, one of the city's busiest and steepest. The famous cable cars run this route amongst two others, and climb with ease up the gradient. In the background the Bay Bridge is visible.

Steep California Street

Bay windows in the City by the Bay

Victorian bay windows in the City by the Bay. Much of central San Francisco is built in this style, lending it a somewhat European feel.

The green Columbus Tower, also known as The Sentinel Building stands in front of the Transamerica Pyramid. Columbus Tower is still the office of Francis Ford Coppola.

Columbus Tower


Chinatown in San Francisco has the largest Chinese population of any such city district in the USA. I believe the restaurant Bruce Lee first worked in is around here somewhere.

In the heart of the commercial shopping district on Market Street lies the Westfield Mall San Francisco centre, which has spiral escalators. Ain't never seen that before…

Westfield Mall curved escalators, San Francisco

Embarcadero building clock tower

Clock tower at The Embarcadero Building, which the old sea port for San Francisco. The building was only redeveloped in the 1990s, having been previously barricaded from downtown by the double-decked Embarcadero Freeway, which famously collapsed during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

The Embarcadero area is a built up shopping, eating and office complex, together with the Hyatt Regency Hotel in the foreground. Although looking somewhat dated these days, it's still a pleasant place to be.

The Embarcadero Center

Scary overhanging walkways at the Hyatt Regency, Embarcadero

Whenever I visit new cities I tend to take a look inside the big hotels. Not just to be nosey, but usually hotels are easy to get to the top of for a decent free view. This is the very impressive atrium of the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero, with walkways scarily overhanging nothing but fresh air underneath!

One of the concrete sculptures around the Embarcadero Center, with one of the four 1970s office towers behind. The Embarcadero Center is a vision in concrete, notable particularly for Armand Vaillancourt's concrete fountain sculpture "Quebec Libre!"

Embarcadero concrete sculpture

Summer of '67

Haight Ashbury was where the summer of love, and hippies in general began in 1967 during the peace movement and anti-Vietnam War protests. We took a free tour around the area, and got what we paid for, so headed off on our own tour of the strange shops selling dubious pipes and hookahs.

The great Golden Gate Bridge. Built in 1937, it ranks among the most recognisible landmarks ever created, and is listed as one of the seven modern wonders of the world. I was lucky enough to cross it on a clear day, most of the time it could not be seen through the fog at the particular time of year.

Golden Gate Bridge

Falling off the Golden Gate Bridge

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. Although not much longer than the Forth Bridge in Edinburgh, the design was conceptually challenging due to the fast currents, depth of water and high winds. The bridge has been featured in many movies, in particular "James Bond: A View To A Kill" with a spectacular fight scene on one of the cables.

Sausalito is across the Golden Gate from San Francisco and is well worth a visit. A Mediterranean style town, it has many bijou art galleries and boutiques. Not the cheapest of places, but a trip to the Bay would not be complete without a jaunt over here.

Ondine restaurant, Sausalito

Sun sets on The City

A view of the city from the top of Coit Tower at dusk. I spent an hour or so up here watching the sunset and taking photos, it was very pleasant and quite spectacular.

By night the Bay Bridge is lit across its length, both decks and its four suspension towers disappearing into the night mist.

The Bay Bridge by night

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Copyright © Ross Wattie 2001-2011