With great shopping and greater sights, the city of The Golden Gate more than lives up to its image. Pankaj Vohra writes.india Updated: Oct 31, 2009 21:54 IST
My association with San Francisco started long before I actually visited the city for the first time. In fact, my romance with the place commenced soon after I heard the two versions of If you are going to San Francisco by Scott McKenzie and Petula Clarke.
Hunter Thompson’s Hell Angels’ Frisco, about the notorious gangs on their Harley Davidsons, further aroused my curiosity. And the start of the Hippie movement from Haight Ashbury made me believe that SFO was, perhaps, also the most progressive city in the US.
The place turned out to be exactly as I had imagined it from the films and books that I saw and read. SFO is perhaps the most enchanting ocean-side retreat for a tourist to America. The views are breathtaking, the surroundings gorgeous, and they grow on you every time you go there. The weather is unpredictable and the strong breeze from the Pacific Ocean can in no time turn a warm summer day into a cold, damp afternoon. Mark Twain once commented that the coldest winter he spent was during a summer in San Francisco.
You get a panoramic view of the bay area from Pier 39 on Fisherman's Wharf. On one side is Alcatraz, once a Federal island penitentiary and, on the other, the Golden Gate Bridge. Angel Island, where Chinese immigrants were detained and screened, and Sausalito, with its cliff-hanging houses, are a part of the spectacular backdrop. If you tilt your head a little to right, you can see Oakland harbour far away, and also Berkeley, famous for its university.
Fisherman’s Wharf is the place for holidaymakers. It has a whole range of restaurants, mostly specialising in seafood, and many hotels. The famous Boudin Sourdough bread shop is located right in the middle and most major tours of the city begin here. Walking here is totally safe.
There are cable cars that take you to Powell Street, and thence to the shopper’s paradise on Union Square. The cable cars pass along the uneven streets with their steep ups and downs, and through the China Town area.
Back at the Wharf, there are cruises to the high security prison in Alcatraz, where ‘Scarface’ Al Capone and Machinegun Kelly were once lodged, as also to the Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito. Also, a visit to the twin peaks is a must as the entire bay area is visible from a height.
Created from barren land, the Golden Gate Park is a wonder in itself. Other sights to take in — the California Academy of Sciences and de Young museum, the planetarium at the Science museum and the zoo. Another must visit is the nearby Muir Woods, which has the glorious redwood trees, thousands of years old and large enough to contain 1,500 footballs.
The Union Square area has massive outlets of major designer brands; Macy’s alone occupies almost a block. This is a marvellous section of the city with elegant Victorian architecture.
Not all areas in San Francisco are safe. Mehmood, an Indian American, recommends not taking the sixth and eight streets after sundown.
Visitors should buy a City Pass booklet, allowing them to travel as many times as they want by municipal transport for one week and also has coupons for entry to the major attractions.
It was my fifth visit to the Golden City. I am already yearning to return.