What makes a city interesting? History, culture and the arts. San Francisco, also fondly called Frisco or San Fran has a rich history and a culture that gave birth to the flower power of the 70s.
San Francisco is the cultural, commercial and financial centre of Northern California. It was founded on June 29, 1776 when the colonists from Spain founded the Presidio of San Francisco at the Golden Gate and Mission San Francisco de Asís a few miles away, all named for St. Francis of Assisi. The original inhabitants of this area were the Native American Yelamu people.
The 1848 Gold Rush brough in a flood of people increasing the population from 1000 to 25000. The current IT Rush is similar, bringing in a new wave of people. San Francisco is the city of IT and innovation, of spirit and enterprise.
But perhaps one of the most endearing things about this city, apart (and perhaps because of) from its year round lovely weather was the counter culture movement which spawned after the WWII. By the latter half of 1960s San Francisco was the center of the hippie and other alternative culture. In 1967, thousands of young people entered the Haight-Ashbury district in what came to be known as the Summer Of Love. The San Francisco Sound emerged as an influential force in rock music with acts like the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead becoming landmark bands worldwide. San Francisco is the city of the Summer Of Love!
The WWII saw a jump in the gay population of this city when the US military discharged homosexuals. From 1941 to 1945, more than 9000 gay servicemen and women were discharged and they stayed back here. The late 1960s also brought in a new wave of lesbians and gays who flocked to San Francisco for its reputation as a radical left-wing center. Many of them moved to the Haight, buying old buildings and fixing them up. San Francisco is the city of Harvey Milk, America’s first openly gay elected official, and hence has a prominent place in the history of LGBT rights movement.
Strongly influenced by the cool currents of the Pacific Ocean to the west and the water of the San Francisco Bay at the North and East, this city has an amazingly pleasant and moderate weather all year round. During the summers rising jot air in the interiors of California creates a low pressure area that draws winds from the North Pacific (read: from near Alaska) through the Golden Gate, creating the city’s characteristic cool windy and foggy weather. The city itself is hilly with many streets running at steep angles. San Francisco is known as the windy city!
With so many interesting things happening to it, San Francisco is home to people from various corners of the world, doing various things. This makes the city very special and its culture rich and vibrant.
Our own visit to this amazing city was because of the Centre For Asian American Media’s South Asian Film Festival. With our film Bachelor Girls playing in this festival (now also playing on Netflix), this was a fantastic opportunity to make a visit. We were staying at the really nice Orchard Hotel on Bush Street in the Union Square district of San Francisco. Union Square is a modern buzzy part of the town, centrally located and connected and a great place for people watching.
Scroll down after the photos for details.
When to visit: San Francisco has lovely weather all year round. November to May is slightly rainy. If you plan to make an extended trip to areas around San Francisco, a few high altitude roads are shut during winters due to snow. So July is a good season if you want to combine SFO with Yosemite National Park.
What To See: San Francisco has wonderful, mild weather. It’s excellent for walking. You could map out what your interests are and walk across the city, taking breaks at its numerous eclectic cafes and restaurants. Union Square, Chinatown, Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf and gaze at the Sea Lions here, Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower, a Cable Car ride, Haight Ashbury, Murals on Mission Street, Alamo Square, Castro Theatre, the winding Lombard Street... there is plenty to do inside of this wonderful city.
There are plenty of museums to see, like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Yerba Buena Centre For The Arts, The Cable Car Museum, Asian Art Musuem, California Academy Of Sciences… Plan your trip with this wonderful list of free museums of San Francisco.
What To Eat: San Francisco has a little bit of the whole world. There is food from all over and you can try practically anything here. It is difficult to find bad food. But try some joints in Chinatown for chinese. They are amongst the most authentic you will find. Try Artesano on Pacific Heights for Latino ‘Comfort Food’. Look for Parada 22 for Puerto Rico food at Haight-Ashbury. We loved the French pastry at B Patisserie, again at Pacific Heights. Look for El Faros’s at Mission district for some of the best and oldest Burritos and Tacos in SFO. The House Of Prime Rib at Van Ness Avenue for the classic steaks and ribs. John’s Grill at Ellis Street will serve the classic old era American food (chops, baked potatoes, sliced tomatoes) like perhaps no one else. Boudin at Fisherman’s Wharf must be given their due with their Clam Chowder in Sourdough Bread Bowl. We walked into just about any shop that said ‘Sushi’ and it was excellent! There is so much food here, the list would be endless.
if you are on the run and want affordable, quick food, walk into any Walgreen’s or CVS outlets and grab a saland, or sandwich and a coffee or juice. And maybe a fruit. All affordable and quick, plus at Walgreen’s you can sit and eat as well.
Getting Around: Being one of the most walkable cities of the world, you could walk to most places. The weather and enough pedestrian friendly roads and sidewalks permit that. You could also take day passes of the MUNI, which is San Francisco’s bus and train/subway system. Getting in and out of the airport, you could use the BART trains. We used plenty of BART to go to Oakland and back. From the airport you could even take the Shuttle Vans. For the two of us, it was cheaper than Uber. You could also rent a car or a bike. We downloaded a free offline San Francisco map from Here WeGo (formerly Nokia Here Maps). It helped us walk around and did not consume internet data, which on roaming can be prohibitively expensive.
Around and near San Francisco: There is plenty to do around SFO. A drive to Napa Valley is good for exploration, but we found it too crowded and touristy. Try Sonoma County instead. Lovely vineyards and cafes and much less crowded. Go for a walk in the John Muir Woods of Giant Redwoods. Visit Monterey, a classic old city which was also the capital of California till 1849. The drive to Monterey is gorgeous, full of picture perfect scenery. You could visit the University town of Berkeley and also the old cultural town of Oakland. If you wanted to travel a bit further, visit the Yosemite National Park. Take the drive via the Big Sur, the most magnificent drive in America. San Francisco to Los Angeles via the Highway 1. Go down to Carmel and eat at Hogg’s Breath Inn (it’s expensive though), a hotel once owned by Clint Eastwood and later sold to a close friend.