In her smash-hit ‘California Gurls’, Katy Perry says that nothing comes close to the golden coast. But there’s far more to California than the beach – in fact, don’t lose any sleep over missing it
Entering downtown San Francisco, it feels like I’m home.
This picturesque section of the Californian west coast’s resemblance to Cape Town is uncanny: scrubby bushes and sun-thirsty aloes dot the khaki mountainside; gnarled trees grow through the sidewalks and
San Fran’s individuality and irreverent sense of style
Nobody lives here by accident – especially in sections of downtown where properties fetch some of the highest prices anywhere. So what else makes having an address here so appealing, you might ask?
It’s also one of America’s most politically progressive cities, and for the most
Make that Libertarian Lite with a side of yoga – and a neatly-rolled joint. After all, California is one of a handful of states where marijuana is legal.
From the outlandish
As a matter of course, the city offers some of the most rewarding people watching anyone can indulge
On the adjacent sidewalk, Athleisure is bobbing to his headphones while walking his tiny dog. At the traffic
Even from the sidelines though, we were roped into more than a few left-of-field conversations. One brief encounter I won’t forget was with a man at a bus-stop downtown.
Uncertain which bus to take, I asked him if he was headed in our direction, to which he excitedly replied, “Prince Harry got married on my birthday!” and hopped onto the approaching bus.
All the eats
Although there are a few signature San Fran dishes like bay shrimp and clam chowder (the city is surrounded by water on three sides), it’s the multi-culture of
Our first sit-down meal comes at Jackson Fillmore – a fuss-free, honest-to-goodness Italian eatery just a short walk from our hotel. A waiter squeezes us in at a makeshift table, restricting any sudden hand movements in case we should send any passing plates on a floorward course.
But the evening is also memorable for the food: delightfully rich tortellini baked in Fontina cheese. And when the bill arrives – or ‘check’ as they say here – it’s a total steal by San Fran’s pricey standards.
On our amble home, we count enough ice-cream
And while it seems absurd to queue all things considered we make an exception for Salt and Straw, with a snaking line of superfans breaching the store’s front door. It ends up being worth every minute.
Another standout meal is at Souvla, a Greek fast-fine restaurant where I can’t say enough about their rotisserie lamb and baby potatoes cooked in the drippings.
With so much choice around, breakfast in San Fran can be positively daunting, but you can’t go wrong with La Boulangerie de San Francisco – with shops across the city. After a pastry and a cereal bowl of coffee at this reliable franchise, consider yourself the undisputed breakfast champion.
Between many unforgettable meals and sightseeing, we often find ourselves at bars looking for a drink – and a charge for our phones. Some drinking spots are loud and overt, and others more comparable to the living room of a dear friend who serves well-mixed drinks.
One especially cozy watering hole is the Black Horse – six bar stools and the standing room of an elevator – where a claw-foot bathtub is
Then there’s Cafe Vesuvio in Chinatown, an old haunt of beatnik legends like Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady. Just across Jack Kerouac Alley outside its entrance – a
This fiercely independent bookseller stocks some rare titles hard to find anywhere else. Bar-hopping leaves us in need of a bite before heading home, and we happily discover Rosamunde Sausage Grill in Haight-Ashbury, which serve delicious handmade sausages of every kind.
The gregarious German chef clearly knows the order of every diehard who stumbles in from the Tornado pub next door.
Sites and sounds
We spend one gloriously still morning exploring the inner-city sanctuary of Golden Gate Park with its green lawns, lakes
In the adjacent Japanese Tea Garden we enjoy strolling the tidy pathways between an impressive collection of native plants, and also discover an arched drum bridge, stone lanterns
Being Spring, our visit coincides with the exquisite cherry blossoms in bloom. But whatever time of year it is, aim to arrive by
Also in the park is the De Young Museum which houses a comprehensive collection of contemporary art, photography
For natural science lovers, the California Academy of Sciences is undoubtedly Golden Gate’s best attraction. Under its massive domed living roof is a rainforest teeming with birds and butterflies; beneath which an aquarium leads through a glass tunnel to other interactive exhibits.
Don’t leave without visiting the all-digital planetarium for a fascinating look at our solar system to make you feel suitably small and insignificant.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is a buzzing network of streets and alleys where bubble teashops, souvenirs and karaoke bars all vie for our attention with flashing LED lights.
Discover dim-sum joints, noodle bars, and other hole-in-the-wall eateries you might only otherwise hear about while eavesdropping on locals.
But sights, restaurants and bars aside, our hands-down highlight of San Francisco is hiking the cliff-top Lands End Trail.
This 5km walk loops around the rockiest corner of the city’s coastline and features many different looks at the world’s most photographed bridge – you guessed it, the Golden Gate. The Instagram gods have our back and we’re all but guaranteed the perfect selfie by the time we’re done.
Add to that old shipwrecks, the Sutro Baths, and stunning views – fog dependent – across the Pacific to former prison Alcatraz Island – yet another nod from San Francisco to Cape Town and Robben Island prison.
If Lands End Trail is a fair introduction to the natural beauty of California, we’re in for a real treat in Yosemite National Park the next morning.
Some among them are killers
Yosemite owes its name to the southern Miwok tribes, who lived here in the mid-19th century and came to be known by their adversaries as Yo-
But despite its history rooted in
And the experience meets my lofty expectations – from the silky mist of Yosemite Falls on my
The surrounding hills at the park’s south entrance are carpeted in a kaleidoscope of spring blossoms. As we drive further into Yosemite Valley, the famous redwoods appear in numbers, filtering the mid-morning light with their branches.
Although the sun’s beaming down, some main routes through the park are closed after recent bad weather, which also damaged our accommodation in Half Dome Village.
But with the mercury hovering around freezing – cold for this late in spring – we swap a non-heated tent for a room just outside the park with some degree of relief. Yes, climate change is real.
A wilderness less travelled
With limited trails and attractions to visit, we set off on the three-hour drive from our lodge to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, uncertain quite what to expect there.
On the drive, we take short turns behind the wheel so that each of us has the chance to admire the vast terrain below as the condensation lifts from the valley floor. It’s incredible to imagine these massive undulations being gradually carved out of
Patches of wilderness scarred by the seasonal Californian wildfires are evident across the landscape, still recovering from the devastating fires of 2017 which burnt 6000 km² of land.
Watching the Wapama and Tueeulala waterfalls plunge from the clifftop into the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, there’s a lot to be impressed about this enormous water system, which supplies large tracts of California with water for irrigation and municipal use.
Under once-again ominous skies, Hetch Hetchy is reminiscent of a scene from Lord of the Rings, and the volcano of Mount Doom would not at all look out of place.
For seasoned Yosemite visitors looking to dodge the crowds, this northwestern area of the park with 462km of hiking trails and an abundance of
Re-entering San Francisco on a bus crossing the Bay Bridge, not for the first time I’m struck by the
Departing San Francisco,
story by Simon Capstick-Dale