Almost a year ago, I made my maiden trip to travel to big old America. It was incredible and I will never forget the feeling of wonder, joy and curiosity one gets when being in a new location for the first time.
My first stop was San Francisco, California and I did the long haul flight on Qantas from ADL – MEL – LAX – SFO. It was one of the longest trips in the air I’ve ever done (in economy class, no less). While I didn’t get to stay too long in San Francisco this time – four days in total – I did manage to tick a few things off.
Here are my highlights and recommended things to do.
Chinatown, San Francisco
It simply had to be done! Known to be the biggest Chinatown in the world, curiosity got the best of me and I spent an afternoon wandering around and popping into local Asian grocery shops just checking out the goods.
I loved how at familiar yet foreign it felt simply hearing people speak Cantonese on the street. Like most Chinatowns around the world, you can find many Made in China paraphernalia. From mah jong tiles, cheongsams to “jade” boats (I say “jade” because I’m pretty sure it’s fake), its novelty soon wore off for me.
Tip: Wear comfortable shoes (or sandals)! Even the walk through on the main street of China town is pretty hilly. If you do tire though, there are plenty of massage places that offer a quick 20 minutes foot massage.
Asian Art Museum
If you are into arts, history and culture, you definitely do not want to miss this place. Actually, even if you aren’t into arts, history or culture, you should drop by. Encompassing the largest collection of Asian Art in the world, this museum is totally worth your time.
At its most simplistic level, the art collection showcases how different Asia is; every geographical location in Asia is unique and distinct. One aspect I enjoyed the most was the subtle differences of each culture’s interpretation of the Buddha. Some collections even have a wonderful storytelling aspect to it, which I loved!
- The museum offers free entry every first Sunday of each month. If you are on a tight budget and have time to spare, this will save you $20.
- Download the Asian Art Museum smartphone app beforehand or get the audio guide machine thing (if you failed to ration the shit iPhone battery life). While it doesn’t give you an audio walk through of everything, it does on some of the collections.
Muir Woods National Monument, Mill Valley
San Francisco isn’t all about clam chowder, a suspension cable bridge and ridiculously cold summers. Muir Woods isn’t much of a travel secret and definitely not off the beaten track but it is definitely worth a visit.
Home to some of the world’s tallest tree species and some of the oldest in the world, it is worth every bit of effort and dollar to be in the presence of living beings this old.
Even if you’re not into nature, the walks through the park are pretty rewarding and caters to avid hikers (1-2 hours, moderately strenuous) and the everyday tourist (30-45 minutes, easy).
- Bring a light jacket as it can get a little chilly due to the thick canopy the trees form.
Sausalito is a pretty seaside town with great views of San Francisco City. It is very similar to other touristy seaside towns like Sorrento, Mornington Peninsula in Victoria Australia and Teluk Chempedak, Kuantan on the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia (okay, maybe not TC).
The mainstreet is filled with lovely cafes and restaurants. Most of them are alfresco dining parklets style and there are also public benches in between cafes for those who just want to sit back and enjoy a takeaway coffee or sandwich.
It’s a quaint little town and is usually part of the Muir Woods day tour (if you’re doing a tour). It’s also part of the recommended bike self-tour when rent a bike from Fisherman’s Wharf. You bike the Golden Gate Bridge and then to Sausalito.
- If you’re planning to do the bike ride, start relatively early in the day. This will leave you ample time to wander around Sausalito!
- Pack a good wind and waterproof jacket (the weather changes before, on and after the bridge). Temperatures can drastically drop through the day, even in summertime.
- When renting a bike, make sure to ask how often their bikes are serviced. I met a traveller whose bike chained snapped and he had to push it back all the way from wherever he was!
Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park
The Golden Gate Park is huge. If you think you’re gonna be able to power walk it in a day, you must be a professional power walker. But despite feeling like legs were about to snap, its crazy traffic and ridiculously loud and fast motorised-scooters, there are some pretty special places to visit when you’re here. Like this Japanese Tea Garden. Much like the Himeji Garden in Adelaide, South Australia but bigger.
If you’re looking for inspiration or just wanting some zen time, stop by, give yourself a quiet moment (if you can find it. I find some people forget the zen aspect of the park). There’s even a tea garden inside.
- Save on the $6 entrance fee and visit on Mondays!