I’ve been to some really touristy places in my life. Eureka Springs, Arkansas, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Padre Island, Texas. And at the heart of all these places was something that really was worth seeing (thus the tourism) that was inevitably overstated by kitschy t-shirts, refrigerator magnets, and guided sightseeing tours. So when we set out for our first day in San Francisco, my inherent pessimism about overcrowded beaches, overpriced snack foods and streets lined with souvenir shops was always present: I was nervous. And in a lot of ways, it’s precisely what I expected: Little stands sold campy Alcatraz coffee mugs, Cokes cost $3, and our bay cruise was narrated by “Captain Nemo”; not to mention all the usual trappings of the travel destination, including overpriced parking and panhandlers (including this one, who was particularly entertaining).
Yet with San Fransisco, I couldn’t help but feel that all the flashy tourism on the waterfront was something different. It wasn’t exaggerating or playing up the excitement of the place, and once you get through the kitsch there is beauty and life right under the surface. The city’s rich history, culture, diversity…it has a life of its own, which defies touristy boat rides and Golden Gate Bridge shot glasses. The city is a force to be reckoned with.
We started with the most visitor-friendly destinations at the first of the week, and worked our way out into the city for the remaining time. Day one was Pier 39 and our bay cruise, which was predictably cheesy though enjoyable. I took a mid-afternoon trip with Seth in a ZipCar (well truck, actually) to pick up a futon they’d purchased from a girl in the Richmond district (who was apparently some kind of Mick Jagger fangirl). The futon served as our sleeping quarters for the remainder of the trip. That night we had some great Italian food in North Beach a few blocks from where we stayed.
The rest of the trip consisted of us hitting the sights, including (though not limited to): SFMOMA, the Legion of Honor, the deYoung Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, Haight-Ashbury, and the Castro. We spent Friday in the Marina district, where I took photos with the Medium Format (the first two of which are included in this post) and Lisa sketched the bridge and fishing boats. That night, we had a little photo shoot with Seth and Laura, which you can see here.
Other interesting highlights included:
- Joe’s Cable Car (featured on the food network show “Guy’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”, and apparently really proud of it) which was, honestly, a really tasty burger, ground fresh on site daily, horrendously, almost pretentiously overpriced. Ten dollars for a four ounce burger?
- Rickshaw Bagworks which was so fantastically awesome I’ve decided to do an entire blog post about it. Suffice it to say I got myself a moleskine folio and the misses got herself a nice messenger bag. The items are made to order (you heard me right) on site. Some fabrics are even made from 100% recycled materials. I could go on and on, but I’ll save that for another post.
- Chinatown where we dined on incredible, ridiculously inexpensive Dim Sum (we both got stuffed for about $2.50 a piece) and yes, bought a Golden Gate Bridge shot glass.
- Midnight showing of Pulp Fiction at the historic Clay Theater in Pacific Heights, which was just all kinds of awesome.
- City Lights Bookstore which just made me sad how few independent book stores exist anymore.
Basically, the trip was amazing. Being able to stay with friends instead of paying for a hotel allowed us to slow down and really get a feel for the city, instead of trying to cram in as much as possible (which is what we did while visiting Chicago, DC, New York, and most recently St. Louis) and the change of pace was really enjoyable. I can’t wait to visit again, and there are some awesome side-trips we didn’t have time for that I’m excited to check out (Napa, Monterrey Bay, and generally any areas north of the Bay Area. Not to mention that Yosemite and I have unfinished business). The city by the bay, as it were, was all I hoped it would be.