On a reflective day trip to San Francisco, Rajan Raju focuses on seeing the city in the best light.
I was spending a few days in the San Francisco Bay area of California, which encompasses the major cities and metropolitan areas of San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland, and had planned a day trip to San Francisco.
I found myself thinking how lucky I was to be there. Things could have turned out quite differently.
When we were taking off from Seoul’s Incheon Airport to San Francisco, we went through the harrowing experience of an aborted take off. The pilots did an amazing job of bringing the plane to a safe stop on the runway and taxied slowly to a quiet part of the airport apron.
Our captain calmly informed us that he had been asked to abort the take-off by the Control Tower as another aircraft had inadvertently strayed into our plane’s flight path.
Our onward flight to San Francisco was delayed as the engineers checked the aircraft. The professionalism of the Singapore Airlines flight crew and ground staff was commendable.
My flight to San Francisco the next day was smooth and uneventful, and I looked forward to my stay in this beautiful, eclectic city with a grateful heart.
Steep city streets
San Francisco is known for its fog, cool summers and heart-stoppingly steep streets (baby boomers will remember the unforgettable car chase from the 1968 movie “Bullit”, which made everyone want to drive a Mustang a la Steve McQueen).
The city claims several icons — the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge and quaint cable cars. In fact, its cable car system, which is part of the city’s urban transport network, is the world’s last manually operated one.
My plan for my day in San Francisco was a simple one — a quiet lunch along the Embarcadero with friends and a tour of the Golden Gate Bridge.
I had visited the famous landmark a year ago, only to find it masked in fog. I was praying that the weather would hold for me this time!
The Embarcadero, tracing San Francisco’s eastern shoreline, has gone through a wonderful transformation and gentrification after the 1989 earthquake, when the old freeway was replaced by a beautiful nine-mile-long promenade.
The waterfront was crowded. Executives working at the many nearby offices were walking purposefully to meetings, fitness buffs in bright clothing were jogging, cycling and doing aerobics, and tourists were sauntering about, leisurely soaking in the atmosphere and taking selfies.
Maybe because it was lunchtime, or because it was just such a gorgeous day, the promenade was busy! My friends and I had a leisurely lunch at Epic Steak, a wonderful restaurant along the waterfront with brilliant views of the Bay Bridge and the Bay.
After our meal, we walked along the promenade to the San Francisco Ferry Building. While it still operates as a ferry terminal, the building now houses a large food hall in the former baggage handling area with some quaint and interesting restaurants and bars.
We spent a happy few hours loitering along the promenade under an azure California sky.
At 6pm, Doc Miles — a professional photographer who runs photo tours of San Francisco — picked us up and drove us to a variety of places off the beaten track.
Sharing his wealth of experience along the way, “Doc” (who prefers going by his nickname) showed us how to capture great images of the city.
Despite the strong breeze and sea mist, the light conditions were reasonable. We drove across the bay over the Golden Gate Bridge to Hawk Hill on Marin Headlands, Fort Baker and Kirby Cove for wonderful views of the iconic bridge, the bay, Alcatraz Island and the City.
I was struck by how accessible all these locations were. Every one of them had carpark spaces reserved for the disabled. More importantly, well-maintained paths allowed wheelchair users to enjoy the vistas as much as any able-bodied person.
Doc, who had been to many National Parks in the United States, commented that a lot of effort has been spent to provide accessibility in these areas. The US has a lot to offer the world in terms of creating the physical infrastructure for a truly inclusive society.
It was such a blessing to be at Kirby Bay with family members and watching the night gather over the Bridge, the Bay and the shimmering city beyond.
Sitting there, I reflected on what I had experienced in Seoul, and the words of French writer and philosopher Voltaire came to me and struck a chord: “God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.”
We flew from Singapore to San Francisco on Singapore Airlines via Seoul.
San Francisco has a wide variety of accommodation, including hotels and apartments, to suit all budget ranges. Try AirBnB for apartment options.
The best time to visit San Francisco is from September to November. The weather is variable, and the temperature can fluctuate significantly during the day. Be prepared by layering your clothing. San Francisco is called “Fog City” for a reason.
Public transport is plentiful, from trams to taxis and Uber. Walking if the weather permits, is also recommended. In addition, the CalTrain and the Bay Area Rapid Transit systems are efficient, safe and cheap. San Francisco is usually a safe city, but as with any metropolis, there are neighbourhoods where you need to be extra vigilant. If you plan to go out of the city, hiring a car is often the only pragmatic option.
If you are interested in photography, I would recommend paying for a photo walk. I toured with Doc Miles (http://www.docmilesphotography.com/), a soft-spoken, experienced landscape photographer (and an unusual American who loves cricket!). He was excellent.
Source: SG Travellers © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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