San Francisco is the fourth largest city in California and the twelfth largest city in the United States. It is located on the west coast of the USA at the very top of the peninsula, of the same name San Francisco. The city also includes several islands – Alcatraz, Treasure Island, Yerba Buena Island, Alameda Island, Red Rock Island, and Angel Island. Contrary to the opinion of most people (which California associates with heat), the climate is pleasant and relatively moderate throughout the year, so winters are mild, and summers are warm. In the spring, during our stay, the air temperature was about 5 degrees higher than in Croatia.
San Francisco is not dominated by tall buildings (except the Financial District neighborhood where all of San Francisco’s tallest buildings are), so there are a large number of green spaces and is very comfortable to live in.
When the wind blows from the Pacific, and it becomes cloudy, the air cools abruptly, and the temperature drops by as much as 10 degrees. Since air is not very humid when the sun warms up, the temperature rises from 12° – 13° C in the morning to 25° -27° C, and if you happen to be walking on the beach, you will want to take a bath. However, the desire disappears if you touch the icy water of the Pacific, which in spring reaches only 14° celsius and in summer is only a few degrees higher. San Francisco is not dominated by tall buildings (except the Financial District neighborhood where all of San Francisco’s tallest buildings are), so there are a large number of green spaces and is very comfortable to live in.
The city center itself covers an area of 11 km2, which in our terms probably looks like a lot. But for Americans where everything is giant, from monuments, buildings, roads, all the way to burgers, it is not a big city.
The city offers a large number of diverse attractions that can satisfy almost everyone’s tastes. From the colorful streets with beautiful, real works of art murals, through the Financial District (San Francisco business center) that is architecturally entirely different from other parts of the city, all the way to the coast with many massive piers typical of the California coastal area. The city center itself covers an area of 11 km2, which in our terms probably looks like a lot. But for Americans where everything is giant, from monuments, buildings, roads, all the way to burgers, it is not a big city. Other than the Financial District (popularly called FiDi by Americans), you will rarely come across skyscrapers.
The buildings are mostly of lower construction (up to about ten floors), colorful, and architecturally very elegant. Walking through the streets, you will immediately notice the relaxed atmosphere. It is not uncommon for an unknown person on the road to greet you just because your eyes met by chance. It is also almost impossible to enter a store without being greeted by the first employee you meet and ask you – how are you today? But we must say that we were surprised by the large number of beggars we met in the city. Most of them only ask for money from passers-by and less often are those who perform some performance to earn that money.
A large part of beggars has appeared at the beginning of this last and well-known crisis, which has hit California harder than the rest of the United States. Like any big city, San Francisco can be dangerous, especially at night. But still, we never felt threatened, not even at night when we wandered around the town at 4 a.m. with expensive photo equipment around our necks.
The first destination, starting from the city center, is Market street. One of the few roads that do not have a single climb, at least not in the center. It is the main road leading from the city center, passing through the Financial District and ending on the very shore in front of the Bay Bridge. Walking down this road, you will meet the soul of the city itself. You will meet weird people, some of whom will talk to themselves, and some will address you as if you have known each other for years.
Powell’s Street is everything a tourist needs – nightclubs, hotels, shops. Day and night, there is always something going on. Walking along Powell Street, you will also pass through Chinatown, which is one of the most beautiful in the USA.
Two kilometers away from the coast, across Market Street, there is another significant street the Powell street, which you should not miss. Compared to Market street, Powell street is full of typical climbs on which cars usually jump on in movies. An attraction not to be missed is the tram ride and its turnaround. The tram is not only a tourist attraction but also the fastest way to get from one end of town to the other. Why is that tram so special? It is the last tram line in the world that still operates using technology from 1873 when it introduced. The driver and the conductor steer the tram. Since modern technology such as hydraulic brakes is not used, all drivers are generally massive so that they can brake and slow down the tram on big downhills. You can also experience riding sideways hung on the tram, but then you have every responsibility in case you hit a parked vehicle or pole. That also includes the abovementioned attractive tram turnaround, where you will always find tourists with cameras in hand, who are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the tram. When the tram reaches the turn, the tram driver, together with the conductor, on the moving podium turns the tram 180 degrees, which is a rarity in nowadays age of modern technology. Powell’s Street is everything a tourist needs – nightclubs, hotels, shops. Day and night, there is always something going on. Walking along Powell Street, you will also pass through Chinatown, which is one of the most beautiful in the USA.
