I am in San Francisco right now and I’m happy to say that it’s still a great place to visit and one of my favorite cities on the planet. I was concerned because of reports I’d read about trash piles in the streets and bums crapping on the sidewalks, but what I found was that was mostly confined to the Tenderloin district. Other than that, SF is basically like any other big city-a bit rough around the edges from a cleanliness standpoint, but it’s still safe to visit and enjoyable for the average tourist.
That is, if the average tourist has lots of money, because this place is crazy expensive. Yes, it always has been so, but we’re talking a vacation burn rate (for me) approaching $750/day staying on Nob Hill. We’re talking $60 for breakfast, $350/night for a room. It’s supposedly the second most expensive city to live in nationally, and I believe it.
That said, there’s a reason it costs so much: it has so much to offer. Here are my 5 favorite things about San Francisco, in no particular order:
Cable Cars–These things are dinosaurs as transportation goes. They’re slow, run very limited routes, and require two operators, making them expensive to run (the brake man on my car told me they were essentially obsolete by 1928). But, they’re always crowded for a reason-no one can say they actually visited the city without jumping on one of these iconic throwbacks to a bygone era. So yeah, just hang on to the side and enjoy the ride! Worth every penny of the $7 a tourist will pay for the run.
Golden Gate Bridge–Speaking of iconic, is there any other man-made structure in the world more recognizable than this? Maybe a few, but certainly no other bridge is as impressive, or beautiful, at least to me. Once you’ve seen the otherworldly sight of the red (yes, I know, international orange-whatever-they look red to me) towers peeking through the thick fog over the Golden Strait, you’ll know what I mean. This bridge is American engineering at its finest and boldest-grace, beauty, and strength on an unimaginable scale, the perfection of science as art, one of the wonders of the modern world (if I can use the term “modern” to include something my father would have been too young to build.
Alcatraz–I wonder what Al Capone would think of “The Rock” now that it’s one of the top tourist attractions in the city? I went out here on a night tour that gives you the low down on the low lifes that used to inhabit the place…mostly murderers, con artists, and mobsters, and the more notorious the better. They were considered so dangerous that every three inmates had a guard, but that didn’t stop some of them from escaping anyway. It’s no wonder JFK shut it down in 1963, given the costs, but now it’s a huge money maker for the National Park Service for good reason-it’s entertaining in a macabre way, and few places will serve to give you a better idea of what life is like when you lose your freedom. Worth the trip ($47 pp).
The climate-OK, you may think I’m crazy, but I love the climate. August for a native Floridian means you need to spend half of your time in the water to survive, so it’s a great break to be able to walk outside like a human being this time of year. Sure, I know, it gets cold in the winter, waah, waah, waah-cry me a river. I can always warm up next to a fire, but it’s hard to cool down once your clothes are soaked in sweat. Oh, BTW, as an added bonus, people in SF are fit-I mean, really buff. And I know what you’re thinking-that’s because they’re all gay. Not true. Plenty are, I suppose, but it’s honestly not as much “in your face” here as it is in some other places I’ve been. My theory is that the great weather keeps people outside more and the hills provide all the cardio they need.
Fisherman’s Wharf-OK, so there’s really nothing but touristy things to do here. Eat, drink, be merry, watch sea lions bask in the sun, eat, drink, etc, repeat-but what’s wrong with that? It’s the best place in the world to people watch, and I guarantee you won’t see so many folks from so many different parts of the world other than right there at the Wharf.
I know that many will disagree with my list. I’m not an expert on the city. This is my fourth visit, but still I’ve missed a lot, and it would have been easy to come up with a top ten. Many would say that Chinatown, Golden Gate Park, Lombard Street, the Transamerica Tower, Union Square, and the painted ladies at least deserve a mention.,,so, I just did. And food? How about all of those Michelin Star restaurants? My point was not to make a definitive list of all the great things to say about the city, but merely to point out you should largely ignore the bad press it’s suffered recently and just go-you won’t regret it-though your wallet might.
It’s simply amazing to me that a city of less than a million souls (yes, you read that right) packs such a wallop. So go. Enjoy. But avoid the Tenderloin.