The City by the Bay invites you in with historic landmarks and remarkable architecture but asks you to stay with openair artistry and café tables. It’s a city built for walking; just as you haven’t really had coffee until you’ve had a quality roast brewed well, you can’t truly appreciate San Francisco from a car.* Its sidewalk cafés and alleyways, its unexpected parks and street art, the artisans selling their wares along with the more planned popup happenings make outings an adventure. There’s always a farmers’ market or craft fair, with food trucks and impromptu entertainment to be found. From Peace Plaza in Japantown to the thrift stores in the Mission District, from free museums along the Embarcadero to interactive music stores and bookstores in the Haight and North Beach, there are new discoveries to be made throughout the different neighborhoods. Each journey through this diverse mecca is as interesting as the destinations it offers.
“I left my heart in San Francisco
High on a hill, it calls to me
To be where little cable cars
Climb halfway to the stars!”
— Douglass Cross
Growing up in a small town, my many walks never abated my wanderlust. There was nowhere new to go, and not enough happening in the few public spaces there were. This is why California’s Central Valley kids spend their time in vineyards, drinking – which would almost seem poetic if they weren’t raisin vineyards. Given my rebellious spirit, it’s just as well that I grew up with so few options yet I never felt at home there. The one redeeming quality my so-called hometown has is its proximity to other places; mountains to the east, the ocean to the west, and San Francisco to the north. Escaping every chance I got started with high school road trips and became impulsive getaways that continued from the other direction upon moving to Oregon with my Hunny years later. Magical Mr. Mistoffelees, a furbaby who’s since crossed over his own bridge, would purr with me as he stretched along the dashboard in front of me when I could no longer resist a drive to the city. I’d inevitably have to turn right back but even the shortest visits left me feeling more myself.
My Hunny and I share a deep love for this welcoming city. He spent his childhood Thanksgivings here and was initially stationed at its now defunct ship yard when he joined the Navy out of high school. San Francisco was our go-to getaway, we celebrated anniversaries in the Theatre District, birthdays at Mason Street Wine Bar, and New Years in Union Square; the city itself has been our vacation home. My draw to our Sanctuary City goes beyond the nostalgia or shared memories and runs deeper than the undeniable affinity it inspires. The concept of home can be a difficult one yet ultimately speaks to belonging. My grandparents’ cabin provided the only real sense of home I had but, for all the love felt there and as much as I love that mountain community, I was nevertheless out of place. This mountain girl will always love nature but thrives on the inherent energy of human activity – I’m a city girl at heart. Born across the bay, my connection to the Bay Area has always been strong despite not growing up here.
“No city invites the heart to come to life as San Francisco does.
Arrival in San Francisco is an experience in living.”
— William Saroyan
I don’t remember my first visit but, for once, the lack of memory isn’t due to my damaged brain as I was in utero. I’m a product of the Summer of Love; my mum dared dream of a more fulfilling life born of that promise and moved north that year. The following year, I was born. Proving the impact of environment, even via the womb, I became a neo-hippie far removed from my pre-birth days at Haight and Ashbury. Momma had long since returned to the Central Valley, leaving her hippie days behind as well. Before her return though, during that uneasy time living just outside the City by the Bay, any chance to cross the bridge became a saving grace. In turn, while I was growing up stifled in central California, trips to this city of my heart were my salvation. As my Hunny and I created some of our best moments in my city by the bay, it proved the one constant in our nomadic life and nowhere else have I ever felt at home. Even my brother, without such a formative association, made a home here for a time. So – despite being very different people on vastly disparate paths – my mum, brother, Hunny, and I each found salvation across a bridge or two on a peninsula that defies description. San Francisco is hometown to none of us yet a home of sorts to all and, best of all, finally my home.
“Somehow the great cities of America have taken their places
in a mythology that shapes their destiny:
Money lives in New York. Power sits in Washington.
Freedom sips cappuccino in a sidewalk café in San Francisco.”
— Joe Flower
*An open-top bus works though.. Tours, street cars, and trains will help you discover the walks you want to take.