CITY BY THE BAY — I Left my Heart in San Francisco, was a song made famous by Tony Bennett. The skyline of the city is shown here and the subject of Petersons monthly travel article. Photo courtesy of Cindy Habets Peterson
Special to the I-O by Cindy Habets Peterson
It is difficult not to be inspired, on a daily basis, by San Francisco.
After much time on the road and as semi-permanent houseguests, we have once again marked this West Coast urban center as our permanent address.
Our full-time wandering days behind us for the moment, we are fortunate to call one of the most-visited cities in the world our home. And with the approach of summer vacation season, I was inspired to dedicate my next few articles to locations closer to home.
For the next couple months I’ll be taking a break from countries requiring a passport stamp or a visa to highlight on some of the amazing locations we have right here in the Western United States.
My husband and I have visited cities all over the world, from New Delhi to Paris, Bangkok to Sydney, Tokyo to Buenos Aires.
Wandering the world’s largest and busiest cities can be exhilarating, intimidating, jaw-dropping and just plain fun. I love the feel of each new city I visit – poking around neighborhoods, ducking into shops, sampling the local fare.
Meanwhile, I can never quite resist comparing each new metropolis to my beloved San Francisco, the city near and dear to my heart since I turned the key in my first apartment here five years ago. Few do I find on par, and most simply fall short.
San Francisco is a brand new city by world standards. As a result of the Mexican-American War, San Francisco, along with the rest of the state of California, was added to the U.S. land mass in 1946. The city was christened as San Francisco the following year (it had been previously known as Yerba Buena after a particular herb that would once again make the city famous in the 1960’s).
It was the California Gold Rush in 1849 that really put San Francisco on the map. Where new riches are found, entire industries are born to support it.
Soon San Francisco was one of the leading international banking centers in the world, and remains so today. Known for more than it’s banking, San Francisco has long been a center of art, theatre, and architecture – oh, and let’s not forget the food!
The Gold Rush brought immigrants from all over the world – South American, China, Mexico, and Europe – who contributed an abundance of cuisines. San Francisco is also the birthplace of California Cuisine, where dishes inspired by ethnic cuisine are paired with the fresh local vegetables, fruit, fish, and meats in abundance here in California to create new and inventive flavor combinations.
Picture San Francisco, and images immediately come to mind – the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the intimidating vision of Alcatraz looming dark and lonely in the middle of San Francisco Bay.
There are far more things to see and do than you can “shake a stick at”. So as a San Franciscan who has played tour guide on a regular basis, here are my top five... OK, six! ... not-to-miss places to visit:
Alcatraz Tour: Don’t miss a trip to The Rock. The ferry ride views of the San Francisco skyline are worth the ticket price alone, but touring the massive stone buildings and listening to the inmate stories give you an eerie taste of life in this famous prison. Hint: Make sure during busy tourist times to book your tickets in advance, they often sell out! www.alcatraztickets.com
Stroll on the Golden Gate Bridge: No visit to San Francisco is complete until you set foot on the bridge and stare up at the enormous cables suspended over the San Francisco Bay. Watch the kite-surfers skimming the waves far below and you start to really appreciate the massive scale of this structure. Besides, what will your mother say if you don’t come home with a picture of you with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background?
Take a Duck Tour: Learn fun San Francisco facts along a city tour before launching into the bay to get a closer look at the San Francisco Giants Stadium on an original, refurbished World War II Amphibious landing craft. http://www.bayquackers.com
Visit Chinatown: Established in the 1860’s, San Francisco’s Chinatown still houses a thriving Chinese population and a history almost as long as the city itself. Browse Chinese herb shops, sample dim sum, haggle over souvenirs – you may soon forget you are in the United States.
Take a “trip” to Haight-Ashbury: Everyone in the 1960’s knew of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district and what it stood for, as it is often credited with the birth of the larger Hippie movement.
Although a popular tourist destination, the neighborhood still maintains it’s bohemian roots and is worth exploring, along with the famous Painted Lady Victorians that line the neighborhood streets.
Get away from it all: Yearning for some green open space? Make a break for Golden Gate Park. Stretching over more than 1,000 acres, here you can find a little peace and quiet.
Bring a picnic and take a walk, or for a bit of culture visit the architecturally impressive De Young Museum of Fine Art. http://www.sfgov.org/site/recpark_page.asp?id=17796
Many people ask me when the best time is to visit San Francisco.
For the best weather, visit in April/May or again in September/October. The summer months can be much cooler, as the cold ocean air mixes with the warm air inland and fog can be found many days over this fair city. But any time of the year, my best advice is to bring warm layers and a jacket – San Francisco weather is far less predictable than its beauty.
Follow our wanderings at www.theblondewanderer.com
The Blondewanderer’s San Francisco Restaurant Picks:
Classic Seafood: Soma’s*
North Beach Italian: Panta Rei*
Sushi: Tsunami* (located in the up-and-coming NOPA neighborhood)
California Tacos: Pancho Villa
Pizza: Pizzeria Delphina
Best View/Brunch: The Cliff House*
California Cuisine: NOPA*
Hidden Gem: Canteen* (Californian)
Best Adventure Food: Dosa (Southern Indian), Burma Superstar (Burmese), Osha Thai (Thai), Troya* (Turkish)
Upscale Dining: Bacar*, Spruce*
* Reservations required or recommended