Last week I touched on my first trip to San Francisco, mentioning that I didn’t really have the chance to see the city. And that’s very true. I was in town for a conference which ate up most of my time, but even so, the City by the Bay made such an impression on me that I swore I’d return and go tourist all over the place.
And lo and behold, one year later, I’ve done just that.
A friend of my cousin was generous enough to let us stay at his place in the Haight – Ashbury neighborhood, and while we did enough to fill more than one blog post, for space and readability reasons, it would be best if I broke the trip down into three sections. Starting with…
Arriving in Haight Ashbury on 4/20
For those of you who see April 20th approaching on the calendar and think, “Oh man, Hitler’s birthday is just around the corner” followed by NOTHING ELSE, let me be first to make you aware that:
- It’s also a counterculture holiday celebrating the use of marijuana / weed / cannabis and
- Hippie Hill in Haight-Ashbury is the site of its biggest observance in America.
My cousin and I stayed in a place that’s a ten-fifteen minute walk from this sight. I could try reaching into my authorial brain and describe some of the things we saw when we decided to pass through, but I’ll just roll a bunch of pics. (As always, click to enlarge)
(Even though we got there towards the end of the event, it was still packed.)
(Apparently, there was a B.Y.O.C. or “Bring Your Own Couch” policy in play.)
(Law enforcement was present, but not exactly active.)
So after witnessing all of those, uh… “festivities” we headed back to the house, hippies crowding the street and reeking of pot. Now many people may be reading this and simply be unable to process how folks could come from all over and partake in this celebration.
Me neither. What’s more, in the days that followed I would come to learn that the neighborhood has a perpetual hippie situation, one we’d see as we made our way around the neighborhood, day and night. These people (equal amounts guys and girls, by the way) would often be parked on the street, living out of their van, playing music, smoking weed, or holding signs begging for money. They were what cousin dubbed “Comfortably Homeless” and I couldn’t agree more.
(Nonetheless their smells were…palpable.)
You’d think that someone like me, someone who comes from a place where people live to work, would be outraged, or even offended. But the opposite happened: I became utterly FASCINATED by this culture. When the person hosting my cousin and I posed the hypothetical question, “If you were to move to SF, what neighborhood would you move to?” I didn’t hesitate when I answered with Haight-Ashbury.
I kept to myself because I was on vacation and staying with friends, but if I LIVED THERE? Oh boy. First of all, every hippie begging for food or just hanging out I would approach. “Yeah, I’ll buy you a slice of pizza,” I’d say. “Two, in fact. But you gotta talk to me.”
(“You’ve got yourself a deal, dude.”)
While they ate (and laughed, because they’re stoned) I would interview them, asking questions like, “What’s your deal, man? What are you about? How’d you get here?” And so on.
It wouldn’t end there. I’d pick up on all the hippie chicks too. “Yo, come with me, I’ve got running water,” is clearly a BULLETPROOF line. And I’d deliver too! I’d take them into the shower inside and lovingly bathe them, all the dirt, dead skin, and bad life choices swirling down the drain.
(Replace the little boy with a dreadlocked girl and you’ll get it.)
More than once during this I remarked how this must be the “real San Francisco” I was seeing on 4/20, and maybe that’s true and maybe that’s not. But regardless, we spent the following days seeing as many of the sights as we could, yet couldn’t cram them all in.
Full Tourist Mode
To my knowledge the area that gets the most amount of tourist traffic is Fisherman’s Wharf, an area covering the northern shore of San Francisco. My cousin and I started there, hitting up famous spots like:
(Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf.)
(Boudin Bakery. Home to San Francisco’s famous sourdough bread.)
(Barrels of saltwater taffy at the Candy Baron.)
(The always amusing barking sea lions.)
(Keane Eyes Gallery. Subject of the movie Big Eyes with Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams.)
And then we left the place, riding the cable cars out of there. Now here’s where I have to throw in an amusing little anecdote. See, you can catch the cable cars at any point on their routes and hop on, but we decided to head to the start point, and wait online.
(Endpoint / beginning point where the cable cars need to be turned around manually.)
Now, this line wrapped around the “station” for a good forty five minutes, and I personally didn’t mind, as the weather was nice, and I had nowhere else to be. But when the time almost came for us to hop on, a family cut the line just as they were lowering the rope.
But there was this one kid (probably fourteen or fifteen) whom this didn’t sit well with, and he decided to complain about it to his family. “They can’t do that, they cut the whole line, blah, blah, blah…” His little sister and dad didn’t care, and his mom especially didn’t care when she very calmly and in a sweet voice said this:
“Ok, relax, we’re going on next, just cool your jets.” Then she paused for a beat and said, “Huh. They must be from New York.”
