American Road Trip: San Francisco
In our new series we’ll be taking you on a road trip through some of the most important and well-loved cities across the pond. We’ll be touring the USA so kick back, relax and enjoy the ride.
Our first stop takes us to the Pacific coast and one of the nation’s most stunning cities, San Francisco. Having landed in San Francisco International, you can pick up your pre-booked US rental car through easyCar. The half hour drive will take you along stunning coastal roads and bring you right to the heart of this bustling city. Comprising just over 800k citizens of an absolute mixture of heritages, the city oozes that stereotypical laid-back vibe that has become synonymous with California. Don’t get too comfortable, there’s a lot to do. But first a bit of background…
The city is built on prospector gold. The Californian gold rush of the late 19th century saw the city’s population grow by 2,400% in just one year, from a measly 1,000 inhabitants to 25,000. And they say London’s booming! Fortune seekers brought with them lawlessness and the town gained notoriety for its many vices. At the beginning of the 20th century (1906 to be precise) a massive earthquake ripped through California destroying vast swathes of the city; fires then ripped through the city’s cheaply produced wooden buildings. When the last fire was extinguished three quarters of the city was in ruins and 400k people were left without a home. This means a lot of the city you see today is a rebuild or complete reworking of what was once there. More recently, the city became renowned for its bustling creative scene; beat poet Allen Ginsburg found his spiritual home in the city and Jack Kerouac’s road trip novel On The Road takes the city as part of its canvas.
Top 5 things to do
- Drive over the Golden Gate Bridge – A symbol of American industrialism and culture the iconic suspension bridge is a sight to behold in real life. Driving over you are shielded from the giddy heights and blustering winds that are sure to churn the stomach of even the most robust of pedestrians choosing to go by foot. Nonetheless, driving over is an experience you’d be mad to miss out on. The bridge leads you to the smaller and slightly more intimate city of Oakland sat on the other side of the San Francisco Bay. While you’re driving over look out to the right and you’ll notice a craggy rock stubbornly jutting out of the bay. Welcome to Alcatraz.
- Tour Alcatraz Prison – Ferries out to the decommissioned penitentiary are easy to come by. One of the best tour groups is Alcatraz Cruises, which launches daily from Pier 33 in Fisherman’s Wharf. Depending on your availability there are a number of tours to be taken, from simply sailing around the outcrop to an in-depth tour of the supposedly inescapable prison. You’ll step into cells of some of America’s most notorious criminals and learn some of their dastardly, but mostly failed, attempts at escape.
- Ride the cable car – While this may look like a relic of a by-gone era; the cable car is still used by many a San Franciscan. The electric powered pods make mincemeat of the many steep inclines to be found across the city. Iconic in their own right, taking a ride hanging off the edge is a must-do experience for any visitors to the city.
- Take a stroll around Haight-Ashbury – An area in town that made its name for housing the many beatniks and hippies that drifted across North America to find a new, better life for themselves. This area was the epicentre of the ‘60s youth movement that to rebel against and reject the status quo believing they had discovered a better way of doing things. As such it attracted musical gods of the era in the likes of Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead.
- Drive down Lombard Street – While the name itself may seem pretty meaningless, fans of classic film will certainly know the look of the road. The distinctive curves of the road led Alfred Hitchcock to make 900 Lombard Street the house of James Stewart’s character in Vertigo. So famous is it that it has become a cultural landmark and a challenge to all drivers in the city.
Where to eat and where to go out
As anywhere in the States you can expect your plate to be piled high. Umami Burger should be in your mind as a first port of call for anyone craving a burger. The restaurant is found throughout California and is now also making waves in New York, take it back to its roots and enjoy one grilled San Francisco style. For something a little more moderately priced, head to theRoxie Food Center; this place is so chilled out they don’t even have their own website! Expect hearty deli sandwiches and other finger foods. Or, of course, you could sample bánh mi baguettes done properly at Saigon Sandwich. Roast pork is the first thing on the menu and easily the tastiest option at this unpretentious Vietnamese restaurant.
Visitors in the summer should without doubt stop off at Zeitgeist to quench their thirst. This open-air beer garden is not restricted by its name and serves a wide variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. The atmosphere is chilled out and the garden is sprawling. Come expecting good times. For something altogether kookier head for Smuggler’s CoveSmuggler’s Cove. This pirate-themed bar may err on the side of cheesy but you’ll be sure to have a great time hiding out in the crow’s nest up top. If you’re looking for something a bit more old-fashioned then head for The Rickhouse, which has an entire wall dedicated to more sprits and liqueurs than you could possibly sample in a lifetime.
The nature of any American city lends itself perfectly to the car. If you plan on joining us on the next leg of our great American road trip, be sure to rent your car from the airport with easyCar to ensure the best value, most convenient journey possible.