It is iiconic, a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Up there with the Eiffel Tower or the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it is one of the few most easily recognizable landmarks in the world. And the city herself is a pleasure to visit.
First things first, let’s talk about the Puerto Rican culture in San Francisco. I found a handful of delightful restaurants in the Bay area with roots on the island. According to the Michelin Guidebook, there are at least five outstanding Puerto Rican restaurants in San Francisco. However, word on the street is that the hands-down best is Sol Food. The food is authentic, and the vibe is pure San Juan. Every person that I asked where to go for Puerto Rican food named Sol Food first and labeled it as the best. There are three locations. However, my sister- in law swears by the one in Mill Valley.
There is a thriving Puerto Rican community in the Bay area. They are connected by Club Puertorriqueno, a non-profit that was established in San Francisco in 1912. The Club charges dues of $40 per year with the goal of “Conserving and promoting the values of Puerto Rico.” They host events, dances, and social events to connect the community. Additionally, they collect funds to give to communities impacted by hurricanes in Puerto Rico and give away scholarships to local Boricuas who are a part of the club. They currently have a work exchange program offered to people who are interested in living on the Island and discovering their roots.
Funny personal story– I was at the mall, hanging out, when a woman approached me speaking Spanish. She was well dressed and with a friend. She asked me if I was from Puerto Rico because I was wearing a San Juan hoodie (San Francisco is very chilly all the time). I told her that I lived there, but I was visiting my dad in the Bay area. She was a Jehovah’s Witness who was from Puerto Rico and looking to speak to others in Spanish. I was excited to tell her that I, too, am a Jehovah’s Witness, and meeting her was like finding family. We had a great chat and exchanged numbers. She is coming to visit the island soon, and we decided to have a beach day. It was great! Having found the Puerto Rican connection, aka – done the work, let’s discuss the rest of the city, aka the play.
I have been to San Francisco multiple times. And some things are so amazing you must do them every time you go. The top of the list is the Golden Gate Bridge, not to be confused with the Bay Bridge. The best way not to confuse them is to know that if the bridge is beige, it’s the Bay Bridge, and the Golden Gate Bridge is “International Orange.” The Golden Gate Bridge is 1.7 miles one way or just a little over 5K on a walking round trip. It has a carefully paved walking path, and when the fog rolls over the bridge, it feels a bit mystical. A must-do when you visit.
Another wonderful place is Ghirardelli Square. When you walk in, you get enveloped with the warmth of chocolate. It feels like love sprinkled with sugar. Ghirardelli has been in San Francisco since the late 1890s when an Italian immigrant opened a chocolate factory and soda shop, accurately anticipating sales from the gold rush in California. What is amazing is that you can still get both there. They serve the best hot fudge sundaes of all flavors, inclusive of non-dairy ice cream. It is a great place to go after seeing the Sea Lions on the pier during the day or after dinner for dessert. Everyone is happily eating hot fudge and ice cream.
“I have been to San Francisco multiple times. And some things are so amazing you must do them every time you go.”
Two other must-dos on the list are related to transportation. One is the Cable Cars. I must admit I am equally fascinated and terrified of riding in cars. They are old and open, and I am always aware that I might just fall out of one. But I never have. San Francisco has steep topography and busy traffic, making going anywhere in a car feel a bit like a roller coaster ride. The other thing is Lombard Street. Again, something we have all seen in the movies, but to experience it in person is mind-blowing. Like many things in California, you see them on tv, and it is easy to think of them as props. But they aren’t. Lombard Street is real and lined with houses, and people drive it to get from point A to point B. The curves were added to the street in the 1930s to increase safety because the hill was so steep. I would never drive it, but my dad does, and each time I close my eyes and pray hard.
Speaking of things in Movies. I often forget that California means movies. San Francisco is the home of the Walt Disney Family Museum– which technically is in Presidio, but that only matters to you if you live there. It is like the difference between Isla Verde and Carolina. In the same area is the Letterman Digital Arts Studio, aka LucasFilms. If you don’t know what that is, well, my inner nerd and your inner nerd can never be friends.
While the studio itself requires special permission to get into because they are working, the Yoda Fountain and surrounding grounds do not. A short walk will take you to the Palace of Fine Arts, which looks remarkably like Queen Amidala’s royal residence in Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace- because it was George Lucas’ inspiration. You feel the force there; at the very least, you feel huge creative juices flowing.
Letterman Digital Arts Center, Founded in 1975 by George Lucas
On to Chinatown. Chinatown is the biggest and oldest Chinatown in North America. Chinatown is not just for tourists either. On the surface, it is wares sold to visitors, but when you “know somebody,” they will take you through a shop to the alley where authentic food and goods and spices are sold to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation Asian immigrants with all the transactions happening in Chinese. I had the best dim sum seated in an alley surrounded by a mass of people, none of whom looked or spoke like I did. Yet I discovered that tasty food needs no translation, just appreciation.
The Asian population of San Francisco is 34.3%, second only to the white population of 44.8%. The Asian population encompasses Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, and several other countries in Asia. If you did the math, you will realize that that is almost 80% of the population, with everyone else making up the other 20%. What is amazing about this is that the Asian Culture is embedded so deeply in San Francisco that you understand a tiny taste of what it must feel like to visit Asia.
For example, at a local mall, one of the restaurants in the food court had a conveyor belt with self-serve Sushi attended to by robotic waiters. I saw only three humans working, two in the kitchen and one seating people. Another had a menu purely in characters that I couldn’t read with food I couldn’t identify with but decided to eat anyway. Great Decision! The anime and anime influence in fashion is evident, as well as the Zen Gardens and park settings. There are over 21 Asian and Pacific Island Community Organizations that are supporting the local communities.
“I discovered that tasty food needs no translation, just appreciation.”
San Francisco is an amazing city, and that’s just me scratching the surface, not even venturing into the surrounding cities or Muir Woods. It is not as glamorous as L.A., its loud little brother. It’s the grown-up version of California. Where creativity and forward-thinking are carried out with little fanfare- they aren’t busy bragging because they are busy creating. And, after all, good things speak for themselves.
Go visit! It is the only place I have ever been where the lines between reality and fantasy are so smudged that you realize there is no line. Just a haze- after all, what else would you expect from a city that sees life through a fog?
Photos by the author, unless noted.