San Francisco – There is No If

Everybody loves San Francisco and so do I.  If you’re coming to the USA bypass LA altogether.  Unless you want to go check out Santa Barbara and the California beaches.  Maybe there would have been a much better area to stay for us overnight than Hollywood.  All Qantas flights from Australia go through LA so you are stuck going through LAX to and from the US.

If I were you I’d keep going straight through to San Francisco or your next US city. Ahh… I can’t help but sing San Francisco like the famous Scott McKenzie song even when I’m typing it..  If I had hair my inner hippy would put a flower in it for sure.  San Francisco is the city Fremantle always wanted to be. Obviously on a much larger scale, it also has that big city feel a bit like Melbourne – well when you land there compared to Perth.

It’s really easy to get around San Fran too.  I guess maybe because they’ve had a few goes at their transport systems.  Earthquakes and fire all but destroyed half of the city in the early 1900’s. There was another earthquake in 1989.. do you remember it?? Those crazy steep streets you see in the famous car chases in movies were created by the earthquakes.

Anyway I won’t crap on about the history of San Francisco.  Because the best thing to do in any big city with rich history and culture is to get yourself on one of the “hop on, hop off” bus tours. The tour guide dudes are awesome value for all this and will give you a great history lesson. I also won’t steal some of their thunder about all the little interesting things they mention.  But do this on your first morning. Read up a little bit about some of the interesting spots so you recognise them when the tour hits them.  You can then jump off the bus and check it out at your own pace, rejoining the tour route when you’re ready.  Its about $25-30 and you can use the pass for 24-48 hrs.

We’re staying right near Union Square which is in the centre of the financial district. The BART system, which is their mostly underground rail is right nearby. For $8 bucks each way you can connect to and from the airport. Its an easy system and a clean open spaced airport. The uber modern hippie chic feel of the city hits you as soon as you land in San Fran. I guess maybe they got something out of the nerds who flocked to the city before the tech bubble burst.

Our first day on the tour we decided to get off at the Golden Gate Bridge. Its a lot cooler here 23-25 degrees C in their summer. It doesn’t get much hotter than that throughout the year.  Its really pleasant when its sunny. But pack a jacket when you go out to the bridge.  Its farrrgen freezing on top of the double decker open top bus going through the city and even colder near the bridge. Being the young at heart hooligan you are, you have to sit up top.  On the way to the bridge, the bus will take you through the city past the all its little cultural centres and interestingly through the rough neighbourhoods too. The Mission District, Little Italy, China Town.. look em up you lazy bugger!

Anyway there is a section of the city which is the poor-er and rougher area known as ‘the Tenderloin“.  If you know who “Bubbles” is from the Wire, then you’ll see a fair few Bubbles’ albeit in worse condition edging around the streets. There’s gang bangers running corners, but they don’t look quite as fierce and organised as those in Baltimore.

Its only a few streets from Union Square so be careful if you are walking around. Don’t walk there at night.  In saying that you pass through and into areas where famous artists once worked and lived. Like the dude who wrote the Maltese Falcon.  There is a nice steak restaurant which featured in the novel which we had dinner one night.  These areas are where  all the hippies flocked to in the 1960’s.   Robin Williams also got his start and lived around here. Its also where Jimmy Hendrix hung out and “practiced guitar”  at his girlfriend’s apartment.  The “red house over yonder”. These areas were where the counter-culture of the post 2nd world war emanated. Migrants also set themselves up in these pockets of the town too.

I got to talking to a rough around the edge hardened couple on one of the groovy vintage old trams they use on the public transport system.  They imported a whole heap of vintage trams from around the world and use them.  There’s two or three we saw which are from Melbourne.  The tram I was on was from Milan. Anyway.. one of these two had just managed to get themselves a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) SRO’s are part of public housing programs the government provide to try get the homeless off the streets.  The SRO’s are mostly all in the Mission and Tenderloin districts and have been a constant struggle to police from drug dealers and crims. His name escapes me now.. but he was quite proud to have been able to qualify for an SRO.  Beats the living in the streets. I think it was about $150 per week that it was costing him for the one bedroom unit. Or was that what he was paid in govt support? I can’t remember. You’ll see a fair few homeless in the CBD areas of San Francisco.

It was windy and misty for us at the bridge.   Get off at the tourist shop just before the bridge and buy a jacket from the “you idiot you forgot a sweater” store.  Well this store doesn’t exist yet.. maybe I’ll set it up. Its common to get cold windy and misty days on the bridge in summer when the hotter winds from areas inland clash with the cooler San Fran bay winds… or some meteorological shit like that.  So it’s cold and crazy going over the bridge.  Buy the “I love Golden Gate” hoody from the shop before you get back onto the bus. It’s a shaky wobbling ride over the bridge as you are buffeted on top. Awesome!  On the other side of the bridge it’s so green and undulating. This is where you’d get the flowers for your hair I presume.  I’m so spewing we don’t have another day to go across and explore this side.  Next time.

