HTT: How to San Francisco

If you grow up anywhere near the Bay Area of Northern California, you've most likely been trained to refer to San Francisco as "The City"

I still call it that even though I have to traverse at least seventeen different cities before I get to "The City"

The biggest metropolis near my house is Sacramento. Which no one refers to as "The City."

We don't say "I'm heading into The City."

We say "I'm heading into Sack." 

Which is unfortunate, but I don't make the rules.

"The City" -for me- is really hit and miss. I've had some amazing times there, but I also have had some really terrible experiences (mostly to do with transportation). but I've been there enough to know there are some hard and fast rules to visiting 'The City' which I feel need to be shared.

Rule One, bring a Sherpa. 

We were at Pier 39, one of the most touristy places on the planet - and it's pier - with numbers. We bought tickets for a bay cruise. There were three boats behind the ticket office. Dock 1, Dock 2, Dock 3. But none of those were our boat.

No, the directions to get to our boat were - I kid you not - "Walk two blocks that way, and stand in the line next to the big green sign over by the Ben and Jerry's"

The City cannot, I repeat, cannot be navigated alone. The entire public transportation system is made up of four BART (subway) stations, six bus stops, and Omar the Taxi driver (don't forget to tip Omar, he's had a long day).

Now because the public system is so awful, everyone drives. But the street grid was drawn out in crayon by a four year old with Parkinson's. Lombard St. actually holds the world record for the least straight road ever.


There's a gay joke in there somewhere, but I'll save those for later.

The streets, not only crooked, but narrow, and there are certain parts that are only for busses, certain parts where you have to share with cyclists, pedestrians have the right of way and will just jump out in front of you, and 90% of the drivers have no idea where they're going and the other 10% are very angry about that. Set aside at least $50 and three hours a day for parking.

The hills make walking impermissable without climbing gear and a lithe 20-something physique.

And I'm pretty sure most of the famous landmarks swivel like they were on a great big lazy susan. I was using the Coit Tower to navigate a zig zag of five city blocks and ended up in Daly City, 23 nautical miles from my intended destination.

The food is another reason why you'll need a guide. San Francisco is a port city, which always means great seafood, but . . . and there's a big but, it also is the epicenter where Mexican and Asian cuisines collide. With no one to point you in the right direction there's a good chance you might spend $72.50 on a curry clam taco based on a Yelp review that used the word 'fabulous' nine times.

Do not order the curry clam taco.

Your bohemian friends will always know the best places with good prices. If you do not have bohemian friends you can find them one on Craig's List under 'Musicians' They will show you around for the price of a burrito and it's always polite to purchase their new EP.

San Francisco is actually a beautiful world class city. Theater, restaurants, tourist attractions, hidden gems (especially the hidden gems) concert halls everywhere, and I almost hate to say it, but Golden Gate Park wins my vote for most awesome. The beaches are wonderful to stroll, but the water is too cold. I almost lost a toe to frost bite in early June. Stupid me.

I was thinking of more rules, but honestly, if you want to have an excellent time in The City, you need a guide. It's non-negotiable.

In Manhatten, you can turn to anyone on the street and ask for the closest place to get a pastrami sandwich and they will know. They will know how to get there from wherever you are and they will most likey have a cousin who you can ask for by name. There is no greater moment in a New Yorker's life than when they get to prove how amazing their city is. And they're right.

San Franciscan's are much more leary of strangers. And not all of them eat meat. If the Bay Area has a pulse it's what happens when disenfranchised hippies live next door to ex-proponents of Reaganomics.  Add into the mix a slurry of socially anxious techies, and you basically need to have performed in summer stock with someone before they stop treating you like you were about to steal their iPhone.

San Francisco is amazing though.

If you have the right guide.

And you brought a jacket.

And you don't order the Currry Clam Sourdough Taco.

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