So much has been said about San Francisco. From the Golden Gate bridge to Fisherman's Wharf, and from Lombard Street to Nob Hill, the city offers memorable experiences. They connect intrinsically with Hollywood images, tales from history and unforgettable melodies (just three examples among dozens: Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay by Otis Redding, San Francisco [Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair] by Scott McKenzie and the unforgettable I Left My Heart in San Francisco by Tony Bennett); on a trip to the Bay area these personal experiences link to so much popular culture in your psyche that unless you're writing a tourist guide made up of simple lists of things to see and do, words just seem inadequate to describe the sensations of a visit there.
My wife, son and I spent four days in San Francisco and were lucky to visit during a four-day stretch of clear weather. The overriding impression I will keep with me is the general brightness of the city and, naturally, the steepness the downtown hills, which are even more inclined than one might have imagined. Many buildings are white or off-white in colour and in the sunshine it feels like you are enveloped in luminosity; walking around in that kind of brightness requires the use of shades, as light comes at you from many directions, reflected and direct. It's a wonderful feeling on a spring day when you crave the warmth. Waiting for my family outside a corner grocery store near Telegraph Hill, I leaned back against a sun-washed wall, felt the heat, and closed my eyes and melted in all that brightness.
San Francisco also appears to be the most Mediterranean-like of the cities that I've visited in North America. While Southern California and the American Southwest generally exhibit strong Mexican and Spanish influences, San Francisco reminds me of some of the cities of the northern Mediterranean: places like Genoa and Nice, for example. The steep slopes and the tight homes built on them use similar building methods, a European aesthetic, the same use of space -- garage ramps graded at challenging angles to the slope of the hill, or external stairs connecting homes on different levels or linking pedestrians with roads on separate parts of a hill...
Balconies with flowers; the constant breezes blowing in off the ocean or the waters of the bay; large urban trees providing welcome shade, but also colouring the streetscapes with splashes of green; the aroma of espresso at the outdoor tables in the North Beach neighbourhood, the church dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi rising nearby, it's facade painted - what else? - a bright white.
Impressions that will linger for a very long time...
>Bay City Guide
>A list of top ten things to do in San Francisco can be found here.
>San Francisco Lonely Planet Guide