One, a Nordic country (with a landscape more akin to the moon than north west of the UK) fondly named the Land of Ice and Fire owing to its otherworldly geological markers, perpetual eery daylight in summer and proud Viking heritage.
The other, a hilly peninsula nestled on northern California’s West Coast, aptly nicknamed the Golden City after its iconic landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge, and fabled for its year-round fog, cable cars and colourful Victorian houses.
Different in a myriad of ways, yet both brimming with historical, geological and cultural must-sees. So how do you seamlessly experience both? Easily, actually.
Flying from London, spend three nights in Iceland before continuing on to San Francisco where you spend three more nights before travelling home.
Tip: If you travel with Icelandair you can stopover in Iceland for up to seven days with no extra cost (i.e. a no-brainer). The airline has just started the route and will be operating four flights a week from Reykjavik. And with in-air WiFi and plane food that feels restaurant quality, it’s really the only way to do it.
So how to do it, and what’s worth squeezing in?
Day 1: Start your trip in Reyjavik, Iceland, and experience the midnight sun
Iceland is a fascinating land of lava fields, mountains, glaciers, and glacial rivers, and while the North Atlantic country doesn’t have the oldest history (the first Icelanders settled only a millennium ago) it makes up for it in its geological wonders which you see first hand.
Begin your trip in the country’s capital, Reyjavik.
Just a half an hour journey from the airport, you’ll find yourself in the centre of the coastal city, complete with its scenic bay and charming town centre.
Stay in Hotel Marina right by the Reyjavik marina, where you can wake up to the view of enormous out-of-service ships decorating the dock in all their rusty splendour.
Just a few minutes walk away you can experience authentic Icelandic cuisine at Kopar (it’s imperative that you choose the flaky cod, served with pan fried shiitake potatoes, sautéed kale and hollandaise – perfection) as you soak in the dock views.
After a spot of dinner, there really is no time to waste about hitting your first adrenaline-pumping experience. Quite literally, because snowmobiling on Langjökull is best done under the midnight sun.
It’s worth explaining that during summer, Icelanders experience blazing sunshine for 24 hours a day save for roughly an hour of sweet golden sunset when the sun is at its lowest at 11pm.
So instead of hitting the hay, hit the Langjökull glacier via snowmobile to experience it at its most stunning.
The orange sun searing low below the clouds is nothing short of breathtaking as you ride over clouds of untouched snow. To say the experience feels like being in heaven is an understatement; a true must-do when you’re in Iceland.
Day 2: Snorkel between tectonic plates and go whale watching
The next morning, wake up early and head to Silfra for a spot of snorkelling between two tectonic plates.
The natural wonder is best seen while swimming through water that’s so clear that it provides 40 meters of visibility down into the crack in the earth’s surface, and so clean that you can (and are advised) to drink it as you go.
You’ll need to be brave, though, as the water is a freezing two degrees i.e still cold through two layers of dry suits and scuba gear.
If you’re nursing a hangover from the night before, there’s no better way to wake yourself up.
After, you must stop off at Lindin restaurant in Laugarvatn on your way back to Reykjavik.
The restaurant on the edge of lake Laugarvatn boasts the freshest fish caught mere hours before being served up on your plate. Our recommendation? The Artic Char. It’s truly unmissable.
Once back in Reykjavik, spend your afternoon on a whale watching tour, setting sail from the marina, minutes from your hotel.
Roughly three hours long, the tour circles Faxaflói bay and you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of Humpback whales, Minke whales, porpoises, dolphins and puffin birds.
Just have your camera at the ready.
Day 3: Explore Reykjavik and all its quirks
For you second full day in Iceland, spend the day bumbling around Reykjavik, exploring all of its charming quirks.
From the Arnarholl Statue, in honour of Ingólfur Arnarson, the first settler in Reykjavik in 874, to Hallgrímskirkja catherdral, located in the centre of the town and famed for its dramatic proportions.
Day 4: Spend some leisure time in the Blue lagoon before flying to San Francisco
No trip to Iceland is complete without a day trip to the Blue Lagoon.
One of Iceland’s natural wonders and most-visited attractions, the geothermic spa is located in a lava field in Grindavík , 24 miles from Reykjavík.
Here, you can experience bath-warm water, while applying natural face masks and enjoying a glass of champagne in a floating bar. What could be better?
After you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the Blue Lagoon’s resident restaurant, Lava Restaurant, for a delicious and restorative meal before making the 21-minute drive to Keflavík Airport to catch your flight out.
Only eight hours later you’ll be touching down in San Francisco, where the contrast of the rough beauty of Iceland and the cool jazzy city vibes of San Francisco will hit you in the face.
Only a short drive from San Francisco airport you’ll find yourself downtown, where we advise you check in to Hotel Zeppellin.
Located at the center of San Francisco’s Union Square and Theater District, the quirky hotel channels the city’s energetic bohemian personality.
Day 5: Wonder the Muir Woods, mooch round Sausalito and see the Golden Gate Bridge on an evening dinner cruise
Wake up and drive North out of the peninsula (here you’ll get your first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge as you cruise over it) and into Muir Woods, a federally protected as a National Monument since 1908.
The stunning woods are thick with old growth coast redwood trees. Here, you can spend hours meandering up the many walking trails and soaking in the barky smells as the sun trickles on the ground breaking through the leaves of the tall trees above.
It’s a truly restorative experience.
On your way back you should (must) stop off in Sausalito, a coastal city just ahead of the Golden Gate Strait, famed for its houseboat enclaves and stunning bay views (it’s the inspiration behind Otis Redding’s Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay for good reason).
Here, you can bumble round artsy shops picking up trinkets along you way before enjoying a stunning seafood lunch at Scoma’s washed down with a crisp, cool glass of white wine.
Enjoy a four-course meal, live music and dancing as you set sail on the Golden Gate Strait, getting up close and personal with the famous bridge.
Truly, you’ll never get better views of the bridge in all it’s vermilion orange splendour (weather permitting).
Day 6: Tour the Presidio, enjoy a picnic and go on a free Love tour of the Haight-Ashbury
This national park at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge boasts incredible nature trails, art installations and stunning views. You can truly spend hours exploring the rich offerings of the park, while getting your steps in.
Afterwards, grab a picnic blanket and sit down for lunch at Off the Grid on the Presidio’s main parade ground. Here, the area comes to life with hundreds of food stalls, games and music.
Later, it’s an absolute must that you keep your touring memento up for a exploration of the Haight-Ashbury area, a neighbourhood renowned for being the origin of the hippie counterculture.
Tour the vibrant streets, vintage stores and psychedelia murals which were at the epicenter of the 1967 Summer of Love, while learning about the history of the area and visiting the homes of famous former residents such as Janice Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.
The best way to do it is with Wild SF Tours for a free Love tour of the area guided by an authentic guitar-toting hippie. Unmissable.
For dinner, inject some fun into your trip by eating at Tonga Room, famed for its level 100 tropical décor (it even rains inside) and Polynesian-fusion cuisine. End your night with drinks at Top of the Mark for sky-high views of the twinkling city.
Day 7: Bumble about San Francisco before heading back to London
For your final day? Why not bumble around the rich streets of downtown San Francisco.
Do some shopping in Union Square, eat sourdough bread bowl with clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf and enjoy an ice cream as you wander up the famous Lombard Street, before heading back to the airport for you flight home.
The lead in flight price from London Heathrow to San Francisco is £447.80 per person return including all taxes, fees and charges (price is based on travelling in September 2018). Flights can be booked at www.icelandair.co.uk – passengers are able to stopover in Iceland on their way to San Francisco for up to seven days for no extra fare price.
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