What did I learn about San Francisco? It isn’t really a big city — P– and I hit virtually all of the neighborhoods (with the notable exception of Embarcadero/Financial District) on a 3 day $15 Muni pass. That included a half day at Alcatraz and walking over the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset. The free tourist map has a convenient checklist of tourist things to do — there were like only 15 things on the list, and we actually did most of them without even looking at the list. If you are going just to see sights, you can max out the place pretty easily. But that’s really not what the city is about.
San Francisco is an expensive city. It’s even more expensive than New York. However, the food is fresher and the seafood is more amazing. Value shopping is key. We paid $5 for sundaes at Ghirardelli Square and felt ripped off for getting only 6 oz of ice cream. However, we paid $26 for the omakase (chef’s selection) at Sushi on North Beach, and we got a 10 course meal. Gourmet Chinese food was excellent, but wasn’t value for money. However dim sum at Four Seas and Chinese pasteries at Gum Man Bakery (both Grant Avenue institutions) were incredible values. We ditched a $65 Napa tour and instead walked to Marin over the Golden Gate Bridge for $zero (not counting the transit pass). We bought wines at Safeway (10% off for a six-pack, and I joined their shopper’s club to get 2 for 1 discounts — we picked up a Modavi Private Reserve Merlot 2001 that YC and I saw being made the last time I was there — it took about 30 minutes of breathing, but afterwards, it was a fantastic wine) and chocolates at Walgreens ($2-5 cheaper than at the company store) and saved a bundle. We picked up Beach Blanket Babylon tickets for half price at the Tix Bay Area booth at Union Square, which when we told Bob the consierge gave us a totally dumbfounded look — apparently it was as if we got half price tickets to The Producers or something.
Sometimes, though, you just have to do things regardless of cost. You’re going to go to Alcatraz at least once for $15. Staying near Union Square was such a convenience it didn’t matter that it was $95 a night. Buying Girl Scout cookies from cute Japanese brownies will make you cough up $3.50. I’ve taken a new fondness for Red Bull (we snagged a 6 pack from the film festival after-party as they were a sponsor — it’s the perfect jet lag solution).
SF can be a lonely city, especially when we couldn’t get into Cafe du Nord (maxed out their capacity), and ended up missing the last tram back to downtown (froze our butts out on the median for 45 minutes for the next bus). Or when we got up for a Sunday morning flight and the BART wasn’t running and had to blow $35 for a cab. It can be a lonely city when you’re in a crowded theater and don’t know exactly how you got there, or why you eating Bento boxes in the middle of such a national landmark. There are many sidewalks where you are the solitary pedestrians, even when the street is busy. However, it encourages people to cling, especially since rents are so high that people have 4 or 5 roommates.
I made my quota of bumping into people I know unexpectedly. Risa I know from the film festival in New York and NYU. She’s such an over-achiever! MinJung is more funny, more sincere, more huggable in person than even on her website (maybe it was the liquor talking).
Of course the biggest thing that I learned was how great a travelling companion P– is. She’s good at getting the trains running on time, figuring what the hell happened to my cap or my cell phone for the 30th time, or making command decisions on cabs or public transport. Her Chinese is a gazillion times better than mine, so she bails me out when the need arises. She can make her entire wardrobe, six bottles of wine, a box of Chinese pasteries and more fit into a small red pullman, smaller than mine. She’s incredibly comforting when you’re in the middle of nowhere. And of course, that huge travel pillow that she carried, which we named “pseudo-Shelly” in honor of her sister’s beagle.
At one point I had thought about living there, though I don’t see how I would anymore. Nevertheless, I do share the intense joy for the city that Beach Blanket Babylon emits, and we intend to make the SF Asian American Film Festival a regular pilgrimage. Just stay away from the chocolate!