On the 23rd of April 2018 I got on a flight at Gatwick airport, and 11 hours later (but somehow only 5??!) I arrived in Oakland, California. This is still one of the most ‘I did that?!?‘ moments of my life; arriving in California alone was the most surreal (like literally from a daydream) thing I’ve ever experienced and WOW writing this now is making me miss it so much.
Monday 23rd April
I flew direct from Gatwick to Oakland with Norwegian Airlines and spent the flight watching movies, listening to Hamilton, people watching and a bit of napping. When we landed at around 5pm (after leaving London around midday) I waited in the longest immigration queue ever (there were only 2 officers working and 3 international flights had just arrived) before heading to arrivals to meet my auntie. I was in a pretty jetlagged state of disbelief at this point and spent the whole drive into the city gazing out the window at the sights occasionally grinning to myself at the fact I WAS IN CALIFORNIA!!!!
Tuesday 24th April
After waking up super early from jet lag I decided to make the most of the day and went out straight after breakfast. As I was staying in Outer Sunset I headed for the Golden Gate Park and wandered through it, admiring the beautiful flowers and fragrant eucalyptus trees. I kept going west until I reached the seafront and walked along the beach watching the surfers. I then tackled the huge hill up to Lands End and explored the caves and ruins of the Sutro Baths. From this point you could see the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance which made me so excited! I then walked back to the apartment along the roads (I really underestimated the pain of walking 50 blocks in new shoes). I had a quick snack before going out with my auntie to Other Avenues grocery store on Judah Street to stock up on vegan food for the week! We ate lunch at Judahlicious and visited some of the artsy shops in the area before heading back to the apartment for a relaxed evening and an early night.
Wednesday 25th April
After a big breakfast and filling my bag with snacks I was off! I walked to Judah Street and got on the Muni to the Haight- Ashbury district for a quick look around at the shops and murals. Then it was straight to the Painted Ladies on their hillside. It was still early when I arrived here and the dog park in the square was packed with dogs of all shapes and sizes. I sat on a bench and cuddled with a lil pup called Milo for a bit before moving on to actually find the Painted Ladies. Fun fact: at first I couldn’t actually work out which ones were the iconic ones so went around 3 sides taking pictures before I found the ACTUAL houses. The sun was out so I sat and enjoyed the atmosphere for a bit on the grass of the square.
Then it was a beautiful stroll to the Castro District to admire even more street art, including the famous rainbow crosswalks. I loved the Castro District and wish I could have spent longer there! I got lunch at a place called La Tortilla which had a line out the door of huge workmen all speaking spanish which I took as a good sign! I got a burrito with refried beans, ‘cilantro’ rice, and mild salsa with chips to go and walked to the Mission Dolores Park to eat. This was honestly the best burrito I’ve ever eaten in my life.
After I had refueled with my burrito I was ready to keep exploring and took a quick visit into the Mission District before heading up the Twin Peaks, stopping at the Seward mini park for a go on the slides first. This was one of the most beautiful (it was a super wealthy area so the houses were GORGEOUS) but intense walks of my life. If there’s one true stereotype about San Francisco, it’s the hills. blimey. However I reached the top eventually and enjoyed stunning views across the city to the Marin Headlands in one direction, Oakland and the Bay Area in the other and outer San Francisco to the south. I had hoped there would be a bus running nearby to take me back down but no such luck… So I walked back down and actually walked the whole way home, stopping again in Haight-Ashbury to visit WholeFoods and Amoeba Records on the way.
Thursday 26th April
Another early start (and my first uber experience) took me to Pier 33 ready for my trip to Alcatraz! Normally when I’m travelling I try to avoid the touristy cliches but I would 100% recommend Alcatraz to anyone. The experience is incredibly interesting and a great way to spend a (half) day with the boat ride out, touring the prison, exploring the island and visiting any extra exhibitions on there. The island is beautifully preserved, including the flower gardens once maintained by prisoners. After the ferry back I wandered down to the Fisherman’s Wharf area for a trip to Pier 39, which was the most overwhelmingly, American, touristy place I have ever visited, but very interesting and pretty.
