So you want to leave your heart in San Francisco, eh? Congratulations, you’ve made a great choice! It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with fantastic food, exciting entertainment options, and a halfway decent baseball team. But before you make your way to the city by the bay, please listen to the sage advice of a native San Franciscan, one who has seen too many generations of tourists come, freeze their fanny-pack-clad butts off, and leave unsatisfied. Before you go to San Francisco, you must know:
1. Don’t call it Frisco. It’s that simple. Nobody in the city calls in that. Nobody on the news calls it that. It’s not funny; it’s just weird. Say “San Fran” if you absolutely must use shorthand.
2. Yup, that’s a gay person. There are a lot of gay people living in S.F. There are probably a lot of gay people living in your hometown, too, whether or not you realize it. While on your visit, you may encounter men dressed as women, women acting like men, men and women in bunny outfits, and you will definitely, definitely, encounter crazy homeless people who yell at you. The solution to any of these is the same: just keep walking! You don’t bother them; they won’t bother you.
3. It’s cold and rainy and foggy all the time. Mark Twain once said, “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” This is both clever and probably true. It’s always cold, especially in the summer, and then inexplicably hot for one week every September.
Do not bring shorts. Bring a cardigan or five. Do not ask about surfing. No one here is tan because it is hardly ever sunny. California is a big state and San Francisco is not at all close to Los Angeles. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen families of four all wearing the exact same thing: cargo shorts and matching zip-up fleeces with “SF” and a bridge embroidered on them that they bought at the wharf when they realized that the wharf is frickin’ cold. Bring pants. And a jacket. And a scarf. And another sweater, just to be safe. Maybe a hat. It’s chilly out.
4. Same goes for the hills. Not at all an exaggeration. I should add: bring sneakers. San Francisco is a great pedestrian city (not that big, lots to look at, wide-enough sidewalks) but the whole place is hills. All of it. Everywhere. Steep ones.
5. Haight is pronounced “hate” and was the site of the Summer of Love… is that confusing enough? The Haight-Ashbury (a neighborhood conveniently located around the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets) was the site of the Summer of Love in 1969, as well as being home to Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane. It was hippie central in the 60s (well, there and Berkeley), and now is populated with indie coffee shops and Grateful Dead t-shirt stores. Also a decent area to find pot, if you’re into that sort of thing.
6. San Francisco is a great place to be a tourist. The super tourist-y sights are beautiful and spread out across the city, so go ahead and see them. Take the cable car (which no one uses except tourists, though it is very fun. And expensive), go to the top of Coit tower, visit Pier 39 and Ghirardelli square, walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and drive down Lombard Street.
But do something just a little closer to the real-life S.F., too… please? Eat some fresh sourdough bread by the water. Get a burrito in the Mission. Go to City Lights bookstore and buy a copy of Howl. See a movie at the Castro theatre. Wear flowers in your hair. Do it all, because the amount of culture, beauty and fun to be experienced within the 7×7 miles of San Francisco is nothing short of amazing.
7. They’re called “Painted Ladies”…the ornate Victorian houses in the opening credits of Full House. Some super ornate brightly colored ones can be found in the Haight, but the ones from Full House are by Alamo Square. And that is the last time anyone should mention Full House in relation to your trip.