A narrative touring San Francisco.
Twisting and turning with a heavy incline, I felt my heart pounding with excitement as our little red car made its way down the slow turns of Lombard Street. In all my adventures, I never experienced such sharp hills accompanied by my fear of losing tire traction. Having my childhood in Minnesota meant I was used to the possibility of tires slipping on invisible black ice. My fear desisted after years of practicing how to navigate tall snowbanks and sheer ice traps. Despite those efforts to subdue my fears when driving, Minnesota winters didn’t prepare me for the thrill I was about to venture while touring the Golden City.
My first taste of the celebrated San Francisco hills wasn’t as exhilarating as I’d expected. Heading into the city from the suburb of San Bruno, we passed several housing developments on streets that I wouldn’t consider flat, but they weren’t anything to sweat over. My disappointment soon shattered when we entered the city and neared Pier 39. Searching for parking was a task in its own but I felt I didn’t give my driver the lookout he needed when observing the streets in front of me. The rain and cooler temperatures fogged the windows making it harder to see outside. I remember straining my eyes to the pavement in front of our car in hopes of locating an open parking spot. Except there wasn’t a road to see. There was just the hood, the city beyond that, and open air. After realizing my eyes were working and I was indeed at the peak of a very large hill, I felt my pulse increase and my eyes widen. Being with a San Francisco native, I tried to keep my cool under the circumstances. He was calmly looking for a parking spot unphased by the phenomenon I just discovered. On the other hand, I was trying hard not to panic over the missing road in the space before us.
Now, this all happened in a matter of seconds and we were soon over the hump and headed down the roadway once again where I could see the concrete-lined paths in front of us. You think I would have calmed down at this point but my nerves seemed to only escalate as we were rolled down an incredibly steep hill–in the rain. It was these moments during a downward trek, I reverted back to my years of training in the cold landscapes. I revisited the fears of losing control of the car and not knowing how the tire traction will fair. I was filled with a childish fear. It passed and I felt a wave of relief sweep over me, much like the times an airplane touches the ground after being airborne for hours. This serene emotion didn’t last long though because I knew I would have many more “streetless” hills to conquer this trip. We had so much site-seeing planned: Ocean Beach, Lombard Street, The Golden Gate Bridge, Pier 39, Union Square, Ghirardelli Square, and a few other stops.
Actually, I didn’t plan anything this trip. I left the planning to Daniel, my significant other. He eventually found a parking spot on another monstrous hill. I started to fret over the idea that after exploring Pier 39, I’d have to make my way back up the steep incline without falling. Don’t get the wrong idea; I was excited to be in San Francisco visiting Daniel. Being in a long distance relationship isn’t as easy as one might think. After months of waiting and spending holidays apart we couldn’t wait to reunite. Spending time with him was my only goal this vacation. My focus was relatively narrow I’ll admit and I didn’t do nearly as much research as I normally would have before leaving Minnesota. Luckily, he is a bred San Franciscan and knew all the attractions that would make me get out my phone and selfie hard. It was nostalgic for him and interesting for me to experience all the popular sites together.
We made our descent to Pier 39 where I encountered many sights: live musicians, theatrical acts, “Buddhist” con artists, sea lions, and people. Lots of people. I was impressed with the diversity within the city. The shops varied in culture and the people walking on the streets didn’t hold to one fashion trend. It seemed like San Francisco was a melting pot and I was in the middle of it. As we headed to Boudin Bakery & Cafe, I watched the people in front of us get approached by beggars who were later lost in a sea of bodies. Slowly we made our way through crowds and entered the famous sourdough bakery. My sourdough savvy boyfriend convinced me to split a clam chowder bread bowl with him and in the end, I wasn’t disappointed with his suggestion. It was the creamiest clam chowder I’ve ever tasted. Panera has nothing on Boudin.
Wanting to work off our meal and potentially buy souvenirs, we strolled through Pier 39 stopping at any shops that caught our eyes. Taking a break in the shops from the swarm of people visiting the pier was a nice breather. Although the stores seemed to feel just as crowded as the street we at least didn’t have to fight our way through every narrow row showcasing gifts. My favorite stores were sweets shops and spiritual markets. Magically, I didn’t end up buying anything but I do remember a particularly tempting chakra crystal set that gave me quite the battle.
Shortly after leaving the excitement of the pier we made our way back to the car. I successfully crawled my way up the steep mountain which seemed determined to be the death of me. I found sanctuary in the car for about fifteen minutes as we drove to the original Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop. My exhaustion didn’t last as my motivation perked up again once we found a parking spot on a flatter street. The square was quaint with lights strung across the buildings and trees. We browsed the gift shop and after satisfying our craving for free chocolate samples we made our way to the long line that awaited us at the entrance of the ice cream shop. It’s a good thing we had time because the menu was full of incredible options; there were shakes, chocolate delicacies, sundaes, and baked goods. After much deliberation, we decided on splitting the Cookie Bits Sundae. That ice cream heaven of a sundae would have been enough reward to end our day but we weren’t done site-seeing yet.
Our drive to Lombard street wasn’t terribly long. Making our way up Lombard wasn’t as terrifying as previous hills because of the intersection at its peak. Seeing a flat road with cross traffic in front of me gave me some comfort as I didn’t know what to expect from the most crooked street in the world.
It was finally our turn to make our way across the intersection and onto the one-way street. As we did, we passed tourists on their tiptoes trying to capture the iconic San Francisco road. It turns out its given name derives from a street in Philadelphia. In the 1920s the steep incline was cause for concern and that is why Lombard street is constructed in a crooked way. Daniel drove carefully behind the car in front of us as I took in the red twisted pavement. The street looked exciting from the photos but I felt the night landscape enhanced the whimsical aspect of the street. Again, my companion seemed composed as I started to feel my face warm and my energy rise. The car in front of us was a safe distance away so we steadily passed houses which gave me a great opportunity to observe the driveways on the largely slanted hill. Several driveways branched off the curvaceous street and it made me wonder how the owners were able to live so peacefully with tourists constantly driving past their houses. I suppose living in a city of such close quarters makes you get used to small spaces. I didn’t understand that world because I grew up with open spaces and forests surrounding my small city. It was hard for me to imagine living a life so close to people all of the time. I suppose time would make any new city-goer adjust. We finally made it to the bottom of the six-hundred-foot path and made our way back to San Bruno flowing with rush hour traffic.
I experienced a sense of culture shock the day I visited Lombard street. I realized that I do have a fear of heights and I don’t know a lot about living in a large diversified city. It really did have everything. Observing San Francisco, I can understand why people love it there. Residents will never run out of international cuisine options, have countless malls, stores, and shopping locations, parks and trails are accessible for all nature lovers, the airport has many connections, and the beach goes on for three and a half miles. I definitely plan to go back to San Francisco multiple times in my life but next time I intend to not be so overwhelmed by the massive hills and extensive city life.