A trip to San Francisco on west coast was always high on the list, question was when?! We wanted to avoid the New Year crowds and eventually planned our trip in end Jan 2018 – which made it our 1st trip of 2018. With 3 days at hand, we planned on visiting San Francisco and also a day trip to Monterey; and surely Monterey is one of the most beautiful places we have visited.
For ease of reading, we have split the blog in two parts – this one narrates our experiences at San Francisco, while Monterey – a coastal paradise talks about our day trip to this amazing place.
Coming to Day One, we landed at SFO airport by 1130 hrs, picked up our rental car from Enterprise and head to our hotel – DoubleTree by Hilton in Brisbane, CA. To start with, here are few clicks we snapped from the flight before it landed.
After freshening up & a quick meal we headed straight to the Golden Gate bridge by 1400 hrs. Driving on the sloping streets of San Francisco was super fun, an experience in itself as we drove over this beautiful architectural marvel and halted at the Vista point. It was not be best of the light to photograph the bridge from this point but we still decided to hang around a bit and I snapped few images of the bridge and also of the Alcatraz island.
Soon I heard some bird chirping as I moved a bit away from the crowd. A huge flock of Golden-crowned Sparrows (lifer #1) and just as I reached my camera bag to change my lens, I saw a group of California Quails foraging on the ground! lifer #2! Must have changed the lens in record time and managed some good images of both the lifers. It wasn’t over as California Scrub Jay came and perched at minimum focussing distance of the lens! That was lifer #3 😀 Few more shots of the common European Starling and we finally decided to move to our next point. (If you are birder, ALWAYS ALWAYS carry your binocular / camera no matter which place you visit :D)
With the light in opposite direction from the Vista point, naturally we decided to visit the other side to see the bridge in good light. We had done our research on google and found that the Marin Headlands Vista Point gave some of the best views. We got lucky with the weather with bright sun & clear skies giving some excellent views of the Golden Gate Bridge. A mile away from this point towards the bridge, we also halted at the famous Battery Spencer Observation Deck which also gave some really good views – probably one of the best places for selfie fans.
By 1600 hrs, we started to our next destination – the Fisherman’s Wharf. We reached the place in 30 minutes, but finding free parking was a task so we went ahead with a paid parking lot. The moment you start walking on the streets at Fisherman’s Wharf, you would see a lot of crab & shrimp dishes for a quick bite. We did enjoy share by gorging on crab rolls! We soon found ourselves standing in a line to board a sunset cruise we booked with Red and White Fleet. With around 15 minutes to board, a Heermann’s Gull – lifer #4, came and perched around 12 feet away. Now if I had my 400mm lens on the camera, it would have been a perfect opportunity to make a bird portrait in the fading golden light however seeing most of gulls are pretty bold, I decided to stick with the 24mm lens try a wide angle shot. Approaching it cautiously I was able to close in on this bold Heermann’s Gull in its breeding plumage & I framed the shot I noticed the famous Alcatraz island in the background. I actually stepped back a bit to frame it with the island giving the following result. Surely one of my favourite images from the trip 🙂
Soon we were onboard the small cruise named Royal Prince. Not a luxury cruise, but a lovely 2 hour ride during the sunset as it went underneath the golden bridge and back, circled the Alcatraz island and finally went around the beautiful San Francisco Bay bridge giving some glittering views of the downtown. With a complimentary glass of wine / beer and buffet, we found this absolutely worth it at $60 per person. Here are some of the images we managed to capture from the cruise.
We were back to the pier by 2000 hrs. We spent the next couple of hours walking leisurely around the famous Pier 39, doing some street photography before heading back to the hotel. Here are some shots from the evening & night around the Pier 39.
Day Two was just to explore, roam around and catchup with couple of friends in San Francisco. We had decided to use Uber to reach to the downtown than drive and hunt for a parking spot. Chinatown was the 1st place we visited which gave a complete asian feel. From street food outlets to fruits & vegetables stalls, the place was already buzzing in the morning. We had a quick bite at Good Mong Kok Bakery, a place so small you won’t realise when its right infront of you – classic hole in the wall! Their chicken dimsums were super delicious and so was the pineapple bun and chicken bun that was quite big. If you are one of them who loves momos / dimsums, don’t miss out on this place, and yes most of the items on menu are around $1 to $5! We also visited a local coffee shop to relax for a while.
Another walk of around a mile and we were at the famous Lombard Street. We walked to the top of Crookedest street, which gave some beautiful views. After spending a good hour or so, we walked down to the Ghirardelli Square and spent sometime there before we headed back to Fisherman’s Wharf. We spent the rest of the day exploring various piers, spending good amount of time at the K-Dock SeaLions and catching up with our friends. Also got some good views of the beautiful Western Grebe as well as the Western Gull. We were back to our hotel by around 1800 hrs, so we decided to do a small walk on the San Francisco Bay Trail that was next to the hotel before calling it a day.
Day Three was reserved for Monterey (click to read), so heading directly Day Four which was the final day. We did not have much time as our flight was around noon and we were away from the downtown, hence decided to explore the bay trail in the morning. This trail was buzzing with birds! I came across a good number of Buffleheads & Surf Scooters, the beautiful Clark’s Grebe, Red-breasted Mergansers, Horned & Eared Grebes, Black Phoebes, European Starlings, Whimbrel, White-crowned Sparrows, Brewer Birds, a Common Loon, White-tailed Kite and the stunning Anna’s Hummingbirds! This small trail was like the icing on the cake for the whole trip as we did not expect much here…! Here are some of the images we clicked.
Oh yes, this beautiful shot clicked by Shraddha during the beautiful sunrise 🙂
As mentioned at the start, this was our 1st trip of 2018 and was a complete bliss! We love to drive around, explore and of-course birding when we travel and we did all of that! Surely a fantastic start to 2018, just wondering… where next? 😀
Guide / Tips:
– We strongly suggest to choose hotel near to the downtown; it may be a costly but you will eventually save a lot on travel by not hiring a car and using combination of Walking / Bus / Trains / Uber & Lyft, especially when paid parking charges can go as high as $3 per 15 minutes! You can hire car only for the days you would travel away from San Francisco.
– If you still happen to rent a car and drive in the city, make sure you curb the wheels accordingly while parking on slopes. Also ensure you don’t keep anything on the front / rear sit of the car to avoid a car break-ins which have been on the rise in San Francisco (not even small things like cables, empty wallets, envelopes! Just makes you that much more susceptible). Make sure you don’t open the boot after you park the car, keep the bags in the boot at the start of the journey itself (we would still suggest to keep it in the room itself)
– Be aware of the toll roads. You can find all the information here.
– Try to group places for ease of travel, e.g. Chinatown, Lombard Street, Ghirardelli Square & Fisherman’s Wharf can easily be covered by walking with short breaks.
Signing off until next time, ciao 🙂
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– Rudraksha & Shraddha
Golden Gate Bridge – https://ebird.org/india/view/checklist/S42447505
Pier 39 – https://ebird.org/india/view/checklist/S42447604
Crookedest St. – https://ebird.org/india/view/checklist/S42741493
SF bay trail (Sierra Pt) – https://ebird.org/india/view/checklist/S42447690