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Posts Tagged ‘Jack Kerouac’


I dreamt long last night of San Francisco,
As I have done on so many nights since
I left my heart there twenty years ago,
I trust these verses will you too convince.

I stood upon summer brown Bernal Hill,
Watching the golden city laid before me
Like a lover spread ‘cross a crumpled bed,
In no sweeter place would I rather be.

Standing astride the stunning Sunset steps
As Karl the Fog weaves his cool, wondrous spell,
Slicing Sutro Tower in half before,
In a heartbeat, it returns and all’s well.

Hanging for dear life from the cable car
I crest the hill on Hyde at dawn of day,
Siren song from all the foghorns moaning
As we hurtle down to the glistening bay.

Eating popovers by Pacific shore
Among the tourists and locals well dressed,
Humming to O Sole Mio on a Saturday
While wrestling a ristretto at Trieste.

Hailing Emperor Norton and his doting flock,
As they follow him on the Barbary Coast,
Waiting two hours in Mama’s breakfast line
For bacon, eggs benedict and French toast.

Hunting for tie-dye tees in Hippie Haight,
Paying homage to Harvey on Castro Street,
Reading a whole novel on the F Streetcar
As it clanks and clatters to a Market beat.

Drinking a cool, tall glass of Anchor Steam
With ghosts of Ginsberg, Neal and Kerouac,
In North Beach’s celebrated beat retreat
With Joyce’s peering portrait at my back.

Gorging on Gilroy’s garlic fries at the yard
As gulls circle above to claim what’s left,
Pablo slams a mighty walk off splash hit
To leave downhearted Dodgers fans bereft.

Sharing tales of shows at the Fillmore West
In Martha’s line for coffee and muffin,
The Blackpool boat tram glides past and waves
To Lovejoy’s ladies taking tea and tiffin.

The scent of jasmine on our Noe porch,
Sea lions honking on the wharfside pier,
Sourdough crust with Coppola chardonnay,
And that bracelet of bridges held so dear.

These and other images engulf my mind –
Painted houses, murals and gleaming bay,
Neighbourhoods full of music, food and fun –
I mourn the undue advent of the day.

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My 100 Favourite San Francisco Quotes


If the number of views is the true gauge of success, then the most popular of the two hundred posts I have submitted on this blog has been “My 50 San Francisco Quotes”. I’m sure that it is pure coincidence that it happens to be the one that contains fewest of my own words.

Moving swiftly on, and building on that success, I have now expanded it to 100. And with no more ado:

