My first stop coming from England on my way to Australia. San Francisco, founded in 1776, is named for Francis of Assisi. It's obviously a strategic port city. located on the famous Bay Area, but it grew rapidly as a result of The California Gold Rush in 1849. It was then the the largest city on the West Coast. Notoriously, San Francisco lies on the San Andreas fault and it was three quarters destroyed in 1906, by earthquake and fire. It was the birthplace of the United Nations in 1945 and over succeeding years - including the Summer of Love in 1967, has become synonymous with the Peace Movement, sexual freedom and liberal activism.
Touring San Francisco
So, I'm humming Scott McKenzie and The Flowerpot Men, as I whizz round San Francisco, revisiting all the sights, first on foot and then on a tourist bus. It's an understatement to say the city is busy, despite the reputation for cool summers, fog and steep rolling hills. This is still a massive tourist destination.
Fisherman’s Wharf (doubled in size), Pier 39, also hugely extended looking across to the Golden Gate Bridge, now familiarly disappearing in rolling cloud, Grace Cathedral, with its white spires looking like something out of Disneyland, Chinatown, the odd zig-zag of the Crookedest Street with its floral decoration and the Nob Hill area, with all the beautiful timber houses. Trolley buses, trams and cable cars. It's an eclectic mix of architecture, and landmarks. Fireman’s hose shaped Coit Tower perched on Telegraph Hill and the weird triangular skyscraper that is the TransAmerica Pyramid crown the many scrapers. San Francisco is the headquarters of Wells Fargo, Twitter, Square, Airbnb, Levi Strauss & Co., Gap Inc., Salesforce, Dropbox, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Uber, and Lyft.
Alcatraz and Pier 39, San Francisco
The boats are running to the renowned former Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary on its island today, but I'm opting out. I've got a pretty good view from all my vantage points and I'm not sure what there is to be gained by taking to the chilly water. I’m eating on the run as OMG the pound doesn't go far here. San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the USA anyway and the Brexit effect on the currency isn’t helping. Fortunately, the Pier 39 clam chowder is still delicious.
Yosemite - Mariposa Grove
There’s also time for a (very long) day trip to Yosemite National Park from San Francisco. Yosemite is one of the most famous national parks in the USA. it gained its charter in 1864. It's also a UN heritage site. and I've been wanting to visit for a very long time. Ponderosa pine and chaparral bush line the route. I’m reliving my TV-watching youth. Our first stop is what’s advertised as a very arduous hike to see the sequoias in Mariposa Grove. These trees are 3000 years old and thirty feet in girth (but not the oldest trees in the world, which are the Bristol pines at 5000 years old.).
They’re not lying about the arduous, though the track looks deceptively easy on the way down. It’s gruelling climbing the mile back up the steep hill in the heat. It's 40 degrees Celsius and I’m still suffering from yesterday's hilly walks and eight hours’ worth of jet lag. I’m convinced a heart attack is imminent. To be honest, I’m not convinced it was worth the effort. There's a few, huge but not especially beautiful specimens. At least I didn’t miss out.
Yosemite - a Tourist Magnet
Here, traversing the Sierra Nevada, the lowest and highest points in California are juxtaposed: Death Valley and Mount Whitney. When we finally reach tiny Yosemite Valley, it is horribly congested. The roads and car parks are chock a block and all the viewing spots crammed with camera waving tourists. Yosemite draws over four million visitors each year (and even began requiring reservations to access the park during peak periods in 2020)
I can see why they come. The mountain views are straight out of Microsoft screensavers. El Capitan, a sheer towering rock face, with pin pricks of intrepid (or stupid) climbers (they take up to three days to ascend), Half Dome Rock, Bridal Veil Falls (definitely the most popular name for waterfalls around the world) and Yosemite Falls. Granitic Sentinel Rock towers over the valley, another magnet for climbers.
The tour really consists of looking at these four sights from several different vantage points, sometimes in spectacular combination. We have an hour and a half’s stop at the Park Lodge near the 2,400 feet Yosemite Falls. this is the highest waterfall in North America. The rock pool where the lower fall cascades is crowned with foam and heaving with splashing bodies. Ninety minutes sounds like enough time for a restful sunbathe, but queuing for ice cream takes longer than the half hour walk to the bottom of the falls and back. Then it's return to the bus.
Next stop Sydney.