San Francisco: The City with Two Bridges

Last year when I went to San Diego, I took an extra couple days off afterwards and went to Santa Cruz. I wrote about those two cities in previous blogs but I actually also went to San Francisco as well.

I was there for literally only 24 hours though and I felt like it wasn’t really enough time to get a good enough feel to write about it, so I didn’t. I figured I’d go back eventually and I’d write about it after that.

So, in October I went to San Francisco for work and now I figure it’ll be a good time to write about.

View from Lombard Street
The view from Lombard Street, the “crookedest street in the world”.

As a dude in tech, San Francisco, and the Bay Area in general, constantly comes up in conversation. I feel like everyone I know has either worked and lived there, or know someone who has. It’s pretty fascinating.

With so many big companies and start ups in the area, the city itself feels pretty busy and dense. The density is definitely interesting because I’ve been to some pretty densely populated areas before but San Francisco just feels different.

Not really sure how to explain it, but I think it’s something to do with the uniformness of the place. In a lot of other densely populated places, you have a lot of skyscrapers and other buildings to help you navigate through the area.

Old SF Street Car
An old street car.

San Francisco on the other hand just seems like a very uniform jungle. All the buildings are like the same height and they’re all packed incredibly tightly next to each other. In that way it seems like when you’re in the downtown area every area just feels very enclosed.

It almost feels like the only thing that changes from street to street is the elevation. There are some damn steep streets in San Francisco. I don’t get how people manage to parallel park on those streets. It blows my mind.

When you’re within the city proper, there isn’t a lot of open space, but once you head out a bit more and into the periphery, the city opens up a bit more.

The Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts is quite fine.

There’s a few big parks in San Francisco that were pretty great to walk through. One of them is Presidio, which contains the Palace of Fine Arts as well as leads to the Golden Gate Bridge. The Palace is actually really amazing.

It’s an amazing structure that looks like it should be a courtyard in some fancy European palace or something. Walking through there was pretty cool and I was actually pretty mesmerized at the sheer coolness of it.

On the other end of Presidio lies the Golden Gate Bridge, which in my opinion, is probably the most famous bridge in the world. If not number one it’s definitely up there. It’s a long and beautiful bridge that spans across the bay and it’s become the symbol of San Francisco.

SF from the Bridge
San Francisco from the Golden Gate Bridge.

The bridge itself is pretty nice and you can walk on it, but I think the best part of the bridge are the views. Not only can you get a decent view of the city from the bridge, but I really think that the bridge is just pretty cool to look at and it makes the views of the harbour that much nicer.

There’s another park called Golden Gate Park, which oddly enough does not contain the Golden Gate Bridge. That park is huge and it’s a nice place to get away from the hustle and the bustle of the city. There’s a lot of random things in the park as well and it really reminds me of Central Park in New York City.

There’s also Land’s End which is situated by the coast somewhere in between the two parks I just mentioned. I went there at night and I think that that park is the best of the three for sights. You get this wonderful view of the water, the cliff, and the bridge, and makes for a pretty nice stroll.

Golden Gate Bridge from Land's End
The Bridge from Land’s End.

I love cities that have stuff like this. Cities are great and all but sometimes you want to just take a break and disconnect a bit and go for a walk in nature. Cities that have large urban parks like these feel so necessary to help people recompose themselves.

In that sense, I think that San Francisco is amazing since it has both the big city stuff and so many nice parks. It’s especially nice that SF is by the ocean because as I’ve mentioned many times before, I love the ocean.

Being right on the water also means that the waterfront is another major sightseeing location in San Francisco. The city itself lies on a peninsula and a series of piers and wharves just line the entire northeast corner of it. Again, great place to just walk around and take in the sights and the sounds.

The Oakland Bridge
The lesser known bridge in SF, the Oakland Bridge.

For example, the Ferry Building area has a bunch of great restaurants and even better views of the Oakland Bridge, which I honestly didn’t really think about much before going there, but then realized that that was also a really great bridge. It was nice just sitting by the water and looking out into the harbour.

The Fisherman’s Wharf area is also pretty cool. There’s a lot of touristy things there so you’re paying a premium on a lot of the stuff you’re buying and eating, but it’s a fairly lively place and there’s a lot of random stuff to see there, like the sea lions.

There’s also Alcatraz which is right off of the coast. You can take tours to the island but I’ve yet to do it. I really want to do the sunset tour but I’ve missed it both times I’ve been to SF and so I have to go back and check it out sometime.

Sea Lions by the Wharf
A bunch of sea lions by the wharf. And one cheeky seagull.

I think in general, San Francisco is a nice city but it really depends on where you are. I’m not a huge fan of the downtown core area with the endless rows and rows of faceless buildings. Another part of that is also the homeless population. San Francisco is an incredibly rich city now but it wasn’t always the case.

As a result, the wealth disparity in the city is incredibly high and there’s a large homeless population. I’m not gonna lie, there are certain areas that feel incredibly sketchy just because there’s so many homeless people.

