In case it wasn’t obvious from the title, we love San Francisco. It’s one of the best cities in California, and the United States. In this post, we’ll cover the things we enjoy doing in San Francisco, and why we enjoy spending time in the city.
This is in no way, shape, or form a guide to San Francisco, and it’ll only vaguely contain tips for visiting SF. Really, this post was motivated by me mistakenly clicking the San Francisco location tag, and seeing an embarrassingly-low number of posts. For a city we’ve visited relatively often (and enjoy), I was surprised to not have written more.
In fact, we don’t just “enjoy” San Francisco. Back when we were planning our move to California, San Francisco was on our shortlist of possible homes. I still wonder if we made the wrong decision, but with real estate prices being a serious concern at that time, it was ultimately ruled out. Fortunately, as a visitor, you don’t have to deal with the local real estate market (well, aside from in hotel and parking costs!), so here’s why you should take up (temporary) residence in San Francisco…
The culture is rich. The neighborhoods make this self evident and there are myriad festivals that reinforce the diverse cultures that make up the tapestry of San Francisco.
However, we are best reminded of this the way we’re best reminded of so many things: the food.
San Francisco is about as diverse and as deep of a culinary city as anywhere in the world, arguably ahead of Los Angeles and right up there with New York. Chinatown is the most recognizable of these, but Fillmore District, Haight Ashbury, Mission District, and other parts of town all have distinct culture and demographics…which you can find reflected in the cuisine and hole-in-the-wall dining options.
It also helps that despite San Francisco’s (deserved) reputation as being an expensive city, there are a wealth of delicious yet affordable options. It’s not all haute cuisine or fine dining, even though there’s plenty of that if you want. You can find great ramen, dim sum, sandwiches, and plenty of other meals for under $20.
San Francisco is one of few cities in California that’s actually walkable. As distinctly unpatriotic as it might sound, there are few things I’d love more than to not own a car. Unfortunately, that’s not feasible in most of the United States due to our woefully underdeveloped public transportation networks, and doubly true in California as the state seems obsessed with the automobile.
One exception to that is San Francisco. We know people who live and work in the city and don’t own cars, which is only partly out of practicality due to parking costs. For the most part, walking, cycling, public transit, and the occasional Uber or Lyft coupled with rental cars for day trips outside the city is sufficient.
A big part of why San Francisco probably strikes us as much more walkable than other Californian metropolises is because it’s so beautiful. Pretty places are certainly more conducive to outdoor living, and while L.A. has its share of beauty, there’s also a decent amount of blight and utilitarianism.
San Francisco, on the other hand, has a far greater share of natural and manmade beauty. The rolling hills and warm design sensibilities make it a place you don’t mind walking or biking quite as much. When we visit, we find ourselves walking a ton on any given day; more than we would in just about any other city because San Francisco is so enjoyable. (In fairness, driving and parking are a huge hassle, so that’s part of it.)
Then there are the public parks and places like the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Glen Canyon Park, Twin Peaks, and so on. As much as we love Griffith Park, the totality of San Francisco’s many public green spaces–and the number of locals who make use of them–trounces the many parks (mostly dirt-brown ones) of Los Angeles.
Getting out into these parks is one of San Francisco’s best things to do, but we also love visiting Alcatraz Island, seeing the latest exhibits at the Walt Disney Family Museum, cruising around the Bay, walking along the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf, seeing the vibrance of Chinatown at night, and–of course–eating. What we enjoy most, though, is simply exploring the neighborhoods, seeing local life and art installations, and enjoying the beautiful local community.
Along those lines, San Francisco is a big city with a quasi small town intimacy. It never feels as overwhelming and vast as Los Angeles, and even as skyscrapers tower overhead, there’s an inescapable charm to the city. You get the sense that each little enclave has a sense of community to it, and there’s a warmth to San Francisco that you feel as a visitor.
Perhaps this is a rather rosy assessment and is more a feeling we have as visitors to San Francisco who get caught up in the city’s effusiveness than how locals would assess the city, but that’s how it feels to us. It could be more than San Francisco has more quirkiness and character that create the impression of intimacy, but whatever the case, it’s an asset.
If San Francisco starts feeling too small or too urban for some reason, it’s easy to get away. Just outside of the city there’s the Marin Headlands and Muir Woods, and with a bit more driving you can get to Pinnacles National Park or even Yosemite.
The ocean is also nearby, with some beautiful beaches that rival Malibu and Laguna Beach for the best in California. Heading down to Big Sur is a pretty easy escape, and offers the best stretch of coastline in the state. Napa Valley is also a popular escape, and there are a range of other smaller towns in between.
At this point, we’re starting to dovetail into a discussion of what makes Northern California and the Central Coast special, though. Suffice to say, San Francisco is a city that we love. The SoCal v. NorCal rivalry that we signed onto when moving to Southern California contractually obligates us to say that Los Angeles is the better city, but really, they are both excellent places. If anything, we view them as complementary experiences, each having its own strengths and compelling draws. Plus, no matter which is better, they’re both easily two of the top 10 cities in the United States. Hopefully this post provided some insight into why we love San Francisco…we’ll try to do a better job covering the city in more granular depth going forward!
Have you been to San Francisco? What do you think of it? Have a favorite park or thing to do? Did you prefer San Francisco or Los Angeles? Interested in visiting Northern California? Have any questions or other thoughts? Please share below in the comments!