You may or may not know by now, but I am a travel freak. I love the opportunity to go anywhere that I can. I love seeing new things and experiencing different cultures. California is one of my favorite places. It’s my dream to live in L.A. one day. I’ve been to L.A. and Orange County, but I had never been to Northern California until recently. I’ve always been told that Northern California is completely different than Southern California, and after my weekend in the Bay Area, I definitely see the difference.
My sister had to go out to San Francisco for work, so she invited me along. Of course I was all in. We got there on a Friday afternoon and left on Monday afternoon, so we spent a decent amount of time there. We stayed in the downtown area, and since we got there early enough, we were able to walk around a little bit.
I will get more into the nitty gritty of everything later on, but initially walking down the streets felt a lot like being in Europe. The street signs looked European, the buildings looked European, and the fact that they have all of those trolleys and streetcars reminded me very much of Europe. We stayed right off of Market Street, which is a major street with high end stores like Barney’s, Michael Kors, etc.
Saturday, we went on a tour to Napa and Sonoma. Now THAT was a lot of fun. We left around 9 and got back around 6, so we spent the entire day in the Valley.
We went to three wineries; Jamieson Ranch Vineyards, Andretti Winery, and Madonna Estate. All of them were really nice, but my favorite was probably the Andretti Winery, because the lady who lead the wine tasting was very knowledgeable about the family as well as the wine, so we got a lot of information from her. The estate was Tuscany Villa inspired, so I also appreciated that aspect.
The wine from all three of the vineyards were pretty good. I don’t really like dry wine, and pretty much all of the wine we tasted was dry except for two wines at the last winery, but nonetheless I still enjoyed all of them. After going to the first two wineries, we stopped for lunch in a cute town in Napa County called Yountville, and the food was delicious.
The Napa trip was great for the wine (of course), but since we were on a bus tour, we also got to see a lot of other areas surrounding San Francisco. We passed by other cities like Berkeley, Richmond, and Vallejo, and our bus driver gave us history on those cities as we passed. On our way back from the Valley, we passed by the beautiful Sausalito which sits right at the end of the Golden Gate Bridge.
We drove across the Bridge, which was great because it was a really clear day, so we got nice views of the city on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. We also passed by San Quentin, which if you’re a fan of Lock Up, or any other prison shows, you already know San Quentin is a notable prison.
Sunday, we decided we were going to be totally cliche, and do all of the typical San Francisco tourist activities. We started off by going to the Painted Ladies on Steiner Street.
I really wanted to see the Mrs. Doubtfire House, because I remembered that it was on Steiner Street, but it ended up being on the complete opposite end of the street, and since we were walking we figured that might be a bit much.
Once we finished hanging out around the Painted Ladies, we went back in the direction of our hotel so that we could hop on a trolley and take it to the Fisherman’s Wharf. The line for the trolley was so long that I can’t imagine everyday locals use it as a means of transportation. But just like any other form of public transpo, it made stops on it’s way to the final destination.
The Fisherman’s Wharf was a lot of fun. Fisherman’s Wharf is notable for Pier 34, Ghirardelli Square, a Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum, and of course, great seafood.
While we were at the wharf, we got to see Alcatraz, which we both wanted to take a tour of, but they were booked all the way to August.
On Monday, my sister had to go to her work event, so we stayed there for a couple of hours, and then we headed back to Chicago. Although we both really enjoyed our time exploring San Francisco, there were a ton of things that we noticed as different and odd.
The first thing that we noticed when we got to the city was all of the homeless people. Now, when I use the word “homeless,” I use it lightly. We had been forewarned that there were an abundance of homeless people in San Francisco, and I brushed it off because there are homeless people everywhere. I mean, I live in Chicago, so seeing people on the street is not something that I’m unfamiliar with. But this was something on another level. We would walk down the street and see people doing hardcore drugs with needles in their arms, people running down the street half naked pushing shopping carts, people screaming at themselves, and we even saw a random stray dog. That’s a bit more extreme than just “a lot of homeless people.”
The crazy thing is, I guess the locals are so used to it, that they just kept walking as if they didn’t notice anything strange. It was also very strange to me that we barely saw any law enforcement around. How is it that people are just allowed to do drugs in the middle of downtown in broad daylight?
The city itself is very dirty. There was trash everywhere and the smell of urine filled the air. We were told that the reason for the city smelling so bad is because at the time, it had not rained in three months. So that makes a lot of sense. There’s been nothing to wash away the smell that comes along with homelessness. I was so glad we didn’t have to go to the underground subway. If above ground is a circus show, then there’s no telling what’s going on underground. I’m convinced we would have probably seen a dead body (or two).
Aside from the streets being filthy, we even went to a Starbucks that was dirty. There were used cups and napkins literally thrown on the floor as if it was a garbage can. If I remember correctly, I think there was also used takeout boxes from an entirely different food place thrown on the floor as well. Most Starbucks that I go into are pretty clean and put together, so that was a surprise to me.
The city is crazy expensive. I believe this is a well known fact, but being there and actually seeing how ridiculously expensive it is gives a different perspective. I get annoyed for having to pay 7 cents on bag taxes, but in San Francisco, the bag taxes are 25 cents! So, if you get four bags worth of stuff, you’re paying a whole extra dollar just to carry your things out. No thanks.
The one positive thing I can say about the city is that the food was absolutely delicious. There wasn’t one place we went where we thought the food was mediocre or not good at all. We went to about 4 or 5 different restaurants/cafe’s and everywhere we went, I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s rare to go to a city and like all of the food you eat, so I give a huge A+ for San Fran being able to satisfy my gut.
So what are my final thoughts? All in all, I think San Francisco is an interesting city. I think it is worth a visit, because unless you go there yourself, none of what I said will begin to justify how it really was, that goes for the good and bad aspects of the city. It’s a very odd city that you can’t really put into words. Things that I find weird (like someone running down the street screaming at themselves), the locals seem to brush off and ignore. I definitely would never want to live there, unless I lived in a surrounding city. Even then, I could probably only stand to live there for a year.
I don’t want to hate on the entire Bay Area, because we were only in San Francisco, and I know there are a ton of different surrounding cities. I know that Oakland has a bad rap for being dangerous, but I would love to check it out because it appears to be more diverse (not gonna lie, it was rare for us to see any black people pretty much the entire time we were in San Fran). So, with there being plenty of other cities in the Bay Area to explore, I won’t completely put it on my list of places to never visit again 🙂
Circling back to the beginning where I mentioned being previously told of the drastic difference between Northern and Southern California, I now believe it as true. Northern California is definitely more like the rest of the United States in a sense that it is pretty “regular.” Southern California, I believe, is seen more as a “paradise.”
San Francisco Travelers Tip: If you plan to visit San Francisco and you hear of the neighborhood called “Tenderloin” avoid it at all cost. You’ll thank me later 😉