Misty fog wraps around you like a silk coat as you walk out of the subway and into the dewy, crystallized light. Tall, skinny buildings zigzag up crooked streets, as a menagerie of cyclists and cars, trolleys and trains, pedestrians and protesters clog up the lanes with a gurgle of sounds and greetings.
San Francisco, nicknamed simply “The City” by Northern Californians, is a crown jewel of the West. There isn’t a flavour, personality, or attraction left out in this mecca by the Bay. If you only have one weekend to spend in SF, here are some of the best things to do:
Sing with Judy in the Castro
You can’t go to The City without visiting the Castro District. Known as the underbelly of LGBT culture since the early 1960s, it’s still considered the epicentre of gay pride along the West Coast. Everything from political movements to artistic expressions have come out of the neighbourhood, and continue to do so today. From booming rally cries to boisterous night clubs, there’s never a dull moment in this area of town. One of its best features is the Castro Theatre, a vestige of 1920s movie palace grandeur. The hot spot is well known for random John Hughes marathons, indie film festivals, NC-17 special events, and movie sing-a-longs to classics like “The Wizard of Oz.”
Marvel the Mission Murals
Speaking of Oz, if ironic moustaches, colourful tattoos, and food trucks are your yellow brick road to happiness, find your way to the Mission District. This multifaceted part of town is proudly half Latino, half hipster, with plenty of blending in between. The area is best known for its Mexican-inspired art murals that paint the neighbourhood in rich hues of reds and greens. You can also find a splatter of well-known cafes, award-winning restaurants, historical sites, and enough live music venues and movie theatres to keep the nightlife buzzing long into the late hours. If you’re feeling a little wobbly on your way back to the hotel, you can always order a Mission Burrito. This style of large, rice-packed burrito originated in this part of town and is still a cure all for nasty hangovers today.
Blend in with the Fanny Packs
Ok, yes, Pier 39 is a tourist trap—and for good reason. No matter how many people you see walking around with fanny packs and white socks in their sandals, it’s still one of the absolutely quintessential San Francisco sites. That barking you hear? Look over the salty wooden ledges to spot the colonies of sea lions who call the cold waters home. If there’s one thing the sea life and land life know all too well, SF weather is stubbornly chilly. Luckily, this makes the premier city dish–clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl—the perfect treat to enjoy during your afternoon on the rickety planks.
Take a Walk—A Long, Long Walk
With so many things to see in San Francisco, going for a long walk is one of the best ways to see The City from all its vantage points. Start in Chinatown, the largest in the U.S., and venture into Little Italy in North Beach until you reach Fisherman’s Wharf for a seafood snack. From there, stroll over to Union Square, where you’ll find a cluster of shopping opportunities you can’t find anywhere else. After staying on your feet most of the day, take a break with a ride on the famous golden cable cars to your next stop. Yes, the lines are long, and you can probably arrive at your destination faster if you walk, but if it’s your first trip to the foggy city, it’s old school charm at its best.
Race in Morning, Swing in the Afternoon
San Francisco is an active town, with cyclists and runners hitting the trails just as the partiers are finally heading to bed. If you want local flare, bring those running shoes to Crissy Field. With sights of the famous Golden Gate Bridge, the jagged cityscape, and the calm bay, it’s a popular area for workout routines, as well as picnics, sports, and photography. Golden Gate Park is another iconic green space in the city. This large area features a number of gardens, lakes, and archery fields. Additionally, it morphs into a swing dancing locale Sunday afternoons. Grab a partner and leave your heart in The City like so many other crooners through the ages.
In San Francisco, it’s just as common to see a crowd of SF Giants fans as giant works of art. Just as natural to see protestors wrapped in angel wings as it is to see rows of foil-wrapped burritos. It’s a dynamic city full of complexities on every street corner—and that’s the subtle way to explain it. Bring a coat, a camera, and an open mind to a weekend in The City you’ll never forget.
Featured photo attribution: Flickr/Creative Commons/Britt Reints/Via/https://flic.kr/p/bDkr7F