Introducing San Francisco
Gorgeous enough to weep over, San Francisco is penned in on three sides by water. Crammed onto a modest finger of land, the city's picturesque houses and striking skyscrapers jostle on improbably hilly streets. The city's residents can be just as sweetly contrary. The uber-local is a gay marketing executive of Chinese-Mexican heritage grabbing a wheatgrass smoothie with a caffeine shot on his way home from the gym. Or she's a Marina gal of an indeterminate age with a hard bod who you met at a pickup volleyball game at Crissy Field. And though she'll dress to the nines she loves to drink in dive bars.
How do you know you're in San Francisco? You're partway up a hill with your heart hammering away like a carpenter. It's high summer but the city's been fogged up since Thursday: the only blue sky you've spied was on a postcard; you've only seen the whole span of the Golden Gate Bridge on p 171 of this book. Somehow though, everyone around you is tanned - even their dogs have a golden glow. More than likely, your fellow pedestrians have a poop-scoop in one hand and a takeaway coffee in the other.
But you're feeling fresh, lively - flirty even. There's a song zipping through your head - it's a bit Grateful Dead, a bit jazzed up Beat poem, a bit Santana. You've just eaten a burrito as long as your arm. Your fingers - still sticky with salsa - want to make the peace sign. Or maybe they just want a couple of beers.
You're at the top of the hill now and your heart drops a peg. Jauntily painted Victorian homes sit pretty on your left. Just ahead, a patch of eucalyptus-fringed park is streaked with rollerbladers and skate-kids. In one corder, a bunch of old folk are swing-dancing to the bop emanating from a battered ghetto blaster. Then, there's a trickle of breeze and the sun peeks through, stoking that glow in your chest. On your right, the bay grabs your attention with its sudden sparkle and, with the fog lifted, that orange bridge over the Golden Gate proves that it really does hit land on the other side.
There's nowhere you could be but San Francisco. And there's no American city that lets you have as much fun at such a relaxed pace. This pretty, hilly, foggy city's modest size and distinct neighborhoods give it the intimacy of a large town. These same qualities make it easy to negotiate as a visitor. But San Francisco's size is just about the only modest thing about it. Its history, its role as the focus for the humungous Bay Area - and above all its energy - give it the ego and optimism of a big city.
In fact the whole city is an exercise in optimism: built over the San Andreas Fault, San Francisco is particularly susceptible to earthquakes; it has weathered two devastating tremors (in 1906 and 1989). But while the next 'big one' is a vague niggle at the back of the city's collective mind, the people who live here are busy working hard, playing soft, looking beautiful, and generally getting on with their busy, buzzy lives.
San Francisco is a popular location any time of the year, but September and October are the standout months to visit. Not only will you avoid the summer crowds, but you'll miss the ornery summer weather. Summer in San Francisco is reliably foggy and cold, while inland or north in the Wine Country can be too hot and dusty for comfort. September and October are also great months for festivals and street parties. There's Opera in the Park, the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival and the risque Folsom St Fair in September, and the San Francisco Jazz Festival, the gay-friendly Castro St Fair and a huge Halloween event in October.