Day 3 – San Francisco: seafood and drinking with the locals
The ride from the airport to Fisherman’s Wharf takes maybe 40 minutes. Packed like sardines, our taxi is full, there is no air con and it’s what you might call uncomfortable. We travel through some pretty rough looking areas, as we spy hammered bums staggering through the streets clutching their worldly belongings in one hand and a brown paper bag with god only knows what in the other. Groups of Hispanics and Africans hang on street corners, pimps, drug dealers or maybe even worse. Holy crap! Is this San Francisco? I don’t want to be staying here.
Luckily, our hotel is situated just off the much nicer Fisherman’s Wharf and we waste no time exploring the tourist areas. Bars, shacks and shops offer everything from the exotic to the less so exotic. Shops sell high class art, others sell tacky tat, some a combination of both. If you love seafood this is the place to be, its everywhere and it all looks and smells amazing. From fresh lobster and crab to bread bowls of clam chowder, it’s a seafood lover’s dream.
After eating, we stray from the tourist area and find an Irish bar for beer, whiskey and local company. We get talking to a regular; Phil, a self-confessed alcoholic who loves to talk, oh how he loves to talk! He repeats himself with stories of hunting, his kids and the local area. I get stuck with him and Sedd a couple of locals, one with a strong NY accent. The alcohol and the conversation flows and by the end of the evening Paisley Park now seems a long, long’ time ago.
As this is a rock ‘n’ roll road trip the plan was to catch as many bands as we could on our travels. After weeks of searching listings, it seems that anyone we wanted to see either had just played or were playing after we left, so we decided San Fransico would be the full-on tourist trip.
Today, as part of our holiday package we have electric bikes hired for a day of exploration. This I would highly recommend if you are coming to San Francisco for the first time. We plan a route that took us through Haight-Ashbury, the centre of the 60’s hippie movement, down through lush green parks, over sandy beaches and through dense forestry and over a coastal path to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Thank god for electric bikes! The steep roads are unforgiving and the journey up and over to Haights-Ashbury is a long one that takes in the sights and sounds of the city in a way you just cannot experience by taxi or tram.
What we didn’t take into account was that it was Sunday morning and most of the shops in Haights-Ashbury are shut! The thrift stores, tattoo shops and even the world famous Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlour are not open yet. But the bohemian vibe is omnipresent. Bums and aging hippies still shuffle about minding their own business, as the morning Californian sun rises above the buildings. At the street junctions, you can get great views down over the vast city and take in the magnitude of the bustling city that seems to be in a time warp. I don’t think much has changed here since the 60’s. Not much development, take away the modern cars and many areas could still be a scene from ‘Bullitt’
The homeless here are seemingly invisible to passers-by. As we stop at a park entrance to take pictures, one guy in his twenties with a massive beard and his entire belongings (including an ancient skateboard) in a bag over his shoulder, shuffles past. Sedd greets him with a “Hey!, how ya Doing?”, he walks past us with no reply. As we walk across the road he turns and asks us what we wanted, seemingly puzzled, maybe even fearful that someone actually interacted with him.
Further along the street, another guy in a massive parker (bearing in mind its probably 25 degrees by now) has his filthy jeans half-mast, the legs of the jeans flapping around on the floor. A weird fashion statement maybe, I then realised these jeans were actually acting as his shoes!
We rode through Golden Gate park, a 1000 acre public park that stretches from Haights- Ashbury down to the coast. If museums and Japanese tea gardens are your thing, spend time here. It’s a massive relief that it’s all downhill from here and freewheeling not only cools us down but gives a break from the peddling. We check out the Dutch windmills before heading along the coast with stunning views of the pacific to our left, before reaching the Camera Obscura, it’s not even open yet as its still only 10.40am and we have already done so much.
The chain has come off my bike and become jammed. With no tools and my hands now covered in oil, a passer-by cyclist offers some help. Our new elderly friend Bob is a local, who cycles this coastal road every weekend. He offers to cycle with us and basically, he becomes a free tour guide as he takes the best route through the various coastal paths towards the Golden Gate Bridge, giving us information and facts as we go.
Cycling across Golden Gate Bridge is an experience in itself. It’s a free for all as tourists with various cycling ability wobble about trying to check out the views, take pictures and not crash into each other or the irate professional local cyclists who zoom past, shouting at Japanese tourists to get out of the way. We cycle onto Sausalito for lunch and ice cream. We check out the rock balancing guy Bill Dan before catching the ferry back to San Francisco.
After a well-needed chill at the hotel, we head out to explore China Town for the evening. After walking for seemingly miles and not really finding anywhere to eat, a quick look on Trip Advisor, we find a cool little restaurant right on the edge of China Town where I have the best Chinese meal I have ever had.