  1. One day if I go to heaven…..I’ll look around and say “It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco”. (Herb Caen)
  2. San Francisco has only one drawback – ’tis hard to leave. (Rudyard Kipling)
  3. You know what it is? (It) is a golden handcuff with the key thrown away. (John Steinbeck)
  4. East is East, and West is San Francisco. (O. Henry)
  5. San Franciscans are very proud of their city, and they should be.  It’s the most beautiful place in the world.  (Robert Redford)
  6. If you’re alive, you can’t be bored in San Francisco.  If you’re not alive, San Francisco will bring you to life……San Francisco is a world to explore. It is a place where the heart can go on a delightful adventure. It is a city in which the spirit can know refreshment every day.  (William Saroyan)
  7. Every man should be allowed to love two cities, his own and San Francisco.  (Gene Fowler)
  8. Of all cities in the United States I have seen, San Francisco is the most beautiful.  (Nikita Kruschev)
  9. I prefer a wet San Francisco to a dry Manhattan. (Larry Geraldi)
  10. The cool, grey city of love. (George Sterling)
  11. I never dreamed I’d like any city as well as London.  San Francisco is exciting, moody, exhilarating.  I even love the muted fogs.  (Julie Christie)
  12. I don’t know of any other city where you can walk through so many culturally diverse neighbourhoods, and you’re never out of sight of the wild hills.  Nature is very close here.  (Gary Snyder)
  13. I’m proud to have been a Yankee. But I have found more happiness and contentment, since I came back home to San Francisco than any man has a rigo deserve. This is the friendliest city in the world. (Joe di Maggio)
  14. San Francisco is 49 square miles surrounded by reality.  (Paul Kantner)
  15. The ultimate (travel destination) for me would be one perfect day in San Francisco.  It’s a perfect 72 degrees, clear, the sky bright blue.  I’d start down at Fisherman’s Wharf with someone I really like and end with a romantic dinner and a ride over the Golden Gate Bridge.  There’s no city like it anywhere.  And, if I could be there with the girl of my dreams, that would be the ultimate.  (Larry King)
  16. The port of San Francisco……is a marvel of nature, and might well be called the harbor of harbors….And I think if it could be well settled like Europe there would not be anything more beautiful in all the world” (Juan Bautista de Anza)
  17. Leaving San Francisco is like saying goodbye to an old sweetheart.  You want to linger as long as possible.  (Walter Kronkite)
  18. The Bay Area is so beautiful, I hesitate to preach about heaven while I’m here. (Billy Graham)
  19. San Francisco can start right now to become number one. We can set examples so that others will follow. We can start overnight. We don’t have to wait for budgets to be passed, surveys to be made, political wheelings and dealings…….for it takes no money……it takes no compromising to give the people their rights……it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression. (Harvey Milk)
  20. There’s no question this is where I want to live.  Never has been.  (Robin Williams)
  21. San Francisco is one of my favourite cities in the world…I would probably rank it at the top or near the top.  It’s small but photogenic and has layers…You never have problems finding great angles that people have never done.  (Ang Lee)
  22. When you get tired of walking around in San Francisco, you can always lean against it.  (unknown)
  23. It seemed like a matter of minutes when we began rolling in the foothills before Oakland and suddenly reached a height and saw stretched out of us the fabulous white city of San Francisco on her eleven mystic hills with the blue Pacific and its advancing wall of potato-patch fog beyond, and smoke and goldenness in the late afternoon of time. (Jack Kerouac)
  24. There may not be a Heaven, but there is San Francisco. (Ashleigh Brilliant)
  25. I have done more for San Francisco than any of its old residents. Since I left there it has increased in population fully 300,000. I could have done more – I could have gone earlier – it was suggested. (Mark Twain)
  26. I find no objection to turning Hollywood into a suburb of San Francisco, the most photogenic city in the world. (Mayor Joseph Alioto)
  27. The City that knows how. (William Howard Taft)
  28. San Francisco is the only city I can think of that can survive all the things you people are doing to it and still look beautiful. (Frank Lloyd Wright)
