My City by the Bay

As a renegade third-generation San Franciscan, I have long yearned to return home to my city by the bay. At last, with the global pandemic restricting our far-flung international travel plans, we have arrived in San Francisco for a month-long visit.

Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park

This month, our San Francisco home is a rental apartment in Cole Valley, a small neighborhood bordering Haight-Ashbury and Golden Gate Park. From this convenient base, we will climb the city’s hills, admire its sweeping views, peruse its Victorian architecture and historical monuments, and contemplate its liberal attitudes and international character.

Fog under Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy Field Beach

Because San Francisco is infamous for its cold summers, we waited until October, after the notoriously chilly months of Fogust and Septembrrr. So far, the city’s mostly sunny and warm days, with a bit of natural foggy air conditioning, have made for perfect walking weather.

Hidden Garden Steps, Inner Sunset District

Walking San Francisco’s hilly streets has been part of our daily routine. Not to belittle the seven hills of Rome, but San Francisco was built on 48 of them. Instead of taking the little cable cars halfway to the stars, we have reached the hilltops using the city’s countless steps and discreet stairways.

San Francisco Skyline from Ina Coolbrith Park

Lest you think we climb steps strictly for our cardio-vascular health, the city also rewards us stair-masters with stunning panoramic hilltop views. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I am certainly biased, but San Francisco is arguably the most beautiful city in the world.

Turreted Queen Anne Victorian, Haight-Ashbury District

Enhancing San Francisco’s splendor are its lovely late 19th century Victorian homes. Beginning in the 1960s, colorists added additional vibrance and zest to many of these decorative redwood homes. During our city walks, we frequently stop dead in our tracks to behold the artistry and elegance of these “painted ladies”.

Palace of Fine Arts (1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition), Marina District

Our walks have also brought us face-to-face with San Francisco’s many other magnificent historical structures and monuments. The Golden Gate Bridge, Presidio, and Telegraph Hill are just a few of the city sights officially registered as California Historical Landmarks.

Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jerry Garcia, Haight-Ashbury District

San Francisco’s more recent history is also characterized by its strong sense of liberal open-mindedness. From the literary beat generation bohemians of the 1950s, to the hippie counterculture age of the 1960s, and gay rights movement of the 1970s, the city’s broad-minded attitude fosters an environment conducive to progressive thinking.

Corner Grocery, Chinatown

Enlightened and inclusive convictions also helped shape San Francisco’s international personality. In a single day, a walk through the city’s neighborhoods transports us to Asia, Europe, Latin America, and beyond. Perhaps, during the global pandemic, the next best thing to international travel is a visit to multi-cultural San Francisco?

San Francisco Bay from Marin Headlands Hawk Hill Lookout

With our international travel plans still on hold, we are delighted to return to San Francisco for a one-month visit. Here, we will walk the hilly streets, take in the city’s beauty, and better understand its history and liberal personality. After many years, it feels groovy to be back in my city by the bay.

Mom’s Childhood Home, Forest Hill Neighborhood

Blogger’s Note: My mother and grandmother were both born in the month of October in San Francisco. Even though I was delivered in Burlingame, eight miles south of San Francisco, I still consider myself a third-generation San Franciscan. As a baby, we moved to Marin County, where I grew up 15 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Happy birthday, Mom!

12 thoughts on “My City by the Bay

  1. I love San Francisco too. I’ve never spent an extended period of time there – usually just a few days – but I always enjoy exploring the neighborhoods and seeing the magnificent views when I get the chance. Your mother’s old house is lovely… it would probably be worth multiple millions today. I’ve walked up a lot of those stairways over the years but I don’t think I’ve seen the one in your picture. Is that paint or mosaic on the risers? It looks like you are having fabulous weather there!.

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    • We have always wanted to spend a month in San Francisco, but expected to wait until our later travel years. Fortunately we made it now, while we can still climb the hills. We have found dozens of interesting stairways during our explorations including a few with tile mosaic risers, like the Hidden Garden Steps in the picture. It was fun to see my mom’s old house, and think about some of my earliest childhood memories. The prices of real estate in SF are ridiculous. My grandmother sold the house in the late 60s after my grandfather died. It has probably gone up 50 times in value since then!

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    • Thanks for the book suggestion, Neil. I just read a synopsis and it looks very interesting. Perhaps I can find a copy in the late Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore? In addition to the bookstore, there are several other beat generation locations in the city. The other day, we went into Vesuvio, where Allen Ginsberg wrote “Howl” and Jack Kerouac liked to drink. Cheers!

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  2. When someone with your travel experience says that San Francisco is “arguably the most beautiful city in the world,” that’s credibility, Joe. I love San Francisco and have always thought its vistas were the best I’ve ever seen. Sounds like you guys chose a great place to stay too. I’m curious about something, though: is the homeless situation worse now as its ever been? I keep reading that it’s never been as bad as it is currently. Beautiful pictures in this post. -Marty

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    • Thanks, Marty! Because beauty is such a subjective concept, and I have only visited a small fraction of the world’s beautiful cities, I tried to temper my conviction that San Francisco is indeed the most beautiful city in the world. The beauty of the city is certainly marred by the homeless problem. We have seen mentally ill and drug addicted homeless people in San Francisco, but it is not as prevalent as we expected. In Seattle, we saw numerous “tent cities” in public parks, under highways, and even right on the sidewalks. In SF, we have not seen any of these large encampments, but rather individuals mostly minding their own business. I think that a bigger problem is the smash-and-grab car burglary crime. We have seen a lot of broken glass on the streets and cars with broken windows, especially in the tourist areas. Apparently, the police think this is more of an organized criminal operation and not perpetrated so much by the homeless.

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        • We park our vehicle on the streets in our residential area, and have not had any problems. We have seen some cars with similar “nothing valuable in car” signs. It seems the criminals are looking for the easy targets, like the unknowing tourists with obviously visible items inside. Just this week, the mayor offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the masterminds behind these crimes. Hopefully, someone will rat them out.

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    • Thanks, Phil & Michaela! This month we plan to stay away from the tourist areas of Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Ghirardelli Square, etc., which are probably the least attractive parts of the city. As a result, we have already discovered many new out-of-the-way places. As you well know, discovery is the fingernail that scratches the travel itch. I am also eager to see where you are off to next.

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  3. I’ve only visited San Francisco once, about 5 years ago, but I would love to go back. I’ll always be thankful to the friend who warned us (we were visiting in June) to pack for cold weather. All the other tourists were shivering in shorts and flip-flops, but we dressed warm and looked like locals.
    How lucky you were to grow up so close to it. You must have some great memories! 🙂

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    • Gray May, June Gloom, No Sky July, Fogust, and Septembrrr are usually cloudy and cold in San Francisco. You were smart to take your friend’s advice and bundle up. To ward off hypothermia, a lot of uninitiated tourists end up buying souvenir San Francisco sweatshirts and knit hats at Fisherman’s Wharf. I do have a lot of great memories of San Francisco from my childhood, and am lucky to have the chance to return and re-live some of them.

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