If you follow my Instagram page (@twenty6style, check it out!) you’ll know that I’ve been on a pretty epic holiday. It was one of those trips that I’ve wanted to do forever, especially since buying our house and thought “it’s now or never”. A true bucket list moment. So, we flew to San Francisco, rented a car and spent the next 16 days driving. From Napa Valley, the Big Sur, Santa Cruz, Santa Monica, Long Beach, Laguna Beach and LA, the whole west coast.
It was the most incredible 16 days of my life and I wanted to share as much of it as I can with you guys. I’m going to be doing a little travel series over the next few weeks telling you all about what we did and where we went in case you have these places on your to-go list or maybe you’ll see them and be so tempted you’ll head to Skyscanner immediately! I’m sure there’s so much I’ve missed off so let me know your recommendations in the comment box below.
WHERE TO STAY
When I thought of San Francisco, I imagined staying in a quaint little B&B just outside the city overlooking the Golden Gate bridge. In reality, those places are crazy expensive and get booked up months in advance. But plan B was just as good – a luxury boutique hotel in the centre of the city! The Alise was everything I didn’t know I wanted from a hotel. Free pineapple cupcakes and coffee on tap? Er, yes please!
With luxe interiors (think coffee table books, oversized sofas and black and gold accents) and the sweetest staff members ever, it made our three days there an absolute dream. They even offer bright yellow bikes free of charge to explore the city on two wheels. We took them out for the whole day and rode the cycle lanes through the skyscrapers downtown and along the seafront to the Golden Gate which was the perfect way to get lost in the city.
WHAT TO DO
It’s tough to fit everything into three days but with a few early mornings (thank you jet lag!) you’ll be surprised how much you can squeeze in. The first port of call was Fisherman’s Wharf. To romanticise it, it’s a quaint yet busy stretch on the edge of the city where fisherman bring in their catch of the day. On the flip side, it’s actually a bit like an amusement pier with hoards of tourists, Ben & Jerry stands, street performers and boat tours every 10 minutes. The fresh fish stands are its saving grace and are the perfect pit stops for lunch on the go.
With lots of stands, live lobsters and no airs or graces, they don’t look luxe or even appetizing but overlook the aesthetics and opt for a fresh shrimp pot or fish and chips. I was adamant I didn’t want to do the tourist thing but a trip to Alcatraz prison was unavoidable. Toff had me on that one. I mean, I could hardly get there any other way! Little did we know that interior tours get booked up days in advance so we had to settle for a trip AROUND it! Yes, you’re herded like cattle and have an annoying automated guide over the tannoy but it was nice to get out on the open water, sail under the Golden Gate and see hundreds of sea lions sunning themselves on the dock.
On our second day we put on our running shoes and drove down to the harbour. Because of its straight path that stretches for miles along the waterfront, it’s the perfect place to workout. Health and fitness is a big part of San Francisco life. Just being amongst all the fit, suburban locals makes you want to join in. Here we wandered the residents areas, lusting after the big condos and beautiful complexes before stumbling across individual boutiques and coffee shops.
The final day was scorching hot and perfect for a day of wandering around the gorgeous Japanese Tea Gardens. It’s not very big and only took around 45 minutes to walk around but it’s an amazing little oasis of tranquility. Afterwards we strolled around the nearby lake. Here we spotted turtles in the water and squealed with excitement (OK, Toff didn’t but I did!) when a hummingbird hovered by my ear. Who knew all this nature was in a city? That area is ideal for stumbling across little parks (like the Shakespeare one above) and romantic little hideaways.
WHERE TO EAT
As usual, food featured pretty heavily over our long weekend. Yep, the Essex foodies had arrived! Although the US has a bad rep for fried food and supersized portions, San Francisco couldn’t have been more different. With a strong health and fitness ethos, the restaurants and cafes reflected this through their menus. Think toasted rye with smashed avo and a hens egg followed by fruit with agave and a wheatgrass shot. I kid you not.
So, amongst the yogis and sunshine, I got completely swept away with it all and felt amazing for it! The place to see and be seen has to be Charlotte Street. Set back from the harbour, the rows of pastel houses make way for a quaint high street. Lined with Pottery Barn, deli’s, vegan eateries and sweet clothing boutiques, there’s no better place to grab breakfast or lunch. Trendy young families and tribes of Lycra-clad girlfriends dominate the sidewalk. Before you know it you’ll be eavesdropping their conversations about garden parties and the hottest new opening for cocktails.
By day three, the Italian in Toff was starting crave some serious carbs so we headed to Perbacco. With moody lighting, white linen and seriously attractive staff, the restaurant was packed. From fashionistas to wealthy bankers, the atmosphere was buzzing. With a cosmopolitan scene like this you have to expect prices to match. On average breakfast was around $40 for both of us. And that was just some avo on toast and fruit!
Finally, the biggest thing we learnt (after a $130 fine) is that parking in San Francisco can be tricky. We hired a car from Avis via Expedia for the entire trip and couldn’t be without it. We found that a lot of America is really spaced out but parking restrictions are hefty. You have to be closer than 18 inches to the curb and can only park in the direction of the traffic. Also, make sure you take a picture of your parking metre after you’ve paid as proof.
It was one of those trips that I’ve wanted to do forever and thought “it’s now or never”