Cultural Experience | California

#UKLizi Living Like A Local: I Left My Heart in San Francisco

Tourist Travel Tips for San Francisco.

By Lizi Woolgar

student travel image

By our third overnight megabus journey, we had mastered the technique for creating optimum sleeping conditions. Selfish, it was indeed, but these buses were Darwin’s very own survival of the fittest. You had to really fight for two seats to yourself if you wanted to get a decent night’s sleep! However, if you are a highly moral and generous by nature human being, the following advice is not for you.

It’s a strategic game you see, as the first in line were allowed on the bus first. And first on the bus get to choose seats first. And we decided the best seats (for being selfish) were the middle seats on the top deck, as people tend to walk either to the front or back of the bus and then back in the opposite direction in search for their own two-seater. As the bus fills, people – reluctantly – begin having to sit next to people (phase 1 hits: panic). Because most people don’t want to keep pacing after they’ve checked the front and back for spare double seats, they tend to just plump for whatever is nearest: typically at the front or back. As the bus fills up more and more, phase 2 ensues: “omg I’ve just got SO many bags”. Spread your stuff around and puppy-dog-eyes anyone who wanders past, giving a kind of “sorry but there is no way you can possibly fit” look as they pass. If you’ve made it to the point of departure still seat-hogging, you have done well. But to become a true master, you have to withstand the test of mid-way stops to pick up yet more passengers. Cue, stage 3: “play dead”. It’s completely understandable that you’ll be asleep by this point, but if not, you’ll need to fake it! Take a coat or towel to act as a duvet and do your best snoozing impression. No-one will dare wake a sleeping lion. Follow this advice and you can wake up from your overnight journey feeling (well, almost) as fresh as a daisy.

View of Alcatraz student travel image

View of Alcatraz

We arrived in San Francisco in the very early hours. I remembered what it felt like to be cold for the first time in ages. Stranded on the roadside, we went marching off in search of the train station we needed to reach our next hostel. After walking up and down the same road for quite some time, it – of course – turned out that it was exactly where we were dropped off earlier. It also turned out that it was in fact a tram – not train – stop. You see the thing with transport in San Francisco is that they aren’t exclusively underground or overground. The trams run overground but also underground, with stations as typical train stations. I still can’t quite work out whether they were train-trams or two entirely different modes of transport! It doesn’t particularly matter, as they were reliable and could get you to any location needed.

As usual, we arrived at our hostel (The International Hostel) and were too early to check in. But they provided us with free breakfast, endless coffee, and an incredibly squidgy sofa. Right next door there is a bike rental shop with loads of space to hold your backpacks for you before you can check in (for free) which was pretty useful. Better than leaving it strewn across reception for everyone to trip over, anyway.

Fisherman's Wharf student travel image

Fisherman’s Wharf

Our first day was spent at Fisherman’s Wharf, the historical fishing area of San Fran. Head towards Pier 39 and just get lost for the afternoon. The pier offers entertainment in the form of magic displays and endless quirky souvenir stores, punctuated by plenty of extravagant chocolate shops. My favourite souvenir stores included ‘Lefty’s’, a shop designed exclusively for left-handed beings and the Labradoodble store (self-explanatory, I feel). As the name suggests, the Wharf has tonnes of seafood restaurants (including Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Co.) so check one out for lunch. We headed to ‘Wipe Out’ as it had a range of non-fishy food, including veggie options.

Of course, you’ve got the view of Alcatraz, the infamous federal prison (and at one point a bird sanctuary) from anywhere along the pier. I’d suggest booking early onto a tour cruise of Alcatraz if you are keen; we couldn’t get booked in with a few days of notice and that was out of season.

Golden Gate bridge student travel image

Golden Gate bridge

Surely the most well-known attraction of San Francisco is the Golden Gate bridge. On our way, we became considerably distracted by the hand-made jewellery stalls just outside of Powell Station. There were bangles made from bike spokes and rings made from moulded forks; I had to have one! Upon browsing though, we got chatting to a local who shared some seriously depressing news about the bridge. Apparently, there’s an on-going debate around San Francisco concerning the implementation of metal barriers either side of the bridge, as suicide has become such an issue here. It’s supposedly viewed as the “most romantic location” for couples who tragically feel they have no other choice. One side argues the safety of the citizens is the priority here, whilst others campaign against ruining the beautiful view of the bridge.

We witnessed this first hand when we arrived at the bridge, when horrific emergency counselling signs were cast against the serene view of Golden Gate. Really does make you think though. Aside from this, the bridge was indeed a grand old piece of architecture. Although considerably smaller than I had anticipated, you still feel pretty dwarfed if you climb onto it and just look upwards!

golden gate brider student travel image

When at the bridge, it’s worth popping to the Golden Gate park nearby. Just hop on the no. 28 bus and pay $2 for a round trip (if you stay in the allocated time limit). Alternatively, the no.5 bus will take you back to the centre, near-ish Powell street station and the huge Westfields shopping complex. I really rate the public transport around San Francisco; within waiting a few minutes at any bus/tram stop (they call them ‘trolleys’) you could pretty much get anywhere you need.

We spent our final day at Haight Ashbury. Famed for psychedelic hippie culture in the late 60s, the area was initially cultivated as a rebellion to the typical ‘American Dream’, with locals supporting the popular hippie #peace&lurve movement. The quirkiness has certainly not subsided. With tie-dye, piercing and tattoo shops lining the crooked streets, it is quite possibly the most hipster-infested location I’ve ever visited. In a good way though!

san fransisco student travel imageWe explored the nearby area too, navigating ourselves to the Seward Street slides (we googled ‘free things to do in San Francisco’) with a rapidly dying phone battery. The concrete slides were about ten times smaller than I’d expected, but nevertheless, a good find. A few blocks away was the Castro district, complete with the well-known Castro theatre and rainbow flags hung everywhichway. San Fran is also renowned for its homosexual culture, which is concentrated in this district in particular. The openness and self-acceptance wandering through the streets was incredibly refreshing to see.

Seward Street minipark student travel image

Seward Street minipark

San Francisco is probably the most hilly place on earth (at least it felt like that when you’re walking up & down 24/7) but there’s a lot to see. And the best part? Most of it’s FREE!

Castro District student travel image

Castro District

Lizi Woolgar

University of Bristol | 40 stories

Graduate of University of Bristol. Having spent my first two years of University writing for the student newspaper, epigram and Brighton-based Spindle Magazine, I then went on to edit the Style section of Epigram 2012-2013. Now keen to pursue a career in journalism/editorial work, I look forward to writing my weekly column for The College Tourist, all the while seeing where my writing and travel will take me.

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