The days of wearing a flower in your air are long gone but still San Francisco and the Bay Area are pretty much where it’s at as far as alternative culture goes on the West Coast of the US. The generations of hippies in Volkswagen vans preaching free love and good vibes to save the world have given way to legions of upwardly mobile freaks who still find the freedom to live their chosen lifestyle in the 21st century. Many of these are computer programmers by day and tribal dancers at night as even the counter culture has to recognize that the Bay Area – and San Francisco in particular- is one of the most expensive places to live in the world.
The Bay Area is not so much multi-national as it is multi-racial. Whilst one of the most tolerant places in the USA, the communities tend to be sharply geographically divided and the atmosphere changes accordingly from area to area. There’s a huge, sullen Latino population in the Mission District of San Francisco and Chinatown has such another feel that it’s a tourist attraction in itself. Across the water in Berkeley you’ll find all the white middle class kids and, as the comedian Dave Chapelle noted, San Francisco solved the racial problem by moving all the blacks to Oakland.
But the Bay Area is a melting pot at least for American culture, drawing people from all across the USA in search of somewhere more open-minded to live. Kids from the cultural waste grounds of Middle America run away from home to hang out in the Bay Area and piss off their parents. Relocating from Oklahoma City to San Francisco is like migrating to the moon and few look back.
The Bay Area is, of course, surrounded by water and this creates a variety of strange weather patterns. It’s almost impossible to know how to dress as the Californian sunshine can give way in hours to a rising fog that leaves you chilled to the bone. Banks of thick mist roll in from the harbour and soon leave you shivering in the middle of the day. Take the BART metro under the water to the East Bay though and you’ll often be back in shorts and t-shirts when you leave the train.
The BART is the best way to get around the Bay though it’ll cost you a few bucks each time. It’s the only way you can get from San Francisco to Berkeley and Oakland and the trip takes about 25 minutes.