Last destination for the US
14.11.2010 - 18.11.2010 25 °C
After spending a few days in Canada it was time to return back to the US with a trip to San Francisco. I was quite excited by this point as I had heard so much about this awesome city. The flight there went through Minneapolis in Minnesota, and interestingly it was snowing there when it wasn't even snowing in Ontario yet. I got to meet some interesting people on the flight as well, who lived just south of San Fran and gave me some great tips on what to do in the following days- they recommended seeing the famed red woods, either a bit north or south from the city, as well as checking out some other areas around the San Francisco bay.
Shaun and I arrived that night, and there were some awesome views of the bay and San Francisco as we travelled by shuttle to our hotel. The hotel we stayed at was amazing- Hotel Tomo in the Japantown area of SF, so everything was Japanese themed (think anime, strange vending machines, video games, etc.) We decided to try our luck with some of the local Japanese food for dinner (even though it was already around 11pm), and found a small restaurant for some sushi and teriyaki chicken. Wasn't the best japanese food I've ever had, but was authentic enough inside and we were kindof at a last resort as most of the restaurants were closed already (strange for such a large city to have such early closing times- much different to New York).
Inside Hotel Tomo with cool Japanese themed rooms
We spent the next morning exploring a little of the SF downtown area (a little since the city is unexpectedly huge for being within a supposed 7 by 7 mile area). The walk down from the hotel to downtown was amazing- such beautiful houses which were all quite similar, 2-3 stories and seemingly Edwardian or Victorian in style (though this is actually a trick since most of the city's houses burned down in the early 1900s and were rebuilt in an imitative style). After a short time we arrived at Union Square, in the centre of downtown SF, and noticed some of the city's famed trams. We decided to catch the tram to Pier 39 on the harbour, and the ride was cool, going up some of the steep streets in an old rickety lever-operated tram. By this time, David and Dad had just arrived at SF, and we decided to meet them at the pier. Views from the pier were amazing- straight away seeing glimpses of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate bridge. The area had a really cool vibe too, with various street performers breakdancing and playing jazz music. After spending a little time around the pier, visiting another Hard Rock café and taking some of the great views, we met up with David and Dad and had some lunch down at the pier- mm, fresh fish and chips and a Corona (in a can too! Never seen this before). Sitting down to eat on the pier seemed like a mistake, though, as we were immediately swarmed by a group of seagulls (and these were massive, dwarfing those gulls we find in Sydney). The sight of a SF gull landing nearby to snatch your chips was quite intimidating, and we even saw people being attacked for their food.
Catching the tram in Union Square
Views of Pier 39
After lunch we all decided to rent a bike and go cycle over the Golden Gate. I highly recommend this, as we had an awesome time doing so. Our cycle route took us from the pier up to Fort Mason, on a hill with more amazing views, through parklands, beaches, more wharves, expensive houses, dunes and up to the Golden Gate. Riding on the Golden Gate was amazing, and really gave perspective on how huge this bridge is. As well as this, the riding lanes and infrastructure available for cycling in this city was amazing, and we had no trouble negotiating our way across to Sausalito, a small town on San Francisco Bay. From Sausalito we took the ferry bay to downtown SF and were lucky enough in our timing to see the Golden Gate in front of a stunning sunset, as well as passing closeby to Alcatraz Island. From the pier we arrived at we rode to Pier 39 to return the cycles, and this was a really cool experience, working our way through a bustling scene of harbourside restaurants, souvenir shops, industrial wharves and waterfront parks. Having had our fill, we all caught a bus back to downtown SF and decided to work our way to Haight-Ashbury for dinner. The Haight Ashbury area in SF was renowned for its "hippy" culture, influence and presence in the 1960s, and still keeps some of its charm in the form of record stores selling cool 60s and 70s albums. The place we chose for dinner was an Italian wine bar, and the food and drinks were amazing- pizza with some Italian red wine. Dad and I even managed to convince Shaun to try some of the wine- he had now become a fan.
Dad, David and I in front of the Golden Gate bridge
Shaun on the Ferry back from Sausalito
Sunset under the Golden Gate viewed from the Ferry
Arriving back at port in San Francisco
Pier 39 at night
Catching the bus to Haight-Ashbury
The next day we decided to pay a visit to Silicon Valley, an area south of San Francisco famous for being the heart of the IT world, situated with many IT-related companies such as Google, Facebook, HP and eBay. We thought that the best way to do this was to print off a tour route from the internet and hire a car to drive around the valley, with tours being either nonexistent or very expensive. I was a little nervous about renting a car, since I had not driven on the right-hand side before, though my Dad assured me that I'd quickly get used to it, since I had been driving for quite a few years now. My nervousness blossomed into panic as I drove the rental car onto the streets of downtown SF- "you're too far to the left!", "get into the right lane!", etc etc. This was further complicated by immediate GPS troubles, as Shaun could not get the provided GPS working. Thus, it was now our mission to work through the series of one-way streets in downtown SF back to the rental station and get a working GPS. Luckily this was not too bad (traffic was quite light, fortunately), and the rental company provided a new GPS. With this problem settled we set the destination to our first stop in Silicon Valley- the garage where the Hewlett Packard (HP) company was formed. Fortunately for us the trip from SF to the Silicon Valley was mostly a straight expressway, and I had little trouble working my way to the first stop. Upon entering the suburbs of the valley, we were all impressed by the houses- in the words of Shaun, it looked like something out of "Desperate Housewives", with each house being immaculately kept, with nice lawns, etc. It was interesting getting to know some more of the history of the Silicon Valley, which had apparently been an initiative of a Stanford college professor to build up the local Californian technology industry, as talent in this area was usually going to the East Coast, such as Boston (MIT) and New York. After visiting the "HP garage", where founders of HP pioneered the Silicon Valley, we decided to cruise past a few company headquarters, including Skype, HP and VMWare. Navigating through left hand turns onto main roads without traffic lights was also a scary experience, and I was lucky I only had to do this a few times!
