A European in San Francisco

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San Francisco is considered one of the most beautiful cities of the USA. It’s picturesque, it’s traditional, it’s progressive, open to diversity, full of colour and images. It is said that it is one of the most “European” cities. Well, being a European, I guess that this sounds quite true, although I’m afraid I haven’t visited enough US cities to compare.

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A panoramic view of the city (on my way to Alcatraz). Google did that just by combining my photos.

But, the way I saw it, through the lens of a business traveller who spent about a week there, San Francisco is a city of many faces. Some of them are not as appealing as others and unfortunately they are not that rare.sf

For me, working in the IT industry, San Francisco was always something like the “holy city”. With major conferences, events, meet ups and so many things happening any single hour of the day, you are overwhelmed by the abundance and variety of opportunities to learn new things, discover interests and meet with new people that share your own passion. Where else could you find your next business partner just by drinking coffee at a Starbucks ? This is the technological face of the city. Ubiquitous and omnipresent without even noticing. It takes just a walk around and chances are that you’ll stumble upon one of the innovation or technology events that happen every day and its’ delegates that still wear their conference badges. Where else can you find events like Launch Festival, IDCC and RSA Conference all at the same week ?

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Launch Festival main stage

You can also see this innovation and technology “face” of the city, at the California Academy of Sciences where the living roof of Renzo Piano is one of the finest examples of sustainable architecture and of what you can achieve when you add technology to the equation of Architecture and building design. Don’t miss the Dark Universe show and the earthquake simulator.

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The entrance to the California Academy of Sciences
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A view from inside the building.
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Inside the Academy of Sciences.
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Golden Gate Park
DSC_2263The living roof by Renzo Piano.
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The aquarium of the Academy. You can just sit there watching the fish in the dim light and relax.
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Well you know which one is this.

Obviously, being a runner, I could not stay in San Francisco and not explore its running paths. So I was waking up early almost every morning to run up and down the famous (or infamous, depending on your taste) hills of the city from my hotel near Un ion Sq. to the bay bridge or Golden gate and back. Although the weather wasn’t doing any favours to me (rainy and a bit cold for my taste) the runs proved to be rewarding (gruelling, but still rewarding). I believe I’ll remember the run by the piers of the city and to the Golden Gate bridge and Presidio area for many years to come.  And when you run by the piers you can’t miss the America’s Cup Pier. One of the biggest and most fascinating Sail races worldwide. This is another face of the city. The athletic one.

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This is the other superstructure of the city. The Bay bridge.
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The first light of the day just in front of the Fisherman’s wharf.
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Cupid’s span. Inspired by the city’s reputation as the home of Eros. (see what the artist say)
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Running the embarcadero. From Fisherman’s wharf to the bay bridge.
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Sea lions are resting in front of Pier 39.
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A trailer made by skateboards. My son would love it.
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Yes, this is a cemetery. Peaceful and majestic in Presidio, one of the most beautiful areas of the city.

After a long run you need some “refuelling” so you head up to the closest dinner to have the original American breakfast: A huge omelette with at least 3 eggs and pancakes for dessert.

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The typical American breakfast (+ pancakes and chocolate syrup). The best way to start your day.
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Almost everywhere in the center of the city you’ll be able to find a decent diner. This one was at Mason Str. between Geary and O’Farell. There are at least 3 diners there. I would recommend Pinecrest Diner.
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Having the original clam chowder at the Fisherman’s Wharf.
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The gate to ChinaTown.

If are a foodie then you are at the right place.  San Francisco has fantastic restaurants. At some of them you might have to wait more than an hour to be sited. But even at more modest places, chances are you can have a great meal. Obviously burger joints, Mexican restaurants and steak houses are more than you can ever come across, but you can also find some great Italian or Asian restaurants. Don’t forget that San Francisco has  one of the largest Asian communities in the States (if not the largest). I can’t even start mentioning restaurants but just have a look at Foursquare and Tripadvisor and then just go to the nearest. Yelp is also a great place to start your search, it’s a lot more popular in the States. A walk at the piers and Fisherman’s wharf is also more than enough to taste any kind of pure American junk food that you can think of. San Francisco’s special is the clam chowder (it’s clam soup in a bread).

There is even a meet up group if you want to explore this side of the city and meet new people at the same time. This is the foodie face of San Francisco.

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The building just opposite the SF Jazz Center.

San Francisco is also a city of colourful culture. It is a blender of European classical culture, American, Mexican, Asian. You can feel this by walking around Civic Center, where you can find the San Francisco Symphony, SFJazz Center, SF Conservatory of Music and enough beautiful bars and restaurants to have dinner before or after a show, all within a few blocks. This is the music face of the city.

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The SFJazz centre Miner Auditorium. A fantastic venue.
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Don’t forget to visit Haight Asbury after your walk to Golden Gate park to have a look (and smell) the colourful hippy past of the city.
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The iconic tram. It takes you from South to North.
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One of the characteristic buildings that you can find in San Francisco. (Market and 3rd Str.)

Last but not least, San francisco has an iconic and probably unique monument to visit: Alcatraz. Once an infamous prison, an Indian occupied territory for a brief but crucial period and today a museum worth visiting.

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Approaching the island.
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The isolation cells.
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Inside the main block.

Unfortunately these are not the only faces San Francisco has to saw. You can take a walk in some of the most popular streets of the city and you will be amazed by the numbers of homeless people that you’ll find in the streets. Even in some of the very high end, up market streets chances are you’ll see someone talking to himself and moving heavily carrying out all his belongings in a trailer. You’ll definitely see someone lying in the streets or on a bench at the park and most of the times you can do nothing for them. You wonder why and how in a nation as great and powerful as the United States of America so many people are homeless. Obviously, this is another discussion and I don’t want to be a party spoiler but the truth is you leave the city with mixed emotions. As powerful image as Golden Gate in the mist can be, the image of so many homeless people trying to find shelter from the rain is equally strong.

San Francisco is also a very expensive city to live and public transport is not anywhere near the level of public transport you find in major European cities. Probably this is why Uber, Lyft and similar apps are so successful there. Housing downtown is not enough and rents have skyrocketed, but the skyline of the city is constantly changing. In 3-5 years the city will be very very different, hopefully better. San Francisco is the world capital of innovation, technology and the internet and this is not going to change any time soon. I do hope that technology and innovation will help solve not only the major problems but even the simpler and more everyday ones like taking care of homeless people.

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