Some thoughts about San Francisco, California

I've been in San Francisco since last Saturday and I leave this today. It's a short visit and work-related but as my first visit to the USA, I thought I'd jot down some thoughts.

The City

It's a pleasant place. No one would say that the city itself is particularly beautiful (the towers of the financial district are particularly foul) but its surrounding geography is gorgeous, as are the portals that link the City with the outside: the Bay and the Golden Gate bridges. SF sums up that late 20th century ideal of a business-oriented city with a sporty, arty, best popcorn popper vibe. It's kind of like Sydney, or at least that's the place it most reminds me of. The difference is that SF is apparently fed by new technologies while Sydney banks the wealth obtained in vast mines.

Earthquakes

San Franciscans do not enjoy jokes about earthquakes. Or even jokey remarks. Many people here seem to be expecting the Big One which, depending on how big it is, could realistically destroy the whole place. It's "long overdue" but I hope that it never strikes, at least not while there are people living here.

Food and Beverages

San Francisco considers itself to be something of a 'foody' city. Which is both a good thing and a bad thing. I didn't get to eat at Boulevard, just up the road from my hotel because I couldn't get anyone to come with me. Likewise, the French Laundry, out in Napa. Most of what I did eat here (a couple of gourmet hamburgers, some Thai curry, a couple of traditional brasserie dinners, Chinese – twice) was very good and quite affordable. The local beer scene is lively and tasty, and even the city's standard brew – Anchor Steam – is pretty good. I really enjoyed Napa Smith's Organic IPA, with which the hotel cunningly stocked my room's minibar. I didn't get to try much local wine but I enjoyed a Conn Creek cabernet sauvignon (2008, I think), over a couple of nights.

Districts

I stayed at the Harbor Court hotel, on the embarcadero (old port). It's close to our US office and so was pretty convenient for work. This is quite a touristy area, but it's at the bottom of the financial district, which is where I found an Apple Store kind enough to sell me an iPad (over €100 cheaper than in Europe). Chinatown is fun, but I suspect it would have been a lot more fun 30 years ago. The Mission is my favorite district. It's traditionally a latino neighborhood and has also played host to a range of great restaurants, galleries, bars and stores for decades. We ate some pretty good Thai food here and I also had dinner with Chris Barr from Yahoo in a place called Grub. The meal there was good, but I was suffering slightly from the Korean kimchi burrito with hot sauce that I'd eaten for lunch. Also in the Mission is the Pirate Store, 826 Valencia Street. This is also the spiritual home of The Believer, my current favorite periodical (I'm going to keep pushing this until you all subscribe). The Pirate Store has all the supplies any pirate might need, from lard to fathoms and siren silencers. It's next door to a taxidermy store. These are two of the best shops I've ever been to. I didn't see much of the Castro, though we did drive through it.

Technology

My reason for visiting San Francisco should be evident to anyone with even an inkling of what I do for a living. As the world capital of 'new technologies', especially web services and mobile devices, it's at the center of my work day. Indeed, it was practically absurd that I hadn't visited before. But there you have it. People here frequently exchange tips and recommendations for apps, and more than in Barcelona or London (that I've seen at any rate), all decisions are predicated on the advice of an iPhone or Android device. I had kind of hoped there'd be some city-wide high-speed wireless offering but this wasn't the case. Facebook had a major event in town while I was here (in fact, I was supposed to be there bit due to a mix up, that didn't happen). The local newspapers often report corporate stories at Yahoo, Twitter, Apple and Google on their front pages. This is a city imbued with a technological optimism. I shudder to think what could happen to the industry if an earthquake really does strike. I suspect that this may be one factor that encourages some firms to prefer Palo Alto and other cities further away from the faultline. Well, that and taxes.

And now I must put my California-designed notebook away and check out of my hotel. I'm coming back to Catalonia. That's a great feeling.

There are a few photos from my visit on Google+ here. You don't need to be a member of Google+ to view them. But you should sign up anyway: it's a pretty good service. Check my blog to see my best umbrella stroller and my fitness videos that i made in SF parks.

6 thoughts on “Some thoughts about San Francisco, California

  1. Fuck, you made one of those miniature lookalike photos! I can't believe you have a tilt-shift lense on you.

    If you photoshopped it that's really well done.

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    1. We have a Canon G12 compact (best camera I've ever had), which includes a tilt-shift mode. I'm not sure I really like that particular shot… I think I've got to experiment with the mode a little more.

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  2. I've so got to update on still cameras. Again. Does the G12 do video, and if, can you give the specs, please?

    No worries about that shot. It's not the greatest motive, but it does do the trick. So it's quite cute. And a proof, after what you say, that tilt-shift has gone mainstream with lightning speed. Which is interesting.

    The "Empress of China" vs People's Republic are well received for the story they tell. Journalism. Few people see such details.

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  3. A few comments:

    – The financial district is not pretty, but some other parts of the city are: Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, Glen Park, many of the hills around Noe Valley and the Castro, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor…

    – The light in San Francisco is sometimes very much like the light in Sydney.

    – Perhaps I hung out with the wrong crowd, but I never noticed that people in San Francisco objected to earthquake jokes. And an earthquake strong enough to completely destroy it is unlikely to occur.

    – There are many good restaurants. There are even some near the financial district (and you might have found some cataloparlants at B44).

    – You probably couldn't have gotten a reservation at the French Laundry on short notice, but Thomas Keller has some other restaurants that are easier to get into.

    – Tech firms started in Palo Alto because of Stanford University, and stayed down there because land is less expensive. I doubt that fear of earthquakes was much of a factor.

    – I no longer live in San Francisco, but if you had scored a reservation to The French Laundry and needed company I could have found a way to get there.

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  4. I'm working on getting comment threading working on here. As well as a domain change (see the title of the page).

    @Candide – Yes, the G12 does HD video. You can get the specs here (http://usa.canon.com/cusa/consumer/products/cameras/digital_cameras/powershot_g12#Specifications). I can't recommend this camera enough. Seriously: it's awesome.

    @Jack H – Thanks for your comments. Yeah, I definitely overdid the earthquake thing. I think it was preying on me somewhat, especially after seeing Etna erupt this August.

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