The moment my feet first touched pavement I felt at home; a rarity in a thriving metropolis. San Francisco is not your average city though, and this is the same pavement I had been reading about for years; where all my heroes have already trotted from bar to coffee house, playing music and reading their poems. San Francisco is 'the place', the center of everything bohemian and artistic in this country. From North Beach to Haight Ashbury, the city breaks down into many distinct neighborhoods, each with a different flavor. Surrounded by water on three sides and sitting on over forty hills provides a unique landscape for San Francisco, where on almost every street corner you can find a beautiful view. San Francisco has been consistently rated as the best city in America and with good reason. The diversity of culture offers as many different entertainment possibilities as a person can conceive.
The North Beach section of town was made famous in the 1950s as the hangout of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and the other 'Beat' poets of the era. Although most of the older poets of this generation are gone, the neighborhood is still a haven for bohemian artists and writers. City Lights Booksellers and Publishers, owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti - a famous beat poet - , is still a vibrant and active participant in the scene. This is the quintessential underground bookstore with its rare collection of art, poetry, political paperbacks, and walls adorned with old pictures and newspaper articles. This is my Mecca, and I strongly suggest that artists and writers of every kind stop here for a truly unique experience. Across Jack Kerouac Street and right beside City Lights lies Vesuvio, another famous hangout for local poets and artists. Dylan Thomas, as well as Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, and Ginsberg used to party here and to this day it retains its original bohemian atmosphere from when it opened in 1949. Spec's Adler Museum Café is one of the cities funkiest bars with its exposed brick walls crammed with memorabilia. Other places to hit are Caffe Trieste for freshly brewed coffee and caffeine drinks, and Mario's Bohemian Cigar store, a café and deli that doesn't even sell cigars but is one of the most popular neighborhood hangouts. On a sunny day I recommend stopping by Gira Polli Deli; order the special and go over to Washington Square for a picnic lunch. From here you can see the famous Coit Tower at the top of Telegraph Hill.
Right around North Beach and within walking distance is the financial district, dubbed Wall Street of the West, Chinatown, and Fisherman's Wharf. Fisherman's Wharf has over one hundred seafood restaurants including sidewalk stands where shrimp and crab cocktails are sold in disposable containers. Pier 39 offers a lot of good shopping with plenty of tourist boutiques, street performers, and artists (although not much of the art is original). From there you can hop on a cable car, a symbol of the great city, and take in views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the bay and Alcatraz, the famous closed prison that offers tours. Eventually, you'll end up at Union Square where you'll find more sophisticated upper class shops and boutiques.
After you've visited North Beach, I recommend making your way over to the 60s counterculture Mecca, known as the Haight-Ashbury district. This is where Flower power and the Hippie movement were started; where the Electric Kool-Aid Acid tests took place, and where musicians, artists, and political activists convened during the 1960s to try and change the world. The tie-dyed counterculture still holds the neighborhood to this day. The streets are lined with groovy music and book shops, and all the vintage clothing you could ask for. You will also find more 'head' shops than you can count, where how shall I say has a plethora of smoking contraptions, paraphernalia, and other various trinkets. The local shops in this district are the place to ask about the music scene of the city. The only downfall is the commercialization of this unfortunate tourist area, as you'll find a Gap on one corner and a couple of other corporate stores. Damn the man! I recommend walking up Ashbury Street to visit the house where all the members of the Grateful Dead used to live while working on their musical genius. Bordering this neighborhood is Golden Gate Park, a sprawling outdoors area with biking and walking paths, and gorgeous views of this incredible city. With more than one thousand acres stretching from The Haight to the Pacific, you couldn't ask for a better place to chill out, smoke, take a rest, or get some exercise. Definitely work checking out. More than likely, if you ask people in the funky shops where to find the best nightlife they would point you in the direction of SOMA, or South of Market St.
SOMA used to be a shady neighborhood, but an influx of investment and development, including the Museum of Modern Art, Yerba Buena Gardens, and some luxury hotels, have mad this the place to be for nightlife. This, along with the nearby Mission District, provides all the trendy restaurants, bars, and clubs a person could hope for. The Bambuddha Lounge, located in the trendy Phoenix Hotel, is a favorite stop for touring rock bands. For the music lover, The Bottom of the Hill was deemed by Rolling Stone Magazine as 'the best place to hear live music in San Francisco', with a focus on local bands. Slim's, a New Orleans esque that's partly owned by rocker Boz Scaggs, offers great live music and has been voted numerous times, via concert industry magazine Pollster, as the 'Best Nightclub in America'. No trip to San Francisco would be complete without a visit to 'The Fillmore', which hosted virtually every great musical act during the 60s including The Grateful Dead, Santana, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, and the list goes on. If you can't check out a live concert, the 60s rock poster collection adorning the walls and hallway is worth the visit. www.fillmore.com
For great blues music, walk across the street to the Boom Boom Room, which has been a large blues club for more than seventy years. The club and music scene is constantly changing and evolving with some venues promoted as different clubs with different styles on different nights. My recommendation is to do what the locals do and tune in to Be-At-Line (415-626-4087) for daily recorded updates on the nightlife. A quick look in the local newspaper or a visit to one of shops in Haight Ashbury can also get you some good information.
The sports fan is not at a loss in San Francisco and its surroundings provide a wide variety of options. You can start by checking out Barry Bonds, possibly the greatest baseball player to ever take the field at Pac Bell Park with the San Francisco Giants. Part of the outfield opens to the Bay where fans await anxiously in their boats hoping for a home run. Football's San Francisco 49ers are rebuilding at the time being, but no one can deny the glory of the past when players like Joe Montana and Jerry Rice were champions. Across the bridge in Oakland you'll find the NFL's Oakland Raiders, MLB's Oakland Athletics, and NBA's Golden State Warriors. So many sporting options, so little time.
Surrounding towns Sausalito and Berkeley also provide unique atmospheres and events that are worth taking a look. Only a short drive away and you'll also find wine country where numerous vineyards occupy the countryside and the picturesque Big Sur area cliffs protrude from the horizon. There is so much to do and see in San Francisco that I've barely scratched the surface. It is, in my opinion, the greatest city in America, and I have to say just go there; you will not regret a minute of it. If you do happen to get the chance to visit this magnificent city, do yourself a favor and don't miss North Beach's café culture and the Beat generation Mecca , SOMA's happening nightlife, Haight Ashbury's fine 'head' shops, Golden Gate Park's encapsulating landscape where the hippies and flower-power formed their revolution. San Francisco - the explorer's treat.Send us your comments on this article