  29. You wouldn’t think such a place as San Francisco could exist.  The wonderful sunlight here, the hills, the great bridges, the Pacific at your shoes.  Beautiful Chinatown.  Every race in the world.  The sardine fleets sailing out.  The little cable-cars whizzing down The City hills….And all the people are open and friendly.  (Dylan Thomas)
  30. (San Francisco) is a rich, lusty city, rippling with people, with movement, with girls in summer dresses, with flowers, with color; one of the great and wonderful cities of the world….the great seaport of the Pacific now, one of the great naval bases. Through it have poured a million men…..And the sea is always just on the other side of those hills. (James Marlow)
  31. I certainly was surprised to be named Poet Laureate of this far-out city on the left side of the world, and I gratefully accept, for as I told the Mayor, “How could I refuse?” I’d rather be Poet Laureate of San Francisco than anywhere because this city has always been a poetic center, a frontier for free poetic life, with perhaps more poets and more poetry readers than any city in the world. (Lawrence Ferlinghetti)
  32. In all my travels I have never seen the hospitality of San Francisco equalled anywhere in the world.  (Conrad Hilton)
  33. San Francisco! Is there a land where the magic of that name has not been felt? (Clarence F. Edwards)
  34. Your city is remarkable not only for its beauty.  It is also, of all the cities in the United States, the one whose name, the world over, conjures up the most visions and more than any other city incites one to dream.  (Georges Pompidou)
  35. It’s a mad city, inhabited by insane people whose women are of remarkable beauty (Rudyard Kipling)
  36. Somehow the great cities of America have taken their places in a jythology that shapes their destiny: money live sin New York. Power sits in Washington. Freedom sips cappuccino in a sidewalk café in San Francisco. (Joe Flower)
  37. I was married once – in San Francisco. I haven’t seen her for many years. The great earthquake and fire in 1906 destroyed the marriage certificate. There’s no legal proof. Which means that earthquakes aren’t always bad. (W.C. Fields)
  38. It is a good thing the early settlers landed on the East Coast; if they’d landed in San Francisco first, the rest of the country would still be uninhabited.  (Herbert Mye)
  39. What fetched me instantly (and thousands of other newcomers with me) was the subtle but unmistakeable sense of escape from the United States.  (H.L. Mencken)
  40. The City of San Francisco (the metropolis of the State) considering its age, is by long odds the most wonderful city on the face of the earth.  (G.W. Sullivan)
  41. Any one who doesn’t have a great time in San Francisco is pretty much dead to me. (Anthony Boudain)
  42. There are just three big cities in the United States that are “story cities” – New York, of course, New Orleans, and, best of the lot, San Francisco. (Frank Norris)
  43. You have in San Francisco this magnificent Civic Center crowned by a City Hall which I have never seen anywhere equalled.  (Joseph Strauss)
  44. A city is where you can sign a petition, boo the chief justice, fish off a pier, gape at a hippopotamus, buy a flower at the corner, or get a good hamburger or a bad girl at 4 A.M. A city is where sirens make white streaks of sound in the sky and foghorns speak dark grays – San Francisco is such a city. (Herb Caen)
  45. Caen’s San Francisco may not be the city we remember, but it is the city we want to remember. (Mayor Willie Brown)
  46. Of all American cities of whatever size the most friendly on preliminary inspection, and on further acquaintance the most likable. The happiest-hearted, the gayest, the most care-free city on this continent.  (Irwin S. Cobb)
  47. No city invites the heart to come to life as San Francisco does.  Arrival in San Francisco is an experience in living.  (William Saroyan)
  48. God took the beauty of the Bay of Naples, the Valley of the Nile, the Swiss Alps, the Hudson River Valley, rolled them into one and made San Francisco Bay.  (Fiorello La Guardia)
  49. I always see about six scuffles a night when I come to San Francisco.  That’s one of the town’s charms.  (Erroll Flynn)
  50. San Francisco is a complex town that lets you be yourself, that accepts you even if your family doesn’t. No matter how uncomfortable your own skin feels, you can move to this city, discover who you really are, and plant your feet on the ground.  (Jack Boulware)
  51. San Francisco, open your Golden Gate, you’ll let nobody wait outside your door, San Francisco, here is your wanderin’ one, saying I’ll wander no more. (Gus Khan, Bronislaw Kaper, Walter Jurrman)
