Baker Beach, San Francisco

Getting close to something as iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge was a pretty special moment for me. And it was made just a little bit more special by how blase it all felt when you’re stood on Baker Beach.

It was a beautiful sunny day and the sand was just a little be toasty on my feet. There were dogs running around in the sand, people sun bathing; oh, and there was a huge, red bridge at the end of the beach. It felt quite surreal really, like the bridge almost blended in; as if the beach were saying “Oh yeah, that? Yeah, we’ve got the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Baker Beach San Francisco

Dogs on the beach at Baker Beach, Golden Gate

The Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

We visited Land’s End Park first and got to Baker Beach around noon on a weekday, and it was surprisingly quiet. Of course there were fellow tourists taking photos of the beach, but the majority of people appeared to be locals who didn’t seem at all fazed by this monstrous structure dominating their view.

Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

The Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

If you’re headed to San Francisco, I definitely recommend a trip to Baker Beach. I’ve seen some beautiful photos taken from the beach at sunset, so it’s worth adding to your itinerary if you have time.

While you’re around Baker Beach, you could also take a trip to Land’s End Park (which I will share photos of sometime soon), and of course you could drive over the Golden Gate Bridge itself; I think it is the most expensive of the bridges in the Bay Area.  I believe it cost around $7 when I went. Makes sense; it’s iconic and the upkeep is supposed to be never ending.

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View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

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A day trip from San Francisco to Yosemite with Extranomical Tours

There was no way I was going to visit California without stepping foot inside Yosemite National Park. I knew that a day trip from San Francisco would be a long day, but would be more than worth it to get to look up and see El Capitan and Half Dome with my own eyes. 

After hours of searching, I settled on a day trip with Extranomical Tours because they seemed to offer the most time in the park.

I was picked up from outside the Hilton Hotel in the middle of San Francisco at about 06:00. If you’re staying in the city centre, Extranomical offer pickup from hotels and the BART runs early in the morning so getting there shouldn’t be a problem, unless it’s a holiday. (Of course I chose to go on a holiday, so, shout out to my buddy Cat for getting up way to early and driving me.)

On our drive out to Yosemite, and our first comfort stop, our tour guide, Vlad, told us about San Francisco, what it’s like to live there (super expensive!) and in the surrounding areas. Vlad was a great tour guide and I didn’t envy him having to drive and talk to us for 15 hours (I’m sure that’s not even legal in the UK), but he was so passionate and into what he was doing even at the end of the day, when the rest of us were dosing off.

The drive into Yosemite is pretty beautiful, especially as you ascend up switchbacks and look down into the valleys.

Giant sequoias

Our first stop off was to see the giant sequoias in Tuolumne Grove, which involves a 20-minute walk down hill until you set your eyes on one of the giant beasts. Unfortunately we only had an hour here, which means you pretty much just about have time to walk down and see one tree, and walk the very steep trek back up to the bus. The forest area itself is pretty beautiful, especially when the mid-morning light sneaks through the trees, bathing the place in this magical glow.

On the way into Yosemite, Vlad told us about where the name for Yosemite National Park came from, and it fascinated me. In the 19th century gold rush, people from all over the world descended upon Yosemite to try and find gold. 

In their desperation, they formed a battalion and kidnapped the leader of a the Ahwahneechee tribe and gave him an ultimatum; either you let us come onto your land and look for gold, or we kill you. The tribe leader, sensing he couldn’t win either way, told them to kill him and his land was invaded. Understandably, the tribes people were pretty pissed and kept saying “yos.s.e’meti” to the gold rushers, which translates to “those who kill”. So, Yosemite actually means the valley of the killers.

There you go, I’ve taught you something interesting today.

That said, I researched the history of the name behind Yosemite and there are a couple of different stories. I quite like this one though.

Yosemite, Inspiration Point

Our first stop off in the park was the aptly named Inspiration Point, which provided stunning views of El Capitan, Half Dome, and the valley.

