A warm welcome to you! Now this edition of the London Wlogger is a little bit different as on this occasion I’m turning into the San Fran Wlogger, as I explore some of the city’s best sights, landmarks, parks and wonders. I’ve recently got back from a two week trip to San Francisco, a destination that I’ve always wanted to visit and in this special wlog post, I’m going to share my highlights from the places I’ve seen on my walks around Northern California.
My walking adventure of San Francisco will see me discover landmarks from the Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park to Angel Island and Alcatraz. The trip was one of my favourite I’ve done, and I hope you enjoy following me on my journey!
The Golden Gate Bridge
The first landmark on my expedition to San Francisco was the Golden Gate Bridge, which to be honest was one of the main reasons I’ve always wanted to visit San Fran! To get there I took a pleasant walk through the Presidio of San Francisco. The stroll through this wooded area is so tranquil as you only get the odd car going past, but there’s great excitement when you finally see the bridge in the distance!
I’ve seen many bridges in London throughout my walks, but the Golden Gate Bridge is something else, extremely awe-inspiring as it towers over the river and city. Compared to our London bridges, this one is a monster! Walking along it you feel so small as the structure is vast and extremely impressive. I think what makes this bridge such a well-known landmark is the colour, the striking international orange really does stand out in the skyline. It takes about 25 or so minutes to walk over it and the views either side are truly breathtaking. On one side you have the Marin Headlands and on the other you get to see the stunning city skyline, Angel Island and Alcatraz.
Designed by Joseph Strauss, Charles Ellis, Leon Solomon Moisseiff and Irving Morrow, the bridge opened in 1937. With a main span of 4,200 ft (1,280 m) and a total height of 746 feet (227 m), it was at the time of its construction the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world. However, those titles have since gone, with the longest suspension bridge in the world now being the Danyang–Kunshan Grand Bridge in China, which connects the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway and has a span of 540,700 ft (164,800 m). The tallest bridge in the world is now the Millau Viaduct in France, which is 1,104 ft (336.4 m) in height.
Located over the Pacific Ocean, it links San Francisco — the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula — to Marin County, carrying both U.S. Route 101 and California State Route 1 across the strait. The name of the bridge derives from the Golden Gate Strait, which itself got its name in 1846 when an American topographer felt the strait reminded him of a Byzantium harbour known as “Golden Horn”.
To get another incredible view of the bridge, I walked over to the Marin Headlands, which is a hilly peninsula at the southernmost end of Marin County, California, located just north of San Francisco and is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
I did quite a few timelapses on my trip to San Francisco, and here’s the first of them!
And the second timelapse!
The Golden Gate Bridge wasn’t the only bridge that I discovered, as I also had the pleasure to see the Bay Bridge too! Known by its full name of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, it was designed by Charles H. Purcell, opening on November 1936, six months before the Golden Gate Bridge.
The bridge has two sections of roughly equal length; the older western section, officially known as the Willie L. Brown Jr. Bridge (after former San Francisco Mayor and California State Assembly Speaker Willie L. Brown Jr.), connects downtown San Francisco to Yerba Buena Island, and the newer unnamed eastern section connects the island to Oakland. The western section is a double suspension bridge with two decks, westbound traffic being carried on the upper deck, while eastbound is carried on the lower one.
The total length of the bridge is 4.46 miles (7.18km), with a width on the west of 57.5 ft (17.5m) and 258.33 ft (78.74m) to the east. The west span is 2,310 ft (704m) and the east is 1,400 ft (430m), with a height of 526 ft (160m). During the 1989 Earthquake, a part of the eastern section of the upper deck collapsed onto the lower deck and the bridge closed for a month. The bridge also had reconstruction undertaken on it in 2002 with the new eastern section opening in 2013.
You get the feeling that the Bay Bridge plays second fiddle to the Golden Gate Bridge, as whenever you think of San Francisco bridges, many won’t really consider it. But it really is a mightily impressive structure, which is only enhanced by the rippling of the water under it and the clear blue skies.
