San Francisco

Our first morning in the city, we decided to drive San Fran’s 49 mile scenic drive route. My mum had found this in the guidebook and it was supposed to take you around a fairly comprehensive tour of the city, as you followed the signs. Sounds straightforward enough. My mum handed me the map and I became route navigator. Sounds straightforward enough, just follow the signs or map. The problem here was apparent immediately, when there was a distinct lack of signs. This left me trying to navigate with the map. Normally maps are fine, but this one was an artsy impression of a city. Only some roads had names and they also didn’t differentiate between major and minor roads which made it very hard to match the guide book map up to google maps. Getting pissed off with it already, I managed to find where someone had plotted the route on google, and we began to follow this. Occasionally our route was confirmed as correct by the odd ‘scenic drive’ sign here and there.

We picked up the route in the business district of the city, with very busy roads and lots of insane hills. I was quite glad I wasn’t driving as it didn’t look like a particularly pleasant experience, especially accompanied by the fact my parents were following us and we were trying not to lose them.

We passed by Japantown and then through this cool bridge in Chinatown.

Soon we were back out on the coast driving past the marina where we had parked the night before. We stopped here for some lunch and also to change the gearshift bushing which was breaking again. This was definitely not the place to have gear or brake problems. The hills were incredibly steep, so much so that I wouldn’t trust our handbrake to hold us if we got stuck in 1st again. This is literally a 10 minute job, and soon we were much happier to keep going. My mum had gone to the shop, so in the meantime I went about insulating our heater piping. We had been on one to many freezing cold drives which was particularly irritating as I have installed a 5.2kw heater matrix, but the heat just wasn’t getting to the cab. I bought some tape insulation at Lowes, and decided it couldn’t make things any worse.

All back together, we kept going. We stopped for a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge and subsequently lost my parents.

Passing back past The Palace of Fine Arts, where we also saw yet another VW. Having only seen a handful our whole time here, we had seen countless T25s, quite a few bays and a split screen in our short time here already.

We re-joined my parents at Fort Point, where you would be able to get some great views if there had been any space to park. Deciding to come back to it another time, we drove around to the next point of interest, Land’s End. Stopping here for a quick picture en route.

We were more successful with the parking here, we got out for a short walk.

The daylight was soon going to be running out, and we headed further down the coast road, past the imaginatively named Ocean Beach and into the Golden Gate Park. Here we stumbled across some bison!

A little further down we stopped to let Aimee out for a walk as she had been cooped up in the van all day. Lee let her explore at her own pace, while the three of us walked around a small part of the gardens.

We agreed to go to one more point on the route, before heading back to the hotel. This was called Twin Peaks, and we didn’t realise as we drove up to it what it actually was. We were just following the route on the map, as we started climbing higher and higher. This looked like it was going to be an amazing viewpoint, and at the top we pulled over for a picture. We were greeted by a panorama of the city at night, and it was definitely worth a visit. As ever with expansive landscapes, especially at night, I feel my camera really doesn’t do it justice.

From here we headed back to our little car park spot just in time for dinner and to complete our musical chairs style camping spot. The downside of this is that we have to leave Safeway carpark by 8am, or the security start getting a bit funny about it. While not overly early, when you take into account packing away the van and so on, it means a lie in isn’t exactly on the cards. As we had to be on the road anyway, the following morning we decided to head back early to Fort Point to get some proper pictures of Ruby in front of The Golden Gate Bridge.

Feeling like we had finally got a good view without hoards of tourists, on an early Monday morning, we headed over the bridge. We were going to meet my parents at the viewpoint on the other side and in the meantime got chatting to some people in a T25 (Vanagon). We look forward to seeing them again in Vancouver, and hopefully trying out the restaurant one of them owns there.

Now my parents had arrived, and we decided to park up and walk down the bridge to see the views.

There were several sea lions on the rocks below and swimming in the sea.

The view back from where we had walked, another gorgeous day here!

Upon returning to the cars, we began to our journey up towards Marin headlands. We were going for a short walk here before heading further north to see some of the famous redwoods. We went for a short walk around the shores of Rodeo Lagoon, before driving up and over the headland to park at the lighthouse. Probably one of the steeper roads we have driven so far, which is saying something considering we are in San Francisco. The sign warned of a 18% gradient, and as Ruby peered over the crest of the hill we descended very slowly in 1st gear, engine braking to the max! There was an incredible view from the top through, so it was worth the slightly scary descent.

Quite glad to have safely made it to the more level terrain of the car park, we had some lunch before leaving the cars to go and visit the lighthouse. As we walked down towards the lighthouse, there was a load more sea lions down on the rocks below.

Arriving at the lighthouse, you have to walk over this slightly wobbly bridge…

The coast line here really reminds me of Devon or Cornwall, but with maybe better weather!

We enjoyed the sun and the views.

We got chatting to one of the volunteers at the lighthouse who also showed us some key points of interest and told us a little of the history of the lighthouse. Apparently, it was previously built further down the coast, until they realised that it wasn’t actually visible there in the fog and ships continued to crash. They then moved the lens and built a new base for it here, where it still stands.

Leaving Marin headlands, the last thing on our list for today was to visit Muir Woods. This is the first time we had been to see any of the redwood trees, something that I have wanted to do for a long time. It was a long and winding road to reach them and we drove past a sign that told us you needed a reservation. Deciding to head down there anyway and see what was happening we carried on. It was only a couple of miles, but the road was so twisty and steep it took a while to get there. This was where we found out that you need a reservation to get into the car park. The kid on the door told us that it was bookable online, but you could only get signal at the top of the hill. Instead we decided to head down and have a look at the beach, as we were losing the light anyway. Turns out you can actually get signal here too, so I booked us some tickets for the next morning instead.

