San Francisco was a city that I was long overdue to visit. Until recently, my experience of America’s West Coast stopped at Santa Barbara and didn’t resume again until Oregon. This trip to Northern California was going to fill in a huge blank spot on my map. So before we get into this, congrats to Mario & Mary on tying the knot, shout-out to Buddy & Erica for showing me around, and thanks to Foxy Knoxy for putting me up. ❤️️
Prior to my arrival, I had no concept of how huge this place was going to be! San Francisco is deceivingly large because it’s hilly to the point that if you stand at the top of the right hill (and find the right angle) you can get the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the city all in the same shot. Seeing my friends post these sorts of photos had, throughout the years, given me the false impression that San Francisco was a small place. Adding to this fallacy was San Francisco’s position at the end of a long peninsula, which can make it look pretty small on the map. Well let’s set the record straight right now: San Francisco is anything but small.
Just how big is San Francisco?
San Francisco proper takes up about square 50 miles, which is already a pretty formidable chunk of space, but what makes this city feel so huge isn’t size alone. According to the most recent census, San Francisco also has a population density of 18,451 people per square mile, ranking it as the second most densely populated city in the United States behind New York City. And, like New York, San Francisco is pretty much an island, being surround on 3 sides by water, so its growth is constrained by natural boundaries. However, unlike New York City, San Francisco is vertically challenged. Outside of downtown, there are very few buildings higher than a few stories. In the absence of ways to fit more people into this bustling city, the cost of living has skyrocketed, forcing San Franciscans to expand outward into the mega-metropolis known as the “Bay Area.”
And how big is the Bay Area?
Confession: before arriving in San Francisco, I thought that Oakland was an entirely separate city. But it turns out that it’s just on the other side of the Bay Bridge. In fact, there are quite a few other cities that are included in the Bay Area. However, it’s not all urban sprawl. The Bay Area also includes enormous National and State Parks. And even with all this land devoted to natural space, there are still nearly 8 million people that live in the Bay Area. And once you get outside of the formal boundaries of the Bay Area, you’re already in Sacramento! All things considered, this is a MASSIVE area. It is its own world, and it has more going on than I could hope to explore in the limited time I had, so I just focused on San Francisco proper. What follows are my stories, photos, and impressions, for what they’re worth.
San Francisco On Foot
I love being in a new city. I’m a believer in the idea that cities are like living, breathing organisms, each with their own unique personality, and my favorite way to get to know that personality is by simply walking around! And, walking around San Francisco, I came to a swift and overpowering realization: San Francisco is fucking awesome!
Where had this city been all my life??
Walking around at street level, San Francisco occupied an interesting space somewhere between you typical American city and your average European city. People seemed very happy to be walking around, socializing, or eating outdoors. That is a substantial deviation from standard American cities where you pretty much only see people at 8am, 5pm, and their lunch breaks. The atmosphere in this Cascadian utopia was communal and warm. It made me feel human again, like I was part of a society.
It also didn't hurt that San Francisco was perpetually the perfect temperature. In the morning it was chilly—sweater weather—but by mid afternoon the sun had come out to warm my bones with a gentle breeze. At night, I slept with an open window, warm under a cozy blanket, and it was perfect. AND, the Bay Area, for some weird meteorological reason, stays at more or less the same temperature year round. So that's pretty baller.
One thing you should know about San Francisco though, is that it’s hilly. In some places, the hills are so steep that the sidewalks literally turn into staircases. Walking around San Francisco can be a work out, but the views from the tops of the hills were great…
And from the bottoms of hills, I couldn’t take enough pictures of the street curving upwards in the distance. Once I got into downtown, I was enthralled as I rush around trying to perfect the following shot. I think these streets look so cool!
I did a lot of walking. I forced my friends to do a lot of walking with me. And when we were tired, no matter where we were or how far we had walked, an Uber was never more than 2 minutes away from us. Most American cities have Uber and Lyft, but San Francisco felt oddly distinct because when we pressed the button, the driver that accepted was usually somewhere within sight, stuck at a light somewhere in the surrounding blocks. It was techie paradise!
Now we’re going to get into exploring some of San Francisco’s many landmarks and areas, and we’ll kick things off with a place that I didn’t actually visit: Alcatraz.
As you probably know, Alcatraz is San Francisco's infamous prison. In its heyday, Alcatraz was home to such criminals as Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, and Whitey Bulger, shipped here from all around America to serve their time. Pretty cool, huh?
Well I never came here. SORRY! Getting a boat out to this island was going to be expensive and time consuming. But here are some pictures that I took from shore...
The Ferry Building
San Fransico's Ferry Building is located along a central, water-front street called The Embarcadero. As the name suggests, the Ferry Building is the terminal for ferries traveling to destinations on the far side of the bay. It also doubles as a marketplace, full of shops and restaurants. I can't claim to have patronized ALL of these places, but it definitely made for some cool walking. One highlight was Blue Bottle Coffee, which is apparently one of the Bay Area's more notable coffee brewers. The Ferry Building is by no means their only location, so keep an eye out for this place!