Golden Gate Park
Created in 1871 and consisting of 1,017 acres (412 ha), Golden Gate Park is a large urban park and with 24 million visits a year, it’s the third most-visited city park in the USA after Central Park and the Lincoln Memorial. The park has a vast array of different features including woodlands, gardens, flowers, wildlife and museums.
The park is home to the Shakespeare Garden, which dates back to 1928 and was the brainchild of Alice Eastwood. With more than 200 flowers and plants situated within it that were mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare, it truly is a little hidden treasure, which is both peaceful and pretty.
Japanese Tea Garden
There’s something quite beautiful about a Japanese Garden, it’s one of the few places where you sit in a peaceful and picturesque location where you instantly feel calm. I’ve explored Kyoto Gardens in Holland Park, but the tea garden in San Francisco is so stunning too.
The garden was originally created as a “Japanese Village” exhibit for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition. When the fair closed, Japanese landscape architect Makoto Hagiwara and superintendent John McLaren reached a gentleman’s agreement, allowing Mr. Hagiwara to create and maintain a permanent Japanese style garden as a gift for posterity. Mr. Hagiwara expanded the garden to its current size of approximately 5 acres where he and his family lived for many years until 1942 when they, along with approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans, were forced to evacuate their homes and move into internment camps. When the war was over, the Hagiwara family weren’t allowed to return to their home at the tea garden and in subsequent years, many Hagiwara family treasures were removed and new additions were made.
With pagodas, stone lanterns, stepping stone paths, bridges, a koi pond and an array of lovely flowers and plants, the garden is something beautiful to behold and with every corner of it you get to experience all its natural wonder and many surprises.
San Francisco Botanical Gardens
London has Kew, but San Francisco has its own amazing botanical garden too! With a combination of lovely scents and vibrant colours, the garden offers you 55 acres (22 ha) of picturesque landscaped gardens and open spaces showcasing nearly 9,000 different kinds of plants and flowers from all over the world. This makes it the largest garden of its type in the West Coast! The collections within the garden cover plants and flowers from the mediterranean, mid-temperature climate, montane tropic and speciality collections.
The history of the San Francisco Botanical Garden dates back to the 1890s and was the vision of the park supervisor, John McLaren. However, due to a lack of funds, the gardens didn’t begin their construction until 1926 as a result of funds contributed by Helene Strybing. Planting began in 1937, with the gardens opening to the public in 1940.
One aspect about the gardens I loved was just the range of flowers and plants, which cover every country and climate. It’s such a vast area, so you need to take your time to ensure you see it all and it does seem to get bigger everytime you walk around it.
A park wouldn’t be complete without a lake area, and the Stow Lake within Golden Gate Park provides you with a slice of scenic splendour!
Measuring 430 ft (131 m) into the air, Strawberry Hill is the highest point in Golden Gate Park with some of the best views across the city, including the Golden Gate Bridge, can you spot it in one of my photos?! The hill is an island, which you can get to via either the Rustic Bridge or the Roman Bridge at Stow Lake. These have enabled visitors to visit the island since 1893 and look like something out of a fairytale. The hill is a real pleasure to walk up and is worth getting to the top as you’re in-store for a spectacular view, which takes your breath away.
One of my personal favourite parts of the hill is the Huntington Falls, which is an artificial 110 ft (33 m) tall waterfall that leads into Stow Lake. The waterfall was named after railroad baron Collis Potter Huntington, who donated $25,000 to the cause. It’s truly marvellous and would be ideal to paint onto a canvas. The bridge adds so much to the waterfalls character and cuteness, and water trickling under your feet only enhances its beauty.
Conservatory of Flowers
Golden Gate Park isn’t only home to a botanical garden, but also a Conservatory of Flowers! Built in 1879, it was the first formal structure erected in Golden Gate Park. Containing flowers, foliage and plants from all over the world, it has a focus on tropical plants. One thing that hits you when you enter it is the heat, as it’s very muggy and humid within it, perfect atmosphere for tropical flowers. I loved the architecture of it as well as the outside area, which is full of pretty flowers too!
