If I could live anywhere, I would live in San Francisco. The city has everything a tourist could ever want all packed into 49 square miles. A trip to San Francisco during the Christmas break was the perfect way to cap off the year.
Ask me where I wish I could hang my hat, and I immediately, without hesitation, will say San Francisco. The city has developed a deep hold on me, and I’ve visited that grey city of love five times over the last dozen years. My wife was born and raised there, but I’ve only managed to become an adopted son through marriage and repeated patronage. I especially hold San Francisco close to my Lomographic history, as it was on my first trip to the west coast when I read the fateful Details Magazine article on the LC-A. So it’s only fair that I would want to take my collection of plastic-lens cameras and document the city I love so dearly.
My most recent trip was centered around the Christmas holidays. I have been married to my San Francisco native wife for ten years and we had never gone to her home for the holidays. Instead of planning to spend almost 1,500 dollars to go to Walt Disney World, all plans were shifted to a Christmas in the big city. On previous trips, with help from my wife and several friends who lived in the city, I was able to enjoy the city more like a native, rather than as a tourist. Sure, I did some of the infamous things like hitting Fisherman’s Wharf and driving down Lombard Street, but mostly I enjoyed the nightlife and bar scene of the city. Now I was traveling with a nine year old, and he was ready to begin experiencing the city that I hold dear to my heart.
We booked our hotel in the heart of Japantown and I highly recommend it. Not as pricey as downtown or the touristy wharf area of town, plus you are very near a major bus route that can get you downtown in a heartbeat for shopping and adventures or Golden Gate park to relax for the afternoon. Japantown is clean and quiet, full of cool shops and awesome restaurants. Depending on your desire to climb the hills of San Francisco, you’ll find that City Hall is just a few blocks away, as are the infamous Painted Ladies.
The nice thing about San Francisco is how compact it is. Go to North Beach for great Italian food, hop over a few blocks and you’re eating dim sum and buying cheap souvenirs in Chinatown. Take a Cable Car and you’ll find yourself either in the the gimmicky tourist trap of Fisherman’s Wharf, or the high-end shopping district around Union Square. But, be warned: the hills in San Francisco can overwhelm the unwary.
After all the hustle and bustle of downtown and the manic of Fisherman’s wharf, one of the best places to relax in is Golden Gate Park. You can while away the time at the museums, stroll among the many varied flowers at the botanical gardens, or rent a row boat and relax on Stow Lake. Above all, my favourite thing in the park is the Japanese Tea Garden. It must be said that I am a bit of a Japanophile, so it perfectly caters to me. But even in the relaxing atmosphere of Golden Gate Park, the Tea Garden is a heavenly retreat. Go early to avoid the crowds as it can get popular.
Another popular tourist attraction that you should make an early trek for is the Cable Cars. At the height of tourist season you could wait for 30 to 40 minutes at the Market Street Turntable to ride the cars over the immense hill of Powell Street. It is worth heading down to one of the turntables (at Market, the Wharf, or near Ghiradelli Square) to watch the Gripman and Conductor turn the vintage cable cars around for the run up the hills.
Of course if you’re going to San Francisco, you have to see the Golden Gate. I wish I knew the formula for how many times you have to see that wonderful sight before it just becomes another bridge. There are four ways I recommend you take in the bridge. First, if you have the transportation, drive over to the Marin Headlands. You’ll find yourself on a mountain overlooking the bridge, the bay and the city behind it. The second is from Fort Point, an 1860 era Army Fort that the bridge was built directly over. The Fort has free admission but limited hours, but an awesome view of the bridge. A third is from the Presidio down on Crissy Field, a beach and picnic area. The fourth is from one of the bay cruises that will take you out under the bridge among the choppy waters and bracing sea spray. While I don’t usually care for the touristy tour stuff, the boat tour was a blast.
While the bus lines, cable cars, street cars, and taxis can make short work of the grueling hills, there’s nothing like walking the streets of San Francisco. On my very first trip I stayed with friends who worked during the day and took me out at night. This gave me the chance to just walk around the city and experience it as if I was a native. If you have no set plans, some free time, and healthy calves just pick a direction and start walking, letting the wind take you as you will. You’ll find interesting little shops and restaurants, tiny little parks and monuments that you would miss while on mass transit, and breathe in the atmosphere of one of the greatest cities in the wold.
As Rudyard Kipling said: “San Francisco has but one drawback. ’Tis hard to leave.”