San Francisco: Traveling the Pacific Coast Highway

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The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. Photo by Jim Pond
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. Photo by Jim Pond

Our trip down the Pacific Coast Highway has been a good one — and today it gets even better. It’s day nine on our journey, and we’ve come a long way from Seattle, Washington. We’ve kayaked with whales, hiked along the coastline and through the Redwoods. We have enjoyed the coastal cuisine, watched a surf competition, and so much more.

Today we are leaving the northern California coast and continuing our trip south. We’ve been on U.S. Route 101, but in Leggett, California, we get off the 101 and head down State Route 1, the iconic Pacific Coast Highway. At 655.8 miles, it is the longest state route in California.

The winding road and drop-off cliffs make for a nerve-wracking drive, but absolutely amazing views. I am grateful to be the passenger so I can take full advantage of the scenery. If you make this trip, be sure to have a full tank of gas and an empty bladder, since the opportunities for both are far and few between. We do about 7-8 hours of driving today, but the views are amazing.

Traveling down California State Route 1. Photo by Jim Pond
Traveling down California State Route 1 between Leggett, CA and San Francisco. Photo by Jim Pond

Arriving in San Francisco

Finally, we make it to downtown San Francisco, the biggest city we have been in since we landed in Seattle. As we cross the bridge into San Francisco, I soak in the panorama of this iconic coastal city and think of its rich history.

San Francisco (Spanish for St. Francis) was founded in 1776 by colonists from Spain. Upon independence from Spain, the area become part of Mexico in 1821. The Mexican government ceded the territory to the United States at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848.

In 1849, the area exploded with prospectors due to the California Gold Rush. San Francisco became a consolidated city and county in 1856. This popular tourist destination is known for its Mediterranean-like climate, fog, steep rolling hills and several landmarks, such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the former Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary.

We park and explore on foot. The weather is crisp and windy, but if I stay in the sun, I can tolerate the wind. Downtown San Francisco is vibrant with life. We pass gourmet restaurants, local walk-up eateries, tourist shops, and entertainers on the sidewalk. After grabbing some food, we walk to a local park and eat while enjoying the scene.

Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square

Tonight, we are staying at the Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square. It is a private residence club offering nightly rentals and fractional ownership opportunities. The historic Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory, which was founded in 1852 by Domengo Ghirardelli, is the cornerstone of Ghirardelli Square.

It has been meticulously restored into the Fairmont Heritage Place. This residential style, luxury all-suite boutique hotel offers one to three bedrooms and a complete luxury kitchen. It is situated on the San Francisco waterfront and absolutely stunning. Once in our room, we relax on the terrace, sipping wine and savoring the scenery below.

Private Patio at Fairmont Heritage Place Ghirardelli Square. Photo by Fairmont Heritage Place
Private patio at Fairmont Heritage Place Ghirardelli Square. Photo by Fairmont Heritage Place
Living Room at Fairmont Heritage Place at Ghirardelli Square. Photo by Fairmont Heritage Place
Living room at Fairmont Heritage Place at Ghirardelli Square. Photo by Fairmont Heritage Place

Ghirardelli Square has multiple dining options to please any palate, including two wineries which offer wine tastings. We try Wattle Creek Winery and thoroughly enjoy tasting the wines and learning from the knowledgeable experts.

Later, after strolling through the shops, we visit both of Ghirardelli’s store fronts. I have never seen so much chocolate in one place. Of course we buy a chocolate sundae and purchase chocolate to take home.

Ghirardelli sign. Photo by Fairmont Heritage Place
Ghirardelli sign. Photo by Fairmont Heritage Place

It’s been a fabulous day, and I’m enchanted with this beautiful waterfront city. San Francisco, I wish I could stay longer and wander your streets and sit and enjoy your views, but it’s time to call it a day. Our journey continues tomorrow.

When we wake the next morning to an incredible view of the San Francisco Bay, we have to take a moment to savor it before hitting the road again.

San Francisco Bay. Photo by Jim Pond
San Francisco Bay. Photo by Jim Pond

Tips: You may want to spend an extra day or two here in order to take advantage of all there is to see here in San Francisco.  For more info, see http://www.visitsfbayarea.com/san-francisco

This is part seven in our continuing series on Traveling the Pacific Coast Highway.