San Francisco Calling – Catherina Van Coillie

Travel is in Catherina Van Coillie’s blood, taking her across the globe from her native Belgium. Her latest ‘home’ is the city of San Francisco, where she guides visitors around the city’s many cultural sights and beyond. 

San Francisco guide Catherina sailingAs well as guiding in San Francisco do you cover anywhere else?
Yes, I do. I cover most of the large cities and lead over-the-road adventures in the United States.  During the off season, I guide tours abroad.

How long have you been a guide?
For over 12 years.

What led you to become a guide?
Since I’ve travelled most of my life; people would ask where the cool spots to explore are, or what to do, where to eat, whom to contact, etc.  It has been a natural transition.

Describe your typical day?
Morning yoga, strong hot coffee and ready for a new adventure.

The Museum of Modern Art opened in May – what else can visitors do in San Francisco?
Culture vultures are spoilt for choice: You can catch a performance at the San Francisco Jazz Centre, experience the Asian Art Museum, visit the De Young Museum, catch an off-beat film festival or visit the California Academy of Sciences (considered the world’s greenest museum) in the Golden Gate Park.  For something a bit more active, visitors can ride the cable car up and back down the steep hills of San Francisco, or perhaps skate or bike through the Golden Gate Park (Sundays the park is closed to cars). For something truly American, watch a Giants game at the AT & T Park.

If someone was just visiting San Francisco for a few days what would you suggest were the less obvious ‘must-dos’?
Visit the Japanese tea garden in the Golden Gate Park, go to Fisherman’s Wharf and check out the sea lions or walk the stairs of Telegraph Hill and look out for the famous wild parrots.  Visit the farmer’s market at the ferry building, tour the Murals of the Mission or rent a bike and cross the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, then return by ferry back to San Francisco.  Visit Muir woods and depending on time, enjoy a tour through the wine country.

Pier 39 in San Francisco - Marcus Ward

What’s your favourite restaurant in the city and why?
I love The Franciscan, which is great for the first time visitor.  It is located in Fisherman’s Wharf and has an exquisite menu and panoramic views of the bay, Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.  San Francisco is known for its eclectic variety of delicious restaurants, which I never tire exploring.

What are your thoughts about the Hyperloop, which will allow visitors to get from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes? *
I find the Hyperloop technology fascinating. My thoughts on the proposed route from LA to SF, are that the estimated cost of US$6 million could be better spent funding more urgent needs in California.  The state is suffering a serious drought, affecting everyone, especially the agriculture of the central (San Joaquin) valley.

What experience in your career has made you happiest?
Having clients express that their trip was life-changing.

If you hadn’t become a guide, what other profession would you have followed?
Travel photographer and story teller.

What is the most amusing experience you have had as a guide?
There are so many. Most recently, whilst leading an incentive tour my clients, who were all driving convertibles would turn up their music, get out of their cars and start dancing while enjoying the views.

What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
To lighten up about life, I was way too serious then.

What are your plans after guiding?
That sounds so terminal!  I hope to be guiding, in one way or another for the rest of my life.

Where in the world would you like to travel?
I personally like to travel off the beaten path, experiencing indigenous cultures and seeing sights such as tumbling waterfalls. Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Dubai are all on my wish-list.

What inspires you?
Making a positive difference.

* The Hyperloop is a planned futuristic travel system, which will enable passengers to travel between LA and SF in around 30 minutes, a journey which currently takes 6 hours by car or an all day train ride.  Passengers will sit in pressurized capsules, which will shoot down reduced-pressure tubes on a cushion of air, at speeds of up to 750 mph. Test tracks and capsules are currently being developed, with construction of a full-scale prototype 5-mile (8 km) track scheduled to start in 2016. As for when the completed Hyperloop will ready to shuttle customers; that is still unknown. Let’s watch this space.

Catherina guides Red Savannah clients in San Francisco and elsewhere in California. For advice and ideas on road trips and guided holidays in California, contact our USA specialist, Melissa Matthews on +44 (0)1242 787804.