San Francisco, “The Golden City,” “The Fog City,” or just “The City” is not your average urban metropolis. It’s a boomtown with a rich history and culture and a place I am proud to call home. As a former industrial city that has now become the tech capital of the world, San Francisco is constantly both changing and creating change. Allow me to guide you through some of my top spots when visiting here.
A guide to San Francisco would be incomplete without a mention of the Golden Gate bridge. The iconic suspension bridge with its burnt orange metallic hue which is featured on nearly every Californian leaflet is the premiere tourist hotspot, but it does not disappoint. In person, the bridge is larger than life, appearing awe-inspiring as it peeks through the thick San Franciscan fog. For the complete experience, I recommend exiting off the highway and walking along the side of the bridge which is especially gorgeous during sunrise or sunset. At night, the bridge comes alive with its bright lights that illuminate the whole of the San Francisco Bay.
Speaking of the Bay, San Francisco’s history as a port city with access to the Pacific Ocean has resulted in the formation of one of the most diverse spots for tourists to take in the culture of the city: the Fisherman’s Wharf. This area is a hub for restaurants, shopping, and looking at the waterfront and has spectacular scenery. Alongside classic sights like museums and historic landmarks, the best place to hang out is on Pier 39. My favourite thing to do is find a cozy park bench as I watch the street artists and witness the hustle and bustle of the city. There’s also always a diverse array of vendors selling ice cream, fresh fruit, kids’ toys, and everything in between.
While at Fisherman’s Wharf, you can make the decision to take one of the short cruises that sails into the Bay and takes you to Alcatraz. This former federal penitentiary operated for almost 30 years and is the infamous place where Al Capone was sentenced. The ferry that takes you to the island has an audio tour which gives deep insight into prison life and recounts (failing) tales of people trying to make an escape. All this while you get a striking view of the sea waters from the deck of the ship and strong gusts of winds threaten to rock you off your feet.
From Spanish missionaries to the influx of Asian-Americans during the 1849 California Gold Rush to the expansion of the belief in Manifest Destiny, this state has been built on the hard work of migrants from the rest of the United States and abroad, and San Francisco is no exception. Chinatown is one of the unique boroughs that is a celebration of Asian heritage and is one of the biggest in the world. The streets here have the aroma of dumplings and curry and you can buy virtually any Asian item you may want: little trinkets, Asian food and snacks, home decor, and more. One of my favourite memories was stumbling upon a tea shop here where the owner who ran the shop inherited it from his great-grandfather, who migrated from mainland China. He spent an hour explaining to my friends and I the difference between different types of tea, tea leaves, and methods of brewing that create different flavour profiles, and led me to develop my very first taste in tea.
But the best part of San Francisco is its proximity to virtually every kind of landscape imaginable. Just 30 minutes south of the heart of the city is Half Moon Bay beach, home to one of the most picturesque shores. A couple hours east leads you to Lake Tahoe, famous for its mountains and ski resorts. And just an hour north is home to the California state capital, Sacramento.
Ultimately, what makes San Francisco special is the people and diverse culture. The city is built on the celebration of people and individual freedom which is how it has birthed protest movements from as early as its history. An urban oasis, there is always something going on and no two days are the same.