The next leg of our 50 states by the age of 30 journey will ultimately bring us to Hawaii, which will be the farthest geographical area that we will travel to within the U.S. from our home. I am actually writing this on an airplane over the Pacific Ocean in an attempt to quell my lifelong fear of flying through a systematic process of distraction (I started with chocolate covered macadamia nuts and then moved on to writing). We decided to stop for a few days in San Francisco instead of flying straight through to the islands, since it’s a city that both of us have a special affinity for. Katie has two very good friends who moved from NYC to the bay area this past year, so we wanted to do a little west coast catch-up.
People have a tendency to compare San Francisco to New York City with surprising conviction. It seems like most people have a clear favorite, and bring a solid and calculated argument to the table when defending their chosen turf. Katie and I stand in a bit of an unusual position in this regard. I grew up in Manhattan, and it will always be special to me. I will always have a feverish love/hate relationship with NYC (depending on what day you ask me) and I understand New Yorkers through all of their unique moods and passionate intensity. However, the downside about NYC is that if you are there for long enough, you will start to forget that there are other ways of living at all. You assume that the panicked anxiety you feel when somebody is walking too slowly down the street is the only obvious reaction to such an offense. You feel that your natural and total distrust of every other human being that you encounter in your day-to-day is a crucial survival mechanism. You think that if you aren’t moving at 100 mph at all times, and jamming your days full of activities and plans, that you aren’t living life to the fullest. You never, ever slow down. Sometimes, it’s great.
Sometimes, though, it’s eye-opening to see it from the other side. Traveling, especially domestically, shows you how few people actually live this way in your own country. It doesn’t mean that either is wrong or right—they’re just different. San Francisco is a perfect example of a large, cultured, and super interesting city that moves at a different pace. The streets are full of people, but the energy is lighter and the intensity is softer. People stand at crosswalks until the light changes with little noticeable urgency. In crowded downtown areas, nobody seems to panic when they can’t walk as quickly as they’d like or move past a huddled group of tourists. It may not be as densely populated as NYC, but I’m always fascinated by the unique mentality whenever I am in California. I’m still trying to figure out what creates such a glaring difference between certain cities, especially when they seem to similar both geographical and financially.
We got to San Francisco early Saturday morning—welcoming the change of pace. Our day began at 3 o’clock in the morning, when we rose from bed in the pitch black of night to make our way to the airport. Despite an exhausting start, our early-bird flight meant that we had an entire day in the city. We met up with Katie’s good friend Lily, who took us on an afternoon tour of Chinatown to sample some real dim sum and steamed dessert buns (versus the tourist traps we may have inevitably stumbled upon if left to our own devices). Lily rattled off our orders in fluent Chinese as we stood in the corner smiling and nodding. By the time we got to the park to eat our picnic-style spread of chewy pork and shrimp dumplings, warm custard buns, and some out-of-control egg tarts, Katie’s sensitive British skin was already sunburned. It was 62 degrees and foggy.
Later that night, after a desperately needed nap in our tiny hotel room, we ventured off to be tourists and ride a cable car down to Fisherman’s Wharf. Lily was unpersuaded to join us on an endeavor that I can only assume is synonymous to riding a tour bus through Times Square (which I wouldn’t do even if you paid me in champagne). Tourist attractions don’t normally interest us at all, but we felt a nostalgic draw towards the Wharf after remembering it from our first trip to San Fran four years earlier. Plus, I can’t get enough of seeing those Bay City hills through a creaking cable car. If you’ve never been, the hills are like huge urban mountains, snaking up and down the city instead of cutting through it. Don’t drive a stick shift there unless you have a death wish.
After some martinis and (slightly overpriced) seafood platters, we shivered our way back to the cable car and turned in for the night. We would have an early start on Sunday for our (2nd ever) Napa Valley wine tour, but wine is a good reason to wake up early.