Don’t be fooled by how peaceful and quiet that photo looks, because directly behind where I stood to take this photo is a car park rammed with coaches, cars and fellow visitors. It is kinda inspiring, but I feel like I would be a lot more inspiring if you didn’t have to listen to people beeping their horns and revving engines. Such is the problem with places this beautiful I guess; you’re kinda in the wilderness, but completely not in another sense.

Yosemite National Park

baby deer in Yosemite National park

Baby deer in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite

After avoiding being run over, the bus took us down into the valley to stop off for lunch, where I had a couple of hours to see Yosemite waterfall, and dip my toes in the river while taking in my surroundings.

El Capitan

Yosemite National Park

As we left the lodges, our driver pulled over and we got out to play spot the climbers on El Capitan. Apparently the record for climbing up there, with NO ROPES?!, is just over two hours. How? That must take some serious skill, fitness, and balls to do that because it looked huge from where I was standing, let alone climbing up it.

Bear with the open mouth in Yosemite

Bear with the open mouth in Yosemite

Bear with the open mouth in Yosemite National Park

We made one more stop inside the park to see “the bear with the open mouth”, so let’s see if you can spot it.

Old tribes named it “the bear with the open mouth” because it kinda looks like a bear lying down with it’s mouth open. This spot was probably the most peaceful place we went to all day because there was only our coach there and it felt so calm and serene.

The water was like a mirror and I could have stayed there for hours taking it all in.

Sunset over San Francisco from Treasure Island

San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge

Since it was the end of Labour Day weekend, our trip back into San Francisco took a little longer than expected, but Vlad provided us with the perfect end to the day but taking us to Treasure Island, where we could see the lights of the city twinkling against the sky.

It was such a long and busy day, but boy was it worth it to see Yosemite. It’s one of those places I’ve wanted to see for years, and my plan is to go back at some point and spend a few days in the park; hopefully at a slightly quieter time of year, if such thing exists in Yosemite.

If you do want to take a trip to Yosemite from San Francisco, I can’t recommend Extranomical Tours enough. But do bear in mind that it is a long day and it does feel kind of rushed, and you will see people complaining in reviews about that, but what do you expect? It is rushed and it’s not about chilling, wander about at your own pace day. Yosemite is a three hour drive from San Francisco, so that takes out six hours of your day before you’ve even started. If you want to explore the park at your own pace, a day trip isn’t for you and you’re probably better off staying in the park for a couple of days.

Have you ever been to Yosemite?

One day in Yosemite

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Sunset over Pier 39, San Francisco

When I was little, my Nan and I always used to read a book about how the beautiful colours in the sky at sunrise and sunset are created by dragons, and this vibrant San Francisco sunset took me right back to that book. (If anyone knows what this book is called, please tell me because I can’t remember!)

There are specifically two things I love about sunsets:

  1. The sky looks like it’s on fire, and that’s cool.
  2. Everywhere somehow seems quieter.

Even on a busy pier, full of tourists watching sea lions bark at each other, the world still seems a little quieter and I love that. I love that people come together and stare in awe at something that happens every night, but they perhaps don’t usually have the opportunity to actually watch it and take it in.

Sleepy sea lions at Pier 39

We went down to Pier 39 to watch the sea lions on my first night and it was wonderful watching them loll about, bathed in a pink glow. But it was even better going back during daylight, when some of them were looking slightly active and were winding each other up.

Sea lions sleeping at Pier 39

And I do mean some of them, because most of them were horizontal having a group kip and were very annoyed when a playful young sea lion was trying to get some of the older, lazier beasts to have a little play.

Sea lions at Pier 39

Sea lions at Pier 39

Like this guy here; he was not happy about a mischievous sea lion who kept popping up and poking him, as if saying “come and play with meeee.”

Sea lions playing at Pier 39

Sea lions playing at Pier 39

Sea lions swimming at Pier 39

There were a few plaques up around Pier 39 explaining that the sea lions first made Pier 39 their home in 1989, and that, astonishingly, the all-time record for number of sea lions at the pier was 1,701 in November 2009. I can’t even imagine how noisy that must have been. It’s not really that big an area either, so I don’t even know where they all had a snooze.

