San Francisco was our third major stop during the road trip and our last in California. The city is well known for its crazy rolling hills, a unique mix of different styles of architecture, famous landmarks such as Golden Gate Bridge, as well as an enormous Chinatown district. The architecture of San Francisco deserves a separate topic and given that I am no expert in different architectural styles I am not going to go into much detail. It is worth mentioning though that San Francisco combines different styles within the city limits from Victorian to Oriental taking into consideration a challenging topography of the city. It was refreshing to see colorful, vibrant and unique buildings mixed throughout the city as opposed to monotone architecture of Houston.
Worldwide famous Victorian houses are neighbors to modern skyscrapers and other colorful houses of unknown style. It might sound that the mixture of all these different architectural styles looks vulgar, but I must admit that it looks somehow harmonious in San Francisco. I enjoyed being able to walk around the city, discovering the hidden gems around each corner. While the steep hills made it a challenge and a workout to move around the city, it was all worth it.
During our excursion around the city I learned some interesting facts about San Francisco. It happens that San Francisco is not only the capital of the hippie movement, but it is also a capital of the gay community. San Fran was one the first cities to become openly accepting of the gay community. Thus a lot of gays moved to this city back in a day so that they could feel themselves safe. We took a drive around Castro, one of the first gay neighborhoods in the US, and it is still one of the main symbols of the LGBT movement with the rainbow flags hanging around every corner.
Another interesting fact that I didn't know is that during World War II San Francisco was the departure port for ships going out to the Pacific Theater. Our guide told us that all of the American battleships departed from San Francisco, making it a very important city. Nowadays former military base serves as the museum area.
Our excursion included not only the overview of the city but a trip to the Muir Woods National Monument located just outside of the city. Muir Woods National Monument is a unit of the National Park Service and home to the giant old growth coast redwood forests. The trees in that park range from 400 to 800 years old with their height reaching up to 250 feet. This place remained intact thanks to President Roosevelt who signed a legislation to protect the forest from destruction. It is a unique experience to walk under such old, enormous, and beautiful trees. It is so quiet and peaceful inside that you can feel the harmony and connect with nature as if you were hundreds of miles away from the city.
On our way back to the city from Muir Woods we made a stop across from Golden Gate Bridge and then made our way across it. This monumental structure is breathtaking. To think that humans were able to raise this structure is simply mind blowing. I used to wonder why the bridge was called Golden Gate and the logic behind such a pompous name. Our guide lifted the veil of secrecy surrounding the bridge name. Turns out the history behind is pretty simple: the bridge goes over a narrow strait which is called Golden Gate. Well, then why the fancy name for the strait? Are you ready? John Fremont, the guy who discovered this strait, called it Golden Gate because he liked the name and wanted to draw the parallel to the harbor of Byzantium which was called Golden Horn. Simple and plane, no fascinating story behind the name. Disappointed? I understand your feelings, as I was disappointed myself upon hearing this.
After we were done with our guided tour, we had the second half of the day all to ourselves. After walking around the downtown area for a little bit, we headed towards the famous Chinatown of San Francisco. Many cities around the world have Chinatowns, but the one in San Francisco is actually the oldest in North America and represents the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. San Francisco’s Chinatown is located in the heart of the city and occupies several blocks. Actually, not several, a ton of blocks! Chinatown of San Francisco is simply huge. It looks more like a small Chinese city inside of the United States. All of the signs are written in Chinese, you barely hear any English spoken around, numerous shops are full of traditional Chinese merchandise and I bet there are people there who only speak Chinese despite the fact they were born in San Fran.
San Francisco’s Chinatown has an interesting history. A while back, the city was run by Chinese mafia who was investing a lot of money into the development of the city. Given their influence, it is no wonder that Chinatown was located on the prime piece of land. When the local authorities wanted to get their hands on that land and relocate Chinatown outside of the city, the powerful mafia bosses threatened to take their money out of the city and leave. Because Chinese money was stimulating the city’s development and economy, the local authorities left Chinatown where it is and it’s still there.
After wandering few hours around Chinatown my girlfriend begged me to visit the Halliwell Manor from the famous TV show Charmed which was very popular back in the beginning of the century. We googled the address and walked several blocks to get to our destination and I must say that walking in San Fran is no easy task. When we arrived at our destination, we found out an unpleasant surprise. The address of the Halliwell Manor used in the show is fake and the actual house is located in Los Angeles where the show was filmed, not San Francisco. So for any of you Charmed fans, do not waste time looking for the manor in the wrong city…
We were disappointed by the fact that we had to walk thirty minutes across the hills for nothing, however, fate decided to reward us for our determination. It happened that the fake manor address was not far from the famous Peer 39. Initially, we were not planning on going there since it is relatively far from the city center. Peer 39 area is actually a nice spot to hang out and enjoy a nice weather. It has a lot of dining options, street performers, shopping and of course hundreds of sea lions. It was amusing to watch these creatures fight for a nice spot on a platform, walk all over each other and even hug.
Peer 39 was our last stop in San Francisco and after enjoying an ice cream cone, we made our way back to the hotel. We were exhausted from walking around the city for the whole day, but at the end of the day we do not regret it as San Fran has a lot of interesting things to offer its visitors. We enjoyed our time there and were happy to get a chance to explore this extraordinary city.