You might think you’ve stepped into somewhere in the Netherlands, but Golden Gate Park has its own Dutch influence with these two amazing windmills. The designs for the attractions came from a well-known San Francisco resident by the name of Alpheus Bull Jr. I’ll admit I wasn’t really expecting to see two windmills in a San Francisco park, so it’s a lovely surprise and I’m sure you’ll agree they look simply marvellous. The windmills were constructed to pump groundwater for park irrigation rather than purchasing water at exorbitant costs from the Spring Valley Water Company.
The first of the windmills is the Dutch Windmill, which is situated next to the Beach Chalet and stands tall at about 75 ft (22 m) into the air and was constructed in 1903. It was originally constructed to pump water, but after being restored, water was no longer pumped through it. The windmill is normally surrounded by tulips, but unfortunately in October these weren’t out, although I can imagine they’d look glorious!
The other windmill is called the Murphy Windmill, which is named after a local banker and benefactor. Built in 1908, it’s 114 ft (34 m) in height and was also used to pump water.
If you’re a music fan, Golden Gate Park offers the ideal place for you in its Music Concourse. The focal point of the plaza is the Spreckels Temple of Music, also known as the “Bandshell”, and was a gift to the city from sugar magnate Claus Spreckels. Built in 1899, in advance of the Music Concourse’s completion in 1900, it has undergone extensive renovation’s after being damaged in both the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes.
I can imagine it’s a very special experience listening to the music in the concourse, while being surrounded by such beautiful fountains and trees.
To get to Angel Island you need to take a short ferry from the San Francisco Bay. It was originally the home of military installations and the immigration station, which operated between 1910 and 1940 for immigrants entering America. Nowadays it offers picturesque views of the San Francisco skyline, the Marin County Headlands and Mount Tamalpais. After Alameda, it’s the second largest island in the San Francisco Bay with a land area of 3.107 km² (1.2 sq mi). It’s a unique experience walking around the island as you feel quite deserted and isolated, although the views are awesome. There isn’t really much to do on the island apart from walking around it, there’s a bar/café area, and many people camp there overnight, but apart from that, it’s quite secluded! It’s called Angel Island, and the heavenly name certainly is appropriate with its exotic nature.
When you visit San Francisco one of the main landmarks you must visit is the famous Alcatraz Island! From 1934 to 1963 the island was a federal prison where some of America’s most dangerous criminals would be sent to.
Before criminals became its denizens, the windswept island was home to large colonies of brown pelicans. When Spanish Lieutenant Juan Manuel de Ayala became the first known European to sail through the Golden Gate in 1775, he christened the rocky outcrop “La Isla de los Alcatraces,” meaning “Island of the Pelicans.” The name eventually became Anglicized to “Alcatraz.” With the inmates gone, gulls and cormorants are now inhabitants of Alcatraz.
Built in 1847, the U.S. Army began incarcerating military prisoners inside the new fortress in the late 1850s. In 1854, it was home to the Pacific Coast’s first lighthouse! After the federal prison closed, it became part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1972 and received designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
With a total area 22 acres (8.9 ha), landmarks on the island include the main cellhouse, dining hall, lighthouse, the ruins of the warden’s house and social hall, parade grounds, building 64, water tower, new industries building, model industries building, and the recreation yard.
It was quite a creepy and surreal experience visiting the island, especially seeing the old cells, which makes you feel quite scared thinking of them being occupied with some of the country’s most dangerous criminals. Also it highlights just how basic prison life is and how depressing it can be to see the same four walls day in, day out.
Oracle Park – Home of the San Francisco Giants
When you visit America, you definitely need to watch a baseball match, or how I would term it American cricket! Luckily, the final match of the season between local rivals the San Francisco Giants and LA Dodgers was being played. Unfortunately, the Giants lost 9-0 on the day, but it was an unbelievable atmosphere to be part of. Founded in 1883, the Giants have won the World Series title eight times, the last coming in 2014. They used to play at Candlestick Park, before moving into their current impressive 42,000 seater stadium in 2000. It was known as Pacific Bell Park, then SBC Park, then named AT&T Park in 2006, before being named Oracle Park in 2019.
