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Seeing San Francisco on Foot

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The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Look! It’s the Golden Gate bridge, all crooked and far away!

And it’s one of those, “I am taking this photo myself!” photos! And it’s obviously completely freezing! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we got here, to this freezing pier with its view of the bridge, we had first of all to survive the taxi ride to our hotel, which was completed at breakneck speed, with the driver simultaneously listening to music from his iPhone and the car radio, and not paying much attention to the road. It was our first experience of San Francisco taxi drivers, and we were all pretty relieved to emerge from it alive.

We were also relieved to check into our hotel. We stayed at The Chancellor, which is right on Union Square, and right in the middle of the “action”, as the guide books all say.

The Chancellor Hotel, San Francisco
Our room was on the 12th floor, with a view over the city.

That large white roof you can see in the foreground? Saks Fifth Avenue. We were so close I could actually see all the little duds hanging in the women’s department. The brown building next to Macy’s? Neiman Marcus. I went there as soon as I’d unpacked. I would’ve just remained there, too, but Terry wouldn’t let me. Spoilsport.

(A quick aside and then I promise I’ll stop talking about shopping: San Francisco is possibly the best place I’ve ever been for it. Shopping, I mean. All of the big stores are within easy walking distance of each other around Union Square, and there’s also no end of vintage and second hand stores, plus numerous little quirky boutiques. It was bliss.)

Anyway! The Chancellor was built in 1911, which makes it very old by San Francisco standards. Because of its age, it has small rooms, no air con (not that you need it in San Francisco in June…) and only three stars. All of the rooms have been renovated, though, and what it lacks in mod cons, it makes up for in character and service: it’s one of those little boutique hotels where nothing is too much trouble, the waitress always remembers your drink order at the bar, and you could eat your dinner off the floors if you were that way inclined. We all loved it, and for me, the age of the building was definitely a plus point: before I’d visited San Francisco, I’d always associated the city with the hippies of the 70s, but so much of the architecture of the city centre made me think of the early decades of the 20th century instead. I could easily imagine the flapper girls of the 20s and the glamourous women and dapper men of the 30s and 40s walking through the lobby and having a drink at the bar. Oh, and they also give you ducks:

I ended up with two ducks: this baseball-playing duck (because ducks and baseball go together like me and Neiman Marcus, don’t you know…) and another one in a scuba mask. It was my mum’s fault, really. She decided to wind me up by telling me they’d been getting a new duck every day. I had to find out if the Duck-a-Day policy applied to everyone at the Chancellor, or if my mum was just some kind of crazy duck whisperer, so I put this one in my suitcase (don’t worry, you’re supposed to take them with you: I am many things, but ‘Duck Rustler” isn’t one of them. Yet.) and sure enough, as soon as this one disappeared, my scuba-diving friend showed up. Awesome! Then my mum revealed that they’d only been getting a regular amount of ducks, anyway, so all of my fears about being slighted by the ducks had been for nothing.

But enough about ducks.

On our first morning, Terry and I were both awake at the crack of dawn, so we decided to get a head start on the day by heading out to explore.

We walked from the hotel down to Fisherman’s Wharf, and that walk is one of my favourite memories from San Francisco: the city was still waking up, the streets were quiet(ish), the morning light was filtering through the clouds… We got both Lombard Street and Fisherman’s Wharf all to ourselves, and if you’ve ever been to San Francisco, you’ll know how much of a treat that was.

San Francisco in the early morning light
Seeing San Francisco on foot
Lombard Street, San Francisco
Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background

So we went back to the hotel, collected my parents, had breakfast… and did it all again.

Before we left the UK, we’d all agreed that on our first morning in San Francisco we’d all still be jetlagged from the flight, so we’d just take it easy, and not try to fit in too much.

