“Money is like manure,” he said. “If you pile it up, it stinks. But if you spread it around, things can grow.”
Those were the wise words of a quirky Uber pool passenger my friend and I shared a ride home with on our second night in San Francisco. We came to this area of Northern California at an interesting crossroads, with the tech industry driving the cost of living to unbearable highs in San Francisco. You could argue that this is happening pretty much everywhere to some degree, but nowhere is it clearer than San Francisco right now. The result? A weird smattering of people from all walks of life — tech startup and otherwise.
I’m not exactly sure how we came to taking this trip. I don’t travel more often than most — once a year if I’m lucky. We’d talked about doing a sort of Pacific Northwest road trip, starting in Montana and ending in San Francisco, but when we finally faced the reality of our skimp bank accounts we settled for doing a six-day trip to San Francisco, sans road trip.
We checked into our hotel in the heart of the city, just about equidistant from every major item on our to-do list. Instead of hashing out ever second of every day we spent there, I’m just going to skip to the most striking parts of our trip. I’ve been to Los Angeles, Carlsbad and San Diego — naturally, I was expecting everyone to be tan and self-involved.
Aside from the bipolar weather patterns, the thing I was most broadsided by in San Francisco was the people. It’s such a diverse pot. We encountered an Uber driver from Yemen who’d recently came to the city after a failed business venture in Tokyo. We met a local donut maker who was saving money to go to college. We met skateboarders, artists, and foodies all looking for the same things we were. Even the abundant homeless population joked with us and were well-wishing (with a few exceptions.)
On our third day in San Francisco we caught a comedy show at the BATS improv (which was hilarious) and then headed out to Off the Grid — a local weekend hangout with food trucks and live music. This was the first time I remember getting the sense that the city kind of spills out onto itself with new and exciting things to do. It surprises you. It’s dirty and pretty. It’s human. It fills you with the peaceful feeling that you can wake up each morning and spend your time however you want to.
I haven’t even gotten to the food yet — but the little taste of it I had was awesome. Plus, every waiter or waitress I had was pretty awesome. They were helpful, and they knew their shit! That’s the kind of thing you need when you’re traveling and you’re tired — a fucking waiter who knows what you want before you even know that you want it.
We went to a tiny hole-in-the-wall 24-hour donut shop called Bob’s Donuts, as per my friend’s recommendation. It was really good — but the coolest part was sitting there watching them make the donuts right in front of you. The workers teased each other and always had smiles on their faces.
Being that my friend is a big baseball fan, we opted to check out AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. I haven’t been to a whole lot of baseball parks, but this one was pretty great. You’ve got a great view of the San Francisco Bay, sailboats and freighters in the distance. Plus, there’s abundant food and drink to make you happy nevertheless.
The other great thing about San Francisco, and probably something I look for in a “good” city, is the mix of the urban and the natural. You’ve got this super concentrated city with SF, but if you drive a half hour outside the city you’re in this totally serene natural setting.
Muir Woods National Monument — albeit a tourist trap — is a nice hike. The only “touristy” bits about it are the snack bar and the gift shop. Once you’re out on the trails, you’re out there in nature — and it’s fucking quiet. There’s no trace of a densely populated city just a few miles away. It’s also a pretty steep hike, depending on which trails you opt for. Glimpses of the redwood and sequoia trees are pretty cool, but the best views are from the vantage points at the summit — or Muir Beach, which, sadly, we didn’t make it to. We actually got lost more than once, which lengthened our hike by a few hours. I didn’t mind, but my friend who isn’t all that interested in hiking, was ready for it to be over.
My travel companion is an avid skateboarder, and I’m told that San Francisco (and California in general) is skateboarding Mecca. With that, we went to a bunch of different skate spots, which was pretty cool. Skateboarders — by my observation — have this weirdly supportive credo and welcome each other with friendliness pretty much anywhere you go. The cool thing about San Francisco is that there’s a bunch of famous spots where skaters congregate to do all of that — and the climate is pretty damn perfect for physical activity (it’s not cold, cold, but it’s not hot, hot).
There’s food, there are cool people, there are views — there’s also a lot of history and artwork to see in SF. The newly renovated SFMOMA is a good start, but we also snuck into the de Young museum in Golden Gate Park (which was funny because we thought we were so cool for doing that, when really, it was pretty nerdy).
San Francisco is definitely a cool mix of young and old. It’s a fun place, and it has such a distinct personality. It’s like a relaxed New York City, or your pot-smoking cousin who’d “rather just chill.”
Mind you, this is all from a mere six-day trip. This is what I’ve gathered in that time. I haven’t seen it all. We didn’t go to Alcatraz, because, well, we didn’t really care about it? But you can see it from a distance. So yeah, I don’t really know if this is an accurate impression of SF, but it’s the one I’ve got. Although, I get the feeling that the more layers you peel back, the more interesting San Francisco gets.