It was not ideal but we found ourselves with only one day and one night in San Francisco.
We were on our way from Los Angeles to Vancouver with friends who hadn’t been to San Francisco before but who wanted a glimpse of the city.
It was a January afternoon and we had driven from Carmel. There wasn’t much light left but we were hoping to visit the Muir Woods, about 20 kms north of San Francisco, before checking into our hotel in the city.
Muir Woods is an old-growth coastal redwood forest (Sequoia sempervirens) – one of the last on earth. Lovers of nature will particularly appreciate the grandeur of this place. Visitors can see redwood trees of all ages – some are over 600 years old.
With GPS guiding us, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge (heading north), followed the Redwood Highway, then took a steep, winding road down to the Visitors Information Centre of the Muir Woods National Monument.
Leaving the car in the car park, we paid the $5 entry fee, received a map of walking trails and, with light fading, we chose to do a short walk to Cathedral Grove and back.
Cathedral Grove has some of the biggest redwood trees in the woods. The tallest redwood tree in the park is more than 252 feet high and over 14 feet wide. If you have more time, there are three walking loops to choose from plus extended, unpaved trails. Each loop follows the creek and is an easy walk.
As well as the Visitors Information Centre at Muir Woods, there is also a Gift Shop and Café.
Leaving Muir Woods we headed back and made a stop in Sausalito, also on the northern side of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Sausalito is a very pretty place on the bay which warrants a visit during the day when shops and restaurants are open. During our visit – a winter’s evening in January – there were only a few restaurants open. We had dinner at Poggio Trattoria at 777 Bridgeway and the food was very good.
If you would like to visit Sausalito, there are two ferry services from San Francisco – Blue & Gold Fleet leaving from Fisherman’s Wharf, and the Golden Gate Ferries leaving from the San Francisco Ferry Terminal Building.
It was a quick drive back into San Francisco where we checked into our pre-booked accommodation – the Hotel Rex at 562 Sutter Street, just off Union Square. After much research on accommodation in San Francisco Hotel Rex was chosen on location and price plus we loved the look of it on the internet. We weren’t disappointed. Hotel Rex is a charming place with friendly staff. Our room had two double beds that accommodated four people very comfortably. Be sure to enjoy a complimentary glass of wine in the Library Bar in the evening.
(Note: as of September 2018 Viceroy Hotel Group re-launched Hotel Rex as Hotel Emblem)
For breakfast, the 1950s-style Lori’s Diner at 500 Sutter Street, just a few doors along from Hotel Rex, can be recommended for generous servings and good value. It also has a great atmosphere.
We picked up the tour in Union Square, a short walk from our hotel. There were nine stops made on this tour however we stayed on to do the whole loop. The tour was narrated and covered sights such as Fishermans Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge, Little Italy, Chinatown, Haight Ashbury, Alamo Square (the Painted Ladies) and Civic Centre. We found the tour to be very enjoyable and comprehensive.
At the end of the tour, the teenagers in our group returned to Haight Ashbury. They liked the alternative vibe of the neighbourhood and its history as a hippie area.
Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz
The other half of our group visited Fisherman’s Wharf and took a tour to Alcatraz.
Alcatraz Tours leave from Pier 33. It is recommended that you allow at least 2.5 hours for the cruise to and from the island, the cell house audio tour plus exploring the island and its historic exhibits. You are able to stay on Alcatraz as long as you like. Just make a note of return times. The boat trip between Alcatraz and the mainland takes 10 to 15 minutes.
Our friends found Fisherman’s Wharf to be a place spoilt by tourism. However, most people would want to include it on their itinerary as it is such a famous landmark.
On our brief visit, we found San Francisco to be a beautiful city with much to see – one day is just not enough and we hope to return to experience the city and surrounds at a more leisurely pace.