I could have sat and watched these guys for hours. Of course I’ve seen sea lions before in zoos but it was great to be able to see them in their natural habitat, which seems weird to say when you consider that it’s in a city.

If you ever go to San Francisco, I definitely recommend a trip out to Pier 39 to watch the sea lions for a while. It can get pretty busy around there (because who doesn’t watch to watch sea lions push each other off pontoons?) but it’s worth the crowds. If you’re not headed to SF any time soon, you’re in luck because Pier 39 does have a sealion cam, so you can watch them play from the comfort of your pajamas on the sofa….or at work if your job is soul destroying.

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Sunset at Pier 39 sea lions San Francisco

Three and a half days in San Francisco is nowhere near enough to see everything the city by the bay has to offer, but it was just enough time to tick off all the big things I wanted to experience. 

Not only did I get to visit a beautiful city, I also got to meet one of my favourite bloggers and friend, Cat from Oddly Lovely and explore the place she calls home with her.

 

Thursday night

Refreshed from a lot of sleeping on the plane (about 75% of the 11 hour flight), I was completely up for Cat’s suggestion of heading into the city and seeing San Francisco for the first time.

Beautiful sunset over Pier 39 in San Francisco

Sleeping sea lions at San Francisco's Pier 39

While I couldn’t quite make out the Golden Gate Bridge through the evening fog, I was treated to one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. I remember watching it, while the sea lions of Pier 39 barked and grumped at each other, and wondering if the sky had been Photoshopped because that’s exactly what it looked like. I don’t ever remember seeing a sky look so ridiculously perfect and like it’s straight out of one of the Instagram pages I follow.

Because no trip to anywhere is complete (for me at least) without a trip to the Hard Rock Cafe, we filled up on delicious food and began comparing the differences between the UK and the US.

With a stomach full of spicy macaroni cheese, I slept pretty soundly.

 

Friday

Lands End San Francisco

Before I got out there, Cat had been asking her friends what we should do, and so many of them suggested Land’s End. Now, I have been to Land’s End in Cornwall and I feel like Land’s End in San Francisco is significantly better. For starters, it was not foggy, cold, or wet; it was warm with a gentle breeze, very blue, and just better looking.

Golden Gate Bridge from Lands End

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Lands End

With the fog having already cleared, I got my first proper view of the Golden Gate Bridge and it is a beauty.

The Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

Because I wanted a better look, we headed on down to Baker Beach to burn our toes in the sand and dip our feet in the water.

Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

I’m sure this shot is a lot easier when the tide is out, but it required clambering over rocks and if you met my boyfriend you would quickly find out that he calls me “shit cat”; I’m very good at getting up things, but absolutely appalling at getting back down. I just have no balance when it comes to getting down things, and the amount of times I have almost destroyed my camera doing so is endless – I should probably get that thing insured.

Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

If I could have called the Fire Brigade to get me down off the rocks, I probably would have.

Fortunately, my camera and I made it down in one piece.

In the UK, we have this little ol’ chocolate brand called Cadbury’s and in our opinion it is the best chocolate in the world; it is a British institution and we were fuming when Kraft brought it (and we are still very bitter about it), and American chocolate is disgusting. (Incidentally, ‘American chocolate’ is more disgusting now because we are convinced that Kraft are going to change the recipe and turn our beloved Dairy Milk into something disgusting. So much so that we revolted when they changed the Creme Egg recipe – yeah, so this and the Great British Bake Off being sold to another TV channel is the kinda stuff that really riles us Brits up…never mind the important stuff like the NHS being privatised by our scummy government. That got political quickly…)

Ghirardelli's chocolate shop San Francisco

Ghirardelli's sundae

Cat was determined to prove me wrong and destroy my perception of American chocolate and she did an amazing job by taking me to Ghirardelli’s to experience their chocolate and legendary fudge sundaes. Prove me wrong she did because it was far from disgusting and I long for that sundae now.

