San Francisco is a cacophony of contradictions. Other than the few natives – most of us are from Michigan, Pennsylvania, or Southern California, so really, start your geographic networking as soon as you get here – there’s a sense of inferiority to New York. Yet there’s an insistence on referring to San Francisco as “The City” – as if there are no others – and a not so hidden neighborhood pecking order. If you live in the Sunset, make sure it’s the “Inner Sunset.” Pacific Heights trumps everything, unless you live on Divisadero, in which case you’re better off saying you live in “NoPa.” Then there’s the “Mishpot,” which is not quite Mission, not quite Potrero Hill, but, anyway, nice to visit.
There are more dogs in San Francisco than children, with way more money spent on dog-related retail outlets, dog-services, and dog-friendly policies. There are more homeless people than in most urban areas, due to our temperate climate and liberal politics, and of course many of the homeless have dogs. Legislation passed several years ago banned the homeless from sitting on the sidewalk. Don’t worry, you’ll still see plenty.
San Franciscans insist on paraben-free cosmetics, but have nearly as many blow-dry bars as bars on our iPhones. A group of naturists – the Naked Men – lounge nude at outdoor cafés and parade up and down City streets no matter the weather. The City supervisor that represents the Naked Men’s habitat, Scott Wiener – that’s his real name; stop to giggle – sponsored an ordinance that requires nudists to put a “barrier” between their derrieres and chairs in public venues. Rumors have it that copies of The Potrero View have been used for this purpose. But not the one you’re holding in your hand!
Mostly, San Franciscans obsess about the weather, where to eat, the poor quality of public transportation, the mentally unstable homeless, and the exorbitant real estate prices. The best way to start a conversation with a stranger: ask them what neighborhood they live in, or their favorite restaurant in which to eat. If you want an argument, tell them you’re from Los Angeles. For some reason it annoys people.
Whether the Weather
California is prone to droughts, and recently may, or may not, have emerged from one. But here in the City by the Bay it’s not so much about whether it’s wet or dry, but the foggy cold summers. That might be why San Franciscans dislike Southern California, where summer is indeed endless, especially if you’re stuck on a hot freeway.
San Francisco boasts an average temperature of 62.5 degrees. Inexplicably even to a native, the warmest months are September and October. Heat is rarely needed in the winter – just a few minutes to get the chill out – and air conditioning is provided by the fog. Don’t let the mid-day sun and warm temperatures fool you. When the fog rolls in over the ocean and creeps down from Twin Peaks, it can feel downright freezing. And a fun, or soul shattering, fact: that fog horn you hear is ear nostalgia. Radar and GPS made the horns obsolete several years ago; they only go off to create the right atmosphere.
The fog tends to hover over specific neighborhoods, typically sucked into the City by rising temperatures inland. It starts at the ocean and crawls toward the bay. Neighborhoods near the Pacific – the Sunset, Richmond, and Forest Hills – can be 20 degrees colder than their sunny counterparts to the east; Dogpatch, Potrero Hill, the Mission, and South-of-Market. San Franciscans rarely leave the house without a jacket or sweater. You can spot a tourist by the Golden Gate Bridge emblazoned on the sweatshirt they hastily purchased when the sun disappeared and the temperature unexpectedly dropped as the fog blanketed the City. And since the weather can change dramatically from one day to the next, San Franciscans tend to dress for yesterday’s weather.
San Franciscans are insufferable about food. According to legend, there are enough restaurant seats in the City for everyone in town to eat out at once; just don’t try to get into to Delfina without a reservation. A pile of kale that used to be pig feed is now an $18 salad; wine is what you do when you see the per glass prices.
Reservations are needed ahead at the most popular restaurants; without them waits can be an hour or more. Pera and Goat Hill Pizza, on Potrero Hill, and Just for You and Gilberth’s Rotisserie & Grill in Dogpatch, are modestly priced and good eats. Otherwise, make Yelp and OpenTable your new BFFs.
