San Francisco – Presidio, Fisherman’s Wharf & Chinatown

We should totally have got sponsorship for our trip to the US. With the amount of out -of-character walking we have done, I think we have definitely earned a few bob. The money could go towards some truly deserving charities, such as my shoe fund. If you’d like to donate, contact me for my bank details.

(If you’re an Ethiopian prince with a million dollars that needs looking after, all the better.)

Our third day in San Francisco saw us walking the streets once more, taking in the sights and sucking up the character.

We wandered north from the apartment, once again stopping off for an emergency play in the Alta Plaza Park, before heading on to Broadway, aka Billionaire’s Row. This was another road that saw me walking along with my gob open, staring up at the palatial mansions that overlooked the bay.

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Eventually we caught the eye of a security guard, who drove his black car ahead of us, then climbed out of it, leaving the engine running, and eyed us with interest, the Bluetooth headset at his ear ready for his reports to HQ.

“That’s not a security guard, it’s an Uber driver,” said husband.

At the end of Broadway, we stood at the top of the Lyon Street Steps and gazed down at another of the city’s fabulous views across rooftops to the bay beyond.

“That’s the Marina area,” said a woman sitting at the top of the steps with her friends, eating doorstep sandwiches. “And that,” she said, pointing at a dome in the distance, “is the Palace of Fine Arts.” I smiled and thanked her.

Her friend proffered her sandwich and said, “Would you like some food?”

Food gratefully and gracefully refused, we descended the steps, pausing at a prettily laid out courtyard halfway down. We were frequently passed by joggers running up and down the stairs, panting with pain, glistening with sweat, and surprisingly tolerant of our jokes about using a cable car.

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At the bottom of the steps – after I spotted two more humming birds, waltzing rapidly together through the air – husband led us into Presidio, which rather threw me, since it seemed to be nothing but modern office blocks. But, as ever, husband had a plan, because to son’s and my delight, he led us to the Yoda Fountain, as we were on the site of the Lucasfilm Letterman Digital Arts offices. We posed for photos with Yoda, and then had a brief snack at the complex’s Starbucks (where we encountered the rudest barista on Earth).

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A mooch around the pond – the gardens at the Presidio offices have been tastefully, scenically and feng-shuily laid out – was populated by yet more goslings. I say yet more – how many goslings are too many? They are so desperately cute; and the baby bird statistics went up as we walked on, with cygnets and ducklings also added to the bird-watching count. San Francisco has certainly been a wildlife destination.

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We crossed the road to walk through the Palace of Fine Arts which the kind, lunch-sharing women had pointed out. Wow. What an edifice. Built in 1915, it was commissioned to show the world that the city had recovered, with grace, from the terrible 1906 earthquake. It is a stunning, Roman-inspired temple of the arts; and that night it was to be the scene of a graduates’ dinner. Several graduates were wandering around in their gowns having their pictures taken. I was so excited for them, so pleased and hopeful for their future.

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Onwards again. We made it as far as the north shore, where we stopped and sat to take in the cerulean views of the sea, and yet another incredible angle of the Golden Gate Bridge. I just haven’t been able to get my head round the fact I’ve been to the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge. Why is it that, more than any other tourist site I have been to, from the Eiffel Tower and La Sagrada Família to Taipei 101 and Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak, this trip to San Francisco has blown me away? Something to do with the ubiquity of the scenes, on television and in film, and their distance from home, so I never thought I’d make it here. I don’t know.

We headed east along Marina Boulevard, husband every moment promising that we could get a bus the rest of the way. The bus did not materialise, so we walked on, past the Aquatic Park Pier which is threatened with demolition, past the fabulously Art Deco Maritime Museum, which is shaped like a ship and dressed with gorgeous tiled artwork.

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It’s a shame that we didn’t find the time during our trip to visit the historic vessels or the museum itself. I am a fan of big old sailing ships. Instead we walked on, finally finding our destination at Fisherman’s Wharf. Here you will find the Friedel Klussmann Cable Car Turnaround, the terminal at which the Powell & Hyde cable car can be picked up. Since we had to queue for 20 minutes or so, I assume only tourists pick up the cable car at this stop. Still, our wait was alleviated by a banjo-playing busker and the sheer unadulterated novelty of travelling on a cable car.

[By the way, they call them cable cars, not trams. When we needed some information and I asked a man in a hut if he worked with the trams, he nodded and said pointedly, “The cable cars, yes.” Lesson learned. But I do need to do some research to find out what they call all the other modes of transport, since there are not only cable cars, but also buses and, I guess, trolley buses? That is, electric buses that do not run on rails but are powered by overhead lines. (Further research has revealed they are just called buses. 🤷‍♀️)]

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Son delightedly stood on the bottom step all the way to Chinatown, while daughter was satisfied to just stand up at her seat, the wind blowing through their hair, and me almost nauseated by fear they’d fall off. Though the cable cars travel only at something like 10mph max, they pass oncoming traffic and other cable cars very closely – at one point son was actually high fived by passengers standing on the step of the cable car coming from the other direction.

So, we rode the cable car to Chinatown, with the intention of finding a place for dinner. Chinatown was colourful, noisy and busy, but thankfully lacked stalls of chicken and pig heads.

Chinese lanterns and questionable graffiti decorated the streets, the signs decorative and busy with Hanzi characters.

We meandered through the gaudy streets until my “hanger” set in and I demanded we stop for dinner. Looking through the windows of the restaurants, I made a random choice which turned out to be excellent – if you’re ever in San Francisco’s Chinatown, try House of Nanking for some authentic and delicious Chinese food. There’s a photo of Sean Penn with his arm around the owner’s shoulders, so it must be good. We feasted on a range of dishes including crispy rice soup, fried calamari, fried tofu in black bean sauce and house noodles, all served by a man with a unwilling smile and a twinkle in his eye.

We picked up the cable car and bus back to the apartment, a journey which was becoming recognisable and simple. The bus stop was at the intersection of California and Pierce, right next to our apartment. I have a dream that British towns and cities are all completely obliterated and then rebuilt in the grid fashion of these American cities. They make travelling so much easier.

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Having discovered the brilliantly predictable and reliable public transport did not mean we stopped walking the streets of San Francisco, though. Oh no. Not by a long shot…

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