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San Fran w/ Jan

SF cable car, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

(More photos on Flickr.)

Janelle’s flight back to Australia departed from San Francisco in the early morning hours of Wednesday, so I went down there with her for a few days beforehand.

Aside from a single day in 2001, and an airport transfer or two since then, I’d never been to SF, so it was pretty cool to see it. I think I had an image in my head from other west coast cities I’ve been to (Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, San Diego) but it’s actually very different. Older and more expensive, and less naturey — the downtown is definitely more Manhattan than West End.

We stayed in the downtown Hotel Des Arts, an “art hotel” like the Carlton Arms in New York, meaning that the rooms are small and basic, but painted with murals my local artists. Ours was done by Jeffrey Fish, and was really cool, with whimsical skulls (yes) everywhere.

We were only there a few days, and neither of us gets all excited about spending all day seeing the standard tourist sights, so aside from a trip to the SF Museum of Modern Art and the obligatory cable car rides, we mostly just wandered (always my preferred tourist activity in a new city). Highlights and random thoughts:

  • After a couple of expensive, mediocre meals, we basically gave up on restaurant dining in San Francisco. I simply couldn’t get past the feeling that unless you’re into fine dining (which we aren’t), you can get food in Vancouver just as good for a whole lot less, once you figure in the abysmal exchange rate. After coming to that conclusion, we mostly ate Subway and burritos.
  • SF burritos are yummy. Are they really all that? I’m not sure, since I didn’t get around to trying enough different places, but they are pretty good.
  • Being at the intersection of the Financial District and Chinatown makes for interesting bar hopping, as we decided to do one night. We started in upscale wine bars and rooftop patios and ended up in a dive bar with old Chinese dudes and trannies, arguing incoherently, and having walked a total of about four blocks.
  • I am too old to drink a lot. Never again.
  • Seriously, the cable cars are not to be missed. Not only are the views spectacular, but in this age of litigation and safety regulations, it’s great to be in a rickety open car open to the elements, with standees hanging off the sides and hopping on and off in the middle of traffic. Just don’t try to catch it at Powell station — it had dozens of people waiting a good hour to get on, while the other stations were almost empty. In fact, we took the California Street line and had the car to ourselves for most of it.
  • Seeing Milk and then going to The Castro was an experience. The place might have been gritty in the 1970s, but today, the place smells of money. Sweet, gay money.
  • The SF MoMA is cool, but what I really dug was the nearby Cartoon Art Museum, which had Coraline and Watchmen exhibits, and a huge room full of Gene Colon originals.
  • Probably my favourite neighbourhood was Valencia Avenue, which was like a cooler, slightly more upscale version of my beloved Main Street, with taquerías and bars instead of noodle houses and coffee shops. We spent an entertaining afternoon wandering the vintage shops, hipster art galleries and zine stores.

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