Rome wasn't the only iconic and historic city I finally visited in 2022. Last June, as part of a larger trip with my family to Lake Tahoe, Corinne and I spent a weekend in San Francisco. (It only took me eight whole months to write about it...)
I had heard horror stories (like this one) about San Francisco's current condition as a hyper-liberal, anything-goes hellscape where legions or homeless people roamed the streets in search of their next fentanyl dose, smash-and-grab burglaries were routine, and shoplifters brazenly pillaged stores with impunity.
However, the San Francisco we discovered last summer didn't seem quite that horrible. In fact, we found it to be a beautiful city that we want to visit again.
|Haight Street, near Ashbury. Unfortunately, the Hippies have long since been gentrified out of this neighborhood.
San Francisco’s “homeless problem” may be overstated by the national media. With the caveat that I did not venture into the Tenderloin, I didn’t see a homeless population in SF any more severe than I might see in Downtown or Midtown Houston. I didn’t have to step over any unhoused person (or their encampments, or their puddles of piss or piles of shit) as I walked along San Francisco’s sidewalks.
The homeless people that I did see generally kept to themselves and did not accost us for spare change or otherwise make us feel uncomfortable.
|Robin Williams Meadow in Golden Gate Park, with Sharon Art Studio and Sutro Tower in the distance.
There were, however, signs everywhere around the city warning people not to leave valuables in the their cars. And I noticed that at least one large chain clothing store on Market Street had a line of people waiting to enter; security guards were limiting the number of people who could be in the store at one time, presumably to combat shoplifting.
These were indicators that San Francisco does indeed have a property crime problem that the city is trying to battle. But, as tourists, Corinne and I never felt unsafe anywhere we went.
|Golden Gate Bridge, as seen from the Visitor's Center on its south end, partially shrouded in fog.
"You just have to see it in person” is a cliché, but in the case of the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s true. I have seen pictures, videos, and movies of the bridge for my entire life, but none of them do it justice. It's hard to appreciate just how big and impressive it is until you've seen it for yourself with your own eyes.
The bridge, which connects San Francisco with Marin County to the north, opened in 1937.
|The south tower of Golden Gate Bridge, which rises to a height of 746 feet.
It is possible to bike or walk all the way across the bridge; in fact, we saw people jogging across it. Corinne and I only went as far as the south tower, but we were still treated to a magnificent view of the bay, Alcatraz, and the city. It was cold and windy on the bridge itself, but downtown San Francisco, off in the distance, was bathed in bright sunlight. The city's weather is famously interesting.
|The entrance to Fisherman's Wharf. We didn't make it down to Pier 39 to see the sea lions, but we did go to Ghirardelli Square for some chocolate and a beer, so we did a few of the touristy things.
There are so many good seafood restaurants here in Houston. But, respectfully, none of them do crab cakes like they do in Fisherman’s Wharf. Those were surreally delicious.
|The Powell and Hyde Cable Car turntable near Ghirardelli Square.
We brought the Muni day pass ($5), which allows unlimited rides on buses and light rail for an entire day. This was very convenient for us as we explored the city, although we still did a lot of walking.
The iconic cable cars are a big tourist draw, and you need a special ticket to ride them (the Muni day pass won't get you on board). We didn't feel like standing in a long line and paying $8 per person just to ride a cable car, but we did have fun watching the cars be manually turned at the end of their route.
|The 1886 rigger Balclutha, with Alcatraz in the background.
As I mentioned previously, San Francisco's weather is famously interesting. During the day, the weather was generally wonderful. Once night fell, however, things got cold rather quickly. "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco" may not have been said by Mark Twain, but it's an accurate quote nevertheless.
|Powell Street BART Station. Along Market Street in downtown San Francisco, MUNI trains run one level below the surface while BART runs two levels below the surface.
Muni provides transit service in San Francisco itself, while BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is a metro system serving the entire Bay Area. Obviously, as a transitgeek I had to take a ride.
As much noterity as the Golden Gate Bridge gets for being an engineering marvel (and it is), the BART Transbay Tube also deserves some recognition. This tunnel, which will celebrate its 50th birthday in just a couple of years, zipped us underneath the Bay from San Francisco to Oakland and back in a matter of minutes.
|Tribune Tower in Downtown Oakland.
The primary purpose of the trip to Oakland was to ride BART; we were in that city just long enough to walk down to Jack London Square and stop in for a drink at a local bar. I was on my best behavior as an Astros fan and refrained from telling A's fans how much their team sucks.
|Jack London Square in downtown Oakland.
The differences in microclimate around the Bay are really amazing. When we took the trip across the bay, it was cold and windy in San Francisco but warm and clear in Oakland. Did I mention that this place has interesting weather?
Corinne and I have a problem when we travel: we say to ourselves, "let's travel to place X and scratch it off our list of places to see." Then we get there and spend a few days, and realize that there is just so much more to do and see that we have no choice but to return.
Since we’ve been together, this has been a problem: instead of getting shorter, the travel list keeps getting longer because there are simply so many places we need to return to: Germany, Mexico City, Austria, Venice, Washington DC, Greece, Rome, etc... Now we have to add San Francisco to the list as well. There are entire neighborhoods and attractions - Chinatown, the Embarcadero, the Presidio, Russian Hill, the zoo, Oracle Park, all the museums - that we didn't get a chance to see during our all-too-brief visit.
|A residential street near Duboce Park.
One final note: Most of what we saw in San Francisco while we walked through it - downtown, Haight/Ashbury, Golden Gate Park, Chrissy Field, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Castro - were normal people doing normal things: hanging out in parks with their kids, fishing off Torpedo Pier, walking their dogs, biking, jogging, having conversations over drinks in outdoor cafes, etc. The city was not a dystopian hellscape.
Does San Francisco have its problems? Yes. Every major city does. However, at a time when this country is horrifically polarized, please do yourself a favor and do not buy into media-driven stereotypes about an entire city.