“You know how I feel about San Francisco?” I said to my friend as we cruised out of Golden Gate Park toward Ocean Beach on our bikes about two weeks ago. It was a warm day, and a cool ocean breeze was settling on Beach Chalet.
“You’re way too beautiful, girl, that’s why it’ll never work. You’ll have me suicidal, suicidal, when you say it’s ov-er.”
He laughed and let out a “Whooo!”
We grabbed a cup of coffee and a brownie from nearby Java Beach Cafe at Judah and the Great Highway, and settled into the dunes to enjoy the view pictured above — on that day and about six others in the last couple of weeks.
It’s true. The City is just too damn nice — it’ll have you damn near suicidal when your visit is ov-er.
I spent the last weeks there savoring every moment in its mild air and soft light. It is beautiful yet unpretentious, full of street fairs and book stores. Not too much noise or too much consumption. People are united in some sort of unspoken agreement about a general set of priorities: community, outdoors, good times, good food, good music, liberal values. (Any side of the debates we have about the City’s future share these, but have different ideas of what they look like.)
I had to leave before I got too attached. Even so, wrenching myself away was painful. Here are some of the highlights of my stay in my city:
Biking across the city, over and over again
If you are in moderately good shape, you can get from almost any point in San Francisco to any other within an hour. I took advantage of this as much as possible. Avoid hills wherever possible if you need to move fast. (Search them out if you went to see less-traveled corners.) My preferred cross-city route (Bernal Heights to Golden Gate Park, for example) is Mission-Valencia-Duboce-Fell. You feel the different vibe of every street and empty out into towering Monterey Cypress in the Panhandle, amidst basketball games and weed aroma.
Sunset at Ocean Beach
If I live long-term in SF again, I’m doing this at least twice a week (on vacation I tried to do it everyday). There is nothing like the wind in the dunes and the wild Pacific to put everything in perspective. Doesn’t cost a thing.
Take the 14 Mission
I take this bus to hear the stories of the people in my neighborhood.
Common said it best in Black Star’s Respiration (minute 3:42):
“So some days I take the bus home, just to touch home
From the crib I spend months gone
Sat by the window with a clutched dome
Listenin to shorties cuss long
Young girls with weak minds, but they butt strong”
You could spend two weeks on the 14 and write a novel with the material you observe and hear on the extra-long bus.
Nightlife: Guerrero, Valencia and Mission between 16th and 24th
The most unpretentious place is Skylark. I have the best time at Baobab and Elixir. You will not find the glitz of L.A. But you will find a lot of down-to-earth people who are beautiful in a totally different way. This is only a small sample of what San Francisco has to offer, and I recommend it all. (Although I usually don’t venture to the Marina. Yuck.)
Day-trip to the East Bay
I always felt like the East Bay — especially Oakland and Berkeley — and San Francisco are equal partners in the Bay family. I try to go at least once every time I am around. You can’t go wrong with Ethiopian food on Telly, ribs on San Pablo, Indian on Shattuck, or a walk around Lake Merritt with someone cool.
Dwelling in the Southeast
Bernal Heights, Portola Heights, McLaren Park, Outer Mission, Cayuga Park, Lakeview and Ingleside, Bayview and Hunters Point: Take your bike throughout the neighborhoods, turn down side streets. Every corner has its own character.
Anyway, don’t worry for me. My visit is over, but I’m not suicidal, just in pain. Turning over San Francisco memories in my mind is kind of like reading old love letters stumbled upon while cleaning your closet. They might bring you a tear or two, but you can’t help reading them one more time…