Driving through this city is like a flashback to my childhood. Though I have never been there, I recognize the Golden Gate Bridge, the quirky, stacked townhouses, the steep hills. Robert is driving us through Haight St. and Tim is explaining something about the corruption of El Salvador in the 1800s and all I can seem to ask is, “Where’s Full House?”
Ah yes, Full House, the epic 20-something’s television dream, sparked to life on a crisp October afternoon when I, Beth Santos, finally become one with the city of San Francisco. In many ways, I already feel like I know this place like the back of my hand.
But then again, a critic may say, how well do you really know the back of your hand?
I’m visiting for a work conference (ie, all day long, indoors, busy). Yet I catch some luck because the one day that I’m not actually working it is sunny and beautiful (the rest of the days we become very acquainted with the famous San Francisco Fog). While my boss, Tim, and others are at a local summit about e-books, I pluck a tourist map from the Fort Mason Hostel and start to maneuver myself through San Fran.
I don’t often do “touristy” things. It may be laziness, or pride. I hate it when people take too many pictures. I love to absorb the local culture. Yet today is different. I’m on my own, I have no idea what this city is like, and I have maybe 12 hours to find out. The touristy things sound like a good place to start.
The biggest, most important thing I have learned about San Francisco is to not trust the tourist map. I wish I had known this from the beginning. I think if I could sell one thing in this city it would be topographical tourist maps that show where all the hills are. That way when you think you’re taking the most direct path, you know that it is actually not the most direct at all since there is an enormous, very steep hill in between. So steep that at one point the hill stops and becomes stairs.
But then again, I love adventure, and I love surprises. It’s much more fun to be faced with an unexpected hill in front of you and to, at that moment, decide to conquer it. It’s much more fun to climb 30 minutes of stairs to Coit Tower only to find Muni Bus 39 pull up in front of you at the top. It’s much more fun to have no idea that the Giants are in the playoffs until your bus going home that night becomes suddenly packed with a flood of orange people who are rocking the bus and shouting, “IF-YOU’RE-NOT-A-GIANTS-FAN-GET-OFF-THE-BUS!”
Suddenly, I am no longer in another city. I am in another world.
So even if you think you already know SF through the eyes of Stephanie Tanner, here’s a list of things to see and do that will help you to embrace yourself as a tourist. If you’re gangster enough, you can do many of these things in a single day.
-Go to Ghirardelli Square in the morning and in the afternoon. Then you get the free samples twice.
-Visit Pier 39 and watch the street performers just outside the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. Walk along as many piers as you please; they are all beautiful (and some much less touristy than others).
-See the Golden Gate Bridge (speaking of which, did you know that “Golden Gate” actually refers to the body of water underneath?) from different angles- on top of Coit Tower, from Fisherman’s Wharf, from up close should you care to drive over it, in both sun and fog.
-Walk around Union Square to remember that you’re still in a city.
-Check out Haight Street for some interesting street culture and national history.
-Buy fruit in Chinatown and then take a walk up the crooked[est] part of Lombard Street, because it s ridiculously cheesy. Take pictures. Lots of them.
-Visit a museum– the California Academy of Sciences, the Exploratorium, and the Museum of Modern Art all looked fabulous (I can attest to the fact that the CAS truly is fabulous).
-Go to Alcatraz, which you have to plan pretty far in advance, so if you don’t go there, just pick up a souvenir and tell everyone you went there, which is what I did and is much, much cheaper.
Oh, and bring a map.