Travel Destinations »

San Francisco

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First of all, no one calls it Frisco. SF, San Fran or San Francisco will do but Frisco is definitely out.

San Fran is one of the most expensive places to live in the world with the average rent around $600-1000 in a shared apartment. As such the people who live there these days are often IT heads or else just work a hell of a lot to make ends meet. For all of that only the bourgeois neighbourhoods on the hills have the feeling of affluence and elsewhere you’re going to see a lot of drug addiction and people begging on the street.

If you can find a way into the economic matrix then you can also earn pretty well here and for many the high cost of living is offset by one of the best party scenes in the world. In a place where everyone prides themselves on their individuality you’re bound to find your ‘tribe’ somewhere and then let the good times roll. Whether you’re into the gay scene, the techno parties or the Burning Man community (or all of the above) here you have a better chance of finding fellow spirits than anywhere else in the USA.

At times it can feel like the stress on alternative culture and lifestyle represents just another kind of conformity. It can seem that people size you up for how cool you look, who you know and what your status is within the scene. On the other hand you are largely spared the plastic spirituality so prevalent amongst the pretty people of California and you do find people who think about who they are and what life is all about. Just make sure you’re not wearing a GAP sweatshirt or they’ll write you off at once as a straight.

It may be California but it’s not exactly warm in SF. Mark Twain famously said that ‘the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.’

It gets the worst of the fog and the grey skies can be oppressive. It’s not where you’re going to see Californian girls in bikinis.

San Francisco is on a peninsula about 7 miles across and wide which means that you can walk across it in half a day. That’s a pretty exhausting prospect though as in the centre the neighbourhoods rise up and down on hills that give you a good perspective of just where everything is. Climb up to the top of Buena Vista park in the Haight and you’ll catch a view of the Bay that is reminiscent of somewhere like Rio de Janeiro.

The Mission District is the Mexican neighbourhood and has the reputation of being one of the most dangerous areas in San Francisco. It’s gotten better in recent years but you’ll want to take care walking around at night, especially where the Mission Street crosses 14th-20th streets. Here you’ll see a whole range of junkies, dealers, whores and nutcases being quite random. The Mexicans and Latinos in the Mission have largely lost the warmth and spirit typical of Central America and you’ll see few smiles in the street. It’s as if by running the border in search of the get-rich-quick American Dream they’ve also picked up the cold character and the tendency to overeat. Still, the Mission has many cool bars and clubs, in particular the CellSpace parties take place here near 4th street where you’ll meet some of the funkiest people around.

The financial district is where you find all the tall buildings that make up the San Francisco skyline over the bay. They’re cool from close up too, of the kind where you can’t see the bottom and the top at the same time and they reflect each other in the towering windows like shimmering walls of glass. At night the area fills with dealers and people demanding that you give them a quarter.

Up the hill from the financial district you have Chinatown, a fixture on the tourist trail. The main drag is catered for the confused white person with a camera around his neck in seach of dim sum but if you climb up another street or so you’re in the heart of Chinese America. No one is more economical than the Chinese and so here you find cheap places to eat and dumplings to take home.

It gets really quiet at night but during the day it’s packed with people and you have no way of knowing if they’re fresh off the boat or 3rd generation Americans. Gaudy trinket supermarkets line up by shops selling Chinese medicinal herbs and tea.

The Haight is the famous locale of where it all happened in the 60’s. The free pads and love-ins are gone but there’s still a counter-culture vibe, allbeit a commerical one. Here you find secondhand book and record shops, health food stores and boutiques selling Asian clothes and yin-yang lampshades. It’s a good place to get some cheap clothes in the thrift stores if you can fight your way through the white kids playing at panhandling. They’d never dare ask for money anywhere else in the city. Walk on further and you get to the Golden Gate Park where the freaks still go in the day to take a break from the hard vibes of the city.

Then over in the Castro District is where the gay community congregates. San Francisco became a gay centre way back in the gold rush when all the male prospectors had to get their loving somehow. The streets are full of men strutting around and eying each other up. It’s also one of the friendliest areas in San Fran.