Saturday 19th September 2015 – Monday 21st September 2015
Day 7 of the Trek America Western BLT tour and it was the last and final day with 12 strangers who had become good friends. We travelled 3 hours from Yosemite National Park , further north in California for our final stop in San Francisco.
We had the added bonus that Shawn, our tour guide, went to university in San Francisco and still owned a flat there, so knew it like the back of his hand. We had lunch just outside San Fran, in Oakland, then made our way across the bridge.
You know those rare moments when you arrive somewhere, and from the very first moment you see it, you know you will fall in love? That happened to me with Keele University; I visited on an Open Day, and no matter what anyone else said, my heart was always going to lead me there. The same applies to San Francisco. The day was unusually warm and clear for that time of year, and we were welcomed into the city by hundreds of white sails in the bay. Then, as if by magic, the Golden Gate Bridge magically appeared from behind the hills.
Shawn wanted us to make one final stop before dropping us off at the gateway hotel and saying our goodbyes for the very last time. The best way to describe Haight Ashbury is the Camden of San Francisco. Made up of a mishmash of hipsters and those dancing to the beat of their own drum, it had an eclectic laid-back vibe that only California seems to manage. After grabbing a drink at Haight Street Market and being quizzed about Manchester music by the cashier, I had a quick people-watching session. The fashion alone would be enough for me to make the move, so many styles on one street and yet all fitted together perfectly. I felt at home.
After a while we got back into the van for the last time and headed to Mission where our gateway hotel was. There was a little bit of drama at the hotel, and not just because of saying goodbye to 12 people you’d spent 24 hours with for an entire week. For some reason the hotel got our bookings all mixed up, with some of us staying in one hotel, and others in the sister hotel across the street, and then some staying one night and others two. It was all a bit chaotic and very stressful after a long day travelling, but both Shawn and Chad, the other groups guide, stayed to help us get it sorted. And it did get sorted in the end.
I planned to have a day and half extra to explore the city before heading home. I booked onto the Gray Line San Francisco City Tour which covered all the main sites in one go. This tour was possibly one of the best things I did as I got to se so much in such a short space of time. From Land’s End and Golden Gate Park to the Painted Ladies and Lombard Street; the more I saw of the city the more I fell in love. San Francisco has such a unique atmosphere. Yes theres your typical concrete city building, but the cute wooden clad houses and constant hills give it a quirky, original vibe. One place I would recommended everyone went to is Christmas Tree Point at Twin Peaks. The panoramic views of the city and bay are simply breathtaking, and if you haven’t fallen in love with it already, you will now.
Once my tour ended I decided to grab a spot of lunch at the famous Pier 39, opting for some local fish cakes, because when in Rome right?!? After I’d finished devouring the local delicacies I followed the sound, and found the amazing sea lions. For reasons unknown, sea lions have been found on Pier 39 since the 90’s and are now a major tourist attraction. Just look how photogenic they are! I could have spent all day watching them, sunbathing, stretching and swimming in the sea; they were lapping up the attention.
In the evening I’d pre-booked onto the night time Alcatraz Tour. Obviously Alcatraz is an island so you have to get one of the boats to actually start the tour. Because I chose to do the much recommended night time tour, I got to see the sunset behind the Golden Gate bridge, a sight which should never be taken for granted. Once there, I picked up my audio set and began walking around the famous prison. It is crazy to think I’ve been in cells where America’s most dangerous criminals were kept, and that feeling is only heightened by doing the night time tour. Stepping outside you only realise you get a sense of how it must have felt like being on the island when it was in operation.; its almost painful how close you are to the bustling city.
After I’d completed the tour I hopped on the last boat back, watching the twinkling lights of the city become slowly closer. I was absolutely heartbroken to think that I’d be going home the next day.
My flight back to London Heathrow wasn’t until later the next day and I was determined to make the most of the little time I had. After researching things to do in San Francisco I quickly booked on to the San Francisco Whale Tour as luckily they had a trip just before I was due to fly out. If you have the time, I would 100% recommend going.
I was really lucky as my trip happened to fall in Humpback whale migration season and it wasn’t long after travelling underneath the Gold Gate bridge that I got to see my first whale. We saw so many whales during the trip it was unbelievable, but as you can see from the photo’s, it was pretty hard to get a good photo. I have new respect for wildlife photographs; things have disappeared quicker than you can get your camera to focus. On top of whales we saw a ridiculously huge Sun Fish, so many Gebe’s, Albatrosses, Shearwaters and Pelicans.
On the way back to shore we went past the old lighthouse and got to see some Pacific Harbour Seals resting on the rocks; they camouflage so well into them! I felt incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to see all this in my last few hours in the city. Returning back, I looked at the city line for the last time, taking in Alcatraz and the Gold Gate Bridge, and promising myself I would live in the city for at least a year at one point in my life.
I suppose you can say I left my heart in San Francisco. After a quick meal with 3 of my friends from Trek America I went back to my hotel to grab my case and jumped in a taxi to the Airport. It was the end of this fairytale trip and time to head back home and back to reality.
I really hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my travels. I’ve really caught the bug now, so much so that I’m going on another Trek America tour, this time on the East coast for two weeks in August 2016.
I’m planning a Q&A about travelling alone and Trek America. If there any questions you have please leave them below in the comments, on my instagram or twitter.