If You're Going to San Francisco (USA Day 130)


Triumphantly, exhaustedly, eagerly, anxiously, we found our way up the steep approach roads of Marin County, to the Golden Gate Bridge and pedalled over its blustery bike path. San Francisco glittered ahead of us, its densely-packed downtown on such steep hillsides that it gave the impression of a medieval fort.


It’s been eleven days since our last rest day. Call it eagerness to catch up on lost miles, a revelling in newfound momentum and sheer forgetfulness that such things even exist. On top of all this, we’ve been squirming with excitement at the famous names of some Californian landmarks that approach, beginning with the sights, sans and frans of San Francisco.

Even constrained as it is by ocean on every side, San Francisco is huge. It’d take months to explore. This is amplified by the fact that every direction is uphill, that every street is beautiful, that each district has its own character and that we’ve been recommended three different taquerias, two bakeries, one burger joint, two bike shops, two islands, one beach, three parks and countless dim sum places to try. In two and a half days. Better get started.

By crossing the bridge and turning right, we traced the westward side of the city, taking in the immensely rich hilltop suburbs and ‘Land’s End’ viewpoint with an abandoned saltwater pool in harm’s way of the ocean swell. Like the tatty urban fox that led us downhill, we stopped and sniffed at various sights and then peed on a bush. The streets are comically steep here: we held both our brakes and breath, and gagged behind a lorry that emitted the foulest cloud of burning rubber, just trying to stop itself from careering through historic Cliff House and out into the ocean.


Our circuitous route took in City Beach and Golden Gate Park, both self-explanatory but great, then wiggled through a fun urban bike route known as ‘The Wiggle’ (no idea why) towards Mission. This is the district where we’ll stay, and it’s quite something. Prominently Hispanic in terms of culture, but diverse and challenging and brilliant wherever you look, it’s been hefted with the ‘cool’ tag and now struggles at its edges not to gentrify. Valencia Street is trendy bars and vegan cafes, while Mission Street, only a block further east, is smoky taquerias and nameless dollar stores. We chose the latter, installing our faces in a pair of life-changing burritos, then rolling fartily to a nearby park for some sun and a good rest.

That good rest has announced its intention to stay with us until Sunday. We haven’t communicated fully with the burrito wind, but that’ll probably stick around too.