Sea lions at Pier 39

Sea Lions playing at Pier 39

We headed on back down to Pier 39 to watch the sea lions again. They’re such funny little characters and after watching them for a few minutes you kind of get the feeling they like playing up to all the attention.

I watched those two sea lions for minutes, trying to wrestle each other and pushing each other off the pontoon / whatever it’s called, only for the other one to get back on it and they’d start all over again.

A big day in the city wore us out and we vegged out watching the Great British Bake Off (I CAN’T BELIEVE AMERICA DOESN’T HAVE THEIR OWN VERSION!), and went to the best cinema in the world (because it had sofas and sofa-service food) to watch Hunt For The Wilderpeople – which, by the way, is hilarious and well worth a watch.

 

Saturday

Morning bun from TartineTarts in Tartine

My second full day in San Francisco started in the best way possible; delicious pastries from Tartine. Honestly, if you ever visit go and try one of their Morning Buns because it is like sex in your mouth; it’s like a cinnamon bun and a sugary doughnut had a baby…a delicious baby.

Painted Ladies in San Francisco

Saturday was pretty chilled out in comparison to Friday, and we visited the Painted Ladies, marveled at the beautiful houses, and strolled down Haight-Ashbury.

Haight Ashbury

Haight Ashbury

I’d been really excited to visit Haight-Ashbury before I went and I’m kinda glad Cat told me not to get too excited because it wasn’t quite as good as I expected it to be. Sure, it was fascinating and really interesting to hear about the history of the place, but I guess it’s never going to be as good as it was during it’s inception.

Street art down Haight Ashbury

We slipped into Amoeba Records and I very, very nearly ended up trying to figure out how to stop baggage handlers destroying a vinyl record but I thought better of it and left the store empty handed, but very jealous of the fact I don’t know of a record store like that anywhere near me.

 

Sunday

We thought we did pretty well getting up early to head on over to Muir Woods, but unfortunately it was not early enough and their ridiculously small car parks were full and we had a good 30 minute trek from the car to the ticket desk.

Muir Woods

Muir Woods

The walk was well worth it though, because being able to stand amongst the red woods and take in the strange, fairytale-like light was incredible. Unfortunately, I couldn’t capture this light all too well, but you’re just going to have to believe that it looked like a unicorn might step out of the shadows at any point.

Another thing I managed to tick off my list was drinking Snapple again. I know, I know, it’s a weird thing to want to do on holiday, and you can get it in the international section at Tesco – but it costs a fortune! Though, I’m sure it’s cheaper to spend a fiver on a bottle of Snapple than about £250 on a flight to San Francisco…we’ll just ignore that.

I didn’t know before I went, but San Francisco is pretty famous for it’s literary scene. Cat took me to City Lights, the most famous bookshop in SF, and told me all about the Beats and the Beat Movement in the 40s and 50s.

While I do (just about) have the will power to leave a record store empty handed, I have never possessed the will power needed to leave a book store empty handed. And since I was in Beat territory, there was no way I could leave without an iconic book from the movement. I ended up picking up On The Road by Jack Kerouac, and I’m loving it.

We picked up delicious Mexican food on the way back, watched some more Bake Off and ended the trip with a round of trivia, which we didn’t actually fail too badly at.

The next morning, I was up very early for a trip to Yosemite, which I will be fangirling about sometime soon.

If you ever have the chance to visit San Francisco, I highly recommend it and I’m sure I’ll find my way back there in the future to explore the city again.

How to spend three and a half days in San Francisco

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10 things I want to do in San Francisco

One of my favourite things about an adventure is the planning part. I love falling into hours of research, photos, blog posts, videos, and reviews; it’s kind of my thing. (Maybe I should become a travel agent…)

I have four full days in San Francisco, and I’m taking a day trip to Yosemite on one of those days, which gives me just three days to cram as much San Francisco in as possible.

