San Francisco has been on my travel list for a very long time. But last year we decided rather by chance and very spontaneously for this destination. Because it should actually go to Cuba. We already wanted to pay a visit to Cuba as part of our trip around the world. But because the flights were too expensive (even from Brazil), we postponed it again and again. Last year I had already bought a Loose travel guide, asked for a vacation in March, the perfect travel period for Cuba, and was about to book a flight. We hesitated because of the unbelievably expensive airfares and our hate airline Condor. So we just couldn't bring ourselves to push the "book" button.
Out of curiosity I looked one day for flights to San Francisco. A friend of mine lives there with her husband and child and we also wanted to visit her during our trip around the world. And lo and behold: The flights from Frankfurt to San Francisco and from L.A. back again with United Airlines were just half as expensive as the flights to Cuba. So we booked a vacation to America.
Best flight ever: Thanks to United
The road trip through California was definitely a great decision. Already the outbound flight we could enjoy to the fullest. I was very skeptical after the Condor mess and didn't expect anything at all from the long-haul flight – but I should be taught better. The flight with United was amazing. We had older gentlemen as stewards – and they were not only incredibly polite, funny, attentive and courteous, no, they also let me look through their back window to admire the wonderful landscape of Greenland. Basti and I were sitting in the middle and could never see out of the window very well.
Therefore I would like to express at this point again a big praise to United. There was always plenty of food (even honey ginger ice cream for dessert), plus snacks (u.a. pesto breadsticks) and we were always offered something to drink.
Speaking of food: We had packed us as a precaution enough snacks. Basti v.a. Salami and cheese and I had made myself a coconut milk porridge with blueberries (just boil up oatmeal with coconut milk and water) and made peanut butter sandwiches. I ate this only in San Francisco, because we were simply very well fed on the flight.
In addition, the (free of charge!) Movie offer super. Dear Condor, please take a lesson from United😉 .
Rental car: Don't let anyone talk you into anything
After a good 11.5 hours we landed in San Francisco and got in line at the Alamo right after picking up our luggage. There we had booked our rental car (approx. 500 Euro for a Nissan, easiest class when booking). At the counter the employee wanted to talk us into all kinds of additional things. Please do not fall for it! For example, we already had a USB port in the car, he wanted to sell it to us. He also advised us to buy a bigger (and of course more expensive) car. His argument: We would get stuck with the normal in Yosemite Park. That is absolute nonsense. The roads in the park were in a great condition and we didn't have any problems with the car.
Airbnb in Oakland
Because hotels and Airbnbs in San Francisco were too expensive, we chose an Airbnb in the suburb of Oakland. From there we had a very good connection to downtown by train (BART). $8.90 ride from Fruitvale Station (round trip, per person, in April 2019). We could leave the car free of charge on a large parking lot near the station. The parking lot is located at a Foodmax, where you can buy big papayas for just 2 US dollars (paradise for me).
Highlights in San Francisco
Let's get to our San Francisco highlights. We liked the city itself super well, v.a. the Victorian houses, the many hills from which you can enjoy great views and the diversity in the different neighborhoods (Chinatown, Japantown, the harbor etc).). By the way, the houses were built during the gold mining era in the middle of the 19th century. The first century of the 20th century. However, much of it was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire.
The most famous Victorian houses in San Francisco are the Painted Ladies, which we of course visited. From the small park opposite (Alamo Square) you have a nice view and can of course take many pictures.
The houses and also the park can be seen in the intro of the series "Full House". However, the exterior shot of the Tanner house was taken at 1709 Broderick Street. The interior shots were taken in the Warner Bros. Burbank Studios, which we also visited in Los Angeles.
Cable Car and E Embarcadero ("Hodihoo-Tour")
A "must do" besides a photo with the Painted Ladies is a ride on the Cable Car. At least that's what you think when you look at pictures and travelogues of San Francsico.
It is really impressive how steep the streets are in parts. A ride with a cable car costs 7 US dollars per person and gave us a short break from all the walking. You can do that sometimes, but you don't have to.
On the other hand, we found the ride on the historic E Embarcadero streetcar line much more fun ($5.50 for 2 people, pay appropriately because there is a change back). However, this was 100% due to our fabulous driver, who gave us a great "Hodihoo Tour"🙂 . Whenever we left she would say "Can I get a hodihoo" and everyone in the crowded car would yell "hodihoo". She also made very funny comments during the whole ride and always encouraged her passengers to join her. I wish the Germans were also as easy-going (and partly) crazy as the Americans often are. We can take a leaf out of this book (I also take it upon myself to do this).
Free Walking Tour (POPOS)
On our first day in the city we first wanted to get an overview with a free walking tour. I had already had great experiences with them in Warsaw and our Loose travel guide ("USA – The West") recommended us the San Francisco City Guides. We chose the POPOS tour.
