Playing Tourist with My Heart in San Francisco

by Christine M. Fairchild

Summer is made for traveling (and reading), right?

Here we are in San Francisco near Fisherman's Wharf, enjoying 70 degree sunshine, eating cioppino ( and crab corn soup in sourdough bread bowls, and afterward hitting Ghirardelli's for mint chocolate ice cream in case we hadn't consumed enough calories already. Old home sweet home.

Or is it?

Ever go back to an old haunt and find you're glad you moved? That's what my visit to the Bay Area, the first in nine years, has done for me. Twenty-six years ago I called this town home. Specifically the Sunset District, an ocean-hugging neighborhood that is perpetually shrouded in damp, cold fog. (Skip over to downtown and that's 20 degrees warmer, which is still 20 degrees cooler than Berkeley.) Frankly, my time here was not warm and fuzzy, and two decades later I still can't imagine living here again.

Yet this is a gorgeous city, with sweeping downtown skyline views, multiple coastal parks where you can rent bikes or just laze in the sun with a good book (I'm reading Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe series, a great match for being back in California). While I was gone, they built a new Bay Bridge and dressed it up with a dancing light show, a waterfront promenade lined with palm trees, a swanky brick-faced baseball stadium, and, of course, lots of new shopping strips. There's a dozen museums to entertain, universities to educate, and cafes full of people who'll grant you a lovely little conversation about what new restaurant or boutique hotel they've discovered.

Then there's the Golden Gate Bridge, stealing the show in any vista, with its arms wide open to the Pacific. People from all over the world flock here for the food, the views, the hospitality. Including me this week. This is a lovely, world-class city.

When I lived in the Bay Area during college I would spend my days off playing tourist—a stroll through Golden Gate park, a ferry across to the waterfront town of Sausalito, a bus to East Bay's only island, Alameda. Always somewhere new. My husband laughs at my history of being a lone wolf adventurer, hopping buses and trains and water taxis just to see where they ended. I told him I was just broke, so I had to rely on public transportation for entertainment! Point is, I knew this city pretty well. And the transformation is astounding.

Now streets you used to avoid you can't even afford to visit. Those million dollar condos under the bridge used to be a slum where drug dealers got busted or raves with secret passwords got hosted. That lovely, palm-lined Embarcadero with trolley cars was a concrete wall of freeway blocking out the sun from downtown. The earthquake I lived through in the nineties has since created opportunities for rebuilds and safety improvements. Hell, even the military gave the Presidio back to the city for a public park. This place has really polished itself!

Enough handsome improvements that I asked myself, "why not consider living here again?"

Well, I'm glad to see the city cleaned up and thriving. The gentrification and sky-high prices? Not so much. But that comes with city living, I guess. The angry traffic and constant honking horns? Glad I brought my earplugs. The Victorian houses shoved shoulder-to-shoulder with their chins on the sidewalk? I like a little more green around my concrete, thank you. The $30 plate of salmon I get back home for $12? Um, I'm saving for retirement.
I loved this place in college, had spent my youth visiting relatives in the area, and had some wonderful, (and some very tragic) times here. But I'm sad to say I did NOT leave my heart in San Francisco.

At least the warm San Francisco welcomes and great service still make this city golden. I'm even playing with the idea of basing my next suspense story here, and so I'm gathering research. But for now, I'm content to make my home in Seattle, with my 100-year old craftsman, my sprawling garden, my modest retirement goals, and down-to-earth husband who doesn't care which new swanky restaurant I ate at last night. Think I'll just be a tourist this week!


  1. I loved visiting San Francisco, but I wouldn't want to live there either. Especially if I lived in Seattle like you do. I have never been, but I would LOVE to go to Seattle! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about your trip!

    1. I loved playing/eating along Fishermans' Wharf but the crowds and lack of trees got to me. I love how lush green Seattle is all year round! Anyway, it's fun to visit SF and know I made the right decision for ME to move here. Besides, I met my hubby here :)

  2. My hubby loves San Fran and thinks he'd live there but I'm not so sure. It's definitely picturesque. Very interesting thoughts on your visit. It's strange when places change, especially when you remember that place so fondly. Maui kind of does that for me.

    1. To me, Seattle is a bit like SF used to feel when I was young. But it's hard to live there unless you have money, money, money. I love visiting, though, and doing my favorite things, like driving along the ridges above Berkeley and Oakland and visiting Tilden state park and the botanical gardens. That was great! Oh, and I miss having a great train system!!!