Oh, San Francisco! Few weeks back, I had the had the great pleasure of spending a mini-vacation in San Francisco. 5 days of walking out and about may not seem enough to many people, but when most of the city’s beautiful sights have had an enduring love affair with cinema (which resulted in many of the movie classics we’ve been watching since we were kids: Bullitt, Blue Jasmine, Dirty Harry, Milk, Vertigo, The Maltese Falcon, Escape From Alcatraz, Mrs Doubtfire, Basic Insitinct, Towering Inferno, Sister Act or even The Streets Of San Francisco TV show), every bit of this wonderland felt, corniness aside, ‘just like in the movies’. So what is so nice about San Francisco? The steep streets which make for the most wonderful workout! San Francisco is dubbed as the most European of the American cities and I believe its incredible blend of Victorian, Spanish, Art Deco or Mediterranean (and many others) architecture styles has something to do with it! The Castro is one of the very first gay neighbourhoods in the US and it was started by gay servicemen discharged from the army – for being gay, that is, during World War II. During the 60s, the Gay Pride movement emptied all the closets and by the 70s Harvey Milk would become the most famous gay activist in the country. This is a very beautiful and alive area, with lots of things to do – great restaurants and everything LGBT: bars, museums and so on -, but now it is believed to be occupied mainly by straight rich people. Oh, well! Just a few tram stops away, you get to see Haight Ashbury, the ground 0 for the Hippie Movement and the Summer of Love, which are still very much alive in spirit, even though mainly for commercial purposes. Musicians like Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead and George Harrison have all walked these streets which made everything more surreal. But probably the most memorable stop from our visit to the Haight was The Ice Cream Bar, further up on Cole street and a little bit out of the tourist track, but totally worth it. It looks like an old school diner, with all the ice-cream based desserts and drinks made the old fashioned way and even the people serving there looked from the 30s! If in the area, make sure to look it up, it’s such a treat! Built during The Great Depression, in between 1933-1937, the Golden Gate Bridge was an engineering sensation at the time, as architect Joseph Strauss set out to build world’s largest suspension bridge. Its beautiful Art Deco detailing mixed with the sensational background have turned the Golden Gate Bridge into the phenomenon it is today and, once you get there, depending on the weather, it might be well worth the walk. We arrived there at sunset, which made its rusty colour look even more amazing. Fisherman’s Wharf is the city’s beautiful marina, an incredibly touristy one however and a tiring experience in itself. You can’t go around it though, as Pier 39 is the home of the noisy Californian sea lions, which are mesmerising creatures. We found ourselves spending more than an hour looking at this big fellows interact with each other – I mentioned interact, as I’m not sure whether they played or fought with each other.. Fisherman’s Wharf is also the starting point to your visit to the Alcatraz Island or The Rock, one of the harshest penitentiaries in US history and at one point the home of some of America’s most notorious criminals: Al ‘Scarface’ Capone, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis or Robert “Birdman” Stroud. Uncle Sam’s Devil Island as it was known back then is definitely a must-see, as the tour takes you back through much of its history and you also get to visit most parts of the island, including the residential part where the guards used to leave. After the visit is over, you can head out to North Beach, the Italian neighbourhood of San Francisco, where you can grab a delicious late lunch or dinner and end the day at The Saloon, the city’s oldest bar – it was set up in 1861 – for some live blues and a whisky soda. North Beach is also the home of the Beat Generation, where incredible talents such as Jack Kerouack, Allen Ginsberg or Gary Snyder took the Beat movement to super star fame, which faded by the beginning of the 60s. Here you’ll find alleyways named after Kerouac, Cassidy, Bukowski and Ginsberg and The Beat Museum, where you’ll be able to find out more about this great cultural phenomena. The Mission, the oldest area of the city, is also the hippest. This is obvious from the shops, coffee shops bars, the concentration of beards, moustaches, bikes and murals. We’ve arrived here in the evening, so I don’t have a great deal of photos, but in the end it’s the experience what counts, so there you go! Rumour has it that Google is planning to move in the area, a move that certainly won’t please the locals. Our paths crossed ways with Chinatown and Fillmore/ Japantown, but we didn’t get to spend much time in these neighbourhoods. One of our biggest regrets was that the San Francisco MOMA was closed due to construction works meant to enlarge the initial premisses, but we did get to see plenty more museums and the lovely Museum Of Cartoon Art. We would have also loved to explore more of the city’s surroundings, such as Sausaulito, which we did visit briefly, the Muir Woods – home of giant sequoias or Nappa Valley, where all that wonderful Californian wine originates. Until next time, San Francisco!
The Golden Gate Bridge from the top of the Buena Vista Park
Art Deco street lamps
...this is pretty much self-explanatory
Harvey Milk's novelty sunglasses - he sure knew how to have fun, didn't he?
Castro Theatre is a beautiful movie palace from 1920s, emblematic for both theatre and the Castro district
Houses in Haight-Ashbury
The Golden Gate Bridge
Beautiful Sausalito on a very sunny winter's day
Inside Alcatraz
Arriving at Alcatraz, Uncle Sam's Devil Island
Sea lions at Fisherman's Wharf
The famous San Francisco cable cars
Beautiful light installation in the form of books.
Street art in the SOMA district