WE ALL LEAVE OUR HEART HERE
“One day if I go to heaven … I’ll look around and say, ‘It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco.'”
- Herb Caen
As a writer for the local city newspaper for over 60 years, Herb Caen knew a thing or two about San Francisco. About the energy and vibrancy and joy and life. About the food and art and music and theatre. About the people and passion, the parades and protests. About why people write songs about leaving their heart here. About perhaps the greatest city in the United States.
“What?!?” all the New Yorkers say. So too do the people of Chicago, Miami, Boston. The good folks from Los Angeles loudly exclaim that San Francisco isn’t even the best city in the state of California. And they all have good points; all those U.S. cities and so many more are splendid and amazing and memorable too. But…this city is a special jewel.
Started nearly overnight because of the great California gold rush of 1849, San Francisco quickly became a popular financial and trading center due to its strategic location, plentiful resources, and natural beauty. Devastated by a powerful earthquake and ensuing fire in 1906 that consumed over 80% of the city, San Francisco was almost completely rebuilt by 1915, just in time for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, an event showcasing this reborn phoenix. It was at this event that the rest of the world truly began to appreciate the magic and wonder of “The City by the Bay”. Surrounded by water on three sides and nestled in between Napa Valley and Silicon Valley, this golden jewel of the Pacific coast has more scenic shots and “Oh Wow” spots than you can count.
Start with the iconic rust-colored Golden Gate bridge, a monument to engineering and ingenuity that looks even more beautiful every day. And don’t forget about its often-overlooked sibling, the Bay Bridge, a unique structure spanning over 7 km that lights up every night with an imaginative LED display. Either one takes you directly into the heart of the city. Then pick-up a local map and go explore all the unique neighborhoods stuffed into this relatively tiny paradise of hills and hope. For reference, San Francisco is about 120 km2…or less than 1/10th the size of Rome.
Go explore the oldest and largest Chinatown outside of Asia, a place filled with character and culture, history and mystery. Then take one of the famous trolley cars into the shopping mecca that is Union Square, where luxury shops and world-class hotels mix. Perhaps venture into the Financial District where stunning skyscrapers and epicurean empires compete on every corner. In fact, over 50 Michelin-starred restaurants are in this city, including 6 establishments with the coveted “3 stars”, a feat matched in the United States by only one other city (yes I’m talking about you New York, you are amazing too; don’t get jealous, you get enough attention already…). Or jump on The Muni, arguably the best public subway/train network in the United States (which is not exactly saying much – we know) and visit the Mission District (trendy and gritty), or the Castro (the oldest and best LGBT-friendly region in the world), or North Beach (the Italian counterpart to Chinatown), or perhaps the Marina District. Anywhere you turn in these neighborhoods, you’ll see boutique shops, corner cafes, artsy theaters, and stylish bars and nightclubs galore.
But perhaps history and shopping and architecture and food and theatre and nightlife aren’t your focus? Maybe you just want to relax a bit, stroll through a park, maybe see some art. Perfect, you have come to the right place. San Francisco is home to more than 50 museums including standouts such as the Museum of Modern Art (SF MOMA), Asian Art Museum, and the Exploratorium, a collection of exhibits and experiments to delight people of all ages. But perhaps our favorite is the California Academy of Sciences. This magnificent achievement features a multi-story rainforest, a planetarium, an aquarium, and multiple exhibits highlighting nature and our environment. Best of all, it is located right in the middle of the oasis of this city, the grand urban playground known as Golden Gate Park. Covering over 3% of the entire city, Golden Gate Park is home to groves and gardens, streams and ponds and lakes, open-air theatres, trails and trees, even a zoo. And since you are already at the Academy, you may as well just walk next door and visit the de Young Museum, a contemporary art museum that rivals the best in the country. Yeah, they have that here too.
So you see, it’s not boasting. San Francisco really is that amazing. We haven’t even begun to talk about the colorful people and even more colorful houses and buildings, about the outdoor activities such as hiking or kayaking or surfing, or about the constant flow of artists and musicians and events that fill the air and streets with excitement and energy. About so many other things that make this city so wonderful. Just visit, you’ll see. You’ll likely leave your heart here too…