The Hilly Streets of San Francisco
“I left my heart in San Francisco…” I always wondered what these profound words from crooner Tony Bennett meant when he sung the famous song of the same name. I imagined it was a heart-wrenching, romantic song of love found and lost in this famous city. But now that I’ve been there for the first time, my take on the song is more about someone who’ d had to walk around the undulating city in the days before the trams arrived, and his poor overworked heart suffered immeasurably.
Now don’t get the wrong impression, San Francisco is a stunning city, but to call it ‘hilly’ is an immense understatement – it’s mountain goat territory! It’s the ‘hilliest’ city in the USA and the second most hilly city in the world.
While we were there we got to stay in one of the best hotels in San Francisco, the Fairmont. Perched proudly on top of Nob Hill, it’s one of the oldest and most historic hotels in California. In fact it was here in 1945 that the United Nations Charter, as we know it today, was drafted.
On our first morning we strolled downhill to where the city’s famous cable cars begin their perilous journey. We were eager to experience the entire trip as the trams rattle up to the summit and back down again. Watching the grip operators applying the massive handbrakes on the steep downward descent showed just how skilful these guys were at slowing down, and eventually halting, these mechanical beasts.
Our first cable car ride took us all the way to Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf, which hundreds of lazy, noisy sea lions like to call home. After gawking at these cute, mischievous and well-fed locals, we soon had our faces buried in a famous Fisherman’s Wharf clam chowder, served in a fresh sourdough bowl.
From Pier 39 we attempted to walk off our seafood extravaganza by making our way up to one of the strangest, steepest and most crooked streets in the city, the legendary zig-zagging Lombard Street. The area around Lombard Street is quite exclusive, filled with grandiose mansions and ultra-expensive real estate. We happened to be there in late November when Lombard Street is alive with the vibrant colours of blooming flowers in their prime season.
From Lombard Street we navigated our way to what is now my favourite district in San Francisco, Haight-Ashbury, where the hippy movement began back in the ‘60s. Even today the area still maintains the same vibe as you wander its colourful streets. I witnessed pot being sold openly on the street as the sweet smell of weed wafted all around us. Many hippies are still living the same lifestyle in Haight-Ashbury, as though time has stood still. The area’s impressive array of retro and second-hand clothing stores, as well as some of the coolest cafes we had ever come across, made it difficult to leave.
Tight on time as always, we hurried to our next iconic San Francisco adventure, a drive over the Golden Gate Bridge to take in the views over the Bay area and beyond. One very notable feature of San Francisco’s coastal climate is the way the temperature can quickly drop from warm and comfortable to freezing and foggy – within a matter of minutes in fact – and the Golden Gate Bridge can literally disappear from view without warning.
From the Golden Gate Bridge we continued on to the gorgeous little town of Sausalito, just over ten minutes drive away, for some retail therapy and a delicious Californian seafood lunch.
The following day we left the city for a cruise up to one of the best wine districts in the world, the Napa Valley. We were there only weeks after devastating bushfires had wreaked havoc on many of the world-renowned wineries. In just a short time, many of the Napa Valley and Sonoma vineyards were completely wiped out. Fortunately for us though, not all of the area was affected by the wildfires and we managed to visit one of the region’s best, the Robert Mondavi Winery.
Our first impressions of Mondavi were pretty spectacular. We began at the cellar door tasting room where we discovered their world-class Pinos and Sauv Blancs that are so highly acclaimed. We also got to join a tour of the barrel rooms, affording us a rare insight into their wonderful world of winemaking.
Wine tasting is hard work for weary travellers, so we wrapped up another awesome day in a well known Napa restaurant called the Rutherford Grill. We devoured a tonne of corn bread, along with a succulent rack of their premium pork ribs dripping with Texas Hill Country BBQ Sauce. Only the finest red wines from the region were served with our feast, along with a decadent selection of desserts fit for two gluttonous Aussie sugar addicts.
This Napa Valley feast left an indelible memory on our taste buds, as well as my ever-expanding waistline. Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but I left my six-pack there, and will undoubtedly be back one day to find it.
Where to stay
Fairmont Hotel San Francisco
How to get there
Vicky Gilden at Rose Bay Travel (02) 9371 8166