We took the same bus out to Fisherman’s Wharf. Its a redeveloped fishing port which you can catch the San Francisco bay ferries.  We went there hoping to score a ferry ticket out to Alcatraz.  All trips to the island are booked well in advance, since May this year!  You can only ring on the day and head down to the ticket booths to try get a cancellation. No dice for us so we did the ferry tour which takes you out to the Golden Gate Bridge and does a bog lap around Alcatraz island. Its about $16 and is well worth the trip. Don’t forget your hoody cause its cold and its packed! The whole wharf is busy as.  They all love and eat this “clam chowder” stuff gallons of which is sold on the wharf.   Eating it in this bread bowl thing seems to be the way to go? Although you can by it canned too, in a 24 can slab if you desire.  Everything “chips” is frys over here too.  One of the many “substitute” words you’ll have to learn here – like “bathroom” or “cell” for your mobile phone. Or “to go” instead of “take away”.

You might think your Aussie accent will get you all the chicks, and it still may, but it’s hard work talking to vendors or staff at hotels and restaurants.  I think its mostly they just don’t understand our Aussie accents. When to tip and not to tip and how to tip .. its another little process which takes a bit to get used to. I’m finding even the USA money hard to physically handle too?

The ferry trip out to Alcatraz first takes you for a lap under the Golden Gate Bridge.  Its stormy and windy for us so its a pretty spooky approach to the bridge as it looms ahead in the distance growing larger and larger. Once you go under the bridge its back towards the dock to do a bog lap around Alcatraz island. You get pretty close.. its not all that exciting. We later heard from some dudes who did the landing tour who said they don’t let you into the cell blocks. You only are allowed to wander around the outside and on the island. That’d suck and seem a bit pointless to me.  Its a great veiw of the skyline and the two San Fran bridges though.  I wish we had more time to do another ferry trip which goes past and under the Golden Gate bridge to the areas on the other side of the city. There is winneries and cool forrest and if you go a bit further Yosmite National Park. Out that way are the homes of George Lucas and Robin Williams. My goal also next time I’m here is to find George and slap him on behalf of all of you for his crimes against humanity.. I mean movies.. even just for Ja JA Binks especially!

San Francisco has been the location for many movies. Being here makes me want to go back and check out the films that were made here. Like all the Dirty Harry movies and ummm Mrs Doubtfire.

Korey’s friend Katie generously picked us up for a night out in San Francisco’s bars. I can’t remember the names of the 3 places we saw.. except for the Art Bar.  There was a live soul-jazz fusion band playing.  San Fran hipsters packed the place. In the Art Bar you can walk up to a canvas which the bar sets up and paint. Let the music take you away and express yourself with a paintbrush. Two or three hipsters paint feverishly to the endless 12 bar instrumental soul groove the band plays for 20 minutes. And they love it!  Its monotonous and lacks connection but the music is for dancing. Its all a bit self absorbed actually on the part of both the band and the listeners.. well I should say expressionists.

But this is San Francisco.. you’re allowed to be this way. Still its not quite an up yourself pretense.  This is where it was born so if anyone has a right to be this outwardly hip its these guys. Its not the 60’s anymore but nobody is telling these guys. They’re living and creating their own underground thing. You couldn’t just sit and watch this music you have to participate. To be honest I’ve heard better musos even back home. But it doesn’t matter. Maybe its also the friendly bouncer doorman who guards the back door. He helps by letting the groovers out the back door to smoke some weed and back in again.

The drinks are made so strong here I think I was drunk after my 2nd bourbon. Its at least a two shot unmeasured pour, for 6 dollars. We also went to a micro brewery type bar very similar to Little Creatures in freo. Thanks so much Katie for showing us a good time.

An interesting example of the new hipness of San Fran’s groovers is the micro film cameras which all the cool kats are into. Retro film image processing and printing on real photo paper is back. its all about old school shutter speed and apperture control with a few added photo taking options such as double exposure on board. The cameras go as small as about two matchboxes sticky taped together. Organic and fresh food is the staple shopping centre produce too.

Anyway.. I’ve gone on about San Francisco for a bit here.. its a bit disjointed writing these posts I spose as I don’t have time to check my spelling and grammer etc much..  San Fran is super cool, a great city which looks to have some awesome surrounding areas to visit. Make it number one on your USA cities to go to list.

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