Travel Diaries: San Francisco

One of the ways in which California surprised me was the variety in landscape. I suppose I hadn’t given it much thought before moving here.

A number of mountain ranges surround Los Angeles, including the Santa Monica mountains, complete with deep canyons and cliffs that drop off into the sea in and around Malibu. One of my most enjoyable drives down the Pacific Coast Highway, which runs along the ocean from northern to southern California, was from San Francisco to Santa Barbara.

I fell in love with San Francisco on my very first visit. It was a blazing hot day in late August, with triple-digit temperatures in Redding, CA, where we started our journey. We drove a few  hours south into San Francisco, where the temperatures took a nosedive.

As I drove up the steep Marin headlands to get to a lookout point where I could take a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge from above, I was surprised to see how windy it was. Sure enough, when we stepped out of the car still dressed for summer, we discovered how woefully inadequate our clothing was. We dove back into the car to pull on pants and jackets and closed-toe shoes.

At Fisherman’s wharf in the middle of the day, we had to wear scarves and hats because the marine layer had moved in and we were shivering. It was unbelievably chilly! I like to show my friends a picture taken of me at the time and to say, “This was taken in summer in San Francisco.” And everyone gasps, “Summer?” Because I’m dressed for an Alaskan winter.

As many times as I’ve been to San Francisco, I can’t get enough of it. It buzzes with creativity and industry and variety. Even before I knew what a central role this city played in the history of beat poetry, I was hooked. Too bad it’s the second most expensive city in the US after New York. It is one of my favorite places to visit.

On one of my visits to the city, a gay pride parade was in full swing downtown. It was as colorful as you might imagine, and it generated some interesting conversations with other bystanders. Late that night, we stumbled upon a flash mob on a street corner near Union Square and joined in the electric slide with them. So much fun!

San Francisco’s famous Chinatown is a must-visit, with its Dragon’s Gate fashioned after authentic Chinese architecture, and its different stores and restaurants. The steep hills downtown are a sight to behold, and were no fun to drive on. I hate hill starts. However, I enjoyed the slow drive through Lombard Street, “the crookedest street in the world.”

If you love nature, it’s always a stone’s throw away in San Francisco. From the 1,017-acre Golden Gate Park with its trails, to the nearby Muir Woods with its Redwood trees in Mill Valley, there is plenty of greenery to make the heart happy. Golden Gate Park is also home to several other attractions, like the Music Concourse Area (an open air performance plaza), the De Young Museum of Art, the California Academy of Sciences, the Botanical Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers and the Japanese Tea Garden, to name a few. Each of these places is worth a visit.

San Francisco hosts an abundance of arts and cultural festivals year round, including the annual San Francisco Jazz festival. There’s practically an event every weekend. Downtown is more pedestrian-friendly than many US cities I’ve visited, and it has a vibrant nightlife as well as a diverse sampling of cuisines.

Although I’ve been to San Francisco several times, there’s still so much I’ve yet to see and do. I’m already planning my next visit. When’s yours?

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