Sunday, 15 September 2013

San Francisco

Wow, what to say about San Francisco? First off, it isn't the paradise on earth it's hyped up to be. It's a very dysfunct-ional city, with not much that works efficiently and dozens of down-and-outs in every public space.

Many of the main streets are seedy and grubby, with lots of tacky tourist shops and stalls. The famous areas like Fishermans Wharf are jammed with tourists and day-trippers. There are long waits for the cable cars, as there aren't nearly enough of them to meet the demand. Most of the hotels are on busy thoroughfares and quite noisy at night.

That said, if you're willing to dump your inflated expectations and make the most of the city as it really is, there are many interesting and beautiful sights -  and people. We visited quite a few of the well-known SF 'hoods, as well as Berkeley, and found all sorts of little gems and treasures.

We loved Castro, the gay district, where we visited the GLBT Museum and Harvey Milk's old camera shop. We loved swish North Beach and Nob Hill. We loved the Golden Gate Bridge and also the Bay Bridge, which is just as elegant and impressive. We loved the wide range of art in the De Young Museum. We loved the sixties time-warp of Haight-Ashbury. We loved the cool and studenty Uni of California campus at Berkeley.

But oh dear, it's such a chaotic and shambolic city compared to say, Vancouver or Sydney. It was hard to get a complete map of the bus routes, there's no direct bus from downtown to the Golden Gate Bridge, the Museum of Modern Art has been totally closed for enlargement for at least 18 months, and there were masses of derelict buildings. Plus the cable car shambles and the ubiquitous street-people I've already mentioned.

It's not a city I would want to live in or come back to. It's not even much fun to walk around because of all the steep hills - daunting even to the fit and healthy - and the crowded and shabby main streets. I'm puzzled as to why so many people are so enthusiastic about it. I guess its nostalgic reputation as a mecca of alternative culture and sophistication is way out of line with the reality, which is rather more prosaic and predictable.

Pic: Castro Street


  1. Yes, Nick, I can tell; You absolutely 'loved'it. What made you go in the first place?


  2. Ursula: Because so many people (and travel articles) rave about San Francisco and how you absolutely HAVE to go there because it's so cool etc. I can't think of a single person who said, Don't go, it's not all it's cracked up to be.

    Grannymar: Yes, we're always glad to be back after our travels (which also included 3 days in Seattle and 2 days in Portland Oregon).

  3. I thought San Francisco was absolutely wonderful and amazing when I first visited, many years ago. It seems to have been getting worse all the time since. The numbers of down and outs everywhere seem to be a feature in many American cities now. I wonder if they come and go. A while ago London was absolutely chocka with beggars

  4. I have been to SF several ties and although I have enjoyed my time
    I have found some areas much more threatening than New York, Chicago or pittsburgh

  5. I visited it a few times Nick and loved it every time. But that's going back a few years and maybe I need to treasure those memories as it seems to have deteriorated a lot.

    Many American cities have, there is no funding with the treasure blown on endless wars.

    You'll appreciate home more now. :)


  6. Jenny: Interesting that many American cities now have a pronounced down-and-out problem. It could be solved if there was enough political will, compassion and money.

    John: Yes, we also found some areas more threatening than other US cities we've been to.

    www: Indeed, it's obscene that so many billions are spent on military adventures when American citizens are in desperate need of help.

  7. you should have visited snowbrush in portland

  8. Welcome to America! Yes, we are not known for well designed cities or public transportation.

    Everyone I know who has visited SF has loved it though. I can't comment too much as I've only been over the bridges and through the streets to and from the airport on our destination to the redwood forests and Napa and Sonoma.

  9. Kylie: I didn't know he lived in Portland! And I hardly know him anyway so it would have been a bit cheeky to get in touch....

    Bijoux: Jenny and I seem to be in a minority of two here! I think if you'd actually stayed in downtown SF for a while you'd have been disturbed by the general shabbiness and the number of vagrants.

    I thought the public transport in New York and Chicago was okay, but that was some years ago.

  10. A few equally disappointed SF visitors are coming out of the woodwork now, admitting that well, actually they didn't think that much of the place either. I was starting to think I was just some carping old git....

  11. We really enjoyed San Francisco, which we saw for a few days several years ago. We didn't go in the height of the tourist season, so weren't too troubled by queues and the one thing we missed out one was taking a Segway tour because we found out about them too late to book one.

    Segways are fantastic for getting around a city you don't know, and they'd make mincemeat of those hills.

    I didn't have huge expectations, so I wasn't hugely disappointed, but I can understand why you might be if you'd gone with all the myths and legends and hype in mind.

  12. Jay: Ah, we saw people on Segways but didn't realise it was part of a city tour! It must be a good way to get around.

    Myths and legends and hype indeed. All conveniently overlooking the rather grubby and chaotic reality.

  13. Welcome back. At least you went and experienced the city. You don't have to love everywhere you visit, that's all part of the adventure.

  14. Bonsaimum: Indeed. And interestingly, because of the gap between expectation and reality, this holiday has made more of an impression on us than others where we've been more in-tune with the place.

  15. I liked the vibe of San Francisco, but also had my issues with it. However, I can't quite bring myself to dislike the city where I chanced upon the Church of St John Coltrane on a Sunday and got to sit in on a service!

  16. Mrs M: We never heard about the Church of St Coltrane, although some days we were quite close to it. Nice that John Coltrane was made the patron saint of the church!