What can I write about San Francisco that hasn’t already been written? Not much, but I will not let that stop me.
The World’s Top Seven Cities (that I have visited):
1. Paris 2. London 3. Copenhagen 4. Berlin 5. San Francisco 6. Chicago 7. Fresno (Number 7 is obviously a joke. Fresno would appear on lists like: Possible Armpits of California, Best Places to Melt Candles, Flattest Cities in the World, Don’t Eat Sushi in these Cities, Most Dangerous Downtowns in America, and Cities That Look Like They Have Already Survived the Zombie Apocalypse.)
San Francisco is a city that has whatever a traveler is looking for? Landmarks (check), Distinctive Neighborhoods (check), Fantastic Food (check), Museums (check), Public Transportation (half-check), History (check), Weird Stuff (check plus).
The past two summers my family has exchanged homes with a couple in Point Richmond (near Berkeley) and spent time in the city by the bay. If you are new to San Francisco here are a few pointers.
Don’t call San Francisco Frisco. Don’t even do it as a joke. Frisco is the name of a dog and if you named your dog Frisco, you are a bad person.
Do the typical touristy things. Should you ride a cable car? Yes, and stand on the outside. Allow the ugly tourist in you to live. If you have to push some Italian tourist out of the way to stand on the running board, do it. Do you think those Italians are going to be nice to you when you visit Rome? Hell no! They are going to cut in line, they are going to walk five abreast blocking the street. Take your big American elbows and cut a space for yourself on the cable car and don’t apologize.
Next, go to Alcatraz. Yeah, it is a big tourist trap, but it is also a pretty cool tourist trap. (The one exception to visiting Alcatraz would be for those of you that have actually been locked up before. You might not want to “visit” a prison on vacation and I think it is okay to take a pass on this one.)
Go to Chinatown and gawk. My kids hate Chinatown. It is dirty. It is loud. It is crowded. Old people using walkers block the streets. Strange things hang in store windows. It really is like traveling to a new country. The nice thing is that you don’t need a passport to visit this weird mini-country.
If you have kids go to the Science Museums. The Exploratorium (downtownish) is really fun. It is a museum of hands on experiments built by nerds who are trying to make science cool. They accomplished the task.
The California Academy of Sciences Museum (Golden Gate Park) is also super cool. There is a planetarium, aquarium, and a tropical forest all in one stop. The DeYoungMuseum right next door has a pretty good collection of art. The building itself is worth looking at and don’t forget to go up in the tower for great views of the park and sections of the city.
North Beach has one of the most important literary sites in America: City Lights Books. The Beats hung out here. The bookstore published Alan Ginsberg’s poem Howl and was charged with obscenity by the US government. The trial set a precedent for free speech and the First Amendment. The bookstore is small, dense, creaky, and old like all good bookstores. Go in, buy a book, a t-shirt, a bumper-sticker and keep this bookstore alive. North Beach also has some good food, but if you don’t buy a book you are a bad person who probably owns a dog named Frisco.
The two most over-rated locations in San Francisco are the wharf and Haight-Ashbery. If you have never been to these places I suppose there might be something to see, but today the wharf is too crowded and too annoying for me, and Haight-Ashbery makes me sad. The plight of the mentally ill is on display where hippies once hoped for a world of peace and love. I’m sure some of the homeless are still attracted to the idea of living on these streets, but whatever they came looking for doesn’t exist any longer (if it ever did.) If you are still looking for the summer of love and the center of the hippie universe I would suggest taking BARTacross the bay to Berkeley.
The best place to see the Golden Gate Bridge is? I don’t know. I have traveled to San Francisco many times but I don’t know if I have ever seen the entire bridge on a clear day. I went to the Marin Headlands this year on what I thought was a clear day. It was not clear at the headlands.
San Francisco has all of this and much more. I did not mention the Castro district, little Japan, Palo Alto… just go, and wear some flowers in your hair.