(Day 14, 15 & 16)
San Francisco would be our first big city in the US, surrounded by the bay, world famous Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz prison the city is amongst the most popular cities to visit in the world.
With nearby Silicon Valley making everyone super rich, doing San Fran on the cheap wasn’t going to be easy, especially as we needed to find somewhere to park Tyrone for a few days as well. Luckily we found a budget motel, The Van Ness Inn well located (near the piers) with free parking and breakfast for $118 per night (including those stealth USA taxes). The motel was perfect for what we needed - I couldn’t fault it and we had paid similar money for similar hotels but in the middle of nowhere so to get this in San Francisco seemed like a real win.
After leaving camp earlier in the day we continued down route 1 until we could go no further and had to drive up and over the Marin headlands. Here we stopped for breakfast before heading towards the city via the Golden Gate Bridge.
The bridge is similar to the severn bridge on the M4, you only pay 1 way and like all San Francisco bridges the toll is on the entry bound way only. As we approached it, small signs along the road flashed up ‘no cash on bridge’ so we had to get off at the last junction to figure out what we were supposed to do! After being reassured by the locals that the toll fee would simply be posted back to our rental car company for us to pay later, we headed over the famous bridge (complete with the famous fog) and entered the city. (I’m still not sure if I mistakenly passed through an express gate, but I'm sure the $481 violation fee that we might have waiting for us in Vancouver will let me know).
Our first afternoon in the city we headed up to Lombard Street to join the masses on the world’s most crooked street before heading down to the famous harbour area for a look around and to see the sea lions. Only a few sea lions were there though as the rest had rather selfishly migrated elsewhere for the summer so we’ll have to go back on another trip to see the full show…
The earlier fog had cleared so we spent the rest of the day walking the 2-3 miles down the beach to watch the sunset over the bridge - a great view.
With Alcatraz fully booked up, we spent our second day putting some miles in around the extremely hilly streets, taking in Washington Square and then the Coit Tower. (You can go up for $8). After walking down the less crowded side of the hill through some spectacular gardens we stumbled across Levi’s head quarters so we popped in to have a look at the exhibition room complete with jeans from 1880 something (I think my jeans look about that old after 5 months on the road).
The Market Place next to the Bay Bridge (actually San Fran’s longest bridge), the fancy shops around Union Square and China town all came next on the traditional Lee Scott Miller walking tour before heading back to the hotel for a quick pit stop.
Being on a budget for so long, and spending most of the last 2 weeks in our tent, we did think about heading out for dinner but instead rather shamelessly hit up the saver menu at McDonalds instead! We then used the saved pennies to go on the last harbour cruise of the day (but not quite sunset - bloody summer daylight!) which took us under the Golden Gate bridge and around Alcatraz. The big boats charge $28 and up for the hour long cruise but the smaller fishing boats along the harbour do the exact same trip for $15! No brainer! Sailing on a smaller boat, you do get a bit of sea spray in the face but that makes it a more authentic experience in my opinion!
Passing around the back of Alcatraz was a cool sight - seeing all the detail not visible from the shore up close. The Alcatraz tours sell out weeks (if not months) in advance so if its on your to-do list then you need to book as soon as you can.
Knowing that showers and wifi might be hard to come by over the next few days we headed back to the hotel to pamper ourselves (well, George did) and research as much as we could for the next week or so.
After George’s record haul from the breakfast buffet (10 muffins and a banana stashed in her pockets for later) we set off through downtown and over the bay bridge out of San Francisco heading east.
The original plan was to continue south along Route 1 to LA and then east and up through the national parks but we had since decided that we could do this trip as a proper holiday at a later date. Our change of route means that the trip now has time for some other places along the way, namely Yellowstone National Park and maybe (very maybe) Mount Rushmore.
Without a campsite in Yosemite that night we took our time driving and stopped off at an old gold mining town, Columbia. The town itself was a success during the 19th century California gold rush times and has been preserved so that it still stands as it did way back then - complete with actors to set the scene. Columbia also has novelty gold panning, where for $5 you can rent one of their gold pans in the troughs outside to find your very own gold. I found a couple of very small nuggets but mostly small garnets in my haul (just to note, for $2.50 in the shop you could buy 100 times more gold than we found!)
We would have liked to stay longer in Columbia to take in the town but the near 40 degree heat made it extremely difficult to stay outside for more than a couple of hours.
After restocking on camping supplies at a nearby Walmart we headed to Yosemite, in particular to a National Forest area just outside the park where I had read that you could camp for free along a certain road. After a big drive up into the hills I found the road and sure enough dotted along in the openings were other campers bunking down for the night. We found our own little spot, made dinner and then went to sleep - in Tyrone!