San Francisco: The city is the star

Known for its iconic bridge and painted ladies, San Fran also has a four-legged celeb, discovers Jude Dobson.

My one regret is we didn’t leave enough time to mooch around this charming seaside town. I could have happily parked the bike and swung in for a cool ale or two.

San Francisco is my kind of town, and despite the hills it’s a perfect spot to explore on foot or on bikes.

An easy destination holiday or a two-to-three-day stopover before your next adventure, its appeal is threefold: it’s one flight away from Auckland, English-speaking and it has a bunch of stuff to do year-round for all ages.

For us, it was the stopover for all ages. “Us” was the tight five of old. Pretty unusual these days, with the oldest two overseas, but as parents of older kids have often said: “Pay, and they will come.” So, there we all were — the bill-paying parents in our 50s, our 22 and 14-year-old daughters and Mr Middle, the 19-year-old son.

Arrival afternoon was spent coming to some form of consensus on what our together-time might constitute. The family’s group chat pinged away via social media from two separate rooms.

San Fran is Wellington on steroids, with generous, gracious homes sprawled over the hillsides. These beautiful old buildings coupled with trams (even the new ones look retro) make for a majestic cityscape.

Lombard St is a classic start to a walking tour. A crazy, suburban zigzag hill that cars struggle to master as tourists strive for photos.

Next stop, about a 45-minute walk away, is the home of Mrs Doubtfire. I loved Robin Williams — Mork and Mindy in the 70s, Good Morning Vietnam in the 80s, What Dreams May Come in the 90s, and then, with kids on board, I introduced them to Mrs Doubtfire.


If you’ve got access to some other wheels, get out of town for the day and head to Silicon Valley. Take a picture outside Hacker Way at Facebook’s entrance, ride those multicoloured bikes around the Google campus, or visit the playground and its huge android sculpture. Drive through Stanford University’s extraordinary campus, get out and have a wander and feel learned or buy some merch at the store.

If you want a view to cap off your San Fran visit, grab a nightcap at Top of the Mark, at the very top of the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental on Nob Hill. Have a nosy next door, too, at the magnificent Fairmont — the one with the 2.5m-tall bronze statue of Tony Bennett on the lawn. The singer has been a regular guest, having cemented the union with his 60s hit I Left My Heart in San Francisco.

If you’re lucky you might meet another famous local, as we did, having a little wander around Huntington Park. Lilou the pig was out for an evening stroll with her human. She is the only non-canine member of San Francisco Airport’s Animal Assisted Therapy programme (aimed at stressed travellers), and also visits hospitals and rest homes.

Having met her, I can see she would take your mind off things. As I watched her (nail polish and all) totter up her portable stairs to the bespoke porcine-friendly car seat for her drive home, I mused she definitely added to those great San Francisco memories.


Checklist

GETTING THERE

House of Travel

has return Economy Class flights with Air New Zealand and United Airlines from Auckland to San Francisco from $1925, with three nights at the Hotel Carlton from $465pp twin share. (Based on November travel.)

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