“Let’s go for a walk around the city”, said Jon. This was before he revealed the proposed route and the additional piece of valuable information – that San Francisco is built on a succession of 43 hills. You only have to look at the famous cable car photos, the twisty, steep Lombard Street or have watched a couple of episodes of that 70’s classic “The Streets of San Francisco” to know this and realise that land-sailing takes on a whole new meaning here.
A Scenic Walk in San Francisco
Our starting point was Powell Street BART station. Jon had the map in hand but scarily no reading glasses. The route took us up a reassuringly short incline to Union Square which is home to some very snazzy hotels and snazzy shops followed by the gate to China Town.
Unlike other Chinese districts in cities that we have seen, China Town in San Francisco seemed to be a real community rather than a collection of restaurants for the tourists. Being unable to resist delving a bit deeper, historically the majority of the early Chinese immigrants did not really get such a good deal when arriving in the city. Angel Island, in the bay, was known as the Ellis Island of the West and the immigration station was built in 1905 following the introduction of the Chinese Exclusion Act. The immigration officials were suspicious of all Asian applicants. They were seen as a threat as because, in the main, they occupied the much needed low-wage jobs. Discrimination and bad treatment were the norm at the centre and a large number of applications were rejected. The centre remained open until 1940.
Fortunately, the Chinese community seems to have overcame this difficult start to their lives in the US but many of those early settlers would never discuss their time on Angel Island. It is now a State Park.
Nob Hill and Grace Cathedral
As the second part of the name suggests, this is a very big hill (but I am not sure about the origins of the first part of the name). During our travels we have climbed many a hill but it is the degree of the incline that is a shocker for the knees in SF. It is quite an expensive residential area which is reflected by the size of the properties and standard of hotels. The Cathedral takes pride of place at the top and was interesting to see but with a lot of modern murals and artwork.
Cable Car Museum
After a few more downhill strolls and uphill climbs we arrived at the Cable Car Museum. We had seen this on our previous cable car ride and had had a strong recommendation to go (thanks Mum and Alan). It was a fascinating place.
In a nutshell, all the cables that run under the streets to pull the cars along run from this building. The levers you see on the cable cars are not all brakes. They are in fact giant pliers that grab onto the cable which constantly runs at 9.5 miles per hour under the street. Any maintenance of the cable takes place overnight. Weirdly all of the 44 cable car trolleys are stored overnight on the second floor of the building. We never quite found out how but probably via the very steep hill at the rear of the building. Yes surprise, surprise another steep hill. After a few more corners and steep hills, we revived ourselves with an Auntie Mary’s Fried Chicken Sandwich and a beer in a restaurant called Naked Lunch in trendy North Beach. Yum! The San Francisco Giants were playing the San Diego Padres at the AT&T base ball park in SF and we felt duty bound to watch a little of the game to try and get our head around some of the rules before getting to a game later in our travels. It was at this point that Jon decided to tell me that the walking route we were taking was part of a 49 mile scenic driving route. Only a small part he hastened to add!
Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower
Guess what? Another hill, this time Telegraph Hill. As the name suggests, it is the highest geographical point in the city so housed the first semaphore station from around 1849. The purpose of the station was to signal to the city the nature of ships entering the Golden Gate. (Little bit of quiz trivia for you. The entrance to the harbour has always been called the Golden Gate Strait – long before the bridge was ever built.). The Coit Tower was added in 1933 following a bequest to beautify the city of San Francis from a character called Lillie Hitchcock-Coit.
From the top we had a fantastic view of the bay, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. There was also a faint squiggle in the distance which was the crookedest street, Lombard Street. Only a mile or so. By now I think we were around the 6 mile mark on our scenic walk. Would we make it? Of course.
This massive tourist attraction was not as busy as we expected. We felt duty bound to go but felt it is a bit over-rated to be honest. Evidently the houses on this part of Lombard street are worth millions of dollars but who would want tourists constantly trekking past our door or to sit in a queue of traffic just to get to your garage. The central gardens and hedges were well kept but once again the over zealous photographers were darting through the traffic to get amongst the plants. Shame on them!
It was a good place to finish up our walking tour. It had been a long day on our feet but you see so much more than on the cable car or bus. The best news to the day was that it was downhill all they way to the station.