I remember I was taking an Uber to the airport and we drove by this area of the city that just had so many homeless people there. It kinda surprised me because of the sheer disparity and contrast. Certain areas of San Francisco which are so fancy and luxurious but then two streets down everyone is living in tents and shopping carts.

It definitely adds to the character of the city that’s for sure.

A Museum and a Church
A new museum and an old church.

Overall, I think San Francisco is a pretty decent city to go check out. The food is pretty decent and there’s a lot of stuff to check out and do from museums, naturey stuff, and city stuff. And of course, there’s a lot of job opportunities too.

That said, it’s an incredibly expensive city. I’d definitely go back but after going two years in a row, I think I’m good for now.

Niagara Falls: The Great Falls

So the last month has been pretty crazy for me. Not only has work been busy but I’ve also had two people from abroad come visit me. As a result, I feel like I’ve always been doing something or going somewhere.

I’ve noticed that when a lot of people from outside North America think of Canada, they think of two things: Quebec and Niagara Falls. So, when my friends came to visit Toronto, it was natural that they wanted to go check out Niagara Falls.

Considering how it’s only a two hour drive from my house, it’s not terribly far which meant that I ended up going twice in the last month.

Niagara Falls
The three falls of Niagara.

I’ve been to the falls a couple times growing up and to be completely honest, nothing much has changed. You wouldn’t expect it to change much anyways; they’re waterfalls.

Niagara Falls is comprised of three waterfalls. From the Canadian side, the first water fall you see is typically the American Falls. It’s large and the water crashes down on these large boulders. The Bridal Falls are immediately next to it, but it’s small and pretty much just a part of the American Falls.

The waterfall that people normally think of when they think of Niagara Falls is Horseshoe Falls. This is the giant crescent shaped one that’s right at the border between Canada and America and it’s by far the most impressive of the three.

Horseshoe Crest
The crest of the Horseshoe Falls.

I think the American Falls by themselves would still be notable, but it really does pale in comparison to the Horseshoe Falls. But, the fact that they’re all together in the same area is really what makes Niagara Falls so special.

My first of two trips took me to just the Canadian side: Niagara Falls, Ontario. We drove to the casino, ate lunch there, and then took a walk along the falls boardwalk and just took it all in.

Previously, when I’ve went to the falls, I’ve pretty much only just done the boardwalk. This time though, I figured it would be nice to try one of the many activities they have at the falls. After some deliberation we decided on doing the Journey Behind the Falls.

Inside the Horseshoe Falls
I really didn’t know what I expected to see when looking out of a waterfall.

That’s essentially a trip below the boardwalk and it gets you pretty close to the waterfall, so you get a pretty different view of the falls than if you stayed up top. You also have a chance to actually go behind the falls but there isn’t that much to see from the little openings since all you see is algae and water.

From the viewpoint next to the falls, you really get reminded of the sheer power nature has. It’s really something else to stand right there by the falls and get soaked by the mist, experience the constant downpour of water, and to also hear the roaring of the water cascading down.

And it’s seriously an incredible amount of water. We got absolutely soaked and it got to the point where I couldn’t tell if it was raining or not. There was just that much water sprayed into the air.

Journey Behind the Falls
2.5 million liters per second.

The Journey Behind the Falls ended up being a pretty cool experience. You didn’t really get to do anything super special or anything but it gives you a better idea of the scale of the falls and just how much water is flowing. Can recommend.

The second time I went back to the falls, I decided that I wanted to do something different since it didn’t really make sense to do the exact same things. As a result, me and my friend ended up spending a bit more time at the casino.

We tried Casino War which is essentially just War but.. at the casino I guess? That was fun but it was a stark reminder that casinos are really designed to make you make bad decisions. We didn’t lose that much money but we could’ve also easily made a bit of money if we just cashed out while we were ahead.

Lesson learned I guess.

Niagara from Niagara
A view of Niagara Falls, Ontario from Niagara Falls, New York.

Anyways, after that we decided to do a walk along the boardwalk on the Canadian side again. But then we doubled back afterwards and made our way to the Rainbow Bridge and walked across to America.

I’ve actually never done that before so it was also a pretty neat experience. It was only a dollar to cross the bridge but after a short walk on a bridge with a cool view of the water, you arrive at Niagara Falls, New York.

The American side is honestly a bit less developed than the Canadian side. Instead of a large boardwalk they have a park where you can walk around. There’s less people and you can get closer to the falls, which makes for a very different experience.

Above the Falls
The best part is how a part of the falls actually just straight up falls onto that walkway.

Honestly, it was kinda nice.

There’s a few smaller bridges that go over the water leading down to the falls and you get a much less obstructed view of the edge of the water from the American side, which at times seems a bit irresponsible but simultaneously awesome.

It was a pretty nice walk and I think it is a really good option if you want to avoid the crowds. But of course, if your passport allows, you should just go to both.

Rainbow Bridge Border
The Canadian-American border.

Essentially, the Canadian side has better panoramic views of the falls but the American side gets your a more intimate view. The Canadian side is also a bit more touristy and so will have everything you expect from a touristy place like restaurants, casinos, bars, etc, but you’ll also need to deal with more people.