  52. San Francisco! – one of my two favorite cities.  There is more grace per square foot in San Francisco than any place on earth!  (Bishop Fulton J. Sheen)
  53. I don’t think San Francisco needs defending.  I never meet anyone who doesn’t love the place, Americans or others.  (Doris Lessing)
  54. There are a thousand viewpoints in the viewtiful city. (Herb Caen)
  55. San Francisco has always been a haven for misfits and weirdos. I’m both of these, which is why I came here. (Michael Franti)
  56. I think San Francisco is the best place in the whole world for an easy life. (Imogen Cunningham)
  57. San Francisco is perhaps the most European of all American cities. (Cecil Beaton)
  58. San Francisco is Beautiful People wearing a bracelet of bridges.  (Hal Lipset)
  59. I have always been rather better treated in San Francisco than I actually deserved (Mark Twain)
  60. 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 attraction of the next world. (Oscar Wilde).
  61. Every city on earth has its special sink of vice, crime and degradation, its running ulcer or moral cancer, which it would fain hide from the gaze of mankind…..San Franciscans will not yield the palm of superiority to anything to be found elsewhere in the world. Speak of the deeper depth, the lower hell, the maelstrom of vice and iniquity – from whence those who once fairly enter escape no more forever – and they will point triumphantly to the Barbary Coast, strewn from end to end with the wrecks of humanity, and challenge you to match it anywhere outside of he lake of fire and brimstone. (Colonel Evans)
  62. If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair, if you’re going to San Francisco, you’re gonna meet some gentle people there. (John Phillips)
  63. San Francisco is the greatest…the hills…fabulous food…most beautiful and civilised people.  (Duke and Duchess of Bedford)
  64. The old San Francisco is dead. The gayest, lightest hearted, and most pleasure-loving city of the western continent, and in many ways the most interesting and romantic, is a horde of refugees living among ruins. It may rebuild; it probably will; but those who have known that peculiar city by the Golden Gate, have caught its flavour of the Arabian Nights, feel it can never be the same. It is as though a pretty, frivolous woman has passed through a great tragedy. She survives, but she is sobered and different. If it rises out of the ashes it must be a modern city, much like other cities without its old atmosphere. (Will Irwin)
  65. I love San Francisco.  It would be a perfect place for a honeymoon.  (Kim Novak)
  66. San Francisco is a breathtakingly beautiful city, with lots of great contrasts between dark and light, often overlapping each other. It’s a great setting for a horror story. (Christopher Moore)
  67. Now there’s a grown-up swinging town.  (Frank Sinatra)
  68. Whoever after due and proper warning shall be heard to utter the abominable word “Frisco”, which has no linguistic or other warrant, shall be deemed guilty of High Misdemeanour, and shall pay into the Imperial Treasury as penalty the sum of twenty-five dollars. (Emperor Norton)
  69. If civil disobedience is the way to go about change, than I think a lot of people will be going to San Francisco (Rosie O’Donnell)
  70. I don’t like San Francisco.  I love it!  (Dorothy Lamour)
  71. “Queen of the Pacific Coast! Fair city whose changing skies for half the year shower down mist and rain, and the other half sunbeams of molten brass! Metropolis of alternate sticky mud and blinding dust! In spite of these and more thou art a city of my heart,  O Ciudad de San Francisco!” (T.S. Kenderdine)
  72. Two days in this city is worth two months in New York.  (Robert Menzies)
  73. I’m just mad for San Francisco.  It is like London and Paris stacked on top of each other.  (Twiggy)
  74. I fell in love with the most cordial and sociable city in the Union. After the sagebrush and alkali deserts of Wahoe, San Francisco was Paradise to me. (Mark Twain)
  75. San Francisco is poetry.  Even the hills rhyme.  (Pat Montandon)
  76. San Francisco itself is art, above all literary art. Every block is a short story, every hill a novel. Every house a poem, every dweller within immortal. This is the whole truth. (William Saroyan)
  77. I love this city.  If I am elected, I’ll move the White House to San Francisco. Everybody’s so friendly.  (Robert Kennedy)
