A by-product of traveling so much as a child was that I ended up learning English in an American schoolin Kuwait and have never been able to shake off the middle of the road accent that came with it. This makes for interesting conversations with bewildered Americans who can’t believe I’m Canadian and that my mother tongue is actually French. Perhaps that’s what I resent the most when I travel to the US: I can blend in so perfectly. I’m used to sticking out like a sore thumb in Europe and there’s something nice about that, it keeps me eager to learn about local flavours and let them rub off on me.
I’m also the first to admit that I greet everything American with an unhealthy dose of cynicism which would explain why an 8 day trip to San Francisco wasn’t exactly something I was looking forward to (11h flight from London, argh). Everyone around me, especially Matt, has always been a big fan claiming that SF and NYC “weren’t like the rest of America” and were much more European. In hindsight, I would have settled for “nice” instead and let the city impress me on its own for what it was. Here are a few random suggestions of things you might not have accounted for:
There’s a little phenomenon called fog that somehow people forget to mention. Huge and fluffy fog rolling down from the top of the city’s hills downward, lowering the temperature dramatically in mid-afternoon. Doesn’t matter if it’s mid-July, it’ll get cold, trust me. Bring layers.
2. RENT A CAR
The city is essentially made to be driven through, most blocks being quite short and interrupted by 4 lane, 2 way streets, making the number of interactions with cars quite frequent. Biking isn’t out of the question, but the rolling hills are really steep, so a car comes in handy if you want to see more than your neighbourhood. If you don’t rent a car, expect to spend your time hailing taxis or mostly looking for them. Ever since we used this chauffeur service in Dubai, we have become self proclaimed experts at hailing and directing taxis. Having the exact address of where you’re going to helps as taxi drivers don’t need to know the city very well to get a license and you’ll get the odd n00b who will charge you 40 dollars because he got lost.
3. DON’T STAY DOWNTOWN
“Nestled between successful commercial areas and high priced residential areas, parts of the Tenderloin have historically resisted gentrification, maintaining a seedy character and reputation for crime.”
Unlike most cities, the area which one might assume is the most touristy, is adjacent to a poverty and crime ridden area that will make any Parisian suburban ghetto look like a walk in the park. Stay in Hayes Valley or in the Mission.
4. GET A COMPLETE MAP OF THE CITY
Somewhat related to the point above, the city’s downtown area is actually not the most interesting, and the nice walkable parts of the city are a little more southward.
5. GET A COFFEE AND CHECK YOUR EMAIL
This is of course the best wifi-friendly place by far but be prepared to have to sit in a caffé to have access to it. Not that many consumption-free environments in general. Some cities are good at public space (benches, parks, etc), this isn’t one of them.
6. DON’T LOOK FOR ONE STYLE
From winding streets, 40 degree hills, silli cake-like art-deco mansions and refurbished cinemas, this city has been influenced by many an earthquake, fire and economic ups and downs, making every street a different and totally unexpected experience.