POPOS are spaces that can be used by everyone (Privately Owned Public Open Space) and you can find them all over the city. It can be pretty rooftop gardens, or a "normal" garden, the entrance hall of a building or the meeting room of a company.
We also took a tour to Alcatraz. The famous prison island in front of the city we just did not want to miss. You should plan half a day for it in any case. Our ferry started at 13:30 and we were back on the mainland around 17:30.
Included were an audio guide tour, a movie, exploring the island on your own (you can take as much time as you need for that) and various stories told in the prison – u.a. about the (presumably) successful escape in 1962. Frank Morris, John and Clarence Anglin escaped at that time – however, it is not clear until today whether the three drowned or could save themselves ashore. The story was used as a template for the movie Escape from Alcatraz with Clint Eastwood.
All in all the visit was really interesting. We had already booked the tickets in Germany because we were not sure how big the crowd would be.
Clam Chowder at the Boudin
After the tour we were hungry – so it was the perfect time for Clam Chowder at the Boudin Bakery. The mussel stew is served in a freshly baked sourdough bread. Both tastes great and should not be missing on any San Francisco visit😉 . We also had unsweetened iced tea (including free refills) and some bread with dip beforehand. We paid approx. 18 U.S. dollars per serving. The waitress was visibly impressed because we had emptied our plates (including the advance bread).
Basically Free Bikes
Yes, we ate a lot in California. But we also moved around a lot. Most of the time we explored the city on foot, but on one day we switched to bikes. We rented them at Basically Free Bikes. And they really are – so practically for free. Because for the 25 US dollars per bike (from 12:30 to 17:30) we got vouchers.
We could spend the money in a huge sports outlet. Because we had booked online before, there was another 20% discount. In the outlet we stocked up on sunscreen and shampoo from SunBum (smells so good), for me there was a Roxy cap and socks for Basti. In the store there is actually everything what the sportsman heart desires (clothes, sunglasses, snowboards, surfboards etc).).
Bike tour: Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito
We shopped only on the way back – fortunately. Because the bike tour over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito is quite strenuous and hilly. But: Although I almost never ride a bike, I managed to overtake a guy with cycling shorts and a road bike going uphill, who then also dismounted! Ha!
By the way, Sausalito is a small sweet place, but it is packed with tourists. That's why we just walked through and then drove back again. On the way we made stops every now and then. Among other things, to watch sea lions at the water's edge. By the way, you can also see them at the ferry pier towards Alcatraz. Just keep your eyes on the water😉 .
Spectacular views over San Francisco
Some of San Francisco's hills we climbed on foot, of course. We had an amazing view from Telegraph Hill. Take the stairs from Montgomery Street in the evening and be sure to stay until it gets dark. Because then the city starts to glow and looks especially beautiful.
We can also recommend the "3-way-view" from Russian Hill. Here you can look in three different directions over the city and see the sea. That's pretty unique and very cool in San Francisco.
Downtown Oakland: Breakfast at Koffee Pot and a walk along the lake
On our last day, after a very good breakfast in downtown Oakland, we walked around Lake Merritt (free parking is available at the Convention Center). Afterwards we drove to Yosemite Park, which is about 2.5 hours away. I already told you about the breakfast at the Koffee Pot in my diner love post.
Breakfast tips for Oakland
By the way, we had breakfast every day in Oakland. We can also highly recommend the Buttercup Diner, which has been around since 1988 (the year I was born). I had a vegetarian omelette (Americans love omelettes – they always come in different variations) with grainy cream cheese (instead of potatoes or hash browns) and rye bread. Yes, you can eat healthy in the USA. For my three cups of filter coffee we paid just 3.25 US dollars! I would have loved to eat a homemade cake, but my omelet was so big that I just couldn't finish it..
We had an avocado bagel and an English muffin with salmon and scrambled eggs for breakfast at KEFA Cafe. This is kept very small and offers no menus. But everything was very tasty.
You will also get full at Nikko's Diner. We had there the Breakfast Burrito – once with Hash Browns for me and once with Corned Hash for Basti. We had four coffees and the whole thing cost only 32 US dollars. After that we were stuffed the whole day long.
Finally, a few thoughts about the "land of opportunity": We of course met up with my girlfriend who lives and works in San Leandro. She is married to an American and our dinner together (super yummy burritos) opened my eyes. We (I especially) tend to think: It's nicer somewhere else. Of course California is great and I wouldn't mind living there in principle.
But: I wouldn't want to miss my 30 days of vacation, nor would I want to miss our social system, job protection, public health insurance and the possibility to stay at home for up to three years as a mom. All this is anything but self-evident in America. Two weeks vacation per year (!) you only get there if your employer is nice. There is no statutory minimum vacation.