Ha! From our hotel, we walked through Chinatown and back down to Fisherman’s Wharf, stopping on the way at Lombard Street, which was now absolutely thronged with tourists: Terry and I were really glad we’d taken our early morning walk.  We had lunch at Ghirardelli Square, next to the famous chocolate factory, before walking out onto one of the piers for a view back to the city, and over the bay.

the view from the top of Lombard Street, San Francisco
San Francisco Street
Hilly street in San Francisco
View of San Francisco from teh top of Lombard street
San Francisco grafitti

After that, we wandered back along to Fisherman’s Wharf, and Pier 39…

When you tell people you’re going to San Francisco, they instantly start telling you not to go to Pier 39 under any circumstances: not even if someone holds a gun to your head and tries to force you.

The reasoning for this is that Pier 39 is OMGTOURISTY and is therefore SO! AWFUL! that death would be preferable to a few minutes on its boards. We were given this sage piece of advice numerous times by various people, so naturally we went to Pier 39 as soon as we possibly could. Well, you see, we ARE tourists. And it’s not like we’re going to travel all that way and then not see the pier, is it? So we went there, expecting it to be some terrible, Hades-like place, and of course, it wasn’t at all. Actually, we quite liked it. And we wouldn’t have wanted to miss seeing these faces:

San Francisco seals
seals in San Francisco
Visiting Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, California
Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, California
Pier 39, San Francisco, California
San Francisco seals at Pier 39

In fact, want to know JUST how shamelessly touristy we were? We even did THIS:

We can do it sign San Francisco

Well, can you even say you’ve been to San Francisco if you haven’t taken a photo of yourself in this? I think not. And now that I’ve totally disappointed you all with my tourist ways, it’s time for me to wind this post up. Don’t worry, though, if that wasn’t quite enough photos for you, there’s still more to come…

San Francisco on foot - how we spent a day wandering around the city, with no transport required


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  • Louise
    June 27, 2011

    I’m one of these sad cases who loves reading about people’s holidays and looking at their photographs, so keep them coming.Seeing all of those seals must’ve been wonderful, I’d love to go to San Fran.

    • Amber
      June 27, 2011

      Ah, thanks, Louise – I suspect you’ll be the only one, but what the hell: I figured I may as well write about it, so I can have a way to remember it in my old age! The seals were wonderful to watch – they were constantly sparring with each other and jostling for space – I could’ve watched them for hours!

      • Roisin
        June 27, 2011

        I’m the same as Louise. I want MOAR HOLIDAY PHOTOS!

        • Amber
          June 27, 2011

          Oh, don’t worry, I have almost 2,000 of them: you will be begging for mercy!

  • Selina
    June 27, 2011

    Seals! I love seals – they’re goofy and bumbly. And slightly smelly but they can be forgiven that, considering their diet. Can’t wait to read more of your adventures!

    • Amber
      June 27, 2011

      They are indeed! Apparently they had deserted the pier for a couple of years recently, so I was really glad we got to see them!

  • Panthera
    June 27, 2011

    Yay! Seals!
    Keep em coming i say, especially since SF is one of the places i’d love to isit, as well as California.
    The hotel Lions lovely, i’ve noe put it on my “if i’m ever going to San Fransisco” list. Plus, i love ducks!

    • Panthera
      June 27, 2011

      Pff. The iPad shows way too small letters in these reply boxes..
      That’s supposed to be *visit, *looks (lions? Really?) and *now..

      • Amber
        June 27, 2011

        haha, I figured it was an auto-correct – my iPhone makes some hilarious changes to words sometimes!

        I really recommend the Chancellor if you’re ever in San Francisco – and the ducks are a nice touch 🙂

  • Jessie at Fashion Limbo
    June 27, 2011

    hehe, my dog always reminds me of seals, whether sleeping or just being, but then he has short dark hair and a long face 😉
    Love the ducks, want one want one want one!
    Didn’t realise it could be that cold over at S. Francisco this time of the year.
    More holiday pics please, I’m really enjoying these. xxx

    • Amber
      June 27, 2011

      Oh God, yes, it can be pretty chilly in summer: the weather was only a couple of degrees warmer than it was in Scotland at the time… Luckily we knew that before we went, so we’d come prepared (I’m actually wearing a thermal vest in that photo – lol!), but I still ended up buying a hoodie as extra insulation: I think the sellers down at the Wharf must make a killing out of tourists who think California = hot!

