Two weeks ago I bid goodbye to responsibility (very briefly) and said hello to San Francisco. While I’d visited the city a few times growing up, I came to realize that I’d never sufficiently explored it. All of the talk about this beautiful and bohemian city were simply lost on me. In an effort to rectify this, my friend Mackenzie and I hastily booked a hostel for three nights, chugged a beer, and boarded a plane to California.
We stayed at Amsterdam Hostel, somewhat precariously stationed on the outskirts of the Tenderloin, but still central enough that we considered it a good deal at around thirty bucks a night. We managed to score a four bed female dorm with its own private bathroom. While the beds were mediocre at best, the luxury of having our own bathroom outweighed all other factors. After arriving late Wednesday night, we woke up Thursday refreshed and ready to take on the city. (By refreshed, I mean ravenously hungry.) We strolled through Chinatown while it was still enveloped in fog and store owners were quietly opening up shop. Lights flickered on one by one and the streets soon filled with the quiet buzzing of what was an obviously tight-knit community. We walked past stores filled with dried fish, specialty baked goods, and Sriracha-themed water bottles. Eventually, the soft morning gray lifted and we found ourselves entering North Beach. In contrast to Chinatown, North Beach was filled with charming, and equally mouth-watering, Italian joints that appeared so authentic I easily forgot which country I was in. Captured by the smell of garlic in the air, we decided we better find breakfast–and soon.
After filling up on a cappuccino and breakfast burrito at Caffe Capriccio, we checked out Lombard Street, which was even better than I imagined. I’d stumbled across this famous street on Pinterest before and assumed it’d be packed with tourists and, like many touted must-see sites, slightly disappointing. Luckily, the sky was clear and sunny and when we reached the top of the winding street, and we witnessed a completely tantalizing view of the entire city. Finally, I was starting to understand what all the SF hype was about. The city’s stunning, defined by pastels and creams cracking on old buildings and apartment complexes that look as if you’d feel right as home in any one. I’d somehow conjured an image of San Francisco in my mind that couldn’t be more opposite of what it was. Rather than the “alone together” vibe that seems to saturate larger cities like New York or London, everyone appeared to be friendly and open. (One man actually waved to me from his window on a four-story building when I gazed up, awestruck from the street.) The city feels warm and inviting, every street corner so full of character you’d be crazy not to delve deeper.
We trekked further into the city and emerged at the Ferry Building Marketplace. The stalls inside this massive market were filled with salted caramels, sublime olive oils and and bubbling, locally-brewed coffee. We tried it all. Afterwards, we did some obligatory shopping downtown, and wrapped up the evening with dinner at an Italian joint in North Beach and drinks in the surrounding area. Around midnight, we stumbled upon a small donut shop called Bob’s Donut & Pastry Shop, where we watched one drunken customer take on the daunting challenge of consuming a donut the size of his head in two minutes. (We unabashedly live broadcasted the scene to our friends back home.) We each bought a warm and delicious donut smothered with icing, and hot damn it was good.
We kicked off Friday with an intriguing trip into the Tenderloin for breakfast at the acclaimed Dottie’s True Blue Cafe. After waiting in a line that wove down the street for close to an hour, (and barely avoiding physical assault from a drug-induced homeless dude) we were finally seated. Dottie’s has a throwback diner feel and their food is unforgettable. For breakfast, I devoured a frittata with herbed potatoes and fresh baked bread. We spent the rest of the day exploring Golden Gate Park and Haight-Ashbury, which was scattered with boho thrift shops stocked full of cut-off shorts, sequined dresses, and cowboy boots. We ushered in Friday night with more Italian food–this time more expensive, and even more delicious. Dinner was followed by fancy cocktails, cheap beers, and lots of terrible dancing at a dive bar on Polk.
Unsurprisingly, I woke up Saturday with a throbbing headache and a hangover that persisted through most of the day. After packing up our bags, we checked out of the hostel and met some friends for a long hike. As expected, we got lost several times. When we eventually reached the vantage point that brought us there in the first place, the Golden Gate Bridge stretched down the coast in cinematic perfection. Later, we headed to the Marina, ate a quick meal and logged some time at Divisadero and Castro. Before catching our flight, we made one final stop at a hole in the wall sandwich joint, Ike’s Place, that I’ve been dreaming about ever since. It was packed to the brim, equipped with one menu hung high on the wall that featured sandwiches called the “Backstabber” and “Menage a Trois.” I chose a meatless variety that Peta dubbed the best meatless meatball sub in America on their signature sweet Dutch bread. Suffice it to say, it exceeded my expectations. All in all, San Francisco proved itself to be a captivating city. Other than the steep cost of housing, it seems absolutely livable. Everything is within walking distance (or a quick bus ride), the views are actually limitless, and every quarter offers something unique and memorable.