Oh, The Places You’ll Go
It may hurt Hertz, but there’s no need to rent a car during your stay, unless you’re planning an out of town trip. Parking can be scarce and expensive. There are lots of ways to get around on public transportation, costing from a couple of bucks to upwards of $20 or more within the City.
We share, because we care. You can ride-share, car-share, bike-share, apartment share, even partner share, if you go to the right bar. Many locals like taxis because they feature actually licensed drivers, and can be accessed through the Flywheel app. There’s also Uber and Lyft; download the app and register by entering a credit card, preferably yours. When you’re ready to go, click on the app, and request a car. The app’s GPS system will know where you are and will tell you how many minutes – usually less than five – before your driver arrives. You can also watch a cute icon of your driver’s car as it moves along the map in a decidedly cartoonish sort of way. Many of us hold our phones up like a lighter at a 1970s concert so the driver knows who we are and, upon making contact, we promptly ask, “Are you my Uber/Flywheel/Lyft?”
When you arrive at your destination, thank your driver, jump out of the car, and you’re good to go. No payment needed; the credit card will be automatically charged based on a set rate per mile/time. And no tipping. You’ll receive an email within seconds confirming the rate.
You’re getting into someone’s personal vehicle. Be nice. Your driver will be rating you based on a star system, with four stars being the best. And you, conversely, will have the opportunity to rate your driver.
You can also tap into a car-sharing service, which is a twist on the corporate car rental. Car-sharing is designed to be convenient for people who want to rent cars for short time periods. You can access a car any time from a number of parking pods. It’s more cost-effective for locals and longer-term visitors, but if you want to try it, just download an app: Zipcar, City CarShare, or Getaround.
If you prefer to get around on pedals, get a 24-hour or three-day membership from Bay Area Bike Share. There are kiosks throughout the Bay Area; sign up, enter a code, wait for the green light, and pull the bike out of the rack. After your trip, return the bike to any station.
Public transportation is also ample and easy to navigate. Within City limits, the system is called “Muni,” short for “Me, You, ‘n I, together in one car,” and includes above- and below-ground trains and electric- and diesel-powered busses. Muni is easy, clean, safe, and cheap – $2.25 per ride for adults – but often slow and unpredictable, the latter referring to some of the passengers.
BART – Boy, Aren’t Rides Terrific! – is what New Yorkers call the subway and Washingtonians call the Metro. BART runs within City limits and to cool places outside San Francisco, such as Berkeley, or Daly City. BART also goes to/from the San Francisco and Oakland airports. Caltrain is neither Muni nor BART, but rather a real train that takes techies to their cubicles in Silicon Valley.
There’s a television commercial from the 1960s that features a cable car and a slightly annoying jingle: “Rice-A-Roni…the San Francisco treat.” Fortunately, the commercial is no longer on the air, but cable cars are still a San Francisco treat. Locals don’t ride them; the routes are limited, they’re excruciatingly slow, if it’s foggy out, they’re cold, and they’re usually jam-packed with tourists. That said, cable cars are awesome, as are the old-timey street cars that ply the Castro, Market, and the Embarcadero.
Great Places to Visit
• Tide Pooling at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach (no relation) www.fitzgeraldreserve.org
• Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk www.beachboardwalk.com
• Hiking the trails at Land’s End and Marin Headlands www.nps.gov
• Animation Studio and Carousel at the Children’s Creativity Museum www.creativity.org
• Crookedest Street (Vermont, not Lombard)
Other Things to Do
• Segway Tour www.electrictourcompany.com/
• Alcatraz Tour www.alcatrazcruises.com
• Muir Woods www.nps.gov/muwo/index.htm
• Ripley’s Believe It Or Not in Fisherman’s Wharf www.ripleys.com/sanfrancisco/
• Jackson Playground on Potrero Hill www.sfparksalliance.org
• Balmy Alley in the Mission (block-long concentration of graffiti murals) www.balmyalley.com
• Chinatown www.sanfranciscochinatown.com
• Japantown www.sfjapantown.org
• Exploratorium www.exploratorium.edu
• California Academy of Sciences www.calacademy.org
• The entire Napa Valley