Last week I visited San Francisco. I had only one reason to be there. I watched a movie (The Princess Diaries) when I was a kid and I added it on the list of places I wanted to visit.
Once there San Francisco gave me a million reasons to visit it. I think I was lucky to be there at a time when weather was cold but not too cold.
I spent 5 days in SF but I think it took me a moment, single moment, to fall in love with it. I arrived on a cold Friday night through BART train and walked up from the underground station. The moment I climbed up and started walking on the Market Street toward my hotel I thought to myself, ‘This is going to be awesome.’
It was the coldest of five nights but let me tell you this every night is a beautiful nights in SF. Ever damp sidewalks, green yellow leaves of trees (that remind you of maple trees), old fashion light posts, hilly neighborhoods and cable cars create a surreal picture and you find yourself at the centre of this picture.
I found myself walking up and down different streets, often alone something I don’t usually do, before and after rush hours.
The city has so much character – an amazing blend of history and modern lifestyle. The buildings are beautiful and most of the neighborhoods in and around bay area seem quite affluent, in fact I found it hard to find modest neighborhoods; my friend and I would admire the facades and manicured trees every two steps. Some of the neighborhoods reminded her of her home country (Turkey). To me some of the districts/neighborhoods looked like places in London.
I often felt drawn to the Bay Area I would go there early morning or before sunset just to enjoy the view.
For a lot of people Bay Area means Pier 39 and sea lions, which is fun, but it is only part of it. The Bay Bridge looks mesmerising with sun’s golden rays shining on its silver surface. The view of Bay Area from hilltops of nearby neighborhood is also quite a site. Bay Area was the only place where I wouldn’t walk a lot I would sit on a bench and enjoy the view, inhale the sea breeze.
When it came to other areas me and my friend walked, walked and walked and although at the end of every day, for five days, we came back with aching feet it didn’t stop us from exploring the tourist and non-tourist neighborhoods of SF. Me and my friend discovered or rediscovered our love for running here. Every time we climbed a steep street we would run down to climb down quickly; every run ended on a fit of laughter.
My friend and I would usually walk at night but I tried to walk in the mornings. We would listen to the sounds of underground transport it makes SF sounds like an iron giant on the move.
HOME OF THE HOMELESS
Although SF’s name brings some of the most beautiful images in my mind I will also remember it for the overwhelming number of homeless people I saw there.
SF is the second most densely populated city in America after NY. It receives one of the highest number of tourists from within and outside America. It also makes a good destination for homeless people.
I was surprised to see such a huge number of homeless people in SF. Nobody told me anything about it. Our hotel, although located in the city centre, was close to Tenderloin District so we were surrounded by homeless people most of the time, they didn’t pose a threat or inconvenience, I was curious to learn more about them.
THE DISTRICT WITH THE FLAG
We went to Castro District after visiting different places including Mission District and I found it most vibrant of all. There were cafes bustling with people. It was less crowded and congested than Chinatown. It was more bustling than Mission District. You can recognize Castro District by its LGBT flags from far away.
SF has the largest number of LGBT households than any other county (around 15%).
ITALIAN NEIGHBORHOOD, A BOOK STORE AND THE BEATS
Robert, a musician and a traveler, from New Jersey told me that he has been visiting San Francisco for many years.
One of his favorite places is Trieste Café (Little Italy) where Beats (post WWII writers/poets) used to hangout; they inspired the hippie movement. A nearby bookstore – City Lights – is an iconic bookstore in North Beach which stands for freedom of expression and justice. I even got a book from there on history of SF ‘You can’t win’ by Jack Black.
According to him, Tenderloin District got its name from corrupt cops who would take bribes and eat tenderloin stakes with that money.
WHEN IN SAN FRANCISCO
- Do try running while climbing down in hilly neighborhoods, if you knees allow it, you might find it fun.
- Golden Gate and Japanese parks are stunningly green but do also go to Alamo Square, Delores Park and Mission District’s small parks they have beautiful view of the city.
- When I went to the valley an artist (high on some kind of drugs) greeted us. I was reluctant to walk-in but my friend couldn’t stop so I followed her and few other travellers also followed suit. The artist walked us through the alley, explaining about different murals and artists who drew them. In the end thanked me for coming through. I forgot to take his picture. If I ever go there again I will definitely look for him.
- If you go to Mission District do visit Balmy Street for some amazing murals.
- SF has an efficient, and also iconic, public transport system – a blend of historic cable cars and new light rails, trains and buses (also known as trolleys). San Francisco is accessible by these vehicles; prior research can save you a lot of time and money. Most of these vehicles are run by Muni service. If you buy Muni pass it gives free access to all cable cars, Muni buses, light rail and trolleys.
- The food is great. We had food in Chinatown and American restaurants. In Chinatown eat food where Chinese eat. DON’T eat where tourists are eating.
- For American food go to Pine Crest Diner and DON’T go to Rosie’s (with car’s bonnet adorning the facade), food sucks. Have a grill or melon beer at Sam’s Grill (near 8th Market Street). The restaurant is clean, food taste good and the service is brilliant.
- If you want to enjoy San Francisco wake up early in the morning, leave your camera and backpack behind, just keep your phone and Muni pass and go around walk and hop-in/out of cable cars, listen to people on the street, look around and listen to the sounds from underground transport.
- Don’t be afraid of ever present homeless people but just be cautious. I would go out with my backpack and my camera and I never felt threatened.
- If you find yourself in and around Castro do visit Harvey Milk’s house, which is now human rights office and the museum about the history of gay rights.
- If you are at Hyde street try to find the ‘bushman’ I didn’t know about him. Bushman disguises as bush/tree and waits for people and then startles them. Beware he is not a beggar.
- If you go to Golden Gate Bridge go in the morning and before you head to the bridge stop by at the Palace of Art and its beautiful lake. Golden Gate Bridge is an hour walk (going and coming back) if you are used to of walking. There are not many cafes around GGB so stop by at Starbucks (it’s the only place) before the palace of art and eat something because by the time you comeback you will be starving.
- Golden Gate Park is an outstanding place to be but it requires at least half of your day to explore different lakes, Japanese garden, conservatory, etc. You could spend days there without seeing one spot twice. And if you go there do go to the ocean beach (Sunset District).