Holiday Destinations - San Francisco
- Credit: Getty Images
Our columnist Justin Moorhouse enjoys – or maybe endures – a little Lancashire weather on a family holiday in San Francisco.
It’d been a pleasant flight, more than pleasant to be honest. Years of budget airlines and short hops to Spain had almost removed that idea that air travel is glamorous, well it can be. Those almost antique films of trans-Atlantic luxury feel a million miles away from cramming your family into the smallest space possible after being financially hammered for the temerity of wanting to take a suitcase on holiday.
Anyhow, a touch of that glamour was what we were experiencing, the four of us: mum, dad, 20-year-old student son and 12-year-old daughter, lucky to be enjoying Virgin Atlantic’s new direct flight from Manchester to San Francisco. As the plane banked for its final approach I peered out of the window desperate for a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. Searching for that familiar reddish steel structure I considered the similarity of trips on the M55 heading for Blackpool and looking for the tower.
What I didn’t expect when I arrived in California was that the weather had a touch of the Fylde Coast about it too. It’s mid-July and there’s a slight chill in the air, coupled with a rolling fog that’s normal apparently, there’s a quote attributed to Mark Twain that says ‘the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco’. Which isn’t fair, the sun shines and it’s warm, but boy when that fog rolls in, you could imagine you were in Cleveleys and not California
Later that night, after checking in, jet lag hunger arrives. Leaving the girls, the eldest and I ventured into the night looking for some authentic grub. We hadn’t gone more than 50 metres from our hotel door when we stumbled to a place we would call home for the next few days. The Pinecrest Diner is everything you’d expect from a 24 hour eatery that’s been serving San Franciscans for generations – warm welcome, hot coffee, huge portions and reasonable prices. Honestly – you’ll eat better food in the fancier places paying top whack, but you’ll enjoy this more. The next morning, after our second meal in nine hours at Pinecrest, we began to explore.
I’m a massive fan of the open top bus tour, and we weren’t disappointed by City Tour from the Gray Line. A reasonable price, negotiated by enthusiastic staff and a tour guide I’m calling Barry – I’m devastated to say I ‘think’ this is what his name was, but it could be that he reminded me of my father-in-law Barry. Anyhow, our San Fran Barry was brilliant. Informed, funny, honest and an ambassador for his city beyond anything you’d expect. Hopping off and on the bus is a great idea around any city and first hop off we did was at the Golden Gate Bridge, a perfect point for photos. We took the decision – well, I did – to walk across and the bracing jaunt was almost appreciated by every member of our family.
We jumped back on the bus for a quick stop at Sausalito, a lovely town with a great selection of places for lunch, before heading back across the bridge with its brilliant views of our next morning’s destination, Alcatraz.
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The rest of the day we breezed though San Francisco’s best bits, we marvelled at the Victorian Painted Ladies houses, listened intently as San Fran Barry regaled us with his stories of Haight-Ashbury and the counter culture of San Francisco. The bus took us through the Golden Gate Park which is vast and perhaps, with its many attractions, worth a day on its own to be honest. The must do’s stack up one after another – Chinatown is magnificent, Lombard Street and its snaking famous thoroughfare is a hit.
I’d not be being true to myself if I didn’t mention the homelessness and poverty you see across the city, and in the Tenderloin area in particular, the ever-great Barry attempts to explain, saying San Francisco welcomes all people and has a policy to look after them so therefore people migrate here from all over. While I haven’t the facts at hand to back that up, I’d not be surprised that a city that has by nature had to heal and rebuild itself more than once after devastating earthquakes might have that in its soul.
My only personal let down was the Pier 39 area, we’d looked forward to seeing the famous sea lions here and they were great; noisy, playful, lazing around – they sort of reminded me of myself, but the rest of the area felt like a real soulless tourist trap. A bit plastic and overpriced compared to the rest of the vibrant, diverse city.
Every person I spoke to prior to our trip said Alcatraz was a ‘must-do’. Let me add to that throng. What a fantastic experience. Everything from the boat trip, to the impromptu welcome as we gathered on the quayside to the actual cell house tour itself is perfectly planned and fantastically executed. The audio descriptions on your personal sets are informative and evocative, you can feel yourself in the prison and almost smell the desperation of the men. A must see, book in advance half day experience.
Our final day was spent at the ball game. I’m a football fan, I like cricket, I know nothing of baseball. But within five minutes I was hooked. It was a Wednesday afternoon but the AT&T Park, in its beautiful location right next to the bay where a ball can splash into the water, was full of thousands of people taking the day off work to watch sport. I say watch sport, there’s more fabulous food than I’ve ever seen at any other sporting venue, wine tasting, hot roasts, vegan deli, clam chowder, craft beers, great coffee and and a portion of garlic fries that I can still taste weeks later. If you are this way you must visit – who cares if you understand the game, you’ll be singing “take me to the ball game” with rest of them in the middle of the seventh innings.
Tony Bennett isn’t the only one to leave his heart in San Francisco, a part of the Moorhouses’ will forever be there. What a city – great people, great food, stunning scenery and weather that almost reminds us of home.
Justin flew with Virgin Atlantic from Manchester Airport. For more information, go to virginatlantic.com