San Francisco’s fame comes in many forms: the great earthquake devastated the city in 1906, the Summer of Love made it a hippie haven in 1967 and its vertically sided hills continue to challenge Olympic-calibre tourists to this day.
Officially there are 43 hills in the city (locals like to tag another 10 on top of that) and lots of different ways to tackle the rise and fall of the landscape. Although walking is the best way to get a workout, there are a few comfy options for the foot weary.
“Tourists all want to ride the cable car since it’s the only one on the planet” says Ricardo Lopez, a conductor with the city’s Cable Car Division who adds that you can measure the health of San Francisco tourism by the length of the line-up at the main stop of Powell and Market.
The cable car system was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964. The mechanics have stayed the same since 1873: huge underground wheels pull thick cables that have three braking systems (San Franciscans are an optimistic bunch but nothing is left to chance). At the Cable Car Museum (www.cablecarmuseum.org) you can actually see how wheels keep the cable loops moving. Each cable is replaced every two or three months, at a price of $20,000 US each.
After tackling the hills (not by foot), you can hop in a bright yellow two-seater GPS-guided GoCar to see the rest of town. The onboard GPS system takes over and all you have to do is strap yourself in, don a helmet and follow instructions. The car talks to you, giving directions and touristy tidbits along the way.
If you deviate from one of the three GoCar standard routes, no problem, but you’ll want to avoid the busy streets and – above all else – try not to find yourself at the bottom of a long or steep hill. GoCars struggle with the city’s famous inclines.
You can park the little yellow buggy and take breaks for museum stops, a cappuccino in the Italian North Beach neighbourhood or sandwich at the Boudin Sourdough Bakery, and then head for Fort Point lookout where crashing waves mark the city base of the Golden Gate Bridge. Although you can’t take the GoCar across the bridge, you can stop, get out and snap some photos from the lookout.
The bridge shares a past both macabre —it’s the number one spot in the world for suicides — and glitzy as a star player in countless Hollywood films from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo to James Bond’s A View To A Kill.
And should you still be one of those considering a walking tour of San Francisco, along with packing a sturdy pair of walking shoes, you can always heed the advice of one foot-weary visitor to the hilly city who said, “When you get tired of traipsing around, you can always lean against it.”
– Photo Credits: Bernard Loic; Go Car Tours