Piers near Fisherman's Wharf

Our final entry for San Fran, is two of the other famous landmarks, Fisherman’s wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Boardwalk near Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman’s wharf

If you’ve ventured out this way for Alcatraz, then you might as well take the short walk west to Fisherman’s wharf. Only if you’re suffering an injury should you pay attention to the pedi-cabs gathered around the Alcatraz exit, it’s a short, easy 10-15min walk along a scenic path.

I was half expecting to see a bunch of little market stalls here but instead it pretty much an outdoor mall on wooden slats. Shops are the usual tourist fair and of course there’s a million tourists. The Aquarium by the Bay, countless restaurants and the big carousel are highlights but otherwise only a short stop of about an hour is required.

It is also across the road from a transport hub so getting to and from the downtown area is no problem. A lot of the trams/trolley cars run from here too so if you haven’t been on one yet, now is the time. Not exactly comfortable or fast or quiet but a whole bunch of nostalgic fun non the less (:

Fisherman's Wharf

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

Like with a lot of tourist attractions that are a bit out of the way, a simple alternative is to book a “tour” ie. A bus picks you up and takes you there, but also like a lot of these attractions, its way cheaper to spend a little time researching, making your own way there and saving a bunch of dollars. There are plenty of places to view the bridge up close but we thought we’d try something a little different and take in a docks/beach walk along Marina Blvd to Crissy Fields. During the warmer months this would’ve been very pleasant, unfortunately on the tail end of winter the winds made short work of the few layers we had on.

Travel/Photo tip: always pack at least a wind breaker, even in warmer months. Depending on how long you intend on shooting, a plastic bag and a full water bottle or some weights for your tripod to minimise shake and some form of cover (another plastic bag will do) for the camera as well to keep out the sea spray, sand and grit will be a good idea.

Golden Gate Bridge

Unfortunately the sub-par conditions made for rather pedestrian photos and it wasn’t too long before the wind chilled us completely to our bones and we scurried off in seek of warmer pastures.

Arriving back at the CBD around 11pm (sun sets late round these parts) we returned to a Japanese restaurant we discovered on our first night and quickly became an instant fave, Maru Sushi not just for the food but for its late night trading hours and close proximity to our hotel. It was also conveniently just up from Lori’s Diner – a 50s inspired diner complete with mini jukebox on the tables and a 1959 Ford Edsel inside. It was a fitting breakfast stop for our last morning in SF and a perfect way to see off the great U. S of A.

Lori's Diner

Lori's Diner

As we made our way from the hotel to the BART station and out to SFO it began to bucket down, no doubt pre-empting what we could expect at our next stop…. London!

Milpitas 2011 – Great Mall
Yosemite 2011 part #1 – LA to Oakhurst via Bakersfield
Yosemite 2011 part #2 – Yosemite National Park
San Francisco 2011 part #1 – Arrival
San Francisco 2011 part #2 – Shopping – Haight, Downtown SF
San Francisco 2011 part #3 – Chinatown
San Francisco 2011 part #4 – Japantown
San Francisco 2011 part #5 – Alcatraz
San Francisco 2011 part #6 – Fisherman’s wharf, Golden Gate Bridge

Complete Yosemite 2011 photo gallery here
Complete San Francisco 2011 photo gallery here

Santa Monica pier

If you’re staying in Santa Monica, its only natural that you find yourself making a bee line to the Santa Monica pier, thanks partly due to its ferris wheel beacon. The wheel is accompanied by a small group of amusement park rides and “side show alley” type games. There are also a few restaurants/eateries including Bubba Gump Shrimp (yes the one and the same), souvenir shops and a historic display case to mark the end of the famous Route 66.

We were expecting some spectacular sunrises while we were there with the cooler mornings and clear days, unfortunately the one morning we dragged ourselves out of bed at 4am it was completely fogged over. Not only that, it continued right into the early afternoon! We had never seen anything like it. The fog casted a blueish tone over everything, and with the odd sign board creaking, it definitely added to the eerie deserted boardwalk at that time of the morning. We were just waiting to catch a glimpse of a shadow of a zombie scurrying between the carts of the rollercoaster! Lol

Santa Monica pier

By chance, our stay coincided with the LA marathon (could be why the breakfast buffet was full of people in shorts while it was < 10C outside) so there was some setting up of the festivities for the finish line party on the beach as well as a war memorial for fallen soldiers. [caption id="attachment_571" align="alignnone" width="600" caption="War memorial Santa Monica pier"][/caption]

Photo ops: end of the pier looking back at the ferris wheel, on the amusement park side shooting the pier, down on the beach below the pier and also back on the road just north looking down over the pier and beach. This time of morning is probably the only time you get to see the paths and boardwalk relatively empty as well.

While the beach area is by no means vast and you can leisurely walk down and back in a few hours, it doesn’t beat the fun and convenience of hiring a bicycle to get around. I recommend Sea Mist Rentals, one of the cheapest places, yet the quality of the bicycles are still well above average. For $6/hour or $15/day you get a choice of several different style of bicycles and a bicycle lock, but when in “Rome” you cant go past a beach cruiser. Fixed gear and a fat comfy seat will have you looking cooler than the ‘Fonz in no time. Though if you don’t ride very often or that style of bike you may find the position a little uncomfortable after an hour or 2. Your forearms may get a little sore and sun burnt too so remember to lather up before hand.

Santa Monica beach

Off down the boardwalk, remembering to keep right and watching for the crazies that ride flat out, you’ll see the beach “scenery”, volleyball courts and kite flying areas. Further along, you’ll come across the legal graffiti walls and the Santa Monica skate park. Check out some of the little grommets there, without a doubt the breeding ground for the next Tony Hawk’s. Some of the kids look like they should be singing along at Wiggles concerts but instead they’re busting huge Method-air grabs over transitions 5 times their height!

Legal graffit walls - Santa Monica Beach

Santa Monica skate park

Once you hit the markets you can either keep cruising along the boardwalk or dismount and wander through. There’s plenty of buskers and performers but all the drummers and percussion types all seem to culminate to a grassy knoll area where they just go at it like a Swedish masseuse. Picture the dude in the Brunswick st. mall on a Saturday night but times 30-40 in a large circle with belly dancers and hippy types getting down in the center. Quite the aural and visual spectacle indeed. Also keep an eye out for the KUSH Clubhouse a medicinal Marijuana clinic while you’re in the area. God bless America.

edit: as of June 2010 it is now closed thanks to a new ordinance which has ordered over 400 dispensaries of this “nature” to be closed in LA.

Percussion jam session - Santa Monica beach

As the bongos fade and you get further into Venice Beach, the beach side buildings go from tatty markets to lush modern townhouses and New Orleans styled houses. The bike path ends at the carpark for the Venice Beach pier, but you can still pedal up the long pier and see scores of people fishing. Thanks to the fog that day we could barely see the beach from the ocean end of the pier! Back on land, there are plenty of restaurants and seafood eateries to choose from, all bustling with tourists and locals alike.

Venice Beach pier

If you’ve only hired the bicycles for half a day, keep an eye on the clock so you don’t have to pay extra, though if you ride quickly you
could probably make it back in 20-30min.

Early to bed, early to rise, cos next up is a trip to the happiest place in the world, Disneyland!

Los Angeles holiday photos here

Los Angeles part #1 – West Hollywood
Los Angeles part #2 – West Hollywood(pt 2)
Los Angeles part #3 – Santa Monica and Venice Beach Shopping
Los Angeles part #4 – Santa Monica and Venice Beach Sightseeing