San Francisco Day Trip

My family and I were lucky enough to travel to San Francisco recently, just before a massive storm hit. The weather was beautiful–the locals must have thought it was warm, as they were all in shorts or swimming in the bay without wetsuits–just perfect for light, fall-weather clothes for us southerners. (Usually, when we travel to the Bay Area, it is very windy and cold.)

Clear day on San Francisco Bay with view of Golden Gate Bridge (photo credit: Dawn Palmer, 2021).

Unbeknownst to us, the day that we picked to venture into the city and visit Fisherman’s Wharf was also the day that the Blue Angels were flying in the culmination of the annual Fleet Week. Luckily, we had arrived early to secure parking (Ghirardelli’s has a nice parking garage). Our first stop was to walk around Ghirardelli’s Square, after getting hot chocolate and other chocolaty treats, of course. The historical buildings have been revitalized for newer shops and restaurants, and there are cute little areas to sit outside and enjoy the views. There are also a few eating areas inside with views of the Bay.

The park across the street from Ghirardelli’s was starting to fill up with people shortly after we arrived, which was our first clue that something big was planned for the day. The views from the park are just spectacular, especially when there is no fog. We were able to clearly see Alcatraz Island and all the way across the bay from the shoreline. With these views, the growing crowd was hardly noticeable.

There is a lot to do down at the Fisherman’s Wharf area in San Francisco. There are tours out to Alcatraz Island, but on the day we went, the boats were only circling it. I think it had something to do with Fleet Week’s flying schedule. Regardless, I was quite hesitant to get out on a boat when the water looked choppy to me. The wind was calm for San Fran, but the boats looked like they were rocking to me — something I don’t always see down in Southern California.

As we were checking out the different piers, some of the aircraft started to fly in the bay area. I still remember 9-11, so seeing a really big commercial aircraft fly low around the area and buzz past the Golden Gate Bridge was a little nerve-racking. Some of the braver pilots even flew under the bridge, and the Coast Guard did a few fly-bys. This was not something I have seen on a trip to San Francisco in the past, so it made this air show quite interesting to someone who grew up in the Air Force.

While the air show was pretty cool, I couldn’t help myself when it came to the seals. There were a lot of them hanging out at Pier 39. The seals up north act just like the ones down south, hanging out on the docks and fighting over space (or fighting to keep a companion to use as a pillow). I had the intention of taking photos of the crazy planes going around and under the Golden Gate, but I got side-tracked with these super cute seals.

Seals at Pier 39 in San Francisco, with Fleet Week’s air show — plane going under Golden Gate — in background (photo credit: Dawn Palmer, 2021).
Larger seals don’t need “pillows” — they can sleep sitting up; San Francisco in background (photo credit: Dawn Palmer, 2021).
Seals at Pier 39 in San Francisco (video credit: Dawn Palmer, 2021).

After checking out the seals and the air show, we visited a real touristy area (when in Rome, right?). I was able to pick up a fiftieth anniversary shot glass from Hard Rock Cafe. Ok, maybe that was not part of a peaceful journey, but it was still fun to check out.

Honestly, we have a ton of shopping in Southern California, so I was much happier when we came across the Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39. It is a small aquarium (nothing like Monterey Bay and much smaller than the one in Long Beach), but there are some interesting underwater tunnels that we got to walk through in order to observe the fish, sharks and rays. There are also river otters, which are really adorable but sleep at least eighteen hours a day–not very photogenic. I think it wasn’t crowded because everyone was outside watching the planes, which made the visit to the aquarium fairly peaceful.

Once back outside of the aquarium, there was a debate over whether or not to hike it up to Coit Tower. I imagine that if I had started my day going up to the tower, the mile walk up a huge hill would have been more appealing.

A look back at Coit Tower from Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco (photo credit: Dawn Palmer, 2021).

Instead, I chose to relax at the SF Bay, since the weather was unusually gorgeous. Just then, the Blue Angels started flying overhead. Now, we lived at a base where we saw Thunderbirds flying all the time, but seeing Blue Angels over the San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate Bridge was a thrill. I am not sure my photos do it justice, as the photos do not portray that feeling of the jets roaring through your chest when they buzz past you.

After the air show, while the crowds dispersed, we took our time to walk along the bay park and enjoyed a few last looks of the Golden Gate Bridge and bay. I could tell the normal winds were starting to pick up ahead of the upcoming storm.

Before leaving town, we had to take a quick drive down Lombard Street, the famous winding brick road. I say “quick” because the road was not really open to tourists and I snuck a few photos with my window rolled down. I would like to go back again and get out of my car to take better photos–perhaps not during Fleet Week when roads were closed. The brickwork on Lombard Street itself is pure art, but so is the architecture of the homes and the gardens lining it. In the distance, one can really appreciate the steepness of San Francisco’s hills and the height of Coit Tower.

We were able to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge while it was still clear out, and could see back to San Francisco, as well as the other areas of the SF Bay. Our day trip ended with some picturesque views of San Francisco. It is definitely hard to leave San Francisco any time we travel there. I will treasure it fondly.

San Francisco at dusk, from Sausalito side of Golden Gate Bridge (photo credit: Dawn Palmer, 2021).
View of eastern San Francisco Bay at dusk (photo credit: Dawn Palmer, 2021).
Golden Gate Bridge at dusk (photo credit: Dawn Palmer, 2021).
Golden Gate Bridge from northern side (photo credit: Dawn Palmer, 2021).

Published by Dawn Palmer

I am an avid nature and ecology lover and enjoy sharing my photography in my blog writings. I will often be out early in the morning or late in the evening with my camera, trying to capture the peacefulness and beauty around me.

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