The Golden Gate Bridge, and San Francisco's famous fog
STEVE ADAMS is touring California in a motorhome for a feature that will appear in Camping & Caravanning magazine later this year. Here’s his final report from the road.
Redwood trees are the tallest (300 feet and more) – as well as the oldest (2,000 years and more) – living things on the planet, and are a constant companion on a road trip near the California coast, thriving in the damp and foggy conditions that prevail through much of the year.
There are umpteen parks with the name ‘redwood’ in them dotted from California up to Oregon, and all offer the chance to get up close to the magnificent trees in dense forests that are as moody as they are beautiful.
The Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains is one such location, and we combined a stroll around its gentle Redwood Grove Trail with a ride on the narrow-gauge steam railway at Roaring Camp Railroads. The family-friendly tourist train, complete with good ol’ boy conductor-cum-commentator, takes a winding route into the mountains pulled along – at least on our visit – by ‘Dixie’, a 102-year-old steam engine originally used on the Smokey Mountain Railroad.
The 75-minute round-trip is just about right, and allows time at the top (‘Bear Mountain’) to explore the forest and take a few snaps of the steaming engine – though you’ll have to wait your turn as everyone wants the same picture.
It was much the same when we continued on to the Municipal Wharf at Santa Cruz, where tourist paparazzi clambered for the best images of seals basking in the sun next to the jetty. The area is a great place for a stroll, including the lively Boardwalk amusement park, which is the oldest on the west coast. It’s suitably retro – even the new rides have been made to look old – and the various food (anyone for deep friend Twinkies?) and sideshow stalls made for great visual entertainment in the best traditions of Blackpool promenade.
Our next and last stop after Santa Cruz saw us returning to our starting point of San Francisco, which I deliberately omitted at the start of the blog because I knew we’d be coming back to see some more.
The fantastic city – voted the best city in the US by Condé Nast Traveler magazine for 16 years in a row – is a fabulous place to visit, and is home to a range of iconic sights familiar to millions. We took them all in – from the fog-covered Golden Gate Bridge to cable cars clanging up steep streets of townhouses, colourful Chinatown (the largest in the US), to the historic island prison of Alcatraz. We had clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf and took in the sights of Union Square, the Mission District, North Beach, Sausalito and more.
There’s so much to see in the city but the good news is that it’s really easy to navigate and get around. But realistically not in the motorhome (even our little Euro Tourer) - leave it at the campsite (San Francisco RV Resort is one of the nearest and ideally located for public transport) and ride the subway, bus, ferry or cable car. We used all of them, and they provided not only a means of transportation but a great chance to see the city from a variety of angles. We chose an additional vantage point too, splashing out for an aerial tour with San Francisco Helicopters, which was an undoubted highlight of our entire trip. The views were incredible and gave a brilliant overview – in every respect – of the city’s landscapes (from coast to downtown to bay), neighbourhoods, attractions and sights. We even flew UNDER the Golden Gate Bridge. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Sadly it rained heavily on our last day, so we ditched plans to cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge in favour of a visit to the California Academy of Sciences, a stunning natural history museum in Golden Gate Park. The eco-friendly building is home to a range of exhibits, plants and animals, and its main attractions include an aquarium, planetarium and four-storey rainforest. We found it as entertaining as it was educational – which I guess is the purpose (porpoise?) – and especially enjoyed the penguins’ feeding time.
Our own feeding time included ice-cream at the world-famous Ghirardelli’s, hot dogs during a San Francisco Giants baseball game at AT&T Park right on the bay, burgers at In ‘n’ Out Burger – a brilliant fast food chain and (largely) Californian institution definitely not to be missed – and drank local beer in bars frequented by Jack Kerouac and other beat generation writers. One barman looked like Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead, which only added to the whole experience.
At this point I should come clean about one aspect of our trip - we had help in San Francisco, in the form of two great friends who not only advised us where to go and what to see but on a couple of days actually took us there. Getting the locals’ take on the city added even more to our experience, and for that I’d like to dedicate this last blog to Scott and Mihaela – I hope we’ll get to show you our part of the world again soon.
Thanks to anyone who has read and enjoyed these blogs, which have been a great way to help record a great trip. You’ll also be able to read more about our trip in Camping & Caravanning magazine later this year.
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