I was finally going to San Francisco, and as I have no hair to put flowers in, I thought I’d half follow the good advice of Scott McKenzie and stuck a couple of dandelions inside my helmet. Well actually they were dried figs, because I couldn’t find any dandelions (why are they never around when you need them?), and I’d just bought some dried figs from a Mexican at a road-side stall approaching San Francisco on Highway 1. I actually thought his catching sign meant ‘fresh figs’ (which is what it said) which I love, but I bought them anyway after feeling sorry for the guy (I think I was his only customer all day). Yes, I am a sucker for poor Mexican dried fig sellers.
I’d bought a sandwich earlier and stopped at Lands End, just south of the Golden Gate Bridge, to eat it for lunch as I entered San Francisco. I pulled over on the side of a quiet road with amazing views of the bridge, and there were no other parked cars along the whole stretch of empty road. It felt great to have the whole place to myself, and in a rare moment of total peace and harmony I was at one with the world. Then, just as I knew would happen, a car bimbled along and parked immediately next to me, ignoring the other 200 miles of empty parking spaces either side of me. While I am not adverse to company, sometimes I do wonder what goes through some people’s heads (or are they empty?). Anyway, and after taking a million snaps of the bridge the couple finally drove off leaving me in peace & harmony again.
I spent most of the day riding around as many ‘must-see’ sights as I could, including Twin Peaks (great view of the city & bay area), Golden Gate Park, Marin Headland (best bridge views) and Baker Beach before I checked into my luxurious accommodation – the San Francisco YHA.
The night before I had also stayed in a Youth Hostel, which was funny because not one person in there (including me) was youthful. I’m approaching ‘middle age’ (although I only look 21) and I must have been the 2nd youngest traveler there out of a dozen or so guests. It was only 20 miles south of San Francisco at Montara Point Lighthouse, but I was pretty tired after riding all day along the windy coastal Highway 1 and just wanted to crash on a real bed in a quiet, out-of-town area. I first looked for a place to stay in lovely Carmel or Monterey, but in the end decided not to remortgage my house to pay for a room and drive on further up the coast instead.
As it turned out that YHA hostel I found wasn’t the quiet night I had hoped for after all because I shared a dormitory with the World Champion Snorer from Holland and one really weird guy who went to bed at 1am and then decided to get up at 5am making the loudest noise possible as he did so, including some weird bag rustling routine for an hour or so. I felt like putting the bag over his head and suffocating him, but restrained myself. Just.
The Dutch snorer was cycling down Highway 1 and his daily routine consisted of getting up at 5am, cycling 100 miles and then collapsing exhausted & snoring all night, ready for a repeat the next day. Sounds great fun!
That restless night reminded me how much I HATE sharing rooms in hostels as I always seem to meet crazy people who keep me up half the night. I remember staying in the New York YMCA years ago and meeting a cocaine junkie from Manchester (UK) who had spent all his money on cocaine on the first day of his 2 week holiday. I couldn’t get rid of him and ended up giving him all the food & money I had left before I flew home, which wasn’t much as I was a skint student at the time. Sometimes I still wonder if he managed to survive…
Yet somehow I find myself sitting here in another Youth Hostel in San Francisco, yet to meet my 3 new dorm-mates. The main factor determining this reluctant decision is the extortionate price of every hotel room I could find at my usual short-notice investigation, rather like in Carmel & Monterey. I hope I don’t end up strangling one or all of my new ‘roomies’, as I am in no mood for crazy nighttime shenanigans.
Keen not to waste any time faffing around in the hostel, as soon as I’d checked in I showered and headed straight out on foot to explore this famous city, and have a pint of course. I already liked San Fran because the main city is actually quite concentrated allowing an energetic walker such as myself to walk all over, which I did. As my hostel was conveniently located at Fort Mason in North Beach, I headed first to Fisherman’s Wharf, a short walk east. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many delicious looking crab in one place, but somehow ended up having a ‘famous fishwich’ instead (fish sandwich) at a dodgy looking shack nearby. Whatever it was ‘famous’ for, I’m sure it wasn’t for being cheap and tasty, but it filled a hole (with grease).
Then it started to rain, so I walked across the road into one of the million Walgreens in San Fran (there really are!) to purchase an umbrella (as I didn’t want to get my hair wet) before moving onto Chinatown, the oldest one in North American (but not China). By now it was dark and still raining, so after a quick Chinatown tour on my iTouch (courtesy of TripAdvisor City Guides) I lowered my mizzen sail (aka umbrella) and altered course for the nearest watering hole, which happened to be an Irish Pub, which is usually the case. Of one thing I’m sure, and that is drinking local beer in a local (albeit Irish) pub is a pretty darn good end to any night out. And it was.