San Francisco Favorite Tips by Karnubawax Top 5 Page for this destination
San Francisco Favorites: 602 reviews and 692 photos
Favorite thing: You may have heard a teensy weensy rumor that San Francisco has more than its' share of homosexuals. Well, it's true. You will see symbols of gay pride all over the city. To say that SF is "gay-friendly" is missing the point; depending on where you are gay folks are the majority! Most neighborhoods are a 'little' gay... and then there's the Castro which is GAY GAY GAY!
It is, of course, nothing to be frightened of... gay people will not make passes at you or steal your children or descend upon you and inflict a vicious makeover! However, if you can't come up with an answer when your kids ask the above question, then you may want to stay out of the Castro District (which is really an "adult" neighborhood anyway). The scene in the Castro is fun, glamorous and a good time, but it is very GAY, and if you can't handle that, then do yourself and the locals a favor and stay away. There are plenty of "straighter" places to go.
Favorite thing: San Francisco has undoubtedly the worst homeless problem of any American city. Who are these people and why are there so damn many of them?!?
See, it used to be like this... people would be part of scenes or groups of people or what have you... there would be lots of drugs and drinking going on... and sometimes you just went on a tear and found yourself couch-surfing! Then you sobered up, got a job, found a place, and joined society again.
Nowadays, that's not so easy. These days, once you hit the streets, you tend to stay there. Rents are astronomical (a $900/month studio is considered dirt cheap), and living-wage jobs are getting scarcer and scarcer. There is almost no way that a person can get off the streets without some sort of housing assistance, which, even when you can find it, is only temporary. Couple this with substance abuse and mental issues and you've got a real problem.
San Francisco not only has it's own indigenous homeless population, but for many, many years, SF has been a dumping ground for "undesirables" from communities as far away as Nevada and Oregon. Often times, the authorities' "solution" to dealing with a mentally ill resident was to give them a one-way bus ticket to San Francisco! There's not much talk about it anymore - but I"ll bet you it still goes on!
San Francisco has gotten a reputation as being an easy city to be homeless in. A 2007 homeless count confirmed what everyone already suspected... that nearly a third of SF's homeless population drifted here after becoming homeless somewhere else.
There are many different kinds of homeless... in fact, one of the reasons we in SF have been so ineffectual at dealing with homelessness is that we refuse to differentiate. There are those pushing shopping carts with TB and screaming to themselves who really need serious medical intervention. And then there are those (particularly along Haight Street) who just need a good ass-kicking and a Sheriff's escort to the county line.
There is a fine line between "helping the homeless" on the one hand, and simply "enabling bums" on the other. We in SF are struggling to find that balance.
Fondest memory: San Francisco is, in many ways, a victim of its' own reputation. People come here expecting things to be different, expecting everyone to run up to them smiling... in short, they expect it to be the 60's. NEWS FLASH - THE 60'S ARE OVER! The warmth and openness of San Franciscans is still there, but don't expect to be showered with it... there are just too many people here wanting a piece of us, and we've had to pull back. San Franciscans will surprise you with senseless acts of kindness, but you must not be a SPONGE!
As far as dealing with them goes... most homeless will not even ask you for money. They are trying to deal with their own survival and often have serious mental problems which prevent them from seeking help. If anyone deserves our compassion, it's these folks.
If someone asks for change the best thing to do is...
2) say "sorry" and
3) keep walking
95% of the time, this will do it. If they ask again...
1) keep walking
2) say "sorry" and
3) smile if you want to
Most homeless are harmless, and only a few are even pushy. The worst are the hippie punks who hang out on Haight Street. DO NOT GIVE THEM MONEY FOR ANY REASON! These people are ruining the Haight/Ashbury! Though it's probably true that many of them are runaways, they are completely disrespectful to the neighborhood and its' residents. As someone who has lived in or near the Haight for nearly 15 years, I have absolutely NO sympathy for these little a**holes. Many of them are just rich kids slumming. And, unfortunately, there are just enough misguided ex-hippies in the neighborhood that any action taken to get them out usually causes a big stink.
