A third day in San Francisco and, if I hadn’t been already, today was a day to be a proper tourist.
Following a nice breakfast (more in the European than American vain I have to admit) I brought a ticket for an open top bus tour of the city and hopped on board right outside my hotel.
The first section of the tour relied on a recorded commentary through a set of headphones which, while interesting was a bit of the staid side, so, once I was round the Embarcadero and at Pier 39 I hopped off to take a look at the tourist-mecca of the city.
Pier 39 is a complex of restaurants and souvenir shops designed to cater to anyone who wants a quick fix of the city’s seafood and nature with impressive sea lions resting on the pontoons, views across the bay to Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, an aquarium and an abundance of restaurants and stores selling every form of tacky souvenir you could think of.
For me, as well as the impressive views and getting such a close up view of the sea lions, the highlight of Pier 39 was the Aquarium Of The Bay which gave a glimpse at the life that exists in the waters of the bay and out beyond the Golden Gate with sea life familiar to me such as crabs and abalone (or ormers as we call them) alongside sharks, rays and a frankly enormous sea bass in one of two huge tanks that feature ‘underwater’ tunnels.
The area surrounding Pier 39 is known as Fisherman’s Wharf and continues the uber-touristy theme, though also reflects the city’s rich maritime history through both a massive selection of seafood and a maritime national park that features a selection of ships dating from the 1800s to the second world war and really added an extra something to the otherwise fairly bland tourist fare.
Another ‘hidden gem’ of this area was the Musee Mecanique on Pier 45 that takes a look back through the history of the mechanical amusements that have filled arcades over the past 100 years or so, specifically in areas such as Fisherman’s Wharf the world over.
Amongst the various coin-op games and novelties were a range of classic arcade video games which fired a sense of nostalgia for me and some more vintage pieces such as early Kinetoscope type devices with their typically risqué posing as innocent picture shows and frankly creepy as hell singing puppets such as Jolly Jack the Singing Sailor. If you ever find yourself down at Fisherman’s Wharf seek this place out with a few spare quarters and have a go at over a century of entertainment.
After attempting to get a burger from In-N-Out Burger, following a recommendation, but finding it too busy to even get in the door, I jumped back on the open top bus to continue the city tour, this time with a live guide who was both informative and hugely entertaining as we headed through the Italian District, the ‘Barbary Coast’ and then headed down to Golden Gate Park via Union Square.
One of the main highlights of my trip, and I know its something of a cliché, was to come next as we headed under the Presidio and emerged to get my first close-up view of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
Crossing the bridge on an open top bus is certainly a bracing and invigorating experience as, while the sun was shining hot, the strong winds from the Pacific whipping through the narrow pass into the bay make for a blustery experience as tides race below the bridge and huge cargo ships slowly make their way out into the ocean.
Leaving San Francisco on the far side of the bridge the view back across the bay is like no other in the world with the span of the bay visible with iconic landmarks like the bridge, Alcatraz, the Transamerica Pyramid and the Bay Bridge all appearing along with real natural beauty. This captures something of the city’s unique appeal as nature rubs shoulders with a huge urban centre in better harmony than I have seen anywhere else in the world.