We were slowly making our way down the PCH just south of Mendocino when we made a last minute decision to hightail it down to San Francisco because we had found out that a band we really liked was playing that night. We left the sleepy coastal towns behind and headed out to US-101 making it just outside the city of San Francisco in around four hours.
We stopped at McDonalds to use the free wifi and double-check the venue address but to our dismay I had mixed up the location and the gig was actually in Oakland. We don't know a lot about Oakland but had heard from many people it was a place best to avoid. We thought about risking it but we were most worried about the van as it is our home and our whole life in it and did not want to be stressed about leaving it unattended.
Devastated we found ourselves at an In 'N Out ordering ourselves a couple of double doubles. We easily could have spent another week cruising, camping and surfing down the Northern California coast!
Next morning we made a new plan to explore the city in one day and then hit the road south-bound. We headed straight for the Fort Point area to check the surf but the conditions weren't right so we decided to do the walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was well worth it because it was a gorgeous day and we love being physically active. We wanted to hike up to Vista Point but we realized we hadn't put enough money into the parking meter.
That afternoon we headed to the Fisherman's Wharf area where we were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed the place. Fortunately for us it was a weekday so there weren't many tourists around. As expected though everything was ridiculously over priced but it was still fun looking around and eyeballing the seafood we couldn’t afford.
We checked out the navy ship, SS Jeremiah O’brien and amused ourselves in Musee Mecanique, an old fashioned arcade with antique coin-operated mechanical instruments and vintage arcade games.
One annoying thing about San Fran is the expensive parking ($4 an hour) so we had to rush back to the van in fear of receiving a parking fine. The parking fee drops down to 50 cents an hour after 6pm so we sat in the van until then.
At 6pm we put some more coins in and walked over to Pier 39 but not before grabbing a 4-pack of mini wine bottles at the CVS across the road. Pier 39 was mainly full of souvenir-type retail stores and restaurants but it did have a good view of the harbor. We found a quiet spot around the back overlooking the water to sip on our wines.
The best thing about Pier 39 and the Fisherman's Wharf area in our opinion was watching the seals come in at dusk and fight over sleeping space on the floating docks. There are hundreds of them and they bark all night. It is the best free entertainment in town!
Around 10 pm we were headed back to the van when we noticed a magician starting his performance in the entertainment area but he had no audience. We felt sorry for him and decided to go watch the show to help get more of a crowd. He was very amusing and Jamie ended up being part of the act.
Finding somewhere to park and spend the night in a city is hard at the best of times and especially in San Fran where there is a lack of free parking but we managed to find an awesome location on the waterfront with million dollar views without the million dollar price tag.
Next morning we woke to a commercial for McDonalds being filmed in the park across the road using passer-by’s. We initially thought it was McHappy Day and thought we were going to score some free breakfast or at least a free coffee.
Jamie went over there first and it turned out they were targeting a certain look. After observing who they seemed to be targeting I put on some sporty looking gear and went across to join Jamie. Next thing you know the director is approaching us to be in the ad. After three takes we were rewarded with some breakfast and coffees. Success!
The mission for our second day was to hike up to Vista Point because I was disappointed we did not the day before. After another walk over the bridge and short hike up the mountain we were rewarded with an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge and harbor. It was truly worth the effort!
Next on the list was to check out the Financial District and Chinatown. The buildings in the Financial District were pretty impressive for us Aussie's as we don’t have anything like it back home but we felt super under-dressed, and after the last couple weeks of being complete dirt-bags we were feeling a little out of place.
We didn’t like that feeling so quickly headed over to Chinatown and our impressions of the area were pretty average. For some reason we had it in our minds that it was going to be the equivalent of being in Asia; filled with yummy cheap street food, but again it was mainly touristy retail stores (and without any real bargains). We did however end up purchasing a new full lens for our camera.
Anyway, we decided to pay Pier 39 another visit as I was keen to check out the seals one more time and we also needed to find wifi to pay the bridge toll. After completing our mission we were ready to call it a night when we heard some funky music coming out of one the bars. We went inside to check it out, it was a blues band and they were awesome. Wanting to hear the whole set we grabbed ourselves a couple of margaritas and sat down to enjoy the show. The vocalist, Willy G, was highly entertaining and had the whole bar up dancing.
It was a great night until we found out that we had been so distracted that we forgot to put more money in the parking meter. Us and the rest of the patrons in the bar. All the cars out front had parking tickets!!
Our third day in we chilled in the van over by Fort Point. Jamie was waiting for the surf to pick up and I was in a stay at home/cleaning mood. That afternoon we made some new van buddies who had just come back from an overland adventure to Central America (check out their adventures here). We spent the following couple of days exploring other parts of San Francisco with them... and the surf did eventually pick up.
In the end we had a lot more fun in San Francisco than we thought we would and were surprised at how many days we spent here. Having some van friends did make the SF experience way more fun. However, we were definitely over city life and keen to get out. Besides being a super expensive city to have fun in, the traffic was unbearable and the super steep roads were just not good for Big Kev. We were happy to say goodbye....
Vanlife - Driving Down the Oregon Coast in Winter
Vanlife - Driving Down the Northern California Coast
Where To Shower on a Road Trip