If you ever have any problems with homeless people, especially on Haight Street, DO NOT HESITATE TO CALL THE POLICE. We do have aggressive panhandling laws and cops always side with the tourists in these cases. Don't pick fights with them (although if a San Franciscan gives you grief about calling the cops, fell free to slap them for me!).
Favorite thing: This may not appeal much to the average tourist, but a great resource of San Francisco history is the SF Public Library's "San Francisco History Center," - located on the 6th floor of the main library in Civic Center Plaza.
The 6th floor contains 3 public areas: an exhibit area (shown here displaying prints from Dorothea Lange's Mt.Tam days), a rare book room, and a history room containing lots of really cool stuff. Most of it is stuff like archives of San Francisco literary publications going back to the Gold Rush days, but they also have an extensive collection of reference materials regarding the City's famous architecture.
The Center is also the official archives for the City of San Francisco.
This is not going to appeal to most travelers, but if you are doing research on San Francisco history or are into that sort of thing, it's worth a visit. It's free, and the Asian Art Museum is right next door if you're looking to bundle attractions.
Fondest memory: click here for the SF History Center website
Favorite thing: San Fran Music - 1976-1995
San Francisco music has never been about bands - it's been about "scenes." SF has been home to a wide variety of world renown music scenes through the years; the psychadelic rock/flower power scene of the late 60's - localized in the Haight/Ashbury - is only the most obvious example.
San Francisco also hosted one of the major punk rock scenes of the late 70's and early 80's, along with New York and, later, Los Angeles. The City's goth scene is legendary, and, although the heyday may be over, there is still a very sizable goth presence. The grunge scene of the late 80's and early 90's was rivaled only by the Northwestern cities, and SF's rave and house scene in the early to mid 90's was known around the world.
The Burning Man Festival - held every Labor Day weekend in the Black Rock Desert in NW Nevada - is, for all practical purposes, just another San Francisco scene. The festival was born on SF's beaches, and you can always tell the festival's over by the number of playa dust-encrusted jeeps driving around town!
The 'Pretty Big One' - Oct. 17, 1989
The 1989 earthquake may not have killed as many people, but it did a lot of damage to San Francisco's infrastructure, and one of the main reasons why trafffic is so terrible here is that the entire freeway system had to be torn down and rebuilt - replacing the old double-decker freeways with single-deck ones. Most of the damage has been fixed by now, but you'll still occasionally encounter the specter of the '89 shaker.
I was living in the Haight/Ashbury when it hit, and, although I'm pretty used to earthquakes by now, I hope to never go through that again; "terrifying" does not begin to describe it!
What does an earthquake feel like? It feels like a truck driving by your house, only longer. If you think you might be feeling an earthquake, look up; if the light fixtures are swinging, hold on! If not... then it probably was a truck.
Fondest memory: Recent history - The Dot-com boom and bust
While many people will speak fondly of the heady days of the "dot-com boom," it is now known that the whole thing was, essentially, a giant scam. The great economic boom of tech's first wave was largely smoke and mirrors, and that many of the so-called "tech entrepeneurs" were, in effect, virtual snake-oil salesmen, who saw an opportunity to get rich quick on gullible investors, and rode it for all it was worth. The wheels were liberally greased by the charismatic and venally corrupt Mayor Willie Brown, and hordes of bank-rolled neo-yuppies descended upon the city. Within a few years, rents doubled, then tripled, and the price of everything skyrocketed. Apartments were almost impossible to find at any price.
Most of these "techies" were, in fact, nothing but PR and sales people, more involved in convincing investors they had something of value than actually, well... producing anything of value. By 2000, the investment economy had wised up, and pulled the rug out en-masse. As hundreds of pseudo-companies folded (many of them abandoning their offices under cover of night), the rats deserted the sinking ship, heading back home to nurse the hangover. And, while most San Franciscans would miss the money these folks spent like water, the truth was that most of us were not sad to see them go.
Unfortunately, the damage had been done. A great many of the people who made up San Francisco's art scene - writers, artists, and especially musicians - were forced to leave town or work 3 jobs just to survive. In this Faustian bargain, the City had lost a big piece of its soul.