  78. I like the fog that creeps over the whole city every night about five, and the warm protective feeling it gives…and lights of San Francisco at night, the fog horn, the bay at dusk and the little flower stands where spring flowers appear before anywhere else in the country…But, most of all, I like the view of the ocean from the Cliff House.  (Irene Dunne)
  79. San Francisco is really fun and liberal, and it’s my kind of politics. It’s like being Jewish in front of Jewish people. (Elayne Bossier)
  80. I love San Francisco and Brighton has something of San Francisco about it. It’s by the sea, there’s a big gay community, a feeling of people being there because they enjoy their life there. (Brian Eno)
  81. We’re crazy about this city.  First time we came here, we walked the streets all day – all over town – and nobody hassled us.  People smiled, friendly-like, and we knew we could live here……Los Angeles? That’s just a big parking lot where you buy a hamburger for a trip to San Francisco……And the beautiful old houses and the strange light.  We’ve never been in a city with light like this.  We sit in our hotel room for hours, watching the fog come in, the light change.  (John Lennon and Yoko Ono)
  82. The extreme geniality of San Francisco’s economic, intellectual and political climate makes it the most varied and challenging city in the United States (James Michener)
  83. But I would rather be with you, somewhere in San Francisco on a back porch in July, just looking up to Heaven, at this crescent in the sky (Robert Hunter)
  84. I have seen few things as beautiful as a 6.30 am lift-off from San Francisco International Airport in the autumn. From above, the rippled fog layer laps against the shores of the foothills like a voluminous cotton ocean (Eric Chang)
  85. San Francisco is a city with the assets of a metropolis without the disadvantages of size and industry.  (Jack Kenny)
  86. Isn’t it nice that people who prefer Los Angeles to San Francisco live there? (Herb Caen)
  87. San Francisco is one of the great cultural plateaus in the world….one of the really urbane communities in the United States…one of the truly cosmopolitan places – and for many, many years, it has always had a warm welcome for human beings from all over the world.  (Duke Ellington)
  88. The Golden Gate Bridge’s daily strip tease from enveloping stoles of mist to full frontal glory is still the most provocative show in town (Mary Moore Mason)
  89. No visit to the United States would be complete without San Francisco – this beautiful city, center of the West, very well known for its beauty and the place where the United Nations was born.  (Queen Sirikit of Thailand)
  90. To a traveler paying his first visit, it has the interest of a new planet.  It ignores the meteorological laws which govern the rest of the world.  (Fitz Hugh Ludlow)
  91. Cities are like gentlemen, they are born, not made.  You are either a city, or you are not, size has nothing to do with it.  I bet San Francisco was a city from the very first time it had a dozen settlers.  New York is “Yokel”, but San Francisco is “City at Heart”.  (Will Rogers)
  92. God! I loove this city! (Herb Caen)
  93. This is the first place in the United States where I sang, and I like San Francisco better than any other city in the world.  I love no city more than this one.  Where else could I sing outdoors on Christmas Eve?  (Luisa Tetrazzini)
  94. The San Francisco Bay Area is the playpen of countercultures (RZ Sheppard)
  95. I have seen purer liqors, better segars, finer tobacco, truer guns and pistols, larger dirks and bowie knives, and prettier women courtesans here in San Francisco than in any other place I have ever visited. (Hinton Helper)
  96. San Francisco is gone. Nothing remains of it but memories. (Jack London)
  97. San Francisco may soon become the first fully gentrified city in America, the urban equivalent of a gated bedroom community…..Now it’s becoming almost impossible for a lot of the people who have made this such a world-class city – people who have been the heart and soul of the city for decades – from the fishers and pasta makers and blue-collar workers to the jazz musicians to the beat poets to the hippies to the punks and so many others –to exist here anymore. And when you’ve lost that part of the city, you’ve lost San Francisco. (Daniel Zoll)
  98. San Francisco is a city where people are never more abroad than when they are at home.  (Benjamin F. Taylor)
  99. It’s the grandest city I saw in America.  If everyone acted as the San Franciscans did, there would be hope for settlement of the world’s difficulties.  (Frol Zozlov)
  100. To this day the city of San Francisco remains to the Chinese the Great City of the Golden Mountains.  (Kai Fu Shah)

