I’d been to San Francisco before, back in 2007 (although I’d been utterly broke, and so spent most my two days there just wandering around), and knew it was a place that we definitely needed to spend some time. So, our wheels safely parked up in the tightest underground parking space known to man, we headed out to enjoy the city. San Francisco had kindly decided not to observe ‘Fogust’ during our visit, and we were instead treated to unseasonably beautiful blue skies.
We started the day by wandering up the city’s steep hills (you’d get fit quickly if you walked around this city a lot) until we reached the famous Lombard Street. It was, unsurprisingly, crammed with cars, but the top of it offered a nice view over the beautiful bay.
Fisherman’s Wharf and Musée Mécanique
Our first proper stop was Fisherman’s Wharf, where I couldn’t quite resist buying overpriced crab and beer to enjoy on the waterfront (it was good, okay, even if horrendously expensive and cliché). We then wandered down the pier and stumbled across the treasure trove that is the Musée Mécanique. This is a collection of old fairground arcade machines from the late Victorian period to the present day, and it is fantastic! From morbid ‘execution’ tableaux (it seemed curiously popular in turn-of-the-century America to watch Mary Queen of Scots being beheaded) to singing barbershop quartets, fortune tellers, ‘how hot are you’ judges and Space Invaders, a century’s worth of fairground kitsch was there to be enjoyed.
The best thing is that the machines have all been calibrated to take quarters, so you can hop over to the change machines and play to your heart’s content. We had a tough time tearing ourselves away – the place was just magical.
We did eventually leave and make it up to the heavily touristed (and windy as heck) Pier 39, where the main attraction are a colony of sea lions who for around 25 years have resided on K-Dock, where they bask – and often push one another off – the on the wooden docks.
From there we wandered through the city up towards the world’s largest Chinatown, a colourful and bustling section of streets selling a variety of Chinese foods and goods, including some incredibly ornate lighting. We soaked up the atmosphere, looked around a few shops, and then decided to go for some bubble tea for a bit of a rest.
From Chinatown, we took a bus up to the legendary hippy hangout of Haight-Ashbury, famed as the birthplace of the ‘Summer of Love.’ Today it’s a mix of gentrified artisan shops and hippy kitsch, and although it’s a little yuppified and past its genuine counter-cultural heyday, it’s still a fun place to explore – I particularly liked some of the ‘gothic cool’ shops that trended in the upmarket macabre.
By this time it was early evening, and we ended up getting pre-dinner drinks at the Victorian-style Hobson’s Choice, a spacious rum parlour that serves up fairly lethal punch concoctions.
The Stinking Rose
We had decided to dine at the fabled Stinking Rose: a restaurant completely devoted to garlic (motto: “we season our garlic with food”). The restaurant has been around since 1991, and is a paean of garlic-themed kitsch, boasting the world’s longest garlic rope. As garlic lovers, we decided that we couldn’t pass up on the chance to have dinner here.
I enjoyed the Dungeness crab with abundant roasted garlic, which was incredibly tasty (the seafood on the West Coast is just fantastic) and the roasted garlic was by no means overpowering, giving a sweetness to the crab rather than a pungent kick. We finished it off with garlic flavoured ice cream, which was nice enough, although we weren’t too convinced by the garlicky aftertaste. Fittingly, the restaurant also served garlic-infused wine to go with their dishes (you can’t really taste the garlic), and we may have kicked back rather a lot of ‘Chateau de Garlic’ before stumbling back to our hotel.
Highlights: amazing museum machines, sea lions, Dungeness crab, abundant alcohol, unseasonable sunshine.
Lowlights: does the West Coast have lowlights? If so, I’m struggling to find them.
Up next: Hungover on a wine tour