  • Lili @ Relatable Style
    June 27, 2011

    Haha, there I go, thinking “Hmm, something is wrong with that ‘We can do it!’ picture”. LOL. Thankfully it only lasted two seconds 😉

  • The Style Box
    June 27, 2011

    Thanks for sharing these photos 🙂 I love San Francisco so much and I’d move there tomorrow if I could get a Visa! x

    • Amber
      June 27, 2011

      It’s a fabulous city, for sure – every corner reveals another amazing view, too!

  • Call me M
    June 27, 2011

    Lovely photos! I’d love to see more too!
    I also love reading about other people’s holidays! So, I’ll be waiting for you next posts!

    • Amber
      June 27, 2011

      I’m so relieved to hear it – I figured I’d be talking to myself with these posts! Weirdly, I really enjoy hearing about people’s holidays and seeing the photos too, so I’m never quite sure where the “normal” bordedom threshold lies!

  • lila
    June 27, 2011

    I could read about your holiday all day, everyday and never get bored, san francisco is such a interesting place and your photos are so good, keep em coming please!

    • Amber
      June 27, 2011

      Aww, thanks, Lila! I thought about you while we were on Alcatraz – you would’ve absolutely loved it!

  • Emily
    June 27, 2011

    Lovely pictures! Especially the seals, they are adorable.

    • Amber
      June 27, 2011

      They really were – they all had their own little characters, which made them really interesting to watch!

  • Stacey
    June 27, 2011

    I’m another one that loves hearing/reading about other people’s vacations and seeing their pictures. I’d love to go to San Fran but living in the middle of the US, it’s actually cheaper and easier to fly to the UK than it is to go to either coast. Can’t wait till next year when I’m moving to the west coast so maybe then I’ll be able to go to San Fran one day. We have some family friends that live only about an hour drive away and they just got back from a weekend trip there, so jealous!

    Love the seals, I probably would have spent way too much time there just watching them!

  • Samantha
    June 27, 2011

    I live in San Francisco and I still go to Pier 39. WHAT DOES THIS MAKE ME?! (I take it you did not meet The Bushman?) Anyway, having walked the same route you described, I am in awe that your feet did not fall apart after the second round. My little heart is swelling with pride that you enjoyed the shopping and that San Francisco summer feels like San Francisco winter. And spring. And fall. /lurk

    • Amber
      June 27, 2011

      We did see the bushman!

      It was very like Scottish summer, to be honest – we felt right at home, weather-wise! (Although it did prompt me to want to do some more shopping because I very quickly got bored with the cold-weather stuff I’d brought with me!) Our feet pretty much DID fall off – I left with more than my fair share of blisters, but it was definitely worth it 🙂

  • Carys
    June 27, 2011

    *ahem* Well, I must be a dreadful tourist too, because when I saw Pier 39 I got very excited! I had the most AMAZING strawberries I’ve ever had there, and generally thought it was fab. I loved Pier 39, so there, haterz!

    Also, did you spot a guy hiding behind a bush (I use this term loosely – more of a massive bunch of twigs) on the pavement along from Pier 39? He jumped out at me and my Dad and terrified the living daylights out of us. A bush. On a bare-assed pavement. You would have thought we’d cotton on sooner….

    We also stayed at Union Square (I want to say it was called Hotel Union Square, but I might be wrong) and it was *amazing*. The hotel and the place.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve left the country, can you tell?!

    Looking forward to lots more pics 🙂

    • Amber
      June 27, 2011

      Yes, we did! Luckily we’d spotted him jumping out at someone else, so he didn’t manage to get us 🙂

      Union Square was a fantastic place to stay, although I must admit to wanting to, um, “silence” the sax player on the corner after about the 3rd hour of listening to him play!