Palace of Fine Arts
Remember when I went to the World Expo in Milan last year?
For those of you that don't know, the World Expo (also know as the World's Fair) is basically the Olympics for culture and development. Since it's inception in 1851, it has happened every few years like clockwork, each time in a different city, and once upon a time (a long time ago), it was held in San Francisco. This was when the Palace of Fine Arts was built. It was for the "Panama-Pacific" Exposition of 1915, and it was a pretty big deal at the time. A sizable earthquake had hit the city in 1906, and this event was considered a symbol of San Francisco getting back on its feet.
Afterwards, the Palace of Fine Arts was left to slip into disrepair for a while. Every few decades or so, another earthquake would wreak havoc, and San Francisco would begin restoration efforts on this relic. Today it doesn't quite live up to its former glory, but it's still a very cool place to visit, and completely out of place with the modern metropolis that surrounds it. Check it out...
The Golden Gate Bridge
Yup. It's about time, right?
You know what the Golden Gate Bridge is already. Duh. But here's a few quick facts that you might not have known...
The Golden Gate Bridge was constructed between 1933 and 1937, during the Great Depression. It is arguably the defining landmark not only of San Francisco and California's famous Pacific Coast Highway, but America's entire west coast. Spanning 4,200 feet, it held the record as the longest suspension bridge in the world until 1964, when New York's Verrazano-Narrows bridge was built. It's since been bumped down to number 14. :(
During my stay in San Francisco, I was crashing in a neighborhood called the Marina District. On the map, this "home base" was barely a millimeter away from this iconic bridge. Excited, I vowed to walk over to the bridge to photograph it every night! But when I actually arrived in San Francisco, I was dismayed to find out that the Golden Gate Bridge is not lit up at night. This makes photography a bit more challenging. The problem is that this bridge spans the only entrance to the San Francisco Bay, and the light that it would give off would, apparently, scare off the many species of marine life that normally come into this bay to breed. It's a great, eco-friendly policy, but a bummer for photographers like me. And it was also a bummer when that millimeter on the map ended up taking me a goddamn hour to walk. It was around this time that I first had my epiphany about San Francisco's massive size. Here are a few shots from the long walk over...
During our walk, the Golden Gate Bridge was shrouded in San Francisco's trademark fog. However, as we approached the massive structure, the sun began to come out, and the bridge began to get bigger. By the time we had arrived at the base of this bridge, we had been absolutely dwarfed by it. I didn't realize how big it was!
After climbing the steep hill leading up to the lookout over the bridge, we stopped to catch our breath. The wind was whistling around us fiercely. The noise of the constant flow of cars pouring over the bridge made the sound nearly deafening at this point. "THIS IS PART OF THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE EXPERIENCE!" my friend yelled over the noise with a smile. Watching the cars shrink in comparison to the majesty of the Golden Gate made this bridge seem even more massive.
There are small pedestrian sidewalks that traverse the bridge, inviting a constant flow of tourists to bumble their way from one side to other. However, we had parked a car in a lot nearby, so we elected to drive over. However, having the wind ruin your hair-do is sort a rite of passage when crossing the Golden Gate, so I stuck my head out the sunroof in solidarity and took a few pictures...
In another set of circumstances, this might be the end of [Part 1], but since we were blessed with a vehicle, we did a bit of exploring on the other side of the bridge. Queue our bonus section! But first, here's a GIF of the Golden Gate shrouded in fog created by somebody much more skilled and much more ballsy than I am.
Have you ever been in a place that's just SO nice, that you're just like...
Yeah, this was Sausalito: the Californian Riveria. After driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, we got a little lost and ended up rolling into this little enclave by accident. And as we drove through, I was Malfoy. This place was so sickeningly gorgeous and affluent that I wasn't sure if I was frustrated or just plain jealous. I knew that there was a lot of money in the Bay Area, but somehow this made the income gap a little too real for me. This was ridiculous.
Tiny winding streets climbed up ivy-covered mountainsides. Every few hundred feet we would pass an entrance to yet another gorgeous villa, overlooking the San Francisco Bay and the Sausalito Marina. I snuck up a few of these drive ways, and peeked into a few of these windows (sorry to be a creep), and was always blown away by what I saw. I couldn't imagine living in a home that nice. I guess I don't really even want to talk about it. Just look at these few non-creepy photos I took. Hopefully they will do this place some justice.
Anyway, as we drove out of this beautiful money pit, we passed a sign that said "Just a few miles from here there are kids going to school hungry!" Lolz, that sign took the words right out of my mouth. I'm gonna wrap up [Part 1] of San Francisco here, and leave with this photo I took of the city from across the bay.