I’m doing a little lifestyle experiment this autumn, which is to see if I can work and travel at the same time. I’m staying in each place for a month to give me enough stability and familiarity to allow me to focus on all my projects and clients, while continuing to try new things and have fun. I’ll tell you more about that when the experiment is complete but for now I want to share my latest city experience following my previous month in Dallas. These are 5 highlights of my time in San Francisco…
1. Feeling like a local
Perhaps the biggest joy in a new city comes when you succeed in working out the public transport system. I quickly had my local buses sussed out, 19 and 10 if I was going down into town, 33 to go to the Golden Gate Park. I also had my local liquor store to buy the essentials, my local Wholefoods and, of course, my local Starbucks. The fact that I was there for a month meant that I had less pressure to rush around and do stuff, and I’ve been incredibly productive working from home and from cafés in the city. Experiencing a bit of the housing pain that the rest of the city is living also made me feel more like “one of them”, with my lovely old and very expensive flat bringing endless excitement in the form of mice, a power cut, and the bedroom door falling off its hinges. It was also interesting to be staying in an Airbnb while the city was voting on whether they would make it illegal!
2. Escaping to Alcatraz
The one touristy thing I did do was book a tour to Alcatraz. I took the early bird boat across one Sunday morning and spent a good few hours exploring the island, mostly wandering the corridors of the main prison. It’s a strange idea, really, to turn a high-security prison into a tourist attraction. The announcement on the boat over proclaimed, as if it were a laundry detergent or a new vacuum cleaner, “Alcatraz: it’s so much more than just a prison”; on arrival we were told about the free Wi-Fi and the official #cellfie hashtag; and as I embarked on the audio tour I was told merrily, “Hope you enjoy your time in prison”. In the museum shop you can even buy a prisoner’s uniform, the metal bowls they ate in, salt and pepper shakers… On returning that evening, I continued my Alcatraz education with a rewatch of The Rock, a great film with Sean Connery, Nicholas Cage and Ed Harris that happens to be the film I watched on my first-ever date with a boy, back in the day. Very romantic.
Join me on my visit and find out more about Alcatraz in this little video that I recorded:
3. Doing random things
Being in a big city offers you opportunities to do all sorts of things. My first Saturday in the city, I went to a writing marathon meet-up, where we all sat together in a café in SOMA writing all day with breaks for lunch and coffee. The following Sunday, I did a survival course up in Marin County. My visit happened to coincide with a Tedx conference so of course I jumped on the opportunity to go to one of these live for the first time. I went for fondue – Japanese and Swiss! – and returned to one of my favourite restaurants, La Mar cebichería, for dinner and of course a couple of pisco sours. I went to see the Martian (3D, naturally) and on my last night, I went to the San Francisco premiere of Idina Menzel’s latest musical, If/Then. And still there was so much more I could have done – visiting the Cable Car Museum and the Walt Disney Museum, SUP-ing over in Sausalito, sampling more of the bars and restaurants…
4. Running the Golden Gate Half
Well, running in general really. It’s such a fantastic way to explore and get to know a city, running through neighbourhoods you’d never otherwise see. I also had a few sessions with a running coach for the first time, meeting in the Golden Gate Park and discussing strategy. I lived right at the top of the highest hill (in the tallest tower, locked up by the evil queen… no, just kidding) so any training session by definition included hill training. I noticed such a difference even in those four weeks: when the half-marathon came, people around me were walking up the hills and I just kept on running. Boom! And what an experience to run across the Golden Gate Bridge, with a view across to the city. Thank goodness I took all my selfies on the way over to Sausalito, because by the time I was coming back the other way the fog had rolled in, in true San Francisco style.
5. Flying over San Francisco
From running on the bridge to flying over it. My friend from Geneva asked me one evening if I wanted to go flying – errrr, yeah! – and then off we went to Palo Alto to take off in a little Cessna 172 Skyhawk. I’ve never been in such a small plane and I’ve never been flown by a pilot friend so that in itself made it pretty exhilarating (sorry, mum!). We flew over Stanford University, the huge houses in the expensive suburbs, the city itself and the Golden Gate Park, we did a 360 over Alcatraz, and we flew up past Half Moon Beach to Point Reyes and back. As we flew over the ocean, we even saw a school of whales. Magic! By the end of the flight, I was even considering studying for my own pilot’s licence…
Here’s a little glimpse of what we saw on our 1.5-hour flight:
…and that’s it! Bye bye San Francisco, it’s been special. And now: aloha Hawaii!
The practical bit:
Alcatraz tours – Alcatraz Cruises offers a few different options, including the early bird that I did as well as a night tour (eek!). The audio tour of the main prison building is included in the ticket price, and the return boat journey is free too so you won’t be stuck there if you lose your ticket!
Flying – Although AirAli (my pilot friend’s made-up airline) doesn’t do commercial flights, a quick search brought up for example Seaplane Adventures, who offer a shorter 30-minute tour of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge for $189.
The Golden Gate Half Marathon – This is an annual race and you can already secure your place in next year’s race, which will take place on 6th November 2016. I thought it was quite badly organised in terms of providing information and the bib pick-up but it did all go smoothly on the day and I got my results right after I finished. And the medal is huge!