As with Las Vegas, it is difficult to arrive in San Francisco without some preconceptions. Certainly, the first impression of the city, when driving over Oakland Bay Bridge, is striking as your eye is drawn to the distinctive skyline of the financial district and, in particular, the Transamerica Pyramid.
While the iconic Golden Gate Bridge serves as the city’s calling card, thriving Fisherman’s Wharf is the place to be. Crowds of tourists watch seals bask in the sun on Pier 39, while others stroll along a promenade lined with shops and restaurants.
Alcatraz features highly on many sightseeing to-do lists, and the audio tour of the island provides an informative view of the former high security prison. The fascinating Haight-Ashbury area was of greater personal interest though, where only the cars seem to have changed since the 1970s. This popular street throngs with hippies in tie dye shirts and represents a far more accurate reflection of San Francisco’s liberal attitudes than the regulated rules of Alcatraz.
The encouragement of individualism was evident by the numerous eccentric outfits worn across the city and the public displays of singing and dancing by people as they walked along the street. While I had anticipated such exuberance, I had not expected to find the relatively large homeless population that inhabits San Francisco. A more pleasant surprise were the city’s parks, such as Golden Gate Park and Land’s End, and, further afield, in pretty suburbs such as Sausalito.
San Francisco has left a lasting impression. The steep roads (or should that be prices?) and recognisable landmarks all surpassed my expectations and the city undoubtedly deserves its fine reputation.