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A First Time Visitor’s Guide to San Francisco


I am regularly asked by friends, personally and on social media sites, for advice on what are the best things to see and do on their upcoming,  and invariably first, trip to San Francisco. Rather than continue to respond on a one to one basis, I have listed below my current recommendations so that anyone can refer to them when they need to.

I should stress that the selections below reflect my personal views, though I have still included other celebrated attractions that would not necessarily be on my list if I only had a few days in the city. But the focus is on the first time visitor.

I must put my prejudices aside for this exercise! They are arranged in  no particular order.

1. Golden Gate Bridge

  • Drive it and take in the views from Vista Point, but much more spectacularly, the Marin Headlands (below), which you access by going under the road just after the end of the bridge;

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  • Note that you have to register in advance for the toll (credit card is charged when you return to city);
  • While you’re there, pop into Sausalito only a few miles away for lunch or coffee and fine views of the city;
  • Walk it or bike it too for more wonderful photo opportunities;
  • If you can, approach it by walking along the Marina, past Fort Mason, from Fisherman’s Wharf – it’s quite a trek and usually very bracing, but it affords great views of the bridge and Alcatraz.

2.  Golden Gate Park

  • Two splendid museums: the California Academy of Sciences and the modern art de Young Museum;
  • Japanese Tea Garden (it may be twee but it is set in lovely grounds and provides tasty oriental teas and snacks in the café);

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  • Stow Lake (lovely to walk round, grab a hot dog at the boat house or book a pedal boat);

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  • Visit the moving National AIDS Memorial Grove and the steamy Conservatory of Flowers;
  • The buffalo paddock (the creatures are rather shy) and the Dutch Windmill are also worth exploring at the other end of the park.

3. Ferry Building

  • Fantastic selection of indoor food and gift stores, and the sixth best Farmers’ Market in the world (according to a recent survey) outside on certain days;

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  • Nice bookshop and great wine bar.

4. Cliff House

  • Drive or take the 38 bus from downtown to cean Beach for two fine restaurants with stunning views over the Pacific;
  • Stroll along the beach for miles;
  • explore the remains of Adolph Sutro’s great public baths and watch the sea birds on Seal Rock;

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  • Take the short walk to the western end of Golden Gate Park.

5. Chinatown

  • Witness the largest Chinese community outside Asia going about their daily business;
  • Grant Avenue is best for gifts whilst Stockton contains the markets at which the Chinese women shop for produce not seen anywhere else!;

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  • You must eat here at least once during your stay – I recommend the Great Eastern, after all the Obamas eat there, and the R & G Lounge;
  • Don’t forget the side streets too with their views of the Bay Bridge and Financial District – and the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory!

6. North Beach

  • Traditionally the Italian quarter adjacent to Chinatown;
  • Plenty of excellent cafés and restaurants – Trieste the most famous but Tosca, Greco and Puccini are really good too;
  • We have enjoyed meals at the North Beach restaurant, Calzone, Sotto Mare, Firenze at Night and others;
  • Rest awhile at Washington Square Park watching the dogs and their humans at play under the shadow of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul;

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  • Have a glass or two at the Vesuvio Café, our favourite bar – historic haunt of the Beats, e.g. Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, in the fifties and sixties;
  • Peruse the unique shelves of the City Lights Bookstore, one of the most famous in the world, opposite Vesuvio;

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  • On the opposite corner on Columbus, Broadway is the home to many of San Francisco’s more famous fleshpots;
  • Reserve seats in advance for Beach Blanket Babylon, another thing you really should do – but best to book in advance

7. Palace of Fine Arts

  • The only remaining building from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition celebrating the resurrection of San Francisco from the Earthquake and Fire of nine years before;
  • Beautiful classical structure with a tranquil swan-filed lagoon attached;

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8. Haight-Ashbury

  • Whether you’re an old hippie (like me) or not, it’s a fascinating place with lots of “head” shops, stores selling retro clothes, good cafés, a massive record shop (Amoeba) and not a few “characters”;
  • Close to Golden Gate Park, it is possible to visit both on the same day.

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9. Alcatraz

  • It may be touristy but no visit to the city is complete without a visit to the most feared federal penitentiary of them all;
  • It is very popular so you should book in advance, preferably before you travel;
  • The day tour is good but the evening (sunset) one is even better!

