San Francisco - The Golden City
It was the month of December and my wife and I were heading west to the golden state of California on vacation. I had been to California once but it was a business trip and there was very little I could see however the state gave me enough reasons on my first visit to come back and spend a much more splendid time. I reached home a bit late on the last day as there was lot of work to finish, my wife had already packed and I had dinner and slept.
Next morning my wife and I boarded the flight to San Francisco and in this story I shall stick to San Francisco although we spent only two days in this city as we visited L.A, Las Vegas and Grand Canyon on what was to be one heck of a road trip. We landed in San Francisco on time, it was a bit late in the morning and I had booked a rental car from the airport. The weather was cool and not frigid like my home city of St Louis.I drove up to the motel and on the way called my friend ‘Prasan’ who had been living there for 2 years, he had known of our plan well in advance and he had volunteered to show us around. It took him about 2 hours to reach the motel as he lived quite far and after greetings and hugs we decided to head out. My wife had very thoughtfully planned out the trip and the key places to visit, unlike me she is organized.
The first and foremost on the list was a small forest reserve called Muir Woods which was about 30 miles or so from the city center, the drive was a bit of a scare for me as I was not used to so much traffic but I picked up fast. On our way we had to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, which was spectacular by all means, as I had allotted a few hours next day for the bridge, I did not stop and drove along slowly admiring its beauty.Prasan sat next to me as he knew the city and could navigate better than the GPS. We finally reached the forest reserve and it was about 4 PM... Deep in the mountains this reserve forest was created to preserve the giant Red Wood Trees of California. I had read in 5th standard about red wood trees and now after 20 years was looking at one and boy was it big, it was the biggest living organism the three of us had ever seen and ever will see. We learned that some of those trees were 2000 years old and they do not die unless cut down or due to natural disasters. They were incredibly tall and the thick canopy of the trees made the forest extremely dark. We took pictures and beat a retreat as it was getting dark.
Next on the list was the Ghirardelli chocolate factory. Prasan knew the way very well as he was a regular customer, the factory building was huge, however most it was not being used and only a small part was open where we got free chocolate samples and we ordered three giant chocolate ice creams with fancy names like Lava, volcano forest etc. While the order was being processed we walked around and saw some old machinery which was still being used to grind and melt chocolate. The dark brown thick liquid flowing from one giant container into another made our mouth water but luckily before we took a plunge into the chocolate grinder, our orders arrived and we had a blast of an evening enjoying the desert with casual old time banter. After the gluttony at the factory, we went out to walk the streets of SFO and along the bay where there were small boats anchored and a beautiful evening breeze sometimes chilly reminding us it that it was December. There were a few Christmas trees on the way beautifully decorated with lights, there were people walking and wishing us Merry Christmas, and we were high on Christmas spirit and why not, it was after all the 25th. It was close to 9 PM when we headed back, by old mate took us to an Indian restaurant where we packed dinner. Went to our room and passed out.
The next morning we started early to make up for what we lost the day before. Prasan took us straight back to downtown SFO where we had a VEGAN breakfast at Mels diner which was superb. One thing about downtown SFO, you will never find a McDonalds or Burger King as the city has preserved its heritage of little family owned restaurants which cook great food and maintain a retro appeal. The morning was beautiful, the sun was bright, the weather was pleasant and we had our next pit stop at the top of a mountain. The Twin peaks are the tallest peaks in the city, but getting there is a tough ask. In fact driving anywhere in the city is a tough job as the terrain is mountainous and the roads do not go in circles as one would expect, instead they go straight up and straight down. After some hardcore driving and a lot of good luck we made it to the top where we parked and climbed the goat track to the top of the peaks. At that moment when I was at the top of the tallest peak in the city I could relate to what Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary must have felt. It is a very powerful feeling to be on top of the world. The view was breathtaking, on the one hand was the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge and on the other was the city itself with the blue ocean in the backdrop looking like a silk silhouette.
Next we drove through China town, took pictures and headed for the Golden Gate Bridge. I parked at the vista point and unfortunately it started raining. We put on our jackets and started walking the long bridge. I have seen quite a few buildings and bridges but this was in a completely different league. It was hard to believe that something like this was built by human beings and that too in 1937. The Bridge is very high so as to let ships pass under it, at a distance we could see the Alcatraz island which was a prison, the ocean under us was ferocious and the bridge itself was so magnificent that it made my eyes water although I told my wife I caught rain drops in my eye. We headed back to the car after taking pictures and went for a second time into the city. The drive was very tough as it was raining and the car had a lot of trouble keeping traction on those extremely steep and slippery roads, we drove through a street called Crooked(est) street and also many other roads which feature in the Epic car chase scene of the movie: Bullitt.
Finally we arrived at a part of town called little Italy where we had authentic Italian dinner. We stopped by a very beautiful Chapel and then headed back. The next morning we set off for the next leg of the journey- driving to Los Angeles along what is called the most beautiful road in USA – The Pacific Coast Highway or Route 1, but that is a different story.
San Francisco is without a doubt the most beautiful city I have seen and if you ask me on what grounds I am saying this, I will in my defense say that I have seen NY, Chicago, LA, Miami, San Diego, Washington DC ( and a few other smaller cities) and without a figment of doubt I can vouch that SFO is in a completely different league. It feels like being in a different country, the natural beauty along with the artistic ideas of the city planners has made it an envy for the rest. The magic this city cast on me is still there and my wife and I still talk about this particular trip. One thing is for sure, People will keep coming back to San Francisco.
Places to visit: Fishermen’s Warf, Golden Gate bridge, Bay bridge, China Town, Twin peaks, Alcatraz prison, Ghirardelli Chocolate factory, Trolley cars, Crooked street, Little Italy, Muir Woods Park and if time permits Napa Valley.
Best time: Any time except peak summers.