I then walked through the Italian neighbourhood of North Beach towards the Financial District to visit the City Lights Bookstore. Here I spent the best part of an hour exploring the store and seeing the huge range of books they had on sale. I wanted to buy myself a book as a souvenir and after finding out the significance of City Lights in the Beat Generation, I decided to buy On The Road by Jack Kerouac, a book I had been meaning to read for a while. I was pretty knackered now and ready to head home so walked further into the Financial District and got very lost trying to find the Embarcadero where I could get the muni from. Eventually I found the right place to wait and had to ask a (gorgeous) man how to actually get on the tram when it arrived (yay for being clueless).
Friday 27th April
Yet another early start and another Uber trip had me arriving at Dylan’s Tours ready for my biggest adventure day yet! There are LOADS of bike hire companies in San Francisco but I chose Dylan’s Tours due to their friendliness and transparency, good cancellation policy (very useful if you’re booking a month in advance from over 5000 miles away) and also the options they had for extra trips (click here to see the exact option I chose). When I arrived they fitted my out for my bike and helmet (if you have long hair, plait it!!!) and gave me a map and detailed instructions of where to go. Then I was off! I left just after another couple and after we got lost near Fisherman’s Wharf we teamed up for part of the ride. We rode along the front of the bay, stopping frequently for pictures and little side trips down piers and through parks. This was definitely a highlight of my trip, especially when cycling through Pacific Heights playing ‘The Schuyler Sisters’ at full volume on my phone… After a bit more getting lost we finally found our way up onto the Golden Gate Bridge!!! This was the coolest experience ever and I regret not give myself more time to appreciate it (the bridge is very busy so I tried to keep moving). We then arrived on the Marin Headlands and had a very steep ride down into Sausalito where we dropped off the bikes and had time to wander around. The town of Sausalito is lovely and I could definitely see why people say it is like the mediterranean. I visited a few shops and walked along the harbour front until it was time to get in our minibus for the shuttle to Muir woods.This drive was SO beautiful and I completely fell in love with that area, all gorgeous houses hidden among the trees. We then did a very long and windy drive down to the Muir Woods National Monument where, after paying our admission, we had an hour to explore by ourselves. As a nature lover I was completely in my element here, and literally could have cried from happiness at being surrounded by the Redwoods. I took a small side hike off the main path and ended up seeing my first chipmunk!We then reconvened on the bus to drive back into the city. After getting off the bus near Ghirardelli Square I walked (very uphill) to visit the iconic Lombard street and got the bus home through Presidio.
Saturday 28th April
It was time to try another method of transport and I got the BART over to Berkeley for the day! I spent the morning exploring the town and the UC Berkeley campus, eating vegan cinnamon rolls from Cinnaholic and getting harassed by well-meaning (I’m sure) Christians. Berkeley was lovely and I left wanted to return as a student, GO BEARS!
That evening I went out for dinner at VeganBurg in Haight-Ashbury with the relatives I was staying with. It was cool to see this district again by night and the food at VeganBurg was really good (and non-vegan approved!) We then did a bit of a tour of the city by night just driving around the streets and seeing different interesting buildings and areas, including one road along the top where we saw the city lit up below us.
Sunday 29th April
A family day out today! My relatives both had the day off and treated me to a roadtrip of the area south of San Francisco. We drove south out of the city to Alice’s Restaurant near Woodside (a super gorgeous and wealthy area) to see the motorbikes that gather there and get a drink. We drove through some super rural countryside and huge farms on our way to the coast, this really surprised me as when I think about California I just think of urban towns/cities, palm trees and beaches! We then got to the incredible San Gregorio General Store, which we wandered around and stayed to watch some live music. Then it was a beautiful drive up the coast road to Half Moon Bay for lunch, including a stop at the beach to dip our toes in the Pacific.
Monday 30th April
I had just enough time this morning to do my packing, buy some souvenirs and snacks and take one last walk around the neighbourhood before heading to San Francisco International for my flight to Portland, Oregon!
I hope you enjoyed this post! Have you ever been to San Francisco or California? Do you have any must- see places?!