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10. Bay Cruise

  • Enjoy an hour or two on the bay, remembering to take suncream, as much for the wind as the sun;
  • Stop off at Sausalito for a drink and a promenade, or even go on to Angel Island and Tuburon;
  • The Rocket Boat is tremendous fun, though not for the faint- hearted!

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11. Castro

  • Ground zero for San Francisco’s large gay and lesbian community, rainbow flags are fluttering everywhere;
  • Good shops and bars;

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  • It boasts a great movie house, the Castro Theatre, with its own wurlitzer;  if you can, book tickets for a film. You might even get lucky and be able to participate in a sing-a-long version of either The Sound of Music, Grease or The Wizard of Oz.

12. Alamo Square

  • Position yourself to take the perfect picture of the famous Painted Ladies Victorian houses with the modern city looming behind.

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13.  Mission

  • Boisterous, funky, and, at night, edgy Latino and Hispanic neighbourhood;
  • Great for cheap clothing and inexpensive Central and South American food;
  • Take the pilgrimage to the original Mission Dolores church where it all started;
  • But a picnic for Dolores Park and savour the great views, not only of the city but also of your fellow humans (some of which may be naked – you have been warned!).

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14. Coit Tower

  • Fire nozzle shaped monument provided for the city by Lillian Hitchcock Coit in honour of the brave firefighters of the Earthquake and Fire of 1906;
  • Take in the wonderful views over the bay, including Alcatraz;
  • See and hear the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill (though they do frequent other parts of the city too now);

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  • Climb up at least one set of steps – there are several to choose from, including those that run past beautiful urban gardens.

15.  Twin Peaks

  • The most visited spot for panoramic views of the city, though there are others e.g. Bernal Heights just as good in my opinion.

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16. Civic Center

  • Home to magnificent City Hall and several other public buildings, including the symphony/opera and library;
  • Good, cheap farmer’s market on Wednesdays.

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17. Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39

  • The most popular tourist spots on the bay, not my favourite but you cannot deny that it is a place of fun and energy;
  • See,  listen and laugh at the crazy sea lions on Pier 39;

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  • Wander round the myriad of gift shops for presents for those back home;
  • Sample seafood at the many restaurants and wharfside stalls – we have eaten well at the Franciscan, Neptune’s Palace and McKormick & Kuleto’s;    
  • The Hard Rock is here too if that is more your scene;
  • The Gold Dust Lounge, relocated from Union Square, is a good watering hole with live music;
  • The Musée Mecanique (vintage amusement arcade) and Hyde Street Pier (collection of classic ships), are two of the best deals, not only on the waterfront, but in the whole of the city; 

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  • Beware the World Famous Bushman!

18. Union Square

  • San Francisco’s “modern” shopping heart is very popular with tourists and locals alike, though I use it more as a thoroughfare from Market to Chinatown and North Beach;

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  • There are a number of good diners and grills in the vicinity, including John’s Grill, Tadich Grill and Daily Grill;
  • It borders both the Tenderloin and Civic Center, so don’t be surprised by the number of homeless people, some of which may approach you for money.

19. Bay Bridge

  • Many, including my wife, prefer this to the Golden Gate Bridge and love driving on both its upper and lower decks;

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  • The new span that replaced the old one destroyed by 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake has recently opened and is stunning;
  • It is spectacularly lit up at night.

20. MUNI

  • San Francisco’s public transit system is loved and hated at the same time by both locals and visitors;
  • The cable cars are not merely tourist toys, many locals use them too, and you must ride them;

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  • The lines may be long but it’s well worth the wait – hurtling down Nob or Russian Hill is a thrilling experience;
  • The historic F Streetcar that runs along Market and the Embarcadero from the Castro is charming if uncomfortable. Don’t expect, however, to get anywhere quickly;

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  • All human life is there on the buses!

