San Francisco

I awake with a start as we cross the Bay Bridge into the city. We’re stuck in the same snake of traffic as we were on the outskirts of Reno, except now the desertscape has become a cityscape. Looming over the interstate-80 are impossibly tall skyscrapers punctuated by smaller, decorative buildings and short sections of greenery. San Francisco seems like some kind of genetically-modified child of the state government, implanted with the correct ratios of all the best qualities. It’s picture perfect. As we nose deeper into the centre of the city, the ground to our right seems gradually to drop away. The city is built on an area of varying elevation, and therefore is home to roads steeper than any seen at home. Like most American cities the roads form a rough grid shape, breaking up the buildings into ‘blocks’ punctuated by four-way intersections. 

San Francisco is busy. It takes almost an hour to find a parking space near the Haight-Ashbury district, where we are exploring first. Even then, we are slightly in front of someone’s drive, so everyone’s fingers are crossed as we leave the car, hoping that we don’t come back to a parking penalty charge notice. With renewed energy, we head towards The Haight, ready to immerse ourselves in the origins of hippie culture. Approaching Haight Street, it’s hard not to appreciate the vibrant murals painted on the frontages of the shops, bright, abstract psychedelic patterns contrastingly complementing the equally colourful tie-dye shirts, tapestries and scarves sold inside. Haight-Ashbury has been known since the early 60s as a community meeting spot for hippies and has retained the boho 60s feel ever since. Walking up the street and diving into tiny boutiques selling everything ranging from incense and homemade soaps to beaten silver jewellery and tie-dye baby grows was overwhelming for the senses, but a special experience.

Our second and final day in the city began with a leisurely stroll through the gardens of the Palace of Fine Arts. The formations of pillars and ornate decoration dotted around the landscape, remind me of pictures of the crumbling ancient temples of Greece. Walking between them I was able to forget that I was in the midst of a bustling city, the tranquil lake and beautiful gardens adding further to this mystical atmosphere. Emerging on the other side of the structures, we found ourselves overlooking San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz Island, Golden Gate Bridge a hazy silhouette in the distance. Turning left, we began strolling along the promenade, admiring the brilliant blue sky punctuated by the rising shapes of some of the city’s tallest skyscrapers. One thing that has surprised me in this city is the number of people who own dogs – and not just one, oh no. As we walk along the front, we pass people with three, four or even five dogs on leads, all struggling to be the leader and all sniffing hungrily at children’s ice cream cones as they go. To be fair to them it’s a beautiful day to walk the dog(s). The sun is shining, the wind is but a gentle breeze and the sky is clear except for one or two fluffy white clouds marking its empty canvas. I’m beginning slightly to wish I hadn’t worn jeans, when the sun goes behind a rather large cloud which has dropped over the bay. That’s the thing with this city, the weather is as unpredictable as the chance of a parking spot. Tucking our hands into the sleeves of our jumpers we power on until we reach the Bridge. Golden Gate Bridge is not, as I’d been led to believe, golden. It is in fact a rusty red colour, however it is still a magnificent sight. Stretching across the Bay to connect South San Francisco with the Northern Marin county, it is filled with commuters crossing into the city and tourists making their way out into the middle to catch a snapshot of the famous skyline. Having walked the two miles from the Palace of Fine Arts we decided not to make our way out into the centre of the bridge, so we captured our memories on camera and then made our way by bus back into the centre of town.

San Francisco is abuzz with people of all colour, nationality and culture. Walking down Fisherman’s Wharf, past numerous tacky tourism shops filled with ‘I HEART SF’ plastered over t-shirts, caps and key rings, we happen across the Boudin Sourdough Factory, sitting on Pier 45. Entering the bistro, I duck as a basket swoops down from above, skimming the top of my head. Looking up, my eyes travel along the pulley system transporting individual baskets of freshly baked sourdough rolls to the preparation area at the back of the room. People queue excitedly for an overpriced freshly made sourdough sandwich, and, like all good tourists, we are attracted by the buzz and join the end of the line. 15 minutes and almost $10 later, I have a chicken salad sourdough sandwich and a lemonade sat in front of me. We find a free table outside, and try and shelter from the wind under the threadbare umbrella barely covering us. It’s good. Not $10 good, but good. We spend the rest of the day diving in and out of gift shops before heading into the Tenderloin District and Chinatown to do some shopping. Several Urban Outfitter purchases and some questionable-looking Asian candy later, we are finishing our day with a Chinese and a reflection on this incredible city.

If there was one city I could revisit out of all I’ve seen in the States, it would be San Francisco. Two days was not long enough to witness everything the city has to offer, both in terms of landmarks and culture. I didn’t get the opportunity to see Alcatraz, Lombard Street or Pier 39, let alone complete the hike of the Twin Peaks that I had planned. But more than just the sights San Francisco is known for, I didn’t get a chance to live in one of the most vibrant cities in America. I didn’t get chance to buy a Danish pastry from my new-found favourite coffee shop every morning, or to conquer the subway system. I didn’t get to help newer tourists with directions, or manage to take a walk without using Google Maps. You don’t know a city until you’ve spent at least a week walking its streets with no purpose other than to get to know them. I will be back San Francisco, I will be back.

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