  • Drea
    June 27, 2011

    I love looking at the photos, they’re so interesting ^_^ sounds like you had a good time 😀

  • Saliendo
    June 27, 2011

    I think the photo of Terry picking you up has to be one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen. You make such a lovely couple. 🙂

    I’m also in the ‘more photos please’ camp.

  • Tracey
    June 27, 2011

    This brings back such memories! I loved San Francisco and would go back again in a heartbeat. We actually stayed at Fisherman’s Wharf and it was wonderful. I can’t wait to see what else you got up to.

    p.s. I bought my first every pair of Louboutins at that Saks.

  • Nikki G
    June 28, 2011

    Looking at your pictures of San Francisco makes me want to go back! We did the whole walk of the city on the first day, and that is no easy trek. Our friend that lived there at the time warned us that San Francisco in August(when we went)is a lot colder than one would expect. We were prepared with our jackets and long pants, but there were a lot of people wearing San Francisco sweatshirts and hoodies. That was the easiest way to spot the tourists. They were all wearing the same shirts! Your pictures are lovely and it seems like everyone had a great time.

    • Amber
      June 28, 2011

      Oh yes, that would’ve totally been us in the San Francisco sweaters! We also knew it was going to be cold there, but because we are also going to southern California, where it would hopefully be much warmer, I had to bring clothes for both temperatures, and I got so sick of my cold weather clothes – it started to feel like a uniform! Shopping was the only answer 🙂

  • Jessica
    June 28, 2011

    Beautiful photos! So glad you had such a great holiday. Did you make it to the Benefit store? Oh, I love the original Benefit store.

    • Amber
      June 28, 2011

      I didn’t unfortunately – there was just so much to see!

  • Lauren
    June 28, 2011

    Love love love the holiday photos, so I think it is fair to conclude their are tons of us who happily gobble them all up.

    As for the San Fran taxi drivers, but parents were there one hippy day in the 70s (don’t ask), and my poor father was rather aggressively attacked by a random passer by. Unprovoked. He had long hair. This might be the reason. My parents ran off in different directions, causing my directionally-challenged mum to get brutally lost. A nice taxi driver drove her around for three hours trying to find the hotel, and he was so appalled by their (very unusual) treatment that he refused to let her pay him. I have a soft spot for San Fran taxi drivers, therefore!

    Can’t wait to be there myself later this year!

    • Amber
      June 28, 2011

      Aww, that’s a lovely story!

      Don’t get me wrong, the taxi drivers were all perfectly pleasant, they just all seemed to REALLY hate the city, and would insist on telling us how awful it was, and how we shouldn’t bother visiting any of the places we wanted to go – it made us feel a bit stupid, but hey go: we just ignored them and went on our merry way!

  • Dial V for Vintage
    June 30, 2011

    Ooh yes, I argee, San Francisco is a shopping heaven! These pictures make me want to go back there… I spent hours shopping and nosing around in Haight Street. The Bettie Page Boutique is so nice to snoop around, and when I was there they had some sales going on! Also, walking around in SF is probably the best workout ever… those steep hills, my god! 😀

  • Myra
    February 13, 2019

    We went to San Fran one year for New Year and loved it. The seals were so huge I thought they were walruses – lumbering smelly great things. We also stayed in a grand hotel from 1930 with small rooms. It was a recommendation from a local as they did a New Year banquet in their Starlight lounge overlooking the city and my husband was chatted up bt a Dolly Parton lookalike.
    Visited a fab jazz club, never seen so much rain and there was a poor man holding an umbrella over people while flagging taxis, for tips.
    R was like a kid hanging off the back of the street cars, or trams as we know them. He loved them. And the shopping was great – how can they sell British brands cheaper than here.

Flying By Numbers
Seeing San Francisco on Foot