SAN FRANCISCO—Throughout my UCLA undergraduate career, I heard a lot about the city by the bay. Classmates and parents chimed in about its wonders.
Intrigued, I visited San Francisco last year to see if it lived up to the hype. Since that trip, I’ve returned twice and have an upcoming weekend in January set aside for my favorite city in the world.
Below, you will find three interconnected reflections about my third trip and first time truly getting up close with San Francisco.
Hugs are exchanged. Kind wishes of safe travels leave lips. I throw my top-heavy pack over my shoulder and step onto the cracked sidewalk while waving goodbye to a carload of friends. For a matter of seconds, I am alone in a city of hundreds of thousands. Turning around, this feeling washes away. A young man, my friend with whom I’ll be spending the next five days, smiles as he guides me to his second story apartment. Flurries of catch up echo off concrete walls as we climb stairs. It’s been nearly a year since we’ve seen each other. A year since he housed me last.
The front door swings open, shoes come off, and I nestle my pack into the corner of his room. Fortunately, I’ll use this space for the coming week. Hunger roars after a long day in the city and we walk to a nearby market to stock up on food to feed the beast. And beer to keep it well hydrated. Coming back to his apartment, I meet three gents. Two apartment mates and one roommate. All of whom greet me with a wide smile and a series of questions about my stay in the city by the bay. As day drifts into night, so do I into sleep. Resting comfortably under the cool breeze of an open window, I take notice of what these four individuals have given me. A couch to crash on and recharge my battery, a fridge to store my food and fuel my adventures, a roof overhead to protect me from the elements, and a bathroom to shower in and mask the fact I’ve been reusing t-shirts. Over the next four days, however, I discover that they provide me something much more. From Taco Tuesday feasts to nightly Netflix binges to silly arguments and thoughtful discussions, I feel welcome and at home in a city I simply am visiting.
Grey hair whips to and fro as he brings the camera up to his squinting face. Finger on the shutter-release, I smile while thwarting my UCLA cap’s repeated attempts to go for a dip in the San Francisco Bay. A strong gust thrusts long silvery strands over the lens. Quickly, he readjusts while elevating the camera back into position. Then, lowers it and finally asks:
“And this is it? Nobody else?”
“Yep” I mutter, caught off guard by his question.
“Alright then, son.”
As he returns the camera, I thank him and see if he’d like his own picture taken in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. Passing me his phone, he walks to where I once stood and motions to a huddled group chatting among themselves. The four disband and file in rank around the older man. He stands shorter than the rest yet commands their attention. Framing SF’s icon within the shot, I snap a few photos and give his phone back. He kindly waves as he walks away with his family for the day. Surveying my surroundings, I begin to make sense of his question.
Couples, families, friends, and tour groups are abuzz in this area. It’s definitely a challenge spotting someone who is traveling alone. Someone who chooses to walk in the city rather than drive. Someone who chooses to get lost in the city rather than stick to a well defined schedule. Someone who chooses to lay on the beach on the fringes of the city rather than lay on the bed of a hotel room in its heart. Someone who chooses to reflect in the city rather than get distracted by a game on the go. Scrolling through my camera, I stop on one particular photo. I spot a young man who looks happy to be traveling alone. A young man who chose to see the sights in a different way than most.
My legs tire. I breathe harder. With each foot strike to hit asphalt on this chilly Tuesday morning, I continue running towards my final destination. Fascinated, that stride after stride on this steep ascent within the heart of San Francisco envelops me in one of the city’s most distinctive features: blankets of fog. Sharing the road with cars and cyclists alike, I’m careful to maintain a safe distance from the two and four wheeled vehicles whizzing uphill. Locals, I assume. Individuals who undoubtedly navigate this winding road with less visibility on a daily basis. Motivated by their efforts to reach the top, I refocus and press forward. Pushing through fog and turning around one last bend reveals a near empty parking lot.
A few cyclists snack on energy bars, while one couple digs out sweaters from their car. Tower viewers, none of which are in use, typically frame gorgeous vistas granted to those who reach the top of Twin Peaks. Downtown San Francisco, the Oakland Bay Bridge, and many other notable sites stand clear from atop this high point within the city. However, on this particular morning, I only see fog. And rather than gripe over the weather affecting my view, I decide to take it in stride. There will be plenty more opportunities to visit San Francisco and appreciate its beauty from this vantage point in the future. But for the moment, I enjoy seeing the sights just like a local.