Golden Gate Bridge where I got my tan
…be sure to wear some flowers in your hair, sings Scott McKenzie
(I would add a jacket and sunscreen – see below). San Francisco, the Golden City…First impression: love it! Second thought: I still love it but why is it foggy every day until noon and lows drop into the 50s in August?? That fairly typical reaction to SF’s unique coastal climate was well summed up by a statement often attributed to Mark Twain, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Apparently Twain never actually said it but whoever did clearly shared my experience from a last year’s trip. Another highlight of that trip in a similar vein: a facial sunburn acquired on a cloudy day while freezing on a boat to Alcatraz. But even if the weather is not always LA-style “California dreamin” you really barely notice. So much to do, see, taste! Plus, because of SF’s topography it has many different microclimates. If it’s cloudy where you are it may be sunny just over the hill – that is if you manage to climb it, they are
San Francisco is a novel, or rather a series of neighborhood-sized novelas, each with its own characters and story. So I don’t know how to even try to capture a meaningful snapshot of that epic city in a short blog. The most accurate way to describe the overall ambiance is what Armenian American author and California native William Saroyan once said:
St. Francis in 1904 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
“No city invites the heart to come to life as San Francisco does. Arrival in San Francisco is an experience in living.”
Indeed! I started my experience in living at Union Square, in the historic St. Francis Hotel on Powell and Geary to be exact. The hotel opened in 1904, just two years before the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake that, along with fires that ensued, turned most of the city into a pile of smoldering rubble. Remarkably, St. Francis suffered only minor damage from the quake but was gutted by fire. Re-opened after renovation in 1907, the hotel in the decades to come has continued to host famous guests from Hellen Keller and Woodrow Wilson to Douglas MacArthur.
St. Francis was a great starting point to explore the city. Like every other tourist, I figured I’d start with riding on the famous San Francisco cable car
to get the lay of the land, going on the Powell-Mason line up to Fisherman’s Warf. In retrospect, I choose to remember only the good aspects of that experience – 19th century charm of the cars and great vistas from the hilltops – and ignore the less pleasant ones: overpriced tickets for overcrowded rides and inexplicably unfriendly conductors. Guys, if you don’t have a disposition for a customer-facing job please consider a career change instead of taking it out on people for whom that is supposed to be a fun experience.
But despite that element of disappointment with the cable car ride the destination was worth it. Fisherman’s Warf may be somewhat of a tourist trap but it’s a delightful one! Sea lions lazily lounging and posing for photos at Pier 39 Marina, unmatched views of the Alcatraz Island, legendary clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl at Bistro Boudin, and yummy chocolate “from the source” at Ghirardelli Square. I could spend the whole day just alternating between these four activities – and that’s exactly what I did:
Cable cars at Union Square
Welcome to Fisherman’s Warf!
Sea lions chillin’ at Pier 39 Marina
Bistro Boudin – um um good!
More of Alcatraz from a different angle
Sweet Ghirardelli Square
Stay tuned for more SF impressions!