After driving by a few famous IT company headquarters, we arrived at the Computer History Museum, only to find that it was closed for maintenance and upgrades! So unlucky, but we were able to get directions to the Google headquarters from the receptionist who insisted that there was a "public tour" available for Google. It turned out that Google HQ was within walking distance, so we strolled on over to Mountain View and got excited by the increasing sights of Google signage. Pretty soon we were at the HQ, and unwillingly we walked straight into Google campus! This was a little strange, as we knew we were most likely not allowed in, but then everyone was pretty relaxed about it. We went further around the HQ to try and find a visitors centre, as we were still under the impression that a public tour was available. It was funny to see that Google had their own trademark bicycles hanging around in most places, and I could definitely see the use of them in getting around the massive complex. Soon we arrived at what we thought was a visitors centre, with glimpses of a Google merchandise store. My brother and dad, thinking this was also a public area, walked straight into the shop, while Shaun and I stayed back and asked the receptionist if any tours were available. We were surprised (well, really not that surprised) to find out that there were no actual public tours, and that only corporate visitors were allowed within the complex, including the giftshop. Shaun made mention that my dad and brother were in the shop and funnily, the receptionist replied "oh, that probably isn't a good thing" and messaged security to escort them out- they were so close to buying some Google shirts too! Oh well, at least we had looked around some of the Googleplex, but in doing so we wasted quite a bit of time in the hope that we'd have some sort of tour. Disheartened, we walked back to the car and drove on to the Intel Museum, which we knew for sure was open for the public
The car we hired, a Chevy Malibu- not very tropical!
The HP Garage in the Silicon Valley
Outside Google HQ
Outside the Intel Museum
The Intel Museum was interesting in that it showed much of the history of the company and its use of silicon in its processor manufacturing. I also got to pick up some souvenirs in the process Finally, we had decided to pay a visit to the Tech Museum in San Jose, which was meant to be quite good. It was getting quite late in the afternoon so we hurriedly made our way back to the expressway and drove into the small city of San Jose, casually driving past the Adobe headquarters and parking near the museum. Unfortunately, on a day of some disappointment, the museum had just closed! After looking around some of the souvenirs in the giftshop, we all made our way back to SF for dinner. On this drive I also experienced my first traffic jam in the US whilst driving :P, though amazingly, we were one of the only cars with more than one person inside, and so we ended up speeding down the transit lane in record time. Dinner that night was at "Mel's Drive-In", a classic, all-American 50s styled diner where we could park the car and have some deliciously greasy food - on the agenda for the evening were hamburgers, milkshakes and fries
Sunset in San Jose
The next day I organised for us to visit Alcatraz, which was quite simple when done over the Internet and, despite being told we'd most likely not be able to get tickets due to over-booking, I easily got tickets for all 4 of us. Visiting Alcatraz was amazing! First of all, when arriving via ferry, there was a foreboding fog on the harbour, and we eventually saw the island arise from the mist. This only made the trip more eerie and heightened the experience. For looking around the island, we each got some funky audio tour equipment which directed us on where to go and what to see. It was interesting getting to learn about some of the former prisoners of Alcatraz, and how life was like on the rock. One of the worst things for the prisoners, I thought, was how beckoningly close SF looked from the island. There were beautiful cityscape views directly from the island, though the visibly strong currents in the water, combined with the threat of sharks and freezing water temperatures, ensured that prisoners were unable to escape. Another interesting fact was that regular civilians and children also lived on the island, separated from the prisoners in their own little village. These children would have to catch ferries to and from SF for schooling, and there was such security that whenever the prisoners were let out of their cells, the children would not be allowed out of their houses. I thought it was amazing that children could live on an enclosed island full of prisoners!
Welcome to Alcatraz..
Let me out!!
After having our fill of touring Alcatraz, we all went back to have dinner in SF downtown, near Union Square- all you can eat Indian buffet! The day ended with an early night, as Shaun and I would be flying off to Peru the next day on a 7:30 am flight from SFO. The shuttle bus was to collect us at around 3:30, which was painful but necessary for an international flight. And so our trip in the US was at an end, and the time we spent in SF was wonderful but too short, in my opinion. SF is a city I'd really consider living in or at least visiting again sometime soon, as it was so laid-back, had beautiful sights, many things to do and really reminded me a little bit of Sydney (especially with the harbour lifestyle).