After a busy Sunday, that you can read about by clicking here, my penultimate day was one to take it a little more easily, so, with that in mind, we decided that after something of a lie in, we’d head over the Berkeley.
Again this is where the bay area’s public transport system comes into its own as we took the BART across the bay.
Acting something like London’s underground rail network, albeit with fewer lines, the BART stretches from Richmond and Pittsburg in the north to Millbrae and Fremont in the south, with work taking place to extend it as far as San Jose. This gives rapid access to all parts of the bay area for amazingly reasonable fares.
We joined the BART beneath Market Street and were soon on the east side of the bay emerging above ground in the industrial heart of Oakland. Famously one of the less desirable cities on the bay the section of Oakland seen from this train is predominantly warehouses and industrial buildings, that give way to rundown looking neighbourhoods of old wooden housing.
One thing that struck me here, as it had in other areas but was even more obvious in this setting, is how literally crossing the street can lead from major industrial works to housing with no kind of division, something that is rarely seen in other cities I’ve visited – outside the US anyway.
Continuing through the conurbation Oakland gives way, through a few other towns, to Berkeley, by which point the BART line is back underground. Exiting the station into the heart of Berkeley’s downtown shopping district the place has a much more relaxed, small-town, feel with, aside from the ever-present Starbucks, few of the major chains found in San Francisco.
Backing onto this area is the famous Berkeley campus of the University of California that, from the outside, looks like someone dropped a forest in the middle of the town.
Walking along its wooded paths its clear why this is such a popular college as it feels a world apart from its surroundings. With faux-classical buildings and an impressive bell tower at its centre it has exactly the feel one would expect from an American university campus and I could see why it is such a sought after institution, aesthetically at least.
To its south is another shopping area more clearly geared towards the captive student audience with many independent coffee shops, veggie and vegan restaurants and the like. However, unlike my past trip here in 2006 a lot of the other shops in between these seemed closed or on their last legs, no doubt further evidence of the past 10 years of economic trouble and giving the area something of a dilapidated and tired feeling at points in great contrast to the campus.
Also in this area we found the Berkeley branch of Amoeba Records that, while the smallest of the three, is still an impressive store with some great hidden gems amongst its racks of music, though I made the decision to leave them where they were on this occasion.
After a bit more time checking out games stores in search of some specifically patterned dice we headed back across the bay. On the journey back I was struck by the way the houses around the outskirts of the sprawl stretch up on the hills making for some rather precariously placed buildings and show just how quick and uncontrolled the development of these cities has been from virtually nothing 150 years ago to what we see now. While very apparent here the scale of this is even huger elsewhere but something about the precarious looking structures on the side of distant hills here made it somehow more striking.
Back in San Francisco, after a look around the fairly impressive Westfield shopping mall and a few others stores, we headed back up to North Beach for a meal at Calzone’s, which was far more enjoyable this time thanks to my body not thinking it was 4am and as well as the great pizza we discovered their garlic fries, and the fact that even a side was plenty enough to share as a main meal!
My last day in San Francisco was another comparatively quiet one that started out with a walk down Columbus towards Fisherman’s Wharf to have a look around the city’s tourist mecca on a slightly less busy day.
We started at In ‘n’ Out Burger which, while busier than any fast food restaurant I’ve seen, was worth the wait for their burgers which are clearly superior to other brands I’ve had and, while I should have asked them to hold the onions on the ‘Animal Style’ was very enjoyable if fast food is your thing.
Moving along to Pier 39 my memories of it were pretty much true as it is simply made up of a bunch of naff looking restaurants and gift shops, some of which match the seaside theme and others that don’t even fit that.
The best thing about the pier is the views across the bay from the end and the sea lions that lie on pontoons specially set up for them in the adjacent marina. Though this didn’t stop a few of their number attempting to get up on one of the nearby boats moored nearby.
Next to the pier is the Aquarium Of The Bay, which, on my last visit, I had very much enjoyed for its insight into the life under the nearby waters.
This time however, while I got to see a little more there, including sea otters which were as fun and adorable as I expected, I couldn’t help but feel that after the California Academy of Science this was over priced and not nearly as informative as it could be, making it disappointingly much more in keeping with the vibe of Pier 39.
To round off my last day in the city by the bay we headed back to Mikaku sushi bar for yet more very enjoyable sushi before walking my friend to the nearest BART station.
After that I thought it might be a good idea to see if I could find the coach station I would need to be at by 7am the next morning but drew something of a blank. Checking a map later I was only a block away at one point but the huge construction sites South of Market that will eventually become a faster route across the bay made it at best challenging to navigate.
Making my way back through Chinatown I returned to the apartment and booked a cab for 6:30 the following morning before my final night in the cosy, homely, AirBnB in the shadow of Telegraph Hill.