San Francisco: 4 Unmissable Sights

San Francisco is one of the USA’s most popular destinations for travellers and this reputation is well deserved as the city is packed with attractions. I had the chance to spend 5 nights in SF last summer and a few of its attractions really stood out to me.

  1. Golden Gate Bridge

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I can’t think of a better way to experience the iconic Golden Gate Bridge than by bicycle. There are bike rental shops all over the city – I rented mine from Blazing Saddles. The round trip over the bridge toward Sausalito was very manageable, even for someone like me who barely cycles. From the charming (if a little touristy) Sausalito you can catch a ferry back to the Fisherman’s Wharf area.

2. The Japanese Gardens at Golden Gate Park

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The serene Japanese Tea Garden was one of my favourite places in the city. The Japanese-style plants, architecture and water features are amazing and you can even buy Japan-themed gifts and drink Japanese tea in the tea house.

3. Alcatraz Island

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Unfortunately, I had an eye infection on the day I visited Alactraz Island so my photography left a lot to be desired. However, I still highly recommend visiting the Island as the audio tour was very engaging and experiencing the prison first-hand is the best way to explore it’s history. My main piece of advice for visiting Alactraz is to BOOK EARLY  as tickets can sell out weeks in advance. Boat tickets can be purchased through the Alcatraz Cruises website.

4. Palace of Fine Arts

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I visited the Palace of Fine Arts on a quiet weekday morning and was so glad I did as it was so calm, peaceful and beautiful. The monument is so much bigger and more impressive in real life than it appears in photos and the reflective pool adds to the spectacle, giving you the chance to get great pictures.

 

These are just a few of San Francisco’s abundance of attractions! Let me know your favourite things to do in SF, I’m already dying to go back!

Heidi

Best Budget Accomodation in San Francisco: Hostelling International Fisherman’s Wharf

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In San Francisco, really cheap accommodation is basically impossible to find. Even the most basic hostels will charge over £20 (about $25) a night for a dorm bed. Saying that, I was pretty happy with the value for money I got at Hostelling International’s Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel.

Where?

The hostel is located in Fort Mason, a former US army post, so it’s surrounded by national park land. Fisherman’s Wharf is just a short walk away and there are a few bus stops near the hostel. For information on getting there, see here. I used the shuttle service from the airport as I thought $14 was a small price to pay to avoid having to work out public transport after a transatlantic flight.

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Inside Fort Mason

How Much?

Depending on the season, a dorm bed will cost you $40-$55 dollars a night and private rooms start at $110. This might seem steep, but by San Francisco standards it’s at the cheap end of the scale! I would say that it’s worth paying a little extra compared to the cheapest options in San Francisco as the location is amazing.

Why?

  • The facilities: The hostel offers a free breakfast of bagels, fruit and coffee which I really enjoyed. There are also free activities available and all the staff were really friendly and helpful.
  • Cafe Franco: A cafe with reasonably priced, delicious coffee and pastries and absolutely breathtaking views of the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz.
  • The setting: The location in Fort Mason allows you a bit of space from the city while still being really central to all of San Francisco’s attractions. It also gives you the chance to do some wildlife spotting – I was lucky to be up early one morning to see an adorable skunk, and I also saw a few racoons. Maybe these animals are pests in America but they were a real novelty to me!
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My skunk photography skills leave a bit to be desired.
  • The views: This is probably the top selling point for HI Fisherman’s Wharf. I woke up early after arriving at the hostel late at night, went outside and was met with the most beautiful view of the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz Island. Perfect start to my time in San Francisco.

Drawbacks?

From my experience, this wasn’t much of a party hostel and the crowd was a bit quiet and kept to themselves, so it might not be the best place for solo travelers to meet people. However, I only stayed there for 5 nights so I could be mistaken! We also had a bit of a dodgy experience with a slightly unhinged older woman in our dorm room, but that’s the risk of staying in a dorm anywhere I guess.

Overall, the location especially for this hostel is unbeatable, I was lucky enough to be able to see the Golden Gate bridge from my window! I’d highly recommend it to any traveler looking for reasonably priced accommodation in San Francisco. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments!

Heidi

Santa Cruz’s Hidden Gem: Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

For me, Santa Cruz itself was somewhat underwhelming. Maybe I made a mistake going mid-week, as the amusement park wasn’t on and the beach wasn’t that busy. The “relaxed hippy vibe” I’d read about just seemed like a slightly dodgy atmosphere. Though I must point out that it had some great book and music stores that are definitely worth a look. That said, my first impressions of Santa Cruz inspired me to check out what the natural surroundings had to offer.

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is located near Felton, a charming little town that’s a pleasure to walk through to reach the park. It has a few cafes and food shops if you need a snack before or after your walk. It can be reached from Santa Cruz either by a 20 minute drive or an hour-long bus which will only cost you a couple of dollars. The longish bus ride is well worth it, as you can listen to music and enjoy the scenery of the Santa Cruz mountain area.

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I mean … TREES? EVERYWHERE TREES? What is this place?

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I managed to convince myself that this was the bridge from The Lost Boys.

The park is beautiful and has so much to offer in terms of scenery and photo opportunities, from quaint bridges and breathtaking redwood trees to the “Roaring Camp” railroad which offers the opportunity to take an old-fashioned steam engine ride through the Santa Cruz mountains. Additionally, you should be able to spot some wildlife in the park- there are plenty of squirrels around and I was nearly mowed down by two gorgeous fawns! We also met the park ranger who was very friendly and enthusiastic to tell us about the history of the park. Another highlight of this park on a weekday is that it isn’t too busy and once you’re off the beaten path, it’s a really peaceful way to spend a day.

For anyone travelling around the California coast or Santa Cruz area, I really recommend that you explore this park as the amazing scenery really left an impression on me.

Heidi