 

 

“Sunset is still my favorite color, and rainbow is second.” #goldengatebridge #sanfrancisco #sunset

A photo posted by Nicole Morrison (@nicolemorrison12) on

See the Golden Gate Bridge & watch the sun set

Let’s get the obvious one out the way here; when you think of San Francisco, you think of the Golden Gate Bridge in it’s imposing red glory. I’ve seen some absolutely stunning shots of the bridge around sunset and I’m desperate to come home with my own photo like the one above. I MUST DO IT!

 

See the sea lions at Pier 39

There’s a joke in my family that my Nan’s Labrador, Bert, looks a bit like a Sea Lion; it’s the shape of his snout and his whiskers; it’s very silly. I was scrolling through Pinterest one day when I saw that SF’s Pier 39 is home to over 1,000 sea lions. There’s not a chance I can go to San Francisco and not visit Bert’s Californian cousins. I’ve also told him that I’m going to bring him back a stuffed seal (as in a toy, not a taxidermy seal) to play with and he will never talk to me again if I’m not true to my word. (San Franciscans; tell me I can buy stuffed seals…please?)

 

 

Feel it… 🌲 #sanfrancisco #westillwalking #feelings #nonstop #llocsunics #muirwoods #sequoias #seguim #willyfog #amics

A photo posted by Eli Subinyà (@tomateconzaa) on

Stand amongst the red woods

A few years ago, a friend gave me a tour of his university campus and amongst their mini-forest was a handful of redwoods. I remember him telling me that some of the largest can be seen in SF, and I’ve wanted to see them for myself ever since. 

I just love the idea of spending a few hours surrounded by trees that are hundreds of years old and that absolutely dwarf me.

 

 

A photo posted by Danny Reisch (@gooddannys) on

Japanese tea garden

This is going to sound really sad, but one of my favourite parts about going to Alton Towers is wandering through the valley down to the Japanese part of the garden. I know, I know, I’m supposed to tell you my favourite part is riding rollercoasters, but nope, I like pagodas.

I actually found out about San Francisco’s Japanese tea garden while reading Lola and the Boy Next Door (thanks again Stephanie Perkins, my literary tour guide!), rather than TripAdvisor which is where normal people decide where to go, and I’ve wanted to go since reading about it.

 

 

what ever happened to predictability?

A photo posted by Sam Horine (@samhorine) on

The Painted Ladies

Nope, I’ve never watched Full House but I really want to see these houses. I’m not hyping them up in my head because they’re just houses at the end of the day, but they’re so beautiful that I just want to see them in person.

 

 

Cable Car Time 🙌🏼 #sanfranciscocablecar 🇺🇸

A photo posted by Megan McAllister (@megan_mcallister_) on

Ride a cable car

I tend to avoid public transport when I’m away, I prefer to explore (and get lost) on foot, but I’ve seen how steep some of the hills are in SF and you just can’t visit SF and not ride a cable car.

 

Haight-Ashbury

This is where the hippie movement started in the 60s, and with such beautiful buildings, street art and record shops, it has everything I want in a place to go. The hardest part about this trip might well be stopping myself buying records because they’re just not going to survive two flights.

 

Eat pancakes for breakfast

This might seem like the daftest thing on the list, but I really want to eat proper American style pancakes for breakfast. It’s not that you can’t get them in England, it’s just that I want to eat proper American pancakes for breakfast, and there are few things more enjoyable than going out for breakfast, right?

 

 

#hardrockcafe #hardrockcafesanfrancisco #sanfrancisco

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Collect another t-shirt

Mega tourist alert moment. I love the Hard Rock Cafe and collect t-shirts, so I definitely need to add a San Francisco one to my collection. Plus, I’m fairly certain my Mother will never let me back in her house if I don’t take her a badge back.

 

Visit Yosemite

Ok, so this isn’t actually in San Francisco but if you think I’m flying all the way to California and not visiting Yosemite, you’re crazy.

I’m booked on a day trip out to Yosemite and it’s gonna be a long day, but so worth it because I just know that I would be really disappointed if I didn’t go.

 

Is there anything I should add to the list?

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