San Francisco travel review golden gate bridge

You know how the song goes. I left my heart in San Francisco.. And to an extent, I did. San Francisco was the last stop on our great American road trip, and I'd been looking forward to it so, so much. Everyone we met, both before and during our trip, said we were going to love it. It would be up there with NYC (see my blog post on my first trip to NYC to see how much I adored it) and it would be our favourite place in California. Known for its beautiful architecture, technology and famous Castro district, I expected to fall head over heels for SF. But, unpopular opinion here, I much preferred LA.

I'd been warned about LA for years: it's dangerous, it's rough, you can't go out at night. We stayed right in the middle of Hollywood, a neighbourhood literally everybody told us to steer clear of, but we felt totally safe, whether that be at 8am or 10pm, and we weren't shocked by the darker side of LA. I might go into this a little more in a blog post specifically about LA, let me know in the comments if you'd like that, but our opinions basically ended up being the complete opposite to what we thought they would be.

travel blogger allie davies with California republic flag background

Don't get me wrong here, I really enjoyed San Francisco. It's a beautiful city, with lots to do (thanks Sam for all of your recommendations if you read this!), but for me, it was missing that buzz I'd discovered in other cities along the way. This is weird, because I know so many people who fell so hard for this city that they want to move there, but we were warned by a SF dweller we met in LA that the city is going through a weird phase right now. With a mass influx of millennials, mostly working for the big tech companies out there, paired with stratospheric rent prices, San Francisco is in limbo. It's finding it's feet as a cool but actually attainable city to live in.

What I can say for SF is that the place has a big heart. The locals were mostly friendly, and you could really feel the community spirit around Haight Ashbury, which I was pleased to see hadn't been too gentrified. We were there during the local forest fires and there was a bunch of people collecting donations to take up to people who had been forced out of their homes. That community spirit reminded me of Liverpool actually, despite the cities being seemingly worlds apart. Oh, and this place has a damn good sunset. On our last night in the states, after six whole weeks of travelling, we got to experience a pretty magical one at Pier 39. A bit of a tourist trap, I know, but it had to be done, even for the sea lions alone.

Haight Ashbury Piedmont boutique legs landmark illustration

view from coit tower, San Francisco

Other places we ticked off the list were the golden gate bridge (obviously), Lombard Street, Alcatraz, coit tower, Castro, the painted ladies and twin peaks. Look at that view from coit tower! Worth the two hour queue, if you ask me. To complete all of these bucket list places, I'd say a week is the perfect amount of time to spend in San Francisco. Any longer, and we would have been itching to move on. Any shorter, and I'd have some serious fomo.

One of the most interesting places in the city we visited was the Castro district. I didn't really know what to expect, but I left feeling brighter and more positive. The art was amazing, the puns in the names of stores were hilarious, and the whole area just had a great vibe about it. I can imagine this would be a great place to go for a drink of a night. But even of a day, this place is pretty fun. We saw two dudes walking down the street in nothing but a gold, glittery sock (yes, singular..) at around 2pm. I mean, it was the weather for it, I suppose. We did however, hear one or two comments aimed at straight people "ruining the Castro". Hey, this might be true, it wouldn't be the first time people have latched onto a community and gentrified or appropriated it, but we did see some assuming people were straight just because they were tourists, which wasn't cool. I did expect everyone to be a little more welcoming, I guess. This might sound super naive and privileged, and maybe it is, but from my experiences, people in LA and NY were more friendly. Talk about turning stereotypes on their heads, right?

San Francisco castro district street art

San Francisco love tours camper van illustration
However, the marketing of the 'summer of love' is very much alive and kicking in SF. Walk into any souvenir shop and see it plastered on tie dye t-shirts, and expect to be slightly overwhelmed by the smell of weed in some places. If you're a hippy, you'll really love Haight Ashbury, which I would say was my favourite part of San Francisco. Another cool neighbourhood was North Beach / Little Italy. We stumbled across this area, which kind of reminded me a little of NYC, after coit tower, and stuck around for the great food. Which we then walked off attempting to climb Lombard Street. Damn, people aren't lying when they say it's steep.

view from the top of Lombard street, San Francisco

the rock, Alcatraz island, San Francisco

An absolute must see for me and Beth was Alcatraz. Just like the rest of the internet, we're pretty interested in true crime and prison documentaries, so getting to see possibly the most famous prison of all was really exciting. We paid around $50 for our tour, but I can guarantee it is worth the money. You get a boat out to 'the rock', a short introduction, then you're free to roam around for as long as you like. We stopped at the picturesque points, locked ourselves in jail cells and took the audio guide around the main bit of the prison. Usually, when someone says audio guide, I shudder. I don't really know why, they're just not my thing. But this one was SO different. I learned so much about the history of Alcatraz and the escape attempts, even getting to stand in the spot where it all happened. Me and Beth left feeling giddy, discussing escape conspiracy theories for the rest of the day. My only advice is to book in advance, because each and every tour was full to the rafters (but that may be because the Kardashians effectively shut off the island that evening for a private tour).

Overall, I'm really glad I went to San Francisco. I got to tick a bunch of stuff off the bucket list and explore one of the most well known bohemian neighbourhoods on the planet. But would I rush back? Next time I'm in California (which is hopefully soon), I'll be heading to LA first. For me, a city break needs a bit of buzz and there was just something missing in San Francisco. And no, it wasn't my heart.

Have you ever been to San Francisco? What did you think of it? I'd love to know! If you haven't been and want to see it for yourself, why not check out the deals on TravelSupermarket or grab a guide from Lonely Planet?

Good vibes guys ✌🏼

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