San Frellington

Last updated 08:35 24/05/2012

Perhaps I've conveniently forgotten the extreme incline of Wellington's streets, but in a world undulation championship, I'm confident San Francisco would beat our nation's uneven capital.

I did expect San Fran to be steep. I was an avid watcher of Full House in the 90s, after all. What I didn't imagine was an encounter the equivalent of Mount Vic on a sick combo of steroids and acid - very high. After being bombarded with stories about supersize-me America, I also didn't predict the Californian city to be so Wellingtonesque. From its pohutukawa-lined suburban streets, to the slightly skewed houses atop dodgy-looking hills, the biting wind even on a good day (the two cities could certainly share the same "can't be beaten..." motto - it's cold here), and the same high earthquake risk, I feel right at home.

The similarities aren't only aesthetic. For decades, San Fran has been the most liberal city in America, embracing people of all ethnicities and sexual orientations. There are recycling receptacles next to every rubbish bin and most eateries boast: "organic beef, no added hormones or antibiotics". It's a foodie's paradise, and goodness was it a pleasure to dine here. Sound familiar?

The views from the clifftops and valleys are unique, though. There are three hard-core climbs from our hostel at Union Square to the sea. Normal people take the cable car, a historic and leisurely way to look at things, but weirdos like myself run it. Even stranger people hop on a bike for eight hours (yes eight!) and cruise this crooked city. To quote the Americans, we did "lollygag" a lot at all the awesomeness on the way.

Painted Ladies

You have to find something good in hills - right, Wellingtonians? So here goes: you feel a fantastic sense of achievement once you reach the top (that's Mum-ish of me isn't it?) and you see some sweet views. Our ride took us puffing past the Victorian Painted Ladies (the gaudily coloured houses of Full House fame) followed by a couple of wrong turns up some streets so steep we had to get off and push our bikes. Eventually we made it to glorious Golden Gate Park, where the bison roam free behind some large wire fences and gophers pop out of their holes to cram their little mouths full before they're spotted by their hawkish nemeses.

The 4.5 by one mile green space (that's 7.2 by 1.6 kilometres petitioned for and granted to citizens in 1865) gives way to Ocean Beach. There is a lot of sand at Ocean Beach and some crazy people were swimming. Had it been hot it would've reminded me of a cross between Baywatch and Sumner in Christchurch.

We hadn't biked enough hills yet so we sweated it up Seal Rock Drive. A short ride along the clifftop and there it was. That architectural feat that all visitors come to ogle: the Golden Gate bridge. And there was no fog (which I hear is quite the miracle). Fun fact: it takes 25 painters working fulltime to keep the bridge in top condition. But as my engineer fiancé pointed out, who would know if the rust had set in underneath all those coats? Cue my fast pedalling exit.

Golden Gate bridge

We took a final whiz down another epic gradient into Sausalito (on the water and across the bay - think Eastbourne or Devonport) to a little eatery to watch the fog roll in across the city while we remained bathed in sunlight.

Isn't it strange that we've come from the other side of the world only to encounter a place so similar?

Where have you been that compares to New Zealand? And are there cities that, no matter how much you've heard about them, surprise you nonetheless?

Follow Amy on Twitter

Post a comment
Oleana   #1   11:37 am May 24 2012

If you are still in SF... Take Folsom Street South until it goes up to Bernal Hill... It is probably the best view of the City skyline... Can't be beat!! Esp. at night... Man, I miss San Francisco... Have fun!! OH!!! And go to the bar, the Wild Side West on Courtland Street in Bernal. One of the nicest hidden gardens in the city... And good cocktails too!!

Amy Roil   #2   04:33 pm May 24 2012

@ Oleana - darn I have just left San Fran but those places sound great! Will mark them on the list for next time. Such an awesome city isn't it?

RedRulesAll   #3   10:19 pm May 24 2012

Vancouver Island and Vancouver in general reminds me of NZ. San Fran sounds great! On my list.

viffer   #4   10:36 am May 25 2012

Here's a factoid about SF: many of those "Wellingtonesque" houses are actually built from New Zealand native timbers - perhaps that partially explains their familiarity. As for the pohutukawas - the City of SF was talking recently about removing them, because they're so darned messy!

Oh - we missed the bison on our last trip to SF (didn't know about them), but really enjoyed the squirrels in GG Park. We also enjoyed walking everywhere, like from Chinatown to Pier 1, then right around the coastline to Pier 39. We were going to catch the cable car back to Chinatown, but the queue was a million miles long, so we just walked. On a previous trip we were staying on the corner of Lombard and Van Ness, so we walked to the top of Russian Hill, then later drove over it in the car/truck.

Minnie Moo   #5   09:36 pm May 25 2012

I did a lot of walking in San Fran when I was there a few years ago, as I do when home in Welly. It did remind me of home. San Fran is a great city, I reckon I could live there if I had the chance!

Paul   #6   11:28 am May 27 2012

Interesting read. Strangely, walking along the river in Bilbao in Spain reminded me of Kaiwharawhara/Hutt Rd, ugly and industrial next to a short steep cliff and very similar feel. Uncanny.

Lauren   #7   05:01 pm May 30 2012

I've never actually been, but I've heard that Portland, Oregon is really similar to NZ... Hopefully heading to San Fran in November!

Mark   #8   03:48 am Jun 10 2012

What about the huge homeless problem in San Fran ? The Mexican gang war going on in the mission area and the part where they till you to stay out if the CBD at night. After spending a week in NYC based in Brooklyn I cant believe that the city is so crime ridden.aviod mission street and union square it has hundreds of homeless people begging for money really hundreds. Police are no where to been seen and the crack problem in the Tenderloin area next to town is full on aviod at all cost. Walked up mission area expecting cages and Mexican restaurants but only found guys peeing in the street and runs down buildings that are boarded up. Finding San Fran to be a big let down and a shock after reading most blogs like the one above. The people don't seem to care either..last time in San Fran for me.

San Fran   #9   06:45 pm Jun 10 2012

Homeless homeless homeless..everywhere. This is a foul dirty is souless and in 48 hours here I cant wait to leave. NYC was safe cleaner then here and I stayed in Brooklyn and even at night walking around NYC and using the subway makes San Fran the getto it is. AVOID this city. Nice houses-great bridge-thats it.

Post comment


Required. Will not be published.
Registration is not required to post a comment but if you , you will not have to enter your details each time you comment. Registered members also have access to extra features. Create an account now.

Maximum of 1750 characters (about 300 words)

I have read and accepted the terms and conditions
These comments are moderated. Your comment, if approved, may not appear immediately. Please direct any queries about comment moderation to the Opinion Editor at
Special offers

Featured Promotions

Sponsored Content