One thing you find out when you attend your first baseball match is just what a great fan experience it is and there’s a really fun, enjoyable atmosphere. With both sets of fans mixed in the same stands, the friendly chanting and rivalry only adds to the occasion. I’ll be honest I wasn’t sure what was going on at times, but just being there and taking it all in was a pleasure. Overlooking the bay area makes the view perhaps one of the best in sport!
I’ve explored many woodlands on my walks of London, such as Russia Dock Woodlands and Highgate Wood, but Muir Woods is something very different to them! Created in 1908, it’s managed by the National Park Service and named after naturalist John Muir, It’s located on Mount Tamalpais in the southwestern Marin County, California. With 554 acres (224 ha) of woodland, of which 240 acres (97 ha) are old growth coast redwoods, it’s home to some of the tallest and oldest redwood trees in the world. Even though it doesn’t rain that much in the woods, the coastal marine layers of fog contribute to the wet environment that encourages plant growth. It isn’t just trees which occupy the area, there’s a whole range of wildlife including salmon, over 50 species of birds, deer, bears, bats and even otters.
Walking through the woods you’re always constantly looking up at just how tall the trees are, they’re such awe-inspiring pieces of natural beauty. It isn’t just the sight of the trees that’s impressive, but the smell is remarkable too!
Located not far from Muir Woods is the quaint Sausalito, which has a population of just over 7,000. The seaside city developed rapidly as a shipbuilding centre in World War II and as time progressed it gained a reputation as a wealthy area where today it’s home to numerous yachts and houseboats. A popular tourist attraction it provides some great views of the city as well as both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge, and you definitely get that seaside feeling when you’re there.
The eye-catching Lombard Street is perhaps one of the quirkiest sights you’ll see in San Francisco, and there aren’t too many streets like it in the world! Located in Russia Hill, the design of the street was first suggested by property owner Carl Henry and built in 1922 to reduce the hill’s natural 27% grade, which was too steep for most vehicles. Chase scenes in many films have been filmed on the street, including Good Neighbor Sam, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, What’s Up, Doc? and Ant-Man and the Wasp.
The street really is mesmerising and it feels quite hypnotic, you really can’t take your eyes off it. I feel like my timelapse of this is one of the coolest things I’ve recorded!
The Cable Car
Unsurprisingly, I can’t recall featuring other forms of transport on my blog, but I couldn’t not include the iconic cable car! Built in 1873, the San Francisco cable car system is the world’s last manually operated cable car system. Of the 23 lines established between 1873 and 1890, only three remain (one of which combines parts of two earlier lines): two routes from downtown near Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf, and a third route along California Street. While the cable cars are used to a certain extent by commuters, the vast majority of their 7 million annual passengers are tourists, like me!
Although I loved walking around San Francisco, I found going on the cable car such a fun experience that you can’t get in many places in the world!
Palace of Fine Arts
A monument that wouldn’t look out of place in the mediterranean, the Greek-inspired Palace of Fine Arts is located in the Marina District of San Francisco. Designed by Bernard Maybeck it was originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in order to exhibit works of art presented there. In addition to hosting art exhibitions it’s a very photogenic landmark, and looks spectacular in the night sky!
An ideal place to hike, Lands End is a rocky and windswept shoreline at the mouth of the Golden Gate, and is situated between the Sutro District and Lincoln Park and abutting Fort Miley Military Reservation. This walk gives you a lovely glimpse of the coastal side of the San Francisco Bay and provides you with yet another awesome perspective of the Golden Gate Bridge!
Well that’s all from my very special edition of the London Wlogger where for one time only I’ve turned into the San Francisco Wlogger to discover some of the city’s most famous and picturesque landmarks, natural beauty, islands and monuments! As the famous Tony Bennett song goes, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco”, and after spending two wonderful weeks there, I definitely felt that way too!
Thanks for reading and in the meantime you can follow all my walks on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and don’t forget to sign up to my blog too so you don’t miss a post! Also why not have a read of my other walks which explore all over London, from north to south, to west to east via central, there’s something there for you! 🙂 Here are the links to them all below for you!
All photos taken by London Wlogger © Copyright 2019