First Impressions of San Francisco

So far I’ve been blogging about my west coast trip pretty much in chronological order – from Vancouver in Canada to the most recent, Crater Lake in Oregon, USA.

But here’s the thing: I’m itching to talk about a city. San Francisco, to be precise.

As much as I love my sweeping natural wonders, I’m a city girl through and through. The blog focuses on both, and amongst all the adventure of ziplining in Vancouver, to bathing in the wilderness and sandboarding in the USA, I need to get some city love out of my system.

Our Airbnb flat wasn’t too far from Haight-Ashbury, so as someone fascinated by the Summer of Love and the 1960s, this place was high on my list. I had heard that Haight-Ashbury isn’t so ‘hippie’ now, which I could accept… so I imagined just your run of the mill street, maybe with a few dedicated hippie shops dotted around. I was wrong.

How to explain Haight-Ashbury… if you’re a Londoner, I’ll put it like this: it reminded me of a mix between Shoreditch and Camden. It had the stylish quirk of Shoreditch, but the slight goth vibe of Camden, complete with your not so average stores like smoke shops and the like. It was a lot to take in. I don’t think it would have been difficult for anyone to pick out the tourist, as I was just gawping at everything, pointing and giggling at the wall which simply had the words “Listen to this wall” emblazoned across it.

Seeing as generally, the first taste of a city you get are the typical tourist attractions, this was a strange way to start my San Francisco experience.

Hippie Hill was no different. It’s within Golden Gate Park (actually nowhere near Golden Gate Bridge) which is 20% bigger than Central Park in New York. An interesting and surprising nugget of information at the time, I soon came to realise that San Francisco is so big that I won’t ever underestimate it again. I bow down to you, San Francisco.

I digress. Hippie Hill was the strangest concoction of people on one small hill. A circle of people were banging on African drums, a few drum-less people entering the middle of the circle to dance, definitely under the influence of something or other; teenagers were hanging out; couples; a young family; and dogwalkers. The variety ranged from absurd to normal, but everyone seemed so at peace, as if they sat on this hill together every day.

I'm sorry. I couldn't help myself. Forgive me.

I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself. Forgive me.

So far, San Francisco had me confused. I liked it, I could get on board with it, but was this the character of San Francisco? Was there even a ‘normal’ tourist part?

Turns out, I quickly found that every part of San Francisco has its own individual character. I think it helps that the city is big and spread out; each place has room to make and define itself. The Mission District had a big Latino/Mexican vibe with a lot of cool bars, Pacific Heights was the quiet, peaceful place with beautiful houses, and I finally found that the ‘tourist’ part was busy but breezy. And yet somehow, the city still stitches together, all connected by the same laidback attitudes and their ability to accept each others’ creativity and originality.

I always heard San Francisco was chilled out and laidback. Being a sceptical Londoner (i.e. a city so fast-paced that I even wonder how tourists enjoy it when we’re racing around wearing our scowls), I scoffed at this notion at times, thinking it’s some stereotype of the west coast and I bet it can’t really be that chilled when it’s a big city.

Alamo Square

Alamo Square

I want to live here.

I want to live here.

But seriously… it’s really chilled out. There’s a different rhythm here, so refreshing but strange to someone London born and bred, currently working in the Big Smoke. I mean, come on, among the busiest parts, there’s a man who sits on the side of the street hiding behind a bushy branch (that he holds up himself), jumping out from it at unaware passers by. Londoners would probably be too fast and too focused to even register that something has happened in the corner of their eye. By the way, this man is the Bush Man, and he’s amazing.

Sadly, homelessness is still a problem here as I noted with Vancouver and Portland, but from my view, not as noticeable as the latter cities. Never ever underestimate the hills in San Francisco. They are no joke, and people who live here must have calves of steel. And, I haven’t been so confused by public transport for a long time – please, someone help me understand BART and Muni. It’s frankly embarrassing.

I can’t wait to do more posts on San Francisco and share a few more of my photos. The short time we had there really wasn’t enough: a city so large and its areas so dynamically different, there’s a lot more to be explored.

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