The sights and attractions that draw crowds to any city are telling of the aesthetic value a certain place holds in the collective perception. Tourism boards across the country attempt to create a sense of heritage and uniqueness that leaves visitors with a feeling of both connection and exoticism after they have left. Whether manufactured, or genuine, a city that truly produces these emotions in its guests takes on an illusive complex that keeps visitors coming back. To know a place well is a reassuring feeling, but to know that a place will always provide something unique is a feeling not to be lost. For me San Francisco was all of these things; mysterious, friendly, manageable, and capturing all at the same time. But how I found the city was not through the long lines or shops or visitor information booths. Instead it was through café conversations and tiring walks.
By some turn of meteorological misfortune the incredible weather I had in New Orleans, San Antonio, and Tucson did not follow me up into California. For the majority of my days both on and off the train, unpredictable rain and wind have soaked me from the soles of my shoes upwards. San Francisco was no exception. The first night I arrived in Oakland –Amtrak does not have service directly from L.A. to San Francisco- the weather was mild enough to walk to my hotel. However, when I woke in the morning to ambiguous skies I was fully prepared to spend another day enjoying indoor activities. Luckily the rain was inconsistent and I took advantage of the spots of sun down by Pier 39 in San Fran after a quick trip over from Oakland on the BART train. The seals, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge were all some great sights to see. Unfortunately I somehow deleted all my photos on my phone, but what can you do?
After my friend Andrew (who played a great host during this stop) got out of work, we went for a jog around Golden Gate Park on the West side of the city. One of the largest parks in America, the Golden Gate Park was astounding to run through and I found myself enjoying some much needed exercise and time amidst nature. As night, and more rain, fell we decided on a fantastic Mexican restaurant nearby called Tortilla Heights. The East coast has its’ Tortilla Flats, and San Fran- known for its calf straining hills- has places called Tortilla Heights for good reason. The first day was great, and the combination of an enormous burrito and walking around with a 30 pound pack on most of the day put me right to sleep.
I’m pretty sure I owe the National Weather Service a nasty letter for not alerting me of the hurricane that occurred in the Bay Area on Thursday morning. As I stepped out the door, umbrella in hand and ready to explore, pressing rain and wind crashed over me like shore-bound waves. Barely clinging to my umbrella, I was already wet from the belt down before I could even think of finding a bus stand or taxi. Thinking of my own personal budget deficit, and helplessly squishy sneakers, I decided to walk to see the “Painted Ladies” of Alamo Sq. These multi-level apartments can be seen on almost any postcard of San Francisco, and in the timeless program ‘Full House’. They were great, beautiful, cheery; all of that, I snapped a picture then quickly made my escape to the nearest coffee shop.
I found myself walking on Haight St. after enjoying a coffee, the famous artistic (hippie) center of San Francisco is the former neighborhood of Janis Joplin, Jerfferson Airplane, and Jimi Hendrix among others. Cafes dotted the street and I found myself crossing back and forth across intersections to find available seating at the packed coffee houses. Dred-locked locals smoked cigarettes outside ‘head shops’ displaying ornate Hooka pipes and advertising easily attainable medical cards for a certain herb said to cure everything from anxiety to glaucoma. I passed on the cards and instead enjoyed my second enormous cup of coffee called a “depth charge”, and was definitely feeling the caffeine as I skimmed the local Arts and Culture magazine. Just as I began to forget how wet I was it started to pour once more so I made the executive decision to invest two dollars in a bus ride to… anywhere.
The number 38 pulled up and I took my seat near the window to enjoy my own personal tour of the city. As my luck would have it about 5 stops down the line it was the end of the route and time for the driver’s break. The good part was I was close to the Persidio, a beautifully preserved part of the city that is half park, half neighborhood, and all stair-master. The hills were exhausting but the scenery was beautiful and the Golden Gate Bridge could be seen poking out of the fog in the distance. Completely saturated at this point, I made a second executive decision and hailed a cab back to Andrew’s place to dry off and rest my already aching calves. Although I didn’t get to see the touristy sights, did not ride a cable car, and somehow did a ton of walking in a hilly, rainy city, I really enjoyed San Francisco and left with a feeling of wanting more.
The ride up to Oregon has been stunning and although I thought I would hate to see snow anytime soon, the mountains and white landscapes are some of the best I’ve seen on the trip. Stay tuned for my weekend with my friend Garrett in the Portland of the West.
I’d also like to take this time to thank all my hosts so far: they all have been so accommodating and I really would have been lost without each. Finally, don’t forget to stop by Whistlestop for my next episode there, and if you want even more frequent updates find me on Twitter.