The next day was my parents last one in America, and there was still a lot of things to see. We set off for the redwoods again in the morning, this time just taking the one car. Now with the right piece of paper, we were parked up in no time and set off on a walk into the woods.

Here’s my mum for an idea of scale!

We initally started on the straightforward route through the valley, but then diverted up another track to climb up through some of the trees. The higher you get, the skinner the redwoods. Up here they are more like regular sized trees.

It was a lovely walk, and I wish we had more time to complete the full loop but with other things to do we soon returned back down the forest floor.

Stopping for a photo by the stream.

As you continue to walk along, there are several bridges that allow you to cross the river and walk back down the other side. This one was particularly pretty.

The last section of the walk goes through a grove called Cathedral Grove, which has some of the biggest trees.

We probably spent longer than we should have, looking at these amazing trees as by the time we returned to the city centre there was only a couple of hours before my parents needed to head to the airport. They had wanted to go on the historic cable car, and we walked over to the station. Unfortunately, by the time we got there and saw the length of the queue it was a bit late. There was no way we’d be able to get anywhere near it in the 45 minutes we had left. Instead, to pass the remainder of the time, we walked on towards Pier 39.

Tethered just off the pier are floating jetties that are there solely for the use of the sea lions. There was a whole host of these creatures lying sunbathing out in the water and several swimming around too.

It was great to be able to see them up quite close but still in the wild, and we stayed until it was time to get a taxi back to the car park. There was also probably the best view of Alcatraz that we had had so far from the end of the pier.

Back at the car it was time to say goodbye, and before I knew it they were pulling out of the car park and heading home. It was an odd feeling, as we haven’t got any pre-made plans to see them, so I’m not sure when the next time will be, but maybe they will be able to come and see us in Canada at some point. It’s always a bit strange the first time that we get back in Ruby by ourselves. We have had this several times after staying with the new friends we have made here. You spend a nearly a week or so pretty much living in someone else home and then you have to get used to being just the two of you, back on the road and being in the van.

Still, I didn’t have long to dwell on this as Pete, who we had met in the car park earlier that morning came over to say hi. He was staying in one of the RV’s in the car park and we had got chatting that morning before we had left for the woods. When we returned he had left his contact details on the van, as he wasn’t sure if he would see us again. In the end however, he came and showed us his pictures from Alcatraz, which looked like it was an interesting visit. We then went over to their RV to meet his wife Carole and their two dogs. We ended up chatting for so long that they even shared their dinner and a bottle of wine with us which was very kind, and also convenient as we hadn’t really thought about cooking! At about 10pm we did the car park shuffle for the final time. I couldn’t wait to get back into the countryside and park somewhere quiet, tomorrow we would be leaving San Fran.

We still had a couple of things we wanted to go before we left. The first was to actually go on the cable car, this time we hopped on our bikes and got there much quicker. Stopping briefly by this sculpture, which I never noticed the day before.

The queue this morning was basically non-existent and I had already downloaded the app to pay for our tickets. It didn’t take long before we began the steep climb up Knob Hill.

We stayed on the cable car right to the end, and it was pretty good fun. It was made even better by the very enthusiastic operator, who at one particularly steep hill took his hand off the controls, going, “Wheeeeeee!!!” before grabbing back on to slow us down. Once we had arrived at the end stop, Market Street, we watched as the turned the car around.

Not entirely sure what we were doing here as the main point had been to go on the ride, we ended up getting back on for a few stops before getting off to go and visit Japantown. We drove briefly through here the other day, and fancied another look at it. It was about a half an hour walk from the tram, which took us through some of the rougher looking areas of the city. Japantown itself is much nicer, with this beautiful fountain in the centre of it.

Deciding we needed sustenance we looked up what might be some good local food. Walking through the mall we settled on some street food from Takoyaki Yama-Chan. The dish itself was called Takoyaki and it was a kind of a fried ball of mush with octopus, which was actually a lot nicer than I’m making it sound. If I’m eating octopus, it must be good!

We then followed it up with some doughnuts from the Mochi Doughtnuts next door, which in the end we ended up carrying around with us rather than eating.

Walking back, we picked up the cable car again to go down the hill. This time, we wanted a good view and you don’t really get this sitting inside. You can either sit on the two benches that are outside at the front, or you can stand on the side and hold on. We went for the latter, which definitely made for a more interesting ride down the hill. It was a shame the operator wasn’t as enthusiastic as the other one, as this was definitely a more sedately return.

The cable car comes to a stop outside The Buena Vista, which is famous for its Irish coffees. Feeling it would be rude not to, we popped in for one. The bar was already lined with glasses being warmed up, so this is clearly a popular choice. It was also insanely expensive, but nevertheless I did enjoy my $11 coffee.

The final thing on our San Fran bucket list was to drive down Lombard Street. So back at the van we packed up, said our goodbyes to Pete and Carole, promising to visit them in Canada. Lombard Street is not far at all, in fact we had gone past the top of it on the tram earlier. This very famous street has little hairpin bends down it rather than a standard road. The section itself is just over 400ft long and has 8 hairpin bends that were designed to reduce the 27% gradient that would be too steep for most vehicles. It would definitely be hard to break the 5mph speed limit here. I got out to film it, while Lee drove down. While not particularly scary anymore, I imagine as a straight road it would have been terrifying!

It was now time to leave and head back down south again. We were aiming for Monterey where we had booked a whale watching tour for the next morning. All that was left was to take Aimee to get her jabs on the way out of town and then to find a quiet spot for the night.

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