Be – in San Francisco – San Francisco, California, USA

Be – in San Francisco

San Francisco, California, USA

Foggy Day in Castro
Foggy Day in Castro
Don’t take it! When you check into your hotel in San Francisco and the desk clerk asks if you would like a tourist guide – don’t take it! Well, OK, you can take it, but don’t let it dictate your entire agenda while you are there.

Sure, there are things that should not be missed while in San Francisco, such as a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge, taking in the breathtaking panoramic views from Twin Peaks, and sampling the vast array of wines from the many estates that dot the landscape of Napa and Sonoma valleys. Pier 39, Coit Tower, and Golden Gate Park are top attractions as well.

Visiting the highlights will certainly leave you with a good sense of accomplishment. However, the greatest things about San Francisco are not located on a checklist or in a guidebook. To experience the city is simply to immerse yourself in the urban energy that emanates from every street corner. San Francisco is the second most densely populated city in the US, behind only New York City, so it has energy to spare.

There is perhaps no other North American city where visitors feel free to do whatever they like, however they like it, with a sense of such freedom. Open and friendly locals make a trip to San Francisco feel like you’re visiting your old hometown neighbourhood. The difference is that you feel so comfortably at home in a city that is world-renowned for so many things.

To experience the real San Francisco try putting down the tourist brochure and picking up the Guardian, the Bay Area’s entertainment, arts and culture paper. The pages are always heavy with ink describing what’s happening and what to do. Better yet, just get out and start walking. There is a virtual lifetime of things to do and see that are not in your standard tourist guide and will give you a better feel for the city underneath. Yes, the highlights are nice, but don’t forget to explore and just be.

Classic California Beetle
Classic California Beetle
Walk up and down Castro Street or just sit in a café and watch it walk past you. Talk about an “open” environment – it doesn’t get any more so than Castro – the self-appointed ‘Gayest place on Earth.’ One local says about Castro, and San Francisco in general, “Intolerance is not tolerated.” The streets of Castro are lined with colourfully painted Victorian homes rising high above the undulating streets. They share the pavement with restaurants with names like Squat and Gobble and shops like Does Your Father Know?

Get your shoes dusty. Part of understanding the culture is to live it – at street level. Walk the hills – there are 42 of them over 30 metres high – and feel the burn. Ride the Muni as it snakes through densely populated neighbourhoods, twisting and turning like it is not on rails at all.

Walk the red brick sidewalk of Market Street, from the shiny skyscrapers of the Financial District to the Castro. Pass by suit-and-tie professionals with a Starbuck’s coffee in one hand and an iPod in the other, breakdance performers, surfers, homeless people, travelers and folks of all ages and ethnicities. Shop owners may wash the sidewalk on Market Street each morning but it never loses its memory or its grit.

In San Francisco almost everyone is a tourist; some just stay longer than others. Natural beauty, art, entertainment, food, spectacular sights and sounds – it’s all here. This is where urban life meets the beach. Don’t be afraid to leave the guidebook in your hotel room. Come on, just be.

Where to Stay:
Marriott San Francisco, 55 Fourth Street, 415-896-1600

Where to Eat:
Ultra modern chic: Lime, 2247 Market Street, 415-621-5256
Greasy diner: The Cove on Castro, 434 Castro Street, 415-626-0462
Sandwiches to go: Arlequin, 384 Hayes Street, 415-626-1211
Great lox bagels: The Posh Bagel, 742 Irving Street, 415-665-8858