As of February 2016, I’ve lived in San Francisco for 7.5 years. Before that I lived in Berkeley for a couple of years, and before that I spent most of my life in San Jose, where I was born and raised. Unlike many residents in the area, I am actually a native to the Bay Area. This world-famous, innovative, leading hub of tech and development is my home, and San Francisco has played a huge role in my life from childhood to adulthood. It began with quick weekend day trips with the family as a child (Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, the Ferry Building, Golden Gate Park, etc.), to weekly parties and events as a teen and a university student (underground raves, night clubs, house parties, sold-out massive concerts), and now to my current daily life as a responsible adult (long commutes via bicycle and train, jogging, cycling, and keeping up with the incredible gastronomy). When I’m not eagerly giving city tours to my out-of-towner friends, I often find myself enjoying the beauty of San Francisco alone, revisiting the same spectacular sites over and over again. This post will highlight most of my favorite sites–the sites that make me proud to call this city home.
I start with my home. With my central location in the city, perched atop Nob Hill, the roof of my apartment boasts spectacular views, perfect for enjoying a beer or wine with neighbors during a golden sunset.
The best time to enjoy the rooftop on Nob Hill is during the annual October weekend of Fleet Week, when military jets perform their jaw-dropping stunts at nearby Ghirardelli Square. We happen to live off Hyde Street, which is the line of flight for the jets. Every local in the neighborhood hosts a rooftop party throughout the weekend. Neighbors hang out, and walk over to the adjoining roof to mingle with others.
Within the Nob Hill neighborhood lies the Cable Car Museum. I’m not sure if it’s really a museum. It acts more like a home for the cable cars. This is where they sleep at night.
Cable cars are a fun but expensive and inefficient way to travel around San Francisco. I’ve only ridden it once while I was playing tourist for the day. As the cable cars constantly run around my neighborhood (the California and Hyde Street lines), it isn’t difficult to find one to hop on. My lines of preference are Ghirardelli Square to Lombard on Hyde St., Washington St., and up and over California St. toward Market.
My favorite way to start my morning is to wake up before sunrise, while it is dark and cold and while the rest of the city is still sleeping. Although it can be difficult to force myself out of bed hours before I need to be at work, the effort is well worth it. More often than not I can convince a small group of friends to cycle the short 17-mile round trip ride from downtown, across the Golden Gate bridge, and up Hawk Hill just in time to witness the sun climbing up over the city.
Sometimes I enjoy the ride during the afternoons, when the sun illuminates the bridge and the city. Beware though–at this time of day, the bridge is disgustingly packed.
Cycling is better on weekends, where there is more time and more distance to cover, such as the brutal rolling hills along the northern coast.
City running is also memorable. There’s a reason why people spend hundreds of dollars to run the 1/2 or full San Francisco marathon. I don’t need to pay for that event; I can run the course anytime, any day. Of course, some days are better than others. My variety of runs include passing by:
The top of Lombard Street (the crooked street), overlooking Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower, and the Bay Bridge:
Ghirardelli Square/Aquatic Park (which is my favorite place to outdoor swim, picnic, or stroll):
The Palace of Fine Arts:
Crissy Fields and Hopper’s Hands:
Sometimes across the Golden Gate Bridge and back:
Along the Embarcadero:
Maybe a quick look in the Ferry Building, because everything in there is pleasing to the eye, yummy in the tummy, and detrimental to the wallet:
Sometimes I even run by Chinatown, the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese community outside Asia:
Chinatown, Little Italy, the Financial District, and North Beach are practically all in the same neighborhood.
Japantown isn’t too far from where I live either.
And neither are the iconic Painted Ladies:
And the San Francisco City Hall/Civic Center is near the Painted Ladies.
I enjoy running through Golden Gate Park to the coast and up Cliff House to Land’s End Trail as well, but I don’t have any pictures of those.
If running and cycling isn’t your thing, renting a Go Car for a couple hours is a fun and easy way to see San Francisco’s sites.
But if running is your thing, miles and miles of dirt trails perfect for trail running, mountain biking, and even horseback riding (if you’re wealthy enough!) can be discovered just north across the Golden Gate Bridge at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This national rec area is like a backyard to me; it amazes me that this massive, beautiful chunk of land for outdoor activities and even backcountry camping can be so close to the city. History buffs may also find this area fascinating; remnants of old WWII bunkers, missile sites, batteries, and even cannons lay scattered throughout there.
On weekends all types of boats and wind surfers and kite surfers can be found in the bay. I had the opportunity to sail around the SF Bay this past winter with friends, but the lack of wind for 3 consecutive days canceled that trip. At least I’ve had the opportunity to fly over San Francisco in a small Cessna plane, thanks to a deal on Groupon. Seeing the city from an aerial perspective is a breathtaking experience.
As you can see from my photos, San Francisco isn’t always cold and cloudy, contrary to what many will say. Just avoid the summer! Strangely enough, the best seasons to visit are fall and even winter. Don’t be the tourist who assumes San Francisco is hot during the summer because it’s in California; if you are that tourist, you can buy the signature Alcatraz or San Francisco fleece in Chinatown for $12.
More often than not citizens of the Bay Area claim to live in San Francisco, even though they actually live in more low key suburbs 50+ miles away such as Walnut Creek, Palo Alto, and San Jose. When I’m outside of California and I tell people I’m from San Francisco, more than half the time people respond with, “Do you actually live in San Francisco?” I always have to say, “YES, I do live in San Francisco. I’m not like those other liars!”
In order to reap the benefits of living in such a beautiful, lively, and boisterous city, we must suffer the wrath of what it means to live in this city. We understand the sport of parking hunting, we have mastered parallel parking on a hill with a stick shift on a one-way street with traffic, we memorize street sweeping schedules, we dodge illegally parked moving trucks and broken down buses, we share the streets with foreigners who don’t know how to drive, and we build stamina from walking up and down the famously steep streets. We deal with the not-so-pretty aspects of living in the city: transgender prostitutes lurking corners, mentally impaired drug addicts slouching against graffiti-covered walls, homeless transients spending the night in front of our front door, and a surplus of human feces between cars and near subway stations. While most tourists love San Francisco, there are countless who hate it due to the putrid smells and significant number of homeless people. I don’t blame them.
Like everything in life, hard work comes with a hard-earned reward. Living in San Francisco is not easy. But once one learns how to live in the city, the reward is oh so worth it.