San Francisco is still a magical place, but its' best days - at least in the short term - are behind it. Maybe this is a good thing; good that the concentration of artistic talent has spread out a bit, bringing some of the magic to other places. I have no doubt that someday my city will again be the cool place it used to be. Maybe you can help it along!
Favorite thing: A BRIEF, SELECTIVE, AND OPINIONATED HISTORY OF SAN FRANCISCO
The Gold Rush
Very little exists of pre-Gold Rush San Francisco. Before news of the gold discovery at Sutter's Mill hit, San Francisco was a sleepy little town of about 2,000 or so, nestled around Yerba Buena Cove. In May of 1848, Sam Brannan rode his horse through Portsmouth Square, and, in an event almost equal to Paul Revere's ride, brought news of the gold strike at Sutter's Mill in the Sierra foothills, screaming "Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!." Within 2 years, SF's population went from 2,000 to 25,000; by 1860 it was 56,000, and by 1870 it had grown to 150,000.
San Francisco became synonymous with sin, and the Barbary Coast was a legendary vice district. Lawlessness was rampant, but vigilante groups (some of them formed by the previously mentioned Brannan himself) were a strong counterforce, and were largely successful in weeding out many of the more serious criminals. It's safe to say that San Francisco may not have become the city that it is without the efforts of these vigilantes.
San Francisco continued to grow and grow, taking its place among the great cities of the world. And then....WHAMMO!
The 'Big One' - 1906 earthquake and fire
It's hard to really grasp the significance of the 1906 earthquake these days, but I'd say it's easily in the top 5 worst disasters in American history. You have to remember that, at the time, San Francisco was by far the largest and most important city west of the Mississippi River (and would continue to be until surpassed by Los Angeles in the mid 1910's). It was the heart of the new west, and the earthquake utterly destroyed it, seemingly for good. But the city-folk proved to be a resourceful lot, and in seemingly no time at all San Francisco was back on its' feet.
Fondest memory: Contrary to the notion that the entire city was destroyed, there is still quite a bit of pre-1906 architecture to be seen and appreciated (I, in fact, live in a building that was built in 1886!). You just won't find much of it downtown, for obvious reasons. The exception is the Jackson Square Historic District, which was saved from the fire thanks mostly to the fact that it was right on the waterfront - a waterfront that was filled in long ago. Telegraph Hill (Coit Tower) also has some areas that were saved, and is home to some of the oldest existing homes in the City. And Alamo Square has an excellent concentration of pre-1906 architecture, including examples of nearly every late 19th century building style - including its famous row of Victorians.
One of the good aspects of the 1906 earthquake was that it greatly cleaned up the city; the vice dens of the Barbary Coast dwindled away, and San Francisco became more than just a port of call; it became home.
Fast Forward to the 60's
Ah... the 60's. First the beats, and then the hippies, made San Francisco synonymous with the Baby-Boom generation's coming of age.
Unfortunately, there isn't much remaining of the Beat Generation (except Lawrence Ferlinghetti), though there are some remnants of it left around North Beach.
The hippies? That's another story. The Haight/Ashbury is teeming with "Summer of Love" late-60's nostalgia, and some of you folks who were actually there might even find some pieces of the real thing (like the Dead House at 710 Ashbury) still in existence. For the most part, though, the Haight is more of a psychadelia-themed shopping mall than a real live expression of 60's counter-cultural values; indeed, the street kids that litter the Haight invoke more of the early-70's "hangover" days of the Haight, when speed was the drug of choice and the icky predator-types had driven out all semblance of 'peace' and 'love' from the area.
Favorite thing: From the Beats and their jugs of cheap red to the hippies and their 3-letter cures to the Crystal Meth-fueled gay dance scene, SF has always been a great place to get f*cked up.
But in spite of (or, more likely, because of) this, SF has a wealth of resources available to the sober traveler. There are over 600 - that's 600! - AA meetings every week in the city alone! There are also chapters of Rational Recovery, CA, NA, and just about every other A. Check your phone book for the contact #s, or just call 411.
For AA in San Francisco, go to http://www.aasf.org/.
Their phone# is 415-674-1821
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