For the last week I’ve been in San Francisco, commuting to work in Silicon Valley. Attempting to explore the city as much as possible I’ve been making use of mornings and nights to wander around before succumbing to jet-lag and retiring at sometimes ridiculously early hours. This probably wasn’t helped by attending a James Ferraro gig in London the night before catching the eleven hour flight. My first activity, a five hour walk from the city to the Golden Gate Bridge, left my muscles aching for half the week. I’m heading back to London on Sunday so there is only one full non-work day in the city left but I’ve enjoyed my visit and managed to see quite a bit in a short space of time.
My arrival in the city was a little scary as I disembarked from the BART at Civic Center without any idea where I was going. The huge number of homeless people on the streets was startling and I was more than a little concerned as I wandered around not really knowing which direction to go in. Checking up on Google reveals the city has somewhere between two and three times more homeless people than London despite having a mere one tenth the total population. There doesn’t seem to be any easy answer to the problem and the city appears to be running out of ideas; they recently banned people from sitting on the sidewalk between 7am and 11pm.
Despite being too tired most nights to check out the local bar scene we’ve managed to visit some really nice restaurants. Absinthe, located on a particularly nice part of Hayes Street has been one of my favourites where I indulged in an exquisite duck breast and finished the meal with one of their many cocktails. At each restaurant we’ve visited I’ve opted for a Californian wine and they have all been gorgeous.
Our visit has coincided with Chinese new year and on Saturday morning I wandered through Chinatown to see the setting up of flower stalls for the Chinese New Year Flower Fair. On the eve of the Year of The Rabbit I returned to Chinatown to find the streets beautifully lit by lanterns as warm light and laughter poured from the many cocktail bars and the occasional firework exploded to the applause of car alarms.
My walk took me out the other end of Chinatown and into City Lights Books. A painfully hip bookshop spread over three floors stocking everything from mainstream classics to weird outsider fiction and non-fiction categorised into philosophy, women’s studies, queer studies, music, stolen continents, science and so on. I explored the shop floor by floor and settled with a book in a chair in their beat and poetry section. Grabbing a mixture of staff recommendations and books that caught my eye for the flight home I headed to the till and back out into the city. As I walked back to the hotel past Union Square a busker played cool jazz into the night and the city danced to the rhythm.
On Tuesday morning I managed to head down to The Mission district and explore some of the awesome murals including those in Clarion Alley and the Women’s Building. We grabbed breakfast at Dolores Park Cafe and I skimmed the San Francisco Chronicle while waiting for the bus to take us to Silicone Valley. I’m pretty sure if I ever moved to San Francisco this is the area I’d like to live in. The Mission is slightly warmer than the rest of the city and walking through a sunny park filled with palm trees in early February is a great feeling.
We’ve been staying in the Hotel Adagio where the rooms are clean and spacious but lacking any character. The nearby Hotel Triton which I passed one evening looks much more interesting although I’m unsure how much a room might cost. I’ve still to visit Blue Bottle Coffee which was recommended by a colleague, take the cable car, visit Fisherman’s Wharf and cross off the rest of Time Out’s 20 things to do but there is still time.
All my photos of the trip so far live in this Flickr set.