December 2012, San Francisco, CA.
That was me trying my best not to get blown away by the strong gusts of wind on that freezing winter morning at the Golden Gate Bridge. A little awkward, but yeah.
Four years ago. Wow. This was the year my family took a long, two-day journey from Malaysia across the globe to attend my college graduation in Arkansas. I’d planned our trip carefully, making sure to include some of my favorite cities that I knew they’d love. San Francisco was one of them.
San Francisco, affectionately referred to as “Frisco” by the locals, is a charming city perched right above Los Angeles, with a drastic temperature drop compared to sunny, humid L.A. I’d say it’s a cross between New York and Boston. It has the big-city trills of New York, the similar grid-like structure and masses of glinting skyscrapers in downtown San Francisco and the parade of busy Frisco-ians strutting around in their designer boots and black winter coats, whose grocery lists run longer than their patience for strangers on the streets. Unlike New York, San Francisco is infused with a timeless charm much like Boston, with quaint Victorian houses and an aura of peace.
So if you’re planning on visiting San Francisco, you should try to check out these places:
Golden Gate Bridge
If you’re there in the winter like I was, you’ll have to brace yourself because it gets really, really cold. The breeze from the sea hits you like a million ice bricks. But the priceless view is worth every freezing second. Trust me.
Look at how cute my parents are! 🙂
Okay, so if you’ve seen Manhattan’s Chinatown, San Francisco’s might be a bit of a letdown because it’s really, really tiny. Two blocks, that’s all it is. Two long blocks. But to be fair, there are legit shops that you can’t find anywhere else but in Chinatown. Good Asian cuisine, for instance. And heaps of cheap souvenirs, like the quintessential “I LOVE SAN FRANCISCO” t-shirt and fridge magnets of the Golden Gate Bridge. Vendors in Chinatown are always cranky, so try not to piss them off with your bargains.
See that rectangular orange sign on the left? That’s a fortune cookie factory that lets you buy bags of fresh, crispy fortune cookies with little fortune slips shelled inside each cookie.
Downtown San Francisco
For shopping, good restaurants (King Of Thai Noodle House serves amazing Thai food!) and art museums, check out downtown San Francisco. Vintage trams are also available as a mode of transportation. How cool!
I have immense respect for the residents on Lombard Street. Here’s why.
Coined as one of America’s crookedest streets, Lombard Street is a fun, unforgettable experience. It’s like something out of a storybook, isn’t it? A magical land colored with crooked streets and fancy little houses, yet so peaceful and pretty. I wouldn’t advise driving there unless you’re extremely comfortable side-parking your car on a super steep hill, but there are easier ways to get there, like the tram or the bus.
The whimsical neighborhood is a major tourist attraction. Make sure you’ve got your comfy walking shoes on, because you can take a walk down Lombard Street all the way over to the Fisherman’s Wharf right by the water, passing a blend of classical and modish houses along the way.
Spanning a fraction of the northern waterfront area of San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf is a popular tourist spot with some of the best seafood in town. Buy some ice cream and stroll the waterfront, or watch the sea lions bathing in the sun, or catch a live performance by talented spray-paint artists who can generate amazing aerosol paintings at $10.
Chocolate lovers will adore this place! Located near the Fisherman’s Wharf, this factory offers heaps of yummy premium Ghirardelli chocolate, from chocolate bars to chocolate squares and more. Souvenirs are overpriced here, but you can walk into the factory for a free sampling of their chocolate of the month. In December 2012, it was the delicious peppermint bark — dark chocolate laced with peppermint bits. But beware of crowds — the number of people ruthlessly edging to get into the store can be overwhelming.
The first time I heard the words “Alcatraz Island,” my mind went to the magical land of Oz. But of course, I was so wrong. Alcatraz is an abandoned prison that once housed some of the most notorious crooks. Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud, George “Machine Gun” Kelly. There were a few breakout attempts, but nobody succeeded in making it back to civilization. Even if you escaped the draconian penitentiary grounds, you’d have to swim 1.25 miles through the deep, dark, dangerous waters just to get to the nearest shore.
To get to Alcatraz, you’ll have to board a ferry from Pier 33 at Fisherman’s Wharf. There are day and night tours. If you’re going for an educational, sunlit tour of the facility, then opt for the day tour. But if you’re feeling adventurous and wouldn’t mind entering a dingy old prison at night, haunted with the many tormented souls who died in anguish, then pick the night tour.
Rolling acres of lush grape plantations, clear blue skies, some of the best wine America has to offer. That’s Napa Valley for you. Napa Valley is much prettier in the spring and summer, when the leaves are not dried and withered on the ground. But it was still lovely in the winter. You can rent a car and drive up there, or join a bus tour that stops at several renowned wine estates and a pretty little town called Sonoma.
I was enthralled by the town’s vintage charm–wooden white pillars and lamp posts adorned with Christmas wreaths among pastel clapboard buildings. The afternoon was cloudy with a burst of sunlight, perfect for pictures.
At the end of our San Francisco trip, I hugged my family goodbye at the airport. We were flying to different parts of the world–they were going back to Malaysia, and I had to return to Arkansas to pack up my stuff and move to New York City. It was an emotional goodbye but that was probably our most exciting and adventurous family trip, sprinkled with lots of spontaneity. I made a couple of glitches during the planning–like overbooking our stay at a crappy AirBNB place–but they told me they loved every bit of the trip and I did too. 🙂