Highlights of San Francisco

San Francisco is an odd place. There I’ve said it. Everyone who I know that has visited speaks with delight of the cable cars, the steep hills and the beautiful pier. There’s a problem though – I’m not convinced! Or am I?

We’ve visited San Francisco a number of times now, usually because it’s the best place to pick up a car before heading to one of California’s national parks.

The first time we stayed in San Francisco, we booked the hotel on the day and ended up in one of the most grotty places I have ever been: the shower didn’t drain, we were right in the middle of the roughest part of the Tenderloin area (we didn’t realise this until later), there were huge spiders and the toilet sounded like a foghorn every time we flushed it. Although it was terrible, it added character to the trip and we still laugh about it now.

Since then, we’ve tended to stay outside the city centre at the Best Western. Fairly close to the airport (and a Trader Joes for stocking up on food for camping trips), this is a handy place to stay.

I think that the reason I struggle with San Francisco is because it reminds me of Blackpool! The old trams, the pier and the general ‘seaside’ nature of the place all remind me of when we used to visit Blackpool as a child – and it’s not the stand out place for a holiday destination for me.

That was until I started writing this post. So many happy memories of what we did on our trip came flooding back. I remembered how this was the gateway to our road trip. How excited we were to explore and hit the road. San Francisco has given us some amazing memories:

  • The Giant Noodle – Top of my list is the Giant Noodle. When we visited back in 2010, there was a sculpture of a noodle on the pier. Next to the noodle was a sign which read “for your own safety, please don’t sit on the giant noodle”. This struck us as immensely hysterical and ever since, the wisdom of the giant noodle is often quoted in a range of situations and each time it makes us laugh.
  • Alcatraz – This place was creepy and cool in equal measures. A ‘must do’ if you visit San Francisco. You can read about our experiences and tips for visiting Alcatraz here.
  • Bird attacks! – One of our group got hit in the face by a bird. On the pier, in the rain, with a wing. And it was as funny as it sounds!
  • The Cheesecake Factory – sitting high above the Macy’s sign, a small balcony looks out over the main square in the city centre. Armed with the best cheesecake in the world (I love a good cheesecake – and they cater for gluten free travellers), it’s the best place to watch the world go by.
  • Golden Gate Bridge – just standing by the iconic landmark, watching a group of yachts go by was one of those surreal ‘wow I’m in America’ moments.
  • Cable Cars / Tram – Going down the steepest hill on a tram is a experience all on its own!
  • Cliffs and Coast – Driving over the cliffs in the middle of the fog, looking out at scenery between each break of the clouds was the start of our road trip to the national parks.

San Francisco is not the one of the most beautiful, scenic or even iconic places, but it did give us plenty of laughs and memories, and that’s exactly what you want from a holiday, isn’t it?

Road Trip Pit Stops

Often when we travel, if there are a few of us, we’ll hire a car to get about. The flexibility it gives us is well worth the money and allows us to see things that are a little off the beaten track. It also means that if we see something interesting, we can just pull over and investigate – on a bus or a train that’s much harder to do!

This weeks post is dedicated to some of those little pit stops, sights and experiences we’ve had that were unplanned but added to our adventure.

Sea Lions on the Big Sur

Driving down the stunning coastline of the Big Sur, we spotted a group of sea lions hanging out on the beach. We pulled over for about half an hour, watching them from a safe distance.

Ghost Town Near Vegas

Much of the surrounding area of Vegas is rock, dust and highway. To break up our long and dry drive, we followed a road sign to a small ghost town – an abandoned town rising out of the dust. It was one of the smaller towns and I’d love to go back and check out one of the larger ones at some point.

Model Town Near Zion

Stopping for a much-needed loo break, we pulled into a store which had a large scale model town outside. It was certainly pulling in the visitors and the inside of the store was also really cool, with lots of interesting trinkets.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara was one of our best finds. We needed somewhere to pull in to take a rest on a long trip from San Francisco to LA and Santa Barbara was it. It was beautiful and I could have stayed for so much longer. You can read more out our stop in Santa Barbara here.


Boulder was an interesting stop over. After a long day driving, we stopped at a hotel in Boulder before continuing our route the next day. With not much around, the stand out feature of Boulder was the sunset – although the Shining-esque hotel corridors were a big talking point – we spent the night listening out for echos of ‘Redrum’!!

Cliffs Overlooking San Francisco

This was one of the most beautiful pit stops I remember. Heading out of San Francisco, the winding roads stretching out before us, we pulled over to the side of the road to check out the views.

The cliff edges floated out into misty nothingness and it felt like we were standing above the clouds. We could hear the water below and glimpses of the stunning drops peaked through the clouds.

Where has been your best unscheduled pit stop?

10 Top Tips for Visiting Alcatraz

10 tips to improve your visit to Alcatraz

Alcatraz is iconic. Everyone knows of the maximum high security prison just off the San Francisco coast. For this week’s post we wanted to share with you our tips to get the most out of your visit:

1. Planning Your Trip

I can’t stress this enough – book well in advance! On our trip, we’d been keeping an eye on tickets and they were selling out weeks in advance. In fact, the first time we visited San Francisco we didn’t manage to get any tickets. Granted, this was in peak summer time, but I have heard that other people have experienced a similar challenge at less busy points of the season.

Our tip is to get online as soon as you know when you will be in San Francisco and book those tickets – the earlier the better to make sure that you get your selected slot.

