The spectrum of emotions over San Francisco ranges from adoration to shoulder shrugging. The white city on the hills, with its countless cafes, mixed populace, and glorious view of the Golden Gate Bridge, seems to genuinely hover in the clouds. Just like its inhabitants, who have big dreams, work hard to attain them, and exceed the limits of possibility. The city is tough: real estate prices are sky-high, the competition is stiff, and initial successes are no guarantee of a breakthrough. Here nobody takes it easy. But at the same time, it’s a city where the most incredible encounters can happen, where you can find your fortune, and where in spite of everything, you can feel a sense of relaxation, friendliness, and optimism.
Be sure to take your time when you visit so that you can get to know San Francisco. The following highlights will give you a good start:
Golden Gate Bridge
Whether by car, bike, or foot, the bridge is an experience in itself. The two viewing platforms on either end provide a beautiful view over San Francisco. In the mornings and at sundown, strips of fog move over the bridge, and until now I’ve always been lucky enough to witness them under a bright blue sky. You also have the option of admiring the Golden Gate Bridge from other vantage points—from below on a sailboat, for instance, or from the sky in a helicopter.
It’s impossible to picture San Francisco without the cute little cable cars that climb over the city’s hills. The ride takes you past gorgeous parts of the city, and some of the intersections offer a view straight out onto San Francisco Bay. The waiting line at the Powell & Market Street station is really long, so it pays to get on at the stations in between. A one-way ticket costs $7. Your best bet is to have the exact amount ready, since the trolley conductors aren’t always able to change big bills.
From street food to restaurants, seafood is a must! And the fresh crab doesn’t just taste great to visitors—the gulls also circle vigilantly and try to snag a few pieces. Sea lions growl contentedly in the sun and disperse their particular smell, which you can easily notice from Pier 39.
San Francisco’s main square is not particularly large, but those who like to shop are best served on the streets surrounding it.
Top 3 Shopping Streets
Market Street: This well-known street is a classic, offering everything from Westfield and Barneys to the Gap and Converse for a shopping experience that matches every wallet. I always love stopping by here for a couple of sweaters from Club Monaco.
Chestnut Street: Second-hand shops, fledgling brands, and nail salons offer a relaxed mix and are great for browsing for unique pieces of clothing.
Fillmore Street: This trendy high-end street has lots of shops that you can also find in the big department stores, except that here they line the street and are mixed in with cool cafes and burger joints.
My Top 3 Places to Eat
• The Grove, 2016 Fillmore Street
• Grove Yerba Buena, 690 Mission Street
• Scoma`s Fish Restaurant, at the Piers
I have to confess at this point that San Francisco and I never really clicked. Unlike New York—there it was love at first sight. On the other hand, I’m all the more enthralled by the surrounding Bay Area. The ones I found most fascinating were these and, of course, Silicon Valley:
San Francisco Bay
You can take a convenient ferry ride to Sausalito, a pretty spot with lots of waterside restaurants, cute shops, and beautiful villas. A coastal walking path leads to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Muir Woods National Park
Ever heard of the giant redwood trees? These are the tallest trees on earth. Most of them grow in the famous Redwood National Park, which is a six-hour drive from SF. But some are much closer—you can reach Muir Woods National Park in less than an hour. The gigantic trunks stretch high above the fog towards the California sun while the park visitors swarm around their roots like little ants. Nicely laid-out paths take you along a dark stream, and you feel a little like Bilbo Baggins in Mirkwood. The 800-year-old giants have definitely witnessed quite a few stories, already long before Christopher Columbus made the discovery of his life.
Somewhat farther north, you come to a beautiful, wide sand beach. Even if the water is usually cool, the hordes of visitors prove that these beaches are in no way inferior to their Los Angeles rivals. Visitors surf, play beach volleyball, picnic, and run along the beach. Who cares if the water is cool and the wind is fierce? The shining sun makes up for it. This is a very popular place for outings and goes well with a hike. The infrastructure works equally well for that, with nice restaurants and little shops.
Not exactly a safe place at the other end of the Oakland Bay Bridge but one that’s rapidly changing for the better. For one thing, constantly rising real estate prices are increasingly driving people to look for housing around SF. For another, the neighborhood movement in Oakland has itself become active and is forming its own town, with little bars, concert spaces, and decorated streets. When the bartender in a small, hidden bar found out that I was from Switzerland, he responded with an enthusiastic: “That’s where HR Giger comes from, too!” and immediately created a cocktail for me. That was the only way I even knew about HR Giger and the movie Alien.
Sonoma und Napa Valley
California has some famous valleys but none that are visited as gladly and often as the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. It’s the premium wine that draws connoisseurs from around the world. The magnificent estates surrounded by vineyards offer tastings, views, and history. The area has served as a site for film scenes, wedding celebrations, and company events. Of course, the finest wines are also sold right out of the wine cellars. On the way back to San Francisco, I enjoyed a gorgeous natural spectacle at sundown as the fog moved in from the coast and across the hills like a white down comforter.
So you see that San Francisco offers something for everyone, making it always worth a visit.