Overall, Niagara Falls is great. I will definitely go again but after two trips within a few weeks of each other, I think I’m good for the near future.

New York City: The Empire City

With all my trips to the States for work, it’s a wonder that I would ever go down there for fun. Well, last week that’s exactly what I did.

I have some family in New York and so we decided to drive down there on a long weekend to visit them. My cousin lives in a suburb outside of New York City so we spent most of our time there, but we made time to go into the city and check it out.

Grand Central Concourse
Grand Central Station, like Union Station but bigger and grander in every way.

I’ve been to New York City before but the last time I went was a year or two after 9/11. I don’t really remember that trip that much but I do remember driving past the site of the attack and remember seeing a void where the towers used to be.

I remember 9/11 quite clearly. I was a bit too young to understand the gravity of the situation but as I grew up and got a bit older, I realized that that event honestly changed the world. So many things are different because of the events of that day and despite not being American, it’s probably the most consequential event that occurred in my lifetime so far.

So, I made it a goal to make sure I visited the site this time around.

One World Trade Center
From the ashes, a phoenix.

It was kind of a weird feeling being there. I’ve been to other disaster sites before, like the Hiroshima Peace Park, and I remember how calm and soothing it felt there. The 9/11 Memorial, on the other hand, felt a bit eerie.

I think that that’s probably a result of the design of the place. You’re in the middle of a giant city with supertall skyscrapers and you just see two holes in the ground; water pouring into the void.

When I wasn’t by the pools and was just somewhere in the park, it almost felt like a regular park. But when I was near the pools and could hear the water, there was just this odd somber feel to it.

The North Pool
The North Pool.

It was made even weirder because my cousin was saying beforehand how she knew a person that died in the attack. The names of those that have died are etched into the sides of the pools and we were going to look for his, but we didn’t have to look far because it was literally right in front of me.

We were all so surprised that his name was literally right there. That was so strange.

The South Pool
The South Pool.

To me, the visit to the memorial was the most important part of my trip. In a way it felt like a mini pilgrimage to just go there. But as far as time goes, we didn’t actually spend that much time there.

I mean, New York City is a huge city with a lot to see and do. When you’re there on such a short amount of time, of course you have to go and hit up all the major sites.

Times Square is one of the biggest and so we made sure to go check it out. It’s kind of a neat place but it honestly kinda confuses me as well. It’s really just a rectangular public space with.. a bunch of ads?

One Times Square
I had no idea they left the ball up there during the year.

The atmosphere there was quite touristy and festive but for the most part I couldn’t really figure out what was so interesting about the place other than the fact that it was Times Square. It’s almost like it’s a place that’s famous for being famous at this point and people go there to just check out the ads and billboards.

We also went to Central Park, the most visited urban park in the world. Now, I love urban parks. I think they’re an incredibly great idea since it provides people with a place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and it also balances out the pollution a bit and emits some fresh air.

Central Park is huge so we didn’t have a chance to visit all of it. In fact, it would probably take a long time to do so since it’s such a big park. It was pretty nice though. I could totally see myself doing some long walks in the park or even renting a bike and going through it.

Central Park Skyscrapers
A giant park surrounded by supertall skyscrapers.

One of the smaller goals I had for my trip to NYC was to also grab a hot dog at Central Park. Why? I have no idea, it just seems like it’s a thing. So, despite everyone telling me the hot dogs are gross and that it was a bad idea, I decided to get a hot dog anyways.

It was ok. Nothing super special.

In continuation of the idea that NYC has everything, we also went and checked out some bridges. There’s a “secret spot” (that’s not so secret) in Brooklyn where you can frame the Empire State Building between the feet of Manhattan Bridge. That was a pretty sweet spot to take some pictures.

The Secret Spot
The not so secret spot.

From there, we walked up to the Brooklyn Bridge and walked across it. I didn’t expect that the pedestrian path was actually above the road and so that was kinda cool. The bridge itself has an interesting construction so it was neat to be up there and be able to see both Brooklyn and Manhattan.

That said, there was like a trillion people on that bridge and it was so crowded. It was really difficult to just take it slow and try to enjoy the view since there were so many people walking by, taking photos, or ringing the bell on their bikes.

By the time we walked to the other side I was really glad to be done. It probably would’ve been a much nicer walk if there was like, a quarter of the people.

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge
So many people, not enough bridge.

Overall, it was a short trip to New York City, but it was a really good one. Not only did I have a chance to hang out with family, but I also had a chance to check out well, New York City.

I think New York City is a really special city. It’s one of the biggest cities in the world in terms of.. pretty much every metric. I feel like it’s one of those cities where you could spend your entire life in and still have a lot to explore.

New York City is a city where you can get lost in a forest of super tall skyscrapers. A city where you can take a breather and hang out in nice parks or by the water. A city where you can meet people and eat food from all over the world. A city that is incredibly modern but still have its fair share of history.

The idea of New York City is pretty nice and I’m definitely looking forward to the next time I go back.