If you are going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”, sings Scott McKenzie in his song about the Californian city on the west coast of the USA. The song refers to the 1960s and 70s, when San Francisco became the centre of the American movement against the political and social situation in the US and other parts of the world. The famous ‘summer of love’ in 1967 and the song by McKenzie symbolise the zeitgeist of the so-called Flower-Power movement: love, peace, and freedom on the one hand, sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll on the other. These are all attributes associated with the Hippie-culture. Famous musicians and poets of the time stayed in San Francisco and devoted their art and life to the city and this movement.
Today, you can still feel their spirit, especially in the trendy neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury and the Castro. The Castro became the home of many homosexuals during the 1970s, who went to find their luck in the more tolerant and open-minded San Francisco. One of the highlights is the Castro theatre. In the old cinema, alternative movies are shown regularly, and gay and multicultural festivals are hosted.
When I visited San Francisco, I was really surprised: it is not the typical American metropolis that I had expected. Apart from the characteristic skyscraper, there are a lot of smaller multi-storey buildings and city-houses with their own architecture, which have the charm of a smaller fisher-town consistent with the location of the San Francisco Bay.
A walk around the bay, especially the area of Fisherman’s Wharf, is absolutely worth it. Although it is very crowded, as the dock is one of the touristy places of the city, the great view over the bay and the bridges should not be missed. With downtown behind, the sun in your face, and a fresh-baked cookie in your hand, you can enjoy the fresh marine breeze and watch sea lions bathing in the sun.
At the wharf there is also the possibility to book trips to the prison-island Alcatraz, or to buy tickets for a boat-trip in the bay. At Alcatraz, you learn about both the history of the prison and the life of some of the prisoners, as well as the mysterious stories of those who went missing from the island. The ticket price is quite high for students, but I do not regret my visit.
In order to have a proper view of the San Francisco skyline, there are several possibilities: the boat-trip in the bay, a walk over the famous Golden Gate Bridge, or a trip to the other side of the bay. I would recommend the walk over the Golden Gate Bridge in any case. You can take your time to take pictures or just enjoy the moment, and, if you are lucky enough, sea lions and dolphins can be observed in the water.
Walking through the city can be quite exhausting; the streets are steep but give an impressive picture of the city. If you need a break, you can either catch one of the famous cable cars that are traditional to San Francisco, although they are usually crowded, or drink a coffee in a little bar or café. Personally, I would propose either a cafe in the Italian quarter or Kara’s cupcakes store.
If you have the luxury of choosing any season in which to make your visit, I would not advise the summer months of July or August, as the Californian sun is hidden by a layer of fog sitting over the city.
At the beginning of fall, September or October, it promises to be warmer and sunnier.
Image: TIM BENEDICT POU @ FLICKR