We walk back through the streets of sleazy clubs and topless bars. We find a tiny Blues club, like a sort of Speakeasy, where older guys who never made it play endless jams of the same song, probably on a daily basis. One beer is quite enough and after a full day cycling, we are ready to drop.
Day 5 – Escape from Alcatraz to Lost Boys territory, Monterey and beyond
Our last half day in San Francisco starts with a visit to the world famous windy road of Lombard Street before catching the ferry to Alcatraz. The audio tour is great, with the headphones on a heavily accented gentleman leads you through the gloomy penitentiary step by step. Real accounts from past inmates and wardens as well as background noise and effects really take you back to those times, as they recount stories and breakout attempts, the murders and the rigours of daily life in the once escape-proof prison on a rock in San Francisco Bay.
I love San Francisco and am sad to leave so soon to be honest. The roads are busy and parking is ridiculous, the best way to explore is definitely by bike. But you should also take a tram grab a bowl of clam chowder and take a pocket full of quarters to spend in the Mechanical Museum. I think I could live here.
We get an Uber to the airport to pick up a silver convertible Ford Mustang that will be our transport for the rest of the trip! We say our goodbyes to San Francisco as we take the Pacific Highway down towards Monterey for the next part of our adventure.
The stunning scenery and coastal views as we drive, just put in mind the game Grand Theft Auto, if you have ever played San Andreas then you will know why. As we reach Santa Cruz, we head to Santa Cruz Boardwalk where they filmed the classic opening scenes from The Lost Boys. With it being out of season, the amusement park and roller coaster are closed, which at first is disappointing, but we are still able to walk through it and take photos. The desolate nature seems quite fitting as the sun sets in the sky behind the seemingly abandoned roller coaster.
Remember the scene where they hang from the bridge and taunt Michael to join them? That railroad bridge is right there, behind the amusement park! We go and stand on it for photos like a real couple of fanboys. Is the car park to the left where they did that first kill on the security guard? it sure looks like it.
As we head back to the car, I see something moving in the bushes, I get closer to check out what I presume is a butterfly, to see a real live hummingbird! No one told me they were here in the wild for all to see, that was unexpected.
As the sun sets over the coastal views on the Pacific Highway drive to Monterey, again GTA flashbacks fill my mind as they will time and again on this trip. Every now and again, I get the urge to grab the wheel, veer off the highway and drive across the acres of farmland looking for hidden adventures. But I don’t, this is real life, not a game, this is the larger than life reality of California and we are finally living it.
We reach the hotel, drop our bags and find a local seafood restaurant where we dine on crab curry and exotic tasting cocktails.
Day 6 – Trippy jellyfish, the white sands of Carmel and LA baby!
There’s not much rock ‘n’ rolling to be done in Monterey, so it’s another tourist morning before heading down towards LA. After tucking into the biggest omelette I have ever seen while watching cormorants dive for their own breakfast in the crystal clear waters of Monterey Bay, we head over to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Although expensive, it’s well worth a visit. Massive tanks take you to the underwater world in the largest Aquarium in the world. The jellyfish room is out of this world as crazy-colored, alien looking creatures you never knew existed bob about in front of your eyes. Hypnotising and quite trippy, it’s better than TV!
We find a second-hand record store to grab a bunch of random CDs for the road trip down to LA and onto Vegas. Our soundtrack will now be a mix of The Eagles, The Byrds, Tom Petty, Sheryl Crowe and Prince & The NPG.
We do the 17-mile drive which goes through the famous Pebble Beach golf course, with windy roads, through dense forestry with plenty of vista points to take in the stunning, picturesque views that no camera can truly capture.
The next stop is Carmel, where the sun beats down on amazing white, sandy beaches that stretch for miles. Duran Duran probably filmed a video here back in the 80’s no doubt. This small, coastal town has a completely different vibe to San Francisco. Chilled and relaxed, the cars, the building and the people tell me there is a lot of money in Carmel. Ye Olde English style shops are hidden amongst the coffee shops and restaurants and overpriced boutiques.
We grab a bite to eat and head back on the highway for LA.
It’s close to midnight by the time we drive up Sunset Boulevard towards the hotel. The strip is teaming with life, does it ever sleep I wonder? Too late and too tired to explore, the most we manage is a beer at a western themed bar across the road, where a dude dressed as a cowboy asks us for ID. Inside, drunken middle-aged men perform karaoke to a room packed with students and middle-aged couples, served by the beautiful people behind the round bar in the center. In the corner, a bucking bronco is in full swing, a group watch and laugh as a guy tries his best to hang on time and again. Welcome to LA!
Author : Ben Hughes