2. Get The Right Ticket

Although there is only one company that runs trips to the island and the prison (it’s classed as a National Park), you can buy tickets from more than one place. Be warned, these are often ticket resale sites who add their own costs on top. There are also tours around Alcatraz which do exactly that: take you around the island without allowing you to get off the boat – pretty disappointing if you were expecting a trip into the prison. To make sure you get the right ticket, visit: Alcatraz Cruises.

The lighthouse on Alcatraz

3. Take ID

Make sure that the person booking the tickets brings their ID with them, or at least a photocopy of it. You won’t be allowed to take the tour without it.

4. Allow Enough Time

Anyone who knows me is fully aware that I am late for everything. Wandering Beeb likes to be on time. It’s a struggle. For a trip like this, you don’t want to leave too little time and end up missing something interesting.

We walked up from Fisherman’s Wharf to Pier 33 where the crossing to Alcatraz takes place. It’s much further than we thought and there were queues to pass security. Make sure you get there with enough time to navigate security and finish up your drinks / food before you board the boat, or you might find that you don’t even make it to the island.

Making your way around the prison, the grounds and the island takes far longer than you think – if you have other things planned in for your day after returning from Alcatraz, make sure you have left enough time to see everything and visit all the different parts of the prison and grounds. Official tour guides recommend at least 3 hours to see everything.

Be sure to visit all of the buildings on the island - there are some hidden gems!

5. When To Go

The day trip is far less busy (although a trip at any time of day is fairly crowded) and you get some beautiful views on the way to the island – however, for us, the evening trip wins hands down. Although you don’t get the same views on the sea crossing as you would in the day time, seeing the island rise out of the murky darkness on the night trip is one sight that sets the scene for the rest of the prison and you don’t want to miss it!

Seeing Alcatraz rising out of the mist is a vision that will stay with me for a long time.

6. Take A Coat

But it’s a sunny day” I hear you shout. It doesn’t matter! On our visit, I had the same thought and just took a light jumper. Big mistake – I froze my way around the island and was glad of the small amount of warmth to be found in my dodgy hotel room (that’s another story) at the end of the day.

It gets incredibly chilly once you are out on the water and evening trips are down right cold. The combination of open sea, winds and damp buildings mean that wrapping up warm is a must.

7. Let Staff Know in Advance of Mobility Needs

Alcatraz island is very steep. If you have mobility needs, let the staff know in advance as they have some limited transport to help people get about from A to B.

8. Take The Tour Option

The audio tour adds a huge amount to the experience of the prison – with sound effects of clanging cells, stories of the prisoners housed at Alcatraz and insight into the perspective of the guards, it gives a very detailed insight into life in the prison. It’s also fun to watch other visitors randomly pointing at things the audio has mentioned and making faces at some of the horrible stories being told. That might just be me though – I’m a total people watcher (but not in a creepy way, I promise).

One other thing to be aware of: if you take the evening tour, you get a few extras in comparison to the day trip. Extra information on the island from your captain and a couple of extra trip options (such as the hospital or other prison floors). We visited the hospital and this was, without a doubt, the most creepy part of the whole trip.

The hospital wing in Alcatraz

9. Remember Your Camera

Obviously you’ll want to get those important Insta snaps of the inside of the prison, but don’t forget to turn your camera around on the boat ride to/ from the island.

The boat journey is a great place to grab some photos of the San Francisco coastline that you might otherwise miss.

10. Catch The Slamming Of The Cells

The calls of “Rack ’em” echoed down the halls, fading away to nothing. Silence followed. Then, breaking the stillness, came the sound of the cell doors slamming shut in unison. It was chilling and by far the best part of the visit to Alcatraz.

The slamming of the cells really brings home the isolation and loneliness of the prison like nothing else on the tour. Make sure you find out if the tour slot you are booking on will feature the cells closing, as it really brings the experience to life.

Don’t miss the slamming of the Cells

What areas of Alcatraz did you find the most interesting? Did we miss a tip? Let us know in the comments.

Zombie Girl & Wandering Beeb xx

We’re Going On An Adventure….

Getting started, when you don’t know how to get started.

I bet most people who start a blog say the exact same thing – where do I start? We weren’t sure if we should start with our newest travels or with some of the older trips, a written piece, or a photoblog. So we started with the memories. Going through boxes of ticket stubs, photos and paperwork spanning trips as recent as last month, to trips many years old. We started to talk about the things that stood out from our trips. In most cases, it wasn’t ‘typical’ landmarks, that stood out (although sometimes it was) – often it was a conversation with fellow travellers, a night spent with friends or getting lost in unfamiliar territory. These were the things that we decided to write about, the things we wanted to share. They are random, un-coordinated and tinged in the rose-tintedness of memory – but they are (we think) the most interesting bits about travelling. They are the things that keep us going back for more!

It’s the same with trying to travel part time. It’s hard to know where to start. It’s all about looking for somewhere that will make a memory. It doesn’t have to mean setting off on a 12 month adventure, or flying half way around the globe. Find something that sparks your imagination and makes a connection. It could be only a half hour drive from your house, but if it taps into your emotions, you can guarantee that’s what will make the best adventure memories.

enlight6The open road, full of possibility and adventure. The start of a journey always makes me nervous – mainly because of the unknown waiting around the corner, but it’s exactly that unknown quantity which makes me so excited for what could happen next.