San Francisco: Update and we're out

Our San Francisco stay is almost over. We overcame the initial hype backlash expressed in my last post and found some affordable places where we're comfortable hanging out.  The El NiƱo rains eased up, allowing us to bike along the coast, over the Golden Gate, and into the headlands and bay cities. We went rowing in the Golden Gate Park and took the ferry to Angel Island. We watched open mic comedy at a laundromat in SOMA and played urban mini-golf in the Mission. We hung out with the beach crowd at Java Beach Cafe in Sunset and sampled crepes in Dogpatch. We visited the Google headquarters and the Computer History Museum in Mountain Valley. We traveled south to San Jose, north to the Lagunitas Brewery, and east to Berkeley. We sampled Onigiri in Japantown and tea in Chinatown. We made it out to the Bonita Lighthouse, hiked the Coastal Trail, and found a great dog beach for Bailey at Fort Funston. We haven't fallen as hard for San Francisco as many people we know, but there is a lot we'll miss.

What I've learned to appreciate about San Francisco:

The quirky details: San Francisco is a compressed mess of cultures and time periods, religions and sexual expression. There is a lot of detail that's missed by tourists. The rebellious messages scratched in concrete. The miles of wire subtly wrapped around telephone poles to denote orthodox Jewish eruvs. The police and fire alarm boxes that dot the city dating from as far back as 1899. An adult-film studio housed in a massive former military armory. Historic markers and points of interest involving
Beat Era authors, Asian immigrants, Harvey Milk, and the Barbary Coast. The open air urinal. The Seward Slides. The mosaic stairs. The offices and on-going development of popular companies like Twitter, Pinterest, Postmates, and Dropbox. Walking around the city is a completely different experience for someone who knows what's hidden behind the walls and obscured by time.

Diverse Neighborhoods: Yes, other cities have ethnic neighborhoods, but in all the years of travel I've never seen anything quite like this packed into such a small area. The city has the best chinatown and one of the last three japantowns in the country, but it's a lot more than that. It's even more than the popular Castro gayborhood. There are neighborhoods that feel like beach towns. A lesbian neighborhood. An Italian neighborhood for focaccia. Neighborhoods for startups and others for active-wear exercise stroller moms. There is a vibrant Hispanic neighborhood and another for sandals and Hawaiian shirts.

The Parks/Beaches/Viewpoints: Despite it's smaller area, a large part of San Francisco is designated park area. I go jogging a couple times a week in the massive Presidio and don't come across anyone for miles at a time. Some people live in the older military houses in the Presidio and the locals joke that these people never have visitors because the Presidio feels like a vast and wild jungle. Right nearby, there are miles of coast line, Land's End, and the huge Golden Gate Park with its buffalo, lakes, and trails.

Just a short bus ride, bike ride, or ferry trip away are the Marin Headlands and Angel Island for camping and backpacking. It's rare to find such huge wilderness areas this close to a major city that can be reached without a car.

Burmese Food: Mix Indian and Chinese food together using some of the freshest ingredients, and you get California Burmese. Burmese restaurants have been in SF since the 80's, but they haven't caught on in other cities. Delicious!

Tiki Drinks: Another SF things that doesn't seem to be as popular elsewhere are elaborate tiki bars like the pirate themed Smuggler's Cove and the Tonga Room with its large floating bar.

Toranado/Zietgeist: We've not been impressed with San Francisco's breweries, but the taphouses almost make up for it. Both Toranado and Zietgeist have reputations for rough no-nonsense environments and inexpensive beer (by SF standards).

Urban Putt: It's like playing mini-golf in a Rube Goldbergish art piece! Hoping this type of mini-golf catches on. Great for a rainy day.

Steam Buns: I can't imagine these things are healthy, but I'll miss being able to pop into a shop for a cheap doughy treat.

Eccentric Events: A massive pillow fight on Valentines, sexy Jesus contest on Easter, hundreds of people big-wheel riding down San Francisco's curviest street, naked bike rides. San Francisco can pull off events that would be shut down in other cities where people are too indoctrinated or uptight to stay out of other people's brand of fun.

Next post, we'll be somewhere else. We've been traveling for over three years, now and have seen and experienced a lot. Many of these experiences don't make it into these posts. I'd like to summarize some of the perspective changes I've experienced and what is similar and different across states. We're also planning all types of new travels for the summer from the Salton Sea to Portland, ME and I may get a few posts in about these places. Until then....