Hills and Thrills in San Francisco

By: Anna Karlsson • Apr 30, 2010 • 0 Comments

San Francisco, CA. After living in San Francisco for six years, I moved and soon discovered that I missed the city of sparkling surprises.  A short day trip on the way to my mother’s home for Easter was the perfect fix.

Revisiting the neighborhoods where I once spent all my time is like finding that sparkly music box at your parents' house, opening it up and watching the ballerina spin in a whole new light. It's exchanging everything that was once an everyday experience for exciting, thought provoking discoveries.

San Francisco is, simply put, a different world. It may be the fourth largest city in terms of billionaires but it still tolerates dreadlocks and tie-dyes. It's a world where you can travel twenty minutes and be in the fantasy land of Muir Woods, where 200-year-old Redwood trees make you feel like an Avatar. Or, you can sit down at a restaurant and be served by the most beautiful transvestites in the world.

With all this at hand, what was the first thing I did? Well, it was a sinful indulgence that involved  Brenda's French Soul Food restaurant on 652 Polk Street, a plate of French toast dripping with golden maple syrup and gossiping with old college friends.

After that gleefully adolescent moment, I got serious and headed out to Jackson Square. The area between Battery and Montgomery Streets was the only commercial district to survive the 1906 earthquake. Today it is home to some of the most reputable dealers in the country and offers the whole spectrum of antiques and decorative arts.

Within the two block radius, I fawned over Continental and English antique furniture, French impressionist paintings and antique rugs. They do, however, reside side by side with contemporary furniture and contemporary art.  No matter, those are the kinds of paradigms that make the City unique.

After my shopping trip (actually, more a browsing trip) my friends and I hopped on one of the city's streetcars on Market Street. Granted, it was a quick ten minute walk from Jackson Square, but worth the effort. Streetcars are not the same as cable cars, but close. Cable cars are run by an underlying cable while streetcars are electric and are pushed forward by the electricity supplied by overhead wires. Both streetcars and cable cars are the best way to get around the city's 43 hills.

We took our streetcar to the Castro area for a visit to the Castro Theater, the historic movie landmark built in 1922 by the Nasser brothers, famous San Franciscan theater entrepreneurs. Castro Theater features foreign films, classics and live performances. It also features flicks from yesterday and today; the perfect way to keep moving while sitting in place.

The beauty of the laid-back nature of San Francisco and its inhabitants is the friendly, inviting atmosphere of the city life. After the movie, I returned north, walking down Columbus Avenue in the Italian District and North Beach, which usually calls for conversations with strangers enjoying their moment in the sun. 

The weather is one of the major reasons to visit San Francisco in the spring – sunny days when the crisp winter air has been swapped out for a warmer breeze. This is the perfect time to take advantage of the distinct café culture that makes San Francisco different from other American cities.

There are more coffee parlors per capita than anywhere else in the nation and the outside seating fills up quickly. Francis Ford Coppola apparently wrote most of the Godfather sitting outside at the local staple Caffe Trieste at 601 Vallejo Street, the first coffee shop to open in the city, circa 1956.

In theory, you can walk across town in a few hours, given that San Francisco is only seven by seven miles. In practice, you have to be in very good shape to conquer the steep inclines of the hills. No matter how you opt to get around town, you'll see views that will make you gasp for air more than any workout will.

From the Union Street hill right on the border between North Beach and Russian Hill, you'll get a view of Alcatraz.

For celeb historians, St. Peter and Paul's Church on Filbert Street is a must. That is where Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe said “I do.” But the lesser known current locals are still the ones who give San Francisco its extraordinary flavor.

In the words of Oscar Wilde: “It's an odd thing, but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco. It must be a delightful city and possess all the attractions of the next world.”


Where to stay when you have just one night: Lombard Street in the Marina District has more than 20 different hotels, motels and travel lodges for all budgets in a few miles' stretch.  

The Adventurer: If you’re up for it, there are many revamped 50’s style motor lodges with retro flair for a cheap stay.

Chic Style: Hotel Monaco in Union Square is always a great spot with chic décor and a vibrant lobby bar.


Where to eat:

Brenda's French Soul Food, 652 Polk St.

Dottie’s True Blue Café, 22 Jones St.


Where to get coffee:

Caffe Trieste, 601 Vallejo St.


Where to shop:

Jackson Square, Jackson St., between Montgomery and Battery Sts.


How to get around: The San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) and buses will take you anywhere you want to go in the city. Tickets are $2 one-way for adults. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) takes you to the outside areas and also stops at San Francisco International Airport for no extra cost.