Holiday review 4 - San Francisco - Part 2
I of course did not sleep until morning on my first night in San Francisco - unless by “morning” you mean 2am. I did pass out the moment my cheek touched the pillow, but the jet lag hit me hard, and that mixed to the thrill of being in San Fran by myself meant that I was awake three hours later.
Since I could’t fall back asleep, I started getting ready as soon as I saw the sun rising and darted outside.
My first pit stop was Whole Foods, where I got myself some breakfast. Then I crossed the road to Amoeba, also known as my favourite place on earth, and once I was done checking out records and buying all the patches and stickers I could get my hands on, I set off exploring the rest of Haight-Ashbury (which I know by heart now, having been many times, and I can assure you it’s pretty much always the same), where I surprisingly managed to not buy anything tie-dyed.
At mid-afternoon, since I wasn’t tired yet, I walked to Castro, where I was planning to recreate a memorable spaghetti experience at The Sausage Factory (it’s a long story), but eventually decided against it as I came to the conclusion that it would have never been as good as the original episode and the memory should remain, indeed, a memory.
I then stopped at Peet’s Coffee to pee (side note: there are no public toilets in San Francisco. You always have to go to a cafe and buy a drink that will make you pee again half an hour later), charge my phone and plan the rest of the day, which eventually led me to R.E.I., possibly the one and only reason I travelled to the States in the first place.
While I was in there it got dark, and once I was done I checked my route back home but according to City Mapper it would have taken me 89 minutes to walk back to the AirB&B, so I decided to call an Uber instead.
While I was outside waiting, a couple of dodgy-looking guys approached me and started to offer me a ride. They kept insisting even once I’d declined both politely and more firmly, so I retreated back inside the shop until my Uber arrived.
This was nothing major (things like this would happen all the time in London), but because I’m not that familiar with San Fran and I was by myself I got scared. As I would sadly learn over the following days, I had all the reasons to feel unsafe, as similar episodes occurred repeatedly during my stay which caused me to be on the alert constantly and really changed my view on the city altogether.
The following day I woke up in the middle of the night again, rolled around for a few hours and left the house super early.
I went to the Marina walking past the prettiest houses I’ve ever seen and wishing I would live in one of them. I accidentally ended up at Pier 39 but managed to avoid the crowd and proceeded to Coit Tower (which I didn’t visit because you had to 1. pay and 2. queue for an hour), but I was happy with the view from the base as well.
From there I walk down Columbus Avenue and through Little Italy to City Lights Books, which was a mystical experience and honestly I can’t believe I hadn’t been there before. I discovered the Beat Generation in my first year of university and was instantly hooked. Since then I’ve devoured the whole of Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti and Kerouac (although admittedly I’ve never read On the Road), and word fail me when I try to describe what a sensation is was to be there, where they were, where everything started. Let’s just say I cried a lot.
(I also went to the Beat Museum next door, cried some more, bought a sticker, and took a million pictures.)
Next on my list was Blick, an art shop on Market Street. While walking there I realised that 1. I had to walk through Union Square which is like the Oxford Street of San Francisco and 2. I actually had already been there.
Union Square and the streets branching off from there are possibly the shittiest spots in the city. Ripped-open garbage bags pile up against walls and lampposts, bottles and cans and food wrappings lie abandoned everywhere, homeless people push their overflowing carts across pools of puke and urine. I felt sad, edgy and uncomfortable. (I don’t mean that homelessness equals danger, but I do see this as a major problem which is not being looked after.)
I fled and sought refuge in the San Francisco Public Library (quiet places are always a safe space for me).
Soon I was ready to go home and I was willing to walk the 6km that separated me from my AirB&B, however after only a few steps down Turk Street I found myself having to elbow my way through smelly people calling me names which made me feel super unsafe, so once again I resorted to Uber.
On my third day I ventured to Dolores Park, which was featured in this book on San Fran that I scored at a book fair and I used as my main source of inspiration. It was smaller than expected but crawling with doggos so totally worth it.
From there I had a plan to walk up and down Valencia and Mission Avenue as I had been recommended to check out a bunch of thrift stores there. Valencia Avenue was super nice, full of fancy shops and cafes and people having brunch (it was a Sunday morning). However, when I crossed the road to Mission, it was a completely different world.
As the heart of the Latino community, the every building is covered in colourful murales and beautiful works of art. As opposed to the stylish boutiques and bistros down Valencia, Mission sports an array of street markets and South American restaurants offering exotic produce and Mariachi entertainers. However, poverty is also very prominent: among other unfortunate incidents I witnessed a lady with two dogs in a pushchair squatting and taking a shit in the middle of the sidewalk without skipping a beat.
I quickly checked out Mission Thrift and then proceeded to check out Rainbow Grocery, recommended to my by the lovely Tara on Instagram. This place was awesome and I wish I had taken some pictures. It’s an organic supermarket with a HUGE bulk section. Anything you can think of, you can find in bulk. It was so freaking awesome and inspiring.
Since I was starting to feel my legs, I decided to walk back home and on the way I bumped into the infamous Painted Ladies, which were pretty but not as pretty as every other house before and after them to be honest.
My favourite part of this trip was getting home at the end of the day, sitting on my bed and reflecting upon what I’d seen and learned. I journaled and filled the pages with thoughts and receipts. I looked at my possessions, realised that I don’t need much more than what fit in my backpack, had a cup of tea and just took it all in, being grateful for how lucky I was to be able to experience all that.