San Francisco #2 : Lombard Street, the cable car and Victorian houses

4 February 2016
San Francisco downtown

After our first stop in San Francisco, we are going on with our road trip in California following a stop in Napa Valley ! Back to SF, we enjoyed an additional half a day to discover the city a bit more. Given the fact that we did not have that much time, we chose to go downtown for a small tour in the late afternoon. I think my only regret for the whole trip is actually not to have had enough time in San Francisco. Altogether we had one day and a half one site (including Alcatraz) but it was not enough, and I would strongly recommend that you block at elast 2 or 3 whole days to visit the city. Nevertheless I really liked the city – San Francisco is an American city that has a soul and some extra charm ! Anyway, today we are going on a tour through the colorful streets, a cable car ride and a stop at Lombard Street. Let’s go ?

San Francisco Victorian houses

» Walking around the Victorian houses

I started the French version of this article with the lyrics of a song from Maxime Le Forestier called San Francisco…  Obviously it would not have the same effect here, but he is speaking rightfully about San Francisco in that song  : the typical Victorian houses (c’est une maison bleue) and the difference in height (adossée à la colline) ! The city is indeed made of hills and the slopes can sometimes be pretty abrupt ! We saw a lot of runners, but walking around was already quite the exercise (haha). Because of that, the city is mainly visitable by foot, but it is really pleasant to have a nice view every time you are a bit above the buildings. It is quite surprising at first, but then you get used to going up and down continuously – and you will have beautiful legs ! We did not have a precise tour in mind, so we just went here and there while the sun was going down. Wherever you go, you can admire the particularities of those beautiful houses, so typical of San Francisco : the Victorian houses. Renamed the Painted Ladies, those homes built with sequoia wood and painted with different colors represent the “postcard view” of the city. If it is possible to see some elsewhere (in New Orleans for example), SF is one of the places in the US where you would find the largest number of those ! Some spots are more popular than others to to contemplate the architecture and details of these houses : Alamo Square or in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood for example. To fully live the experience, you can also rent one of those houses on Airbnb (feel free to use my travel credit code to gain 18€ on your next reservation).

San Francisco Lombard street

» Discovering Lombard Street

And you thought you had enough of hills… What if I’m telling you that you can find a road with a 27% difference of height ? You probably know Lombard Street, a place in San Francisco used in many movies and part of the souvenir-picture-to-get list. The street is long, and you will have to go to Hyde Street and Leavenworth Street to discover this very abrupt hill, famous in the whole world. Its particularity lies in the fact that to reduce the difference of level that made the street impracticable (for cars as well as pedestrians), 8 winding turnes were built to bring the difference of height to 16% in 1922. The unusual place attracts many tourists; avoid going there in the middle of the afternoon if you do not want dozens of strangers on your pictures. I would also recommend to go by foot rather than by car because you will enjoy everything that is out of the ordinary there more that way. From Lombard Street, you will have an unobstructed view over the city, and more specifically  Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower in the background.

San Francisco cable car

» Riding with the cable car

Golden Gate bridge, Victorian houses, Lombard Street… What other element is essential in San Francisco ? The cable car of course ! Those are manually operated cable cars, that almost vanished from the Franciscan streets several times, and that are now a symbol of the city. 3 lines are still operating nowadays, two from Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf and one along California Street. These cable cars are soon going to celebrate their 150th birthday, but are abandoned by local commuters in favor of tourists. It is true that it is part of the folklore ride in a cable car, but it is not an attraction that I would classify in the must-do. In fact, the price is rather expensive (6$ for a single fare) and the tour relatively short. You have to wait forever to get inside, and then are crammed in like sardines; 2 reasons why you will not enjoy the ride as much as you think you would. The time spent at the different stops is short and only allow you to take a quick and blurry selfie. It was nice but a bit overrated, I would rather suggest that you observe the mechanics at the terminus, or to photograph it in the streets.

Far from me the idea to end up on a negative note, but I would rather give you my honest opinion ! And as I said it early, San Francisco is really a wonderful city filled with cute neighborhoods and good addresses. I hope I will have the chance to go back, but then it would be for a whole week at least, to enjoy it at best ! It is by far the city that I liked the most of this West coast road trip; you feel the pleasurable way of life and its unusual side brings all the charm. Do not miss out on discovering this amazing place 🙂

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