San Francisco is a city with a fame disproportionate to its size. The city proper is only about 47 sq. miles (121 km2) at the northern tip of the peninsula with the same name. Over 830000 San Franciscans live in the city, mostly in small yet pricy pads. If you ever plan to visit San Francisco, you will be reminded multiple times about its unique geography and micro-climate. But let me spell it out again: San Francisco is part of California except for the weather. The temperature can be quite low in the morning when the mist is still on the city. Towards the afternoon the sun may appear behind clouds but that should not fool you. You are strongly recommended to keep your jumper or jacket with you at all times, especially towards the night. The climate is not the only aspect of San Francisco that leads me to label it as “the city of misticals contrasts”.
Contrary to the most common nicknames of San Fran or Frisco, the locals do not prefer any name other than San Francisco or the city. After all, the city is named after a saint and religion is an essential part of life here. Even though the settlement in the area dates back to 3000 BC, the city itself can be considered to be founded with the arrival of the Christian missionaries. They found the Mission San Francisco de Asis, commonly known as the Mission Dolores, few months before the declaration of independence in 1776. However, the city was not part of USA until after the end of Mexican-American War in mid 19th century.
Mission Dolores is the oldest building in the city and form the focal point of the lively neighbourhood of Mission District. What stands out most in the area is the colourful murals and “taquerias” that offer delicious Mexican food. We had our best meal in California on our last full day in the city at Pancho Villa Taqueria and admired the murals thereafter.
The variety and uniqueness of the artistic vision that created those murals stayed with us much longer than the time we spent in the back streets & alleys of the district.
Even though the influence of the religious life is ever present in the city, you also get a sense of liberation & a genuine expression of individuality when you stroll the streets of the Mission District. Therefore it is not surprising to find the Castro, a.k.a. “gay capital of the world”, right next to Mission District.
The Castro is a fun place to be for everyone, regardless of sexual preferences. The pavements of Castro Street itself were under renovation and will soon be transformed to give the visitors a sense of walking over the rainbow. Even just that promise is sufficient to bring us back to the Castro again in the coming years.
Another distinct and well-known feature of San Francisco is steep hills and valleys on which the city was built. Streets and avenues are long, some even stretch from one end of the city to the other end (like Geary Blvd or suitably named “Divisadero St”), intercepted only with usual ups and downs of course. This contrast of topology is like an analogy to social inequalities of American life that is very visible in the city. Not too far apart from each other, you can see homeless “residents” of aptly named neighbourhood of Tenderloin along with multimillion dollar worth mansions of Pacific Heights.
When you do not belong to the either end of the spectrum, like us, it is easy to define these extremes as marginal, exceptions to the norm. But in reality, such possibilities exist for all of us. Even we may aspire to end up in one of the Bay view mansions, we should be aware that it is the same system that creates the hopeless and the hopeful.
San Francisco is not just the Mission, Castro or the “mistical” contrasts it presents to the visitors or residents. It is also the home to authentic cable cars, a well-known crooked street, one of the most famous bridges in the world, a superb promenade by the bay and some fantastic planning & architecture worth remembering. So, please bookmark/add to your favourites & come back again for more. :)
To read more on our California trip, please visit: California Road Trip of 2014