If I had to describe San Francisco in one word, it would be: unstable. Unstable in its earthquake-prone geography, its non-earthquake-proof urban planning, its cold/shady or warm/sunny or mist-not-rain weather, its rapidly increasing housing prices, its infamous displaced population, and its entrepreneurial, mostly tech-driven population. This is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact -- the city owes much of its identity and innovation to this. Contrast these qualities to my adolescent romanticization of San Francisco, when I was fascinated by hippie culture and listened to too much East Bay punk rock. My trip to San Francisco was as much about exploring it as it was about deciding whether or not my old dream of living there would stay true.
There is a difference between traveling and vacationing. The former is much more difficult, especially when trying to see an entire city like San Francisco, and its surrounding areas, in 10 days, on a budget. It was much less difficult, however, with my friend Andrea by my side, as we leaned on eachother for support (sometimes literally while walking up steep hills). San Francisco nearly destroyed us, but not quite.
There were so many instances where our trip could have gone sour, but our luck remained until the end. We could have gotten stranded in the mountains, we could have easily driven off a cliff, we could have contracted so many types of diseases, we could have had bad first Airbnb experiences, we could have had to stay an extra night as a result of a cancelled flight home -- but we were rewarded with a private hostel room, rescheduled an earlier, more direct last-minute flight, and made it home safe. Despite how tiring our self-inflicted schedule was, we were able to see everything we wanted (minus a few restaurants and Twin Peaks, which was foiled by bad weather). There are endless stories.
All the places we went (also, Berkeley):
The Adelaide -- I was initially hesitant about how an American hostel would be, but it turned out to have everything a traveler would need, from airport transportation to free food to cozy personal bunks to desktop computers to fascinating (mostly European) company. We spent five nights, went on a four-day roadtrip, and returned for an extra three nights. By that time it felt like a home away from home.
Mission District -- A primarily Hispanic community continuing to experience gentrification, but one with the kindest residents. We explored the Balmy Alley murals from the Precita Eyes muralists, Luz de Luna, Philz Coffee, Valencia Street, Mission Chinese Food, and Mission Dolores Park, which was partially under construction but still offered a nice green space with inspiring views of the city.
City Lights Booksellers -- The best and largest bookstore I’ve ever step foot in, with its multiple sections beautifully curated by its staff. I would take the entire film section and spend a whole day within its walls. The poetry reading room is a classic. Strong self-restraint was required, but I left with a copy of Ginsberg’s Howl and a Cometbus special edition East Bay issue.
Swan Oyster Depot -- One of those Bourdain spots which would still be as popular otherwise. The freshest fish in arguably the whole city justifies the long lines, which we were lucky to skip by arriving before opening time. A seafood lover’s dream - we ordered a mix of West and East coast oysters (I could taste the difference!), sea urchin, clam chowder, sashimi, and mimosas - and coughed up nearly $100 in cash as a result. Completely worth it. The dudes behind the counter are great, very accommodating, and surprisingly unpretentious, too. Everything is sourced sustainably.
Off The Grid food trucks’ Picnic @ Presidio -- Good food, good views, San Franciscans hanging out in a field in the summer. How could any of it be wrong? The park’s free shuttle to Crissy Field to view the Golden Gate Bridge is a bonus.
Boba Guys -- A new establishment with locations in Chinatown and the Mission, Boba Guys mixes up different flavors of highly customizable teas usually featuring boba or jelly. Handmade syrups, no powder used. I wanted to go everyday to try as many flavors as possible, but we only made it twice - Hong Kong style milk tea the first time, strawberry matcha milk tea latte the next.
The best part was actually our four-day road trip to Yosemite, Big Sur, Napa Valley, and Point Reyes National Seashore. Nature and its views are always incredible and particularly rare in the Midwest; if I ever retire/go off the grid it would be to Big Sur or somewhere similar. The car rental company stuck us with a Dodge Caravan -- totally unhip and slightly difficult to maneuver around mountain roads, but brand new and large enough to throw our trash and belongings all over. We called it Grover.
Ultimately, this was a perfect post-graduation alternative trip to a month touring Southeast Asia or a few weeks driving across America. San Francisco may be unstable, but it is quintessentially American in both its past and present. I decided that I don’t actually want to live in San Francisco -- but I’ll happy to revisit it in the future. Who knows what it’ll look like then.