A Taste of San Francisco

We recently went to San Francisco as Chris had a conference there for work. As long term readers know, we’d been before. It was a very different experience this time. I noticed completely different things, which is not surprising as the first trip was both very quick and very social. This one was a few days rather than a single day and much less social. As a result, there was a lot more soaking in smells and sounds as well as sights and a much wider range of sights, at that.

The flight started us off well, being the shortest flight Chris and I had taken together since our honeymoon to Italy in 2010. I must say, it was nice going somewhere without being on a plane for 7-10 hours or having to change time zone (technically we did, but as Arizona doesn’t do DST, we didn’t functionally have to do anything to be on Pacific Time).

Arizona from the sky

The first thing I noticed stepping outside was how different it smells from Arizona, which I think is a combination of being a lot more humid, much older and much more urban. Phoenix may have a fair number of people, but everyone is pretty spread out, making much of it feel like a giant suburb in many parts. San Francisco is an older, more densely populated city where everyone is on top of each other a bit. I smelled more cannabis, tobacco and dried vomit than I had in quite a while, in addition to a general musty smell in the older buildings. By the second full day, my allergies were playing up the point that I had to take a second allegra.

Union Square

Once we got into the city proper, we were both immediately struck by how big and obvious the homeless population┬áis. According to recent data, there are nearly 7500 documented homeless people in the city of San Francisco. I’m pretty sure we were staying in area 6 in the graphic below:

Basically, there are enough homeless people that was I was asked for change more in the course of three days than I had in the past decade. It also meant that on our second full day in the city, there was actually someone sleeping outside of our hotel room door on the floor, which you can see in the video at two and a half minutes in:

I was also more aware of similarities with England than I had been the first time. I spent the first two days in a cardigan due to the cool, cloudy, damp weather even though it was August. Being a coastal city, weather blew in and out all day, changing within minutes, which reminded me of living in Brighton in particular. It also felt urban in a similar way, with a mix of modern chain stores and older buildings ranging from 100 to 200 years old. Most of these older buildings seemed to be preserved to a similar level as those in Brighton, well enough that they stayed standing and could be used, but with iffy electricity and a bit of a run down feeling. To give an example, the electricity stopped working in the bathroom in our hotel on the second day and we had trouble keeping our chargers plugged in as the outlets felt like they were ready to fall out of the wall.

That said, we did mostly have a good time! Chris enjoyed the wide selection of Indian/Pakistani food. In particular, the second night we found a nice little BYOB place that did a great chicken tikka masala where Chris happened to capture the only natural looking photo of me drinking something that I think has been taken ever:

More than that, the hotel was attached to a restaurant that did very good coffee and pancakes. I can highly recommend Jasper’s for breakfast if you are in the area. They even gave us real Maple syrup rather than the cheap imitation stuff:

We also took a quick lunch hour trip to San Francisco Bay itself. Even though we probably only spent about 30 minutes there due to traffic, I am glad we went because it reminded me of the nice things about the first time we were in San Francisco. If we come back, this is definitely the part I want to see more of:

It was generally much cleaner. It smelled and looked much better than the part we were staying in. More than that, I wouldn’t mind hanging around the original Ghirardelli shop long enough to actually order something covered in chocolate.


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