21. Sports

  • Candlestick Park, home of the 49ers, is one of the most famous football stadia in America, and the 49ers won’t be there much longer, so get there quick!
  • Even if it is baseball close season, take the tour of the Giant’s home, AT & T Park, dubbed the most beautiful sports stadium in America with wonderful views over the bay;

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  • You can get your (ice) hockey fix too by taking the train from the Caltrain station at 4th and King to San Jose where the Sharks will be waiting to entertain you.

This is not an exhaustive list and I have not even mentioned the many day trips out of the city that can be made, for example to Napa, Muir Woods, Berkeley, Monterey and Carmel. But I think what I have included will keep any first time visitor occupied for a couple of weeks at least!

I would be happy to answer any questions arising from this post.

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Many who have read my pieces on San Francisco will have concluded that Haight-Ashbury is my spiritual home, and they are probably right, principally because of the music that exploded out of there in the mid-sixties. But it is the cultural movement that pre-dated the hippies by a decade and more that most plays to my sensibilities.

The Beats, with their emphasis on free expression in literature, poetry, music, theatre and lifestyle (sex and drugs), were, whether they knew it or not at the time, the major inspiration for those young people in London and other urban areas in Britain who flocked to coffee bars and folk clubs in the late fifties and early sixties, just at the time that I was becoming aware of wider societal issues. Moreover, many of the rock stars that, a decade later, I worshipped, for example Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead and Jorma Kaukonen of the Jefferson Airplane, learnt their trade in the coffee houses of the Bay Area, heavily influenced by the events a few miles away.

Although the Beat Generation originally emerged in New York with the early works of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, it was San Francisco’s North Beach, the “Little Italy” neighbourhood nestling beneath Telegraph Hill and rubbing shoulders with bustling Chinatown, where it arguably took root.

And, although North Beach may not quite be the Italian enclave it was half a century ago, the influence of the Beats remains to this day. Certain landmarks are place of pilgrimage for both my generation and anyone who believes in free expression and alternative perspectives on the issues of the day.

My walk begins at my favourite San Francisco watering hole, Vesuvio, interestingly still called a café rather than a bar, and not just because it is where Neal Casady, inspiration for the character of Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s classic Beat novel On The Road, first met the writer at a poetry reading in 1955.

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A few groggy steps across Jack Kerouac Alley stands one of America’s most famous and important bookstores, City Lights, which celebrates its sixtieth birthday this year. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, now 94 and San Francisco’s unofficial poet laureate, and Peter D. Martin, first opened its doors at around the time of the coronation of the new Queen, Elizabeth II, across the Atlantic.

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I never leave San Francisco without visiting the bookstore and coming away with at least one book. Many of the more interesting and challenging books on the city’s past, present and future are published by City Lights and they are not easy to get hold of elsewhere. Two and counting at present on this trip!

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With the addition of The Beat Museum on Broadway in 2003, the devotees’ experience of the area has been enriched still further. Aside from the fascinating exhibit in the museum itself, the adjoining shop sells an amazing collection of books, DVDs, posters, t shirts and other Beat memorabilia. Whilst I managed, at least on my previous visit, to resist the blandishments of a signed book by Wavy Gravy at $45 (but there’s still another trip), I still bought another. If distance makes visiting the museum itself out of the question, they run an excellent online store too.

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Although I am not qualified to say whether Broadway, which cuts across Columbus, has the same caché as it once had (though I think I do know the answer to that), there can be no question that the days of Lenny Bruce’s risqué comedy act at the hungry i and Carol Doda’s historic breast baring at the Condor are long past.

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North Beach is still awash with coffee houses, many of which were haunts of unemployed writers and musicians in the heyday of the Beats. Café Trieste is perhaps the most prestigious with its live opera, oh so cool attitude and blisteringly strong espresso. Seats are hard to come by for all those reasons – well, at least inside! 

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I think it’s only fitting that we should finish back at Vesuvio – I hear that Bob Dylan has dropped in for an espresso.

And I’ll leave you with an image that describes the Beat’s relationship to polite society like no other.

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