Going further to the northeast, a hundred yards before you reach Fisherman’s Wharf, the tram stops at one of San Francisco’s highest points, through which Lombard Street also passes. It is a road that has eight sharp bends at a distance of only a hundred meters, so it has been declared the most winding street in the world. Finally, after a fifteen-minute uphill-downhill ride, you arrive at the second tram turnaround in Fisherman’s Wharf, which was once a fishing port and is now mostly a tourist attraction. When it comes to fishing, here it primarily refers to Crabbing or crab fishing, which are also the primary specialty in restaurants. On the menu are all the other fish dishes that are also excellent. Fisherman’s Wharf is attractive in a specific way. Here you can see a variety of attractions, from restored old ships, sailboats, the American submarine US Pampanito, to sea lions lying on the beach. We recommend you to spend at least one afternoon there because it is worthy it.
The island of Alcatraz, or The Rock, was originally a lighthouse and a military fort, that later in 1963, was converted into a famous prison. It is only 2.4 km from San Francisco. According to official data, in 29 years of existence, no one has successfully escaped from the island, despite numerous attempts.
San Francisco does not have a subway network typical for big cities. The town is crossed by a single line, which of its total length, covers only two kilometers of Market Street, in the city center. The rest of the route extends directly to the airport, located 30 km from the center. Although at first, it seems like very impractical transportation of getting around the city, a little later you realize that it is invaluable when you come and go with your hands full of luggage. It takes you from the hotel directly to the airport terminal and vice versa. Why has not such a city built a better metro network? Well, probably because the hilly constitution of the terrain did not allow it. The town is built on extremely uneven terrain, which gives it a particular beauty. Steep climbs are an attraction for tourists. From the top of each of the many hills, you can enjoy a beautiful view of the city. From almost everyone, you can see the massive Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz – island and once famous prison that you have probably already seen in countless American movies. The island of Alcatraz, or The Rock, was originally a lighthouse and a military fort, that later in 1963, was converted into a famous prison. It is only 2.4 km from San Francisco. According to official data, in 29 years of existence, no one has successfully escaped from the island, despite numerous attempts. Only three prisoners were declared executed in a tentative to escape. The island has turned into a national park and a great attraction for tourists. If you ever decide to visit this place, due to massive interest, it is advisable to book a trip at least a day before with the first-morning ferry, while there is no crowd.
South of the center is Mission Street, best known for its beautiful murals, protected works of art. There you will find great restaurants that are not as famous as those located in the heart of San Francisco. The food is excellent and at a very affordable price. With their simpler decoration, they differ from most restaurants located in tourist centers. Here hangs out the local population, and here and there a few tourists. The majority of the inhabitants here are Mexicans. Walking down the roadway, you will quickly conclude that you belong to a minority. This picturesque city district can be dangerous in some parts. For this reason, you can see a bit more police on the streets, which gives you a sense of security and protection.
San Francisco is well protected from the waves of the Pacific Ocean by its position. It is connected to the rest of mainland California by two large bridges. The Oakland Bay Bridge, which opened to traffic in 1936, six months before the completion of the second bridge, which is also a symbol of San Francisco, the so-called Red Golden Gate Bridge, which is not red but dark orange. The Golden Gate Bridge is the second largest suspension bridge in the USA. It was named after the Golden Gate strait, the sea passage above which it is located. It is 2737 meters long, and 129 km of steel cable was used for its construction. You can cross the bridge by walking, running, cycling, motor vehicle, but not by skate or rollerblading. Crossing the bridge is charged six dollars unless you cross the bridge on a specially designated pedestrian or bicycle path when it is considered that you are not involved in traffic and therefore pay nothing.
We have listed only a few significant points of interest, but there are many more in and around the city. For example, the Golden Gate Park is 5 km long and 1 km wide and extends to the beach on the west coast of the peninsula. Then the Telegraph Hill Tower from which you can see the whole city, various museums and cultural sights. Undoubtedly, the San Francisco area is not negligible either. On the north side of San Francisco Bay stretches the Wine Country area known for premium wine with over 400 wine cellars. Descending along the south coast towards the town of Pacifica, you can see the real strength of the Pacific waves, and for us, an unusual nature made up of ocean black sandy beaches and high cliffs that plummet into the ocean from twenty meters. Not far from Pacifica is the Mavericks, a cliff about 300 meters from the shore, where the waves reach an average height of 8 meters. The biggest measured roll was in 2007, about 17 meters high. Once a year with a special invitation, the World’s best surfers meet to compete for the title of Big Wave Surfers.
After all the amusing things seen here, some other waves took us to the somewhat southern parts.
TEXT & PHOTO – Lovro Barbalić