San Francisco on foot

All the poets who sang odes to San Francisco did not do it justice, for this sister city of Bengaluru is much, much more — she’s mesmerising, alluring and captivating all at once, writes Janaki Murali

The sister cities of San francisco, includes Bangalore. PHOTOS BY AUTHOR

A hilly city surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay — it was bitterly cold when we visited. With fog rolling down the hills, bringing with it rain and often hailstorms, walking down the steeply, sloping streets was quite a challenge as we walked quite a bit.

There are many treks you can do in and around San Francisco. Tamalpais Hills, Muir Woods, Land’s End and Twin Peaks are some we went to. Tamalpais was foggy and cold. Muir Woods had some of the tallest redwood trees. Twin Peaks, where the Sutro Tower is also based, had a spectacular view of the city. Land’s End was a rocky trek with amazing views.

The Golden Gate bridge; the sister cities of San Francisco, includes Bangalore.  PHOTOS BY AUTHOR
The Golden Gate bridge; the sister cities of San Francisco, includes Bangalore. 
PHOTOS BY AUTHOR

 

Financial hub

One of my most delightful experiences was going on the Alfred Hitchcock Walking Tour. Centred around locations featured in Vertigo and a few other landmark films of the great master — this walk meanders steeply down Nob Hill to Union Square in the Financial District.

The Financial District has Market Street on one end, the waterfront on the other and Union Square in the middle. Some of the tallest buildings housing major banks and tech companies are here — Salesforce Tower, is by far the tallest, a landmark building, visible from afar. The Financial District also has several multi-brand stores.

The waterfront at Embarcadero is where the quaint Ferry Building is. It has a wharf which overlooks the Bay Bridge, where a Gandhi statue stands. It also houses a market with several niche cafes and restaurants.

Being a multi-cultural city, San Francisco has several ethnic pockets. There’s China Town, Little Italy, Korea Town, the Manila Market and Japan Town. China Town is lined with many interesting stores selling silk scarves and souvenirs. We were able to catch the Cherry Blossom festival in Japan Town. In the courtyard overlooking the Peace Pagoda cultural shows were going on and inside the Japan Center, a Samurai sword exhibition. The Center has many Sushi and Ramen restaurants, a bookstore with the latest Manga graphic novels and some souvenir stores.

When in San Francisco, you have to take a ride on the tilting cable car — there are rides from Nob Hill and Powell to Fishermen’s Wharf. Fishermen’s Wharf has many souvenir shops and some good eating places. Pier 39 is where you would want to go to catch sea lions basking in the sun.

Dragon Gate in China Town
Dragon Gate in China Town

Charming murals

The charm of the city is that it’s home to some of the most incredible Victorian architecture — many churches and homes in most neighbourhoods have stunning facades, arches, awnings and balconies. Many of the public buildings are covered with murals. Mission district has more murals than most. Clarion Alley, a narrow walking lane in Mission has the walls on both sides filled with murals and graffiti painted by local artists. We were lucky to catch the Sunday Street on Valencia in Mission District, when it was closed to traffic. Families had come out in droves to enjoy the sun, ride their bicycles and listen to the local bands.

Another culturally rich neighbourhood in San Francisco, where you will find vestiges of the hippy movement, is Haight-Ashbury. There are several kitsch stores here, including some Indian too, selling souvenirs, vintage clothes and rare music records from some of the artists who lived and worked in the neighbourhood, including the Grateful Dead.

If you’re into museums, there are many to see in San Francisco. Most of the museums have free days — best to go then as the tickets can be a tad expensive. We went to the SF Museum of Modern Art which has some wonderful wax models.

Beautiful Victorian homes.
Beautiful Victorian homes

Walking treks

The De Young Museum and the Legion of Honor has several eye-catching masterpieces. The Legion of Honor also has walking treks with a remarkable view of the Golden Gate bridge, which incidentally is visible from many vantage points in the city. The California Academy of Sciences has an experiential feel about it — it has a butterfly park, a penguin park, an aquarium and a planetarium. The voice over at the planetarium, hold your breath, is that of Tom Hanks. The Exploratorium is another museum which is experiential in nature. The walk from here to Coit Towers, is picturesque, winding past Lombard Street or the Crooked Street. And if you like going to the theatre, don’t miss Beach Blanket, Babylon. It’s a show famous for its big hats and takes an irreverent look at American politics and caricatures of popular politicians and celebrities.

One of the buildings with murals in Mission
One of the buildings with murals in Mission

Food fetish

The city is famous for any number of restaurants serving culinary delights from all over the world and almost all of them have vegetarian options, too. Some of the restaurants we tried out were Mau, a casual Vietnamese eatery in Mission district famous for its pho and clay pot dishes. Curry Up Now, a popular Indian outlet, had some interesting Indo-Mexican masala idlis and crisp samosas. Burma Superstar, a small and bustling Burmese restaurant in Richmond had Burmese samosas, traditional green-tea salads and a spicy eggplant dish. King of Thai, Noodle House, is a small eatery near Union Square good for Pad Thai and Panang curry. You’ll find Mexican food almost everywhere in the city. Taqueria Guadalajara in Excelsior district, mostly a take-away place had some excellent burritos, tacos & quesadillas. The crowded In and Out in Fisherman’s Wharf serves burgers, but getting a table is almost impossible here. As for deserts, try out the Taiyaki ice cream at Uji Time Desert in Japan Town, even if you have to queue up for it. If you’re looking for pubs, try out Hobson’s Choice, a popular bar at Haight-Ashbury which has some interesting rum punch. Then there are many cafes dotted all around San Francisco, where you could go for coffee. A visit to San Francisco cannot be hurried, make it a longish trip, so you have time to soak it all in and make it a truly immersive experience.

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