San Francisco 2016: An Adventure
Hello, beautiful reader! I hope you are enjoying the holiday season, and are looking forward to some quality time with the people you love in the coming weeks. Before the madness really started Eli and I got to spend a week in San Francisco while he visited CoreOS, the tech startup he interned for this Fall. They were nice enough to get an AirBnB big enough for the two of us, so I tagged along and took the week off to explore the city! This post is one part tourists guide to San Francisco, one part meditations on Silicon Valley, and one part processing the trip and telling loved ones about it.
I'll admit: before this trip the prospect of working in Silicon Valley felt dire. Anywhere but there! I thought every engineer would be working 80 hours weeks, a bunch of 20-somethings with nothing better to do than program all day and prove they were smarter than everyone ever including me. I thought of the Bay as soulless and scrappy, the very definition of rat-race. And I wanted no part in it. With some pretty dramatic notions, I came into this trip like I was interviewing the city to see if I could work there some day. The beating heart of my industry is there, and to rule it out completely would be to rule out working for some really great organizations. I wanted to see if I was justified in categorically refusing to work in San Francisco, or if I should give it a chance. I'm happy to report that by the end of the week, San Francisco had won me over! Here's how it happened.
What I Did
Since Eli spent most of each day working, I had the hours and city to myself. We were staying in the lower Mission district, so I spent most of my time walking from there to some of the famous sights and neighborhoods of San Francisco. There's no better way to get a feel for a city than just walking through it. I also got to spend the evenings with Eli's coworkers, talking about CoreOS, school, and living in the Bay.
What I Loved
The first thing I did on my first day in the city was venture to the top of the Twin Peaks, a hill in the middle of San Francisco that offers an incredible 360° view of the city. The (walk|climb) was short but pretty, much of it through parks and sleepy neighborhoods, and the view from the top was breathtaking.
The next day, I visited the San Francisco Botanical Garden and Japanese Garden, in Golden Gate Park. Honestly, I expected Golden Gate Park to be this thriving, humming center, similar to Central Park in New York. I thought it would be filled with people enjoying nature, wandering around, sitting on benches and watching life go by. Instead, it was pretty empty. But I can tell the city has invested a lot of money in cleaning it up, and trying to turn it into a Central Park for San Francisco. The lawns are beautiful, there are tons of paths and benches and fountains, and there's a lot to see! Even in the dead of winter, the Botanical Gardens and Japanese Gardens were beautiful. Well curated, inviting, and expansive, they were the kind of places you could get lost in. It made me miss Forest Park in Portland.
A few days later, I found myself wandering through the Financial District. Specifically the areas just north and south of Market street, I found beautiful historic buildings, the kind with lots of brick and exposed concrete interiors. Filled with fancy shops and offices and decorated with Christmas lights, these neighborhoods were absolutely magical, and the reason I fell for the city. I could see myself walking up and down these streets each weekend, enjoying the luxury and beauty around me for hours. This was by far my favorite thing to see, so much so that I went back 2 more times. Highly, highly recommend.
Nearby, I also enjoyed visiting Union Square. It was totally packed and crazy, but it was also a great place to just sit and people watch. If you're at all into bustling city centers, this is definitely the place to be!
Lastly, I enjoyed the Marina, between Ghirardelli Square and the Golden Gate Bridge. It's a beautiful stretch of beaches and parks, with beautiful views and nice walkways. If you're visiting either of those land marks, definitely take the extra half hour to walk along the beach for a bit. You won't be sorry!
What I Should Have Skipped
Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39 were very touristy and uninteresting, filled with cheap knick-knack shops and nothing unique or distinctly San Francisco. Unless you're craving some In n' Out, you're better off spending you're time elsewhere.
Haight-Ashbury was boring at best, unsafe at worst. I thought it would be like the beloved Hawthorne street in Portland, full of cute and eclectic local shops, but ended up treading on used needles as I walked past smoke shop after smoke shop. When I saw one of the many idle young men along the street pull out a large knife to show to his friend, I veered onto a side street and decided there were better things to see in the city.
On my last day exploring the city I finally made it up to the Golden Gate Bridge. The American icon! The Gate to the West! Don't get me wrong, the bridge is beautiful. I highly recommend seeing it. My mistake was walking across it. It's incredibly loud and windy (like, might blow you over windy), with huge trucks and buses rushing by just inches away. The bridge is far above the water, and the railing that stands between you and certain death is not nearly high enough to actually make you feel safe. There are lots of people and kids and bicyclists going all directions that only add to the chaos and disorientation. Really, it feels like Australia: everything is trying to kill you, one way or another. It's also long -- it took me ~40 minutes to get all the way across, including 2 long stops at the pillars to take some deep breaths and text Eli my last will and testament. So drive across. Or just don't cross it at all. There's nothing on the other side, trust me.
Overall, San Francisco proved itself to have more character and coziness than we expected. I loved exploring the city, and unexpectedly found that I could see myself living there for a few years, working a fancy schmancy tech job in the city. We aren't making any plans yet, and who knows what the future holds for us, but it turns out it might actually be San Francisco. Who's to say? I'm never certain of how to end these posts, but thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!