(“Didn’t see ya there, I’m from New Yaaaaaawk. No, this isn’t an apology.”)
Since this post isn’t a whole Staten Island vs. San Francisco post (because the short version is that the places are POLAR OPPOSITES from each other) I’ll let the anecdote sit and move on.
On another day (where I got sunburned something terrible) we also took the time to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, snapping some sweet pics on the way:
(Biking along the northern shore.)
(Lots of other people had the same great idea.)
(On the bridge itself. Not pictured: my first experience with wind burn. Ouch.)
But even BEFORE THAT we hit up the Presidio, a former military base that serves as one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen. Here’s the entrance:
(Hey, wait a second…)
And on another day I went to the merry town of OAKLAND. After a short ride over the Bay Bridge via the BART train, I’d arrived, all set to have an “in the flesh” meeting with my editor, Michael Mohr, whom I met a year ago in San Francisco at the Writer’s Conference I spoke about here.
Oakland was pretty cool. I didn’t tour the area like I did with SF proper, but from what little I saw it seemed like the area where all the “real world” jobs happen. There must have been thousands of those containers that came in by boat stored on the shores, and it just looks like all of the equipment that’s needed to maintain the city is kept there. It was just my impression, and I could be completely wrong, though.
(I think they’re called freight containers, right? Well, yeah. There were a lot of them outside the city.)
But I did meet with the editor and the conversation went really well. We ate at a hipster café near the train station I got off at 19th street. The hour we spent chatting flew by as we talked about the project we’re working on, his client whose excellent book just came out, and how his experiences as an editor over the years have not only been taxing on his time and energy but on his personal life as well.
(In the only photo I was able to get of us, the sun was in my eyes. But that IS me on the left. Party on…)
He saw me back to the train, and after we said goodbye, he unlocked his bike, hopped on, and rode home. And that’s another thing about this: it’s an extremely outdoorsy and active town.
I remember one morning, right after my cousin and I had woken up, when the female roommate of the place we were crashing at was all decked out in her wind-breaker suit, helmet, and backpack. She told us she takes her bicycle to work, and wouldn’t you know it, had to be going.
After she left, I turned to my cousin and said, “Taking a bike to work. It’s like a dream.”
(As opposed to taking a BOAT to work, which is humiliating.)
But I’m getting off-topic. With San Francisco and Oakland checked off my itinerary, it was now time to head south.
Palo Alto / Stanford University
On the penultimate day of our trip, my cousin, our host, and myself hopped on the Cal Train and headed an hour south to Palo Alto, home of Tesla Motors, Hewlett-Packard, and the R&D Headquarters for Mercedes-Benz of North America, among many other mega-companies.
(Just a couple of bucks to board the Cal Train.)
But the biggest employer in the area is Stanford University, and we were lucky enough to be driven around the campus by a student getting his PhD in bio-engineering. And yes, he was just as smart as you’d expect.
Way smarter than me. Like…the-more-I-open-my-mouth-the-more-I-underscore-the-gap in-our-intelligence smart. He was also really freakin’ cool, too! I thought God didn’t give with both hands, or was that also a lie?
Anyways, even though our guide was smarter than the three of us combined, I made an observation about the place that may have stopped him in his tracks for a second. As we were walking around Palo Alto I realized that the place looks like San Francisco and Mexico had a baby. Take a look at some pics and see if you agree:
(A main commercial street in Palo Alto.)
(A typical Palo Alto house.)
(Stanford University Campus. A church where a wedding was being held. Yes, a WEDDING.)
(Stanford University. Main quad.)
(Stanford University. Student housing. There’s a bike rack in the left because the most popular way to get around is by bike.)
After our sightseeing was done we missed the Cal Train back to north, but our guide was nice enough to drive us to the airport, where our host was picking up ANOTHER friend to crash at his place for a few days.
My cousin and I left the day after on a night flight, bound for the scenic swamplands and salt marshes of Staten Island, all the old people we couldn’t find in San Francisco waiting for us in abundance, eager to win every argument with the fact that they’re older than us.
(“If my driver’s license didn’t prove I was older than you, I just might believe your world-being-round theory. Kids today…they think they know EVERYTHING!”)
That’s all for today. As always be sure to subscribe to this blog by email if you haven’t already, share the post with anyone who might be interested, and of course, leave a comment below sharing your thoughts…especially if you’ve been to San Francisco.
See you next week,
J. F. Seegitz