San Francisco is known for a lot of things, but being subdued is not one of them. I’ve been there several times, sometimes solo and sometimes with friends. However, I like to view cities from a lesser known vantage point. So I decided to see if I could find the calmer side of San Francisco because as an introvert, that’s what I prefer.
Room & Board
San Francisco is not a city to visit if you’re on a budget. Yes, it can be done, but it will not be very enjoyable. One of the highest expenses is room and board. Hotels in the city of San Francisco, which is where you want to be unless you’re driving, are relatively expensive for a nice, clean, centrally-located hotel. Even the Airbnb rooms are on par with the hotel rooms (if you rent out the entire apartment, like I do). If you were to pay for a room through Airbnb, it would certainly be cheaper, but that’s not how I roll. So the best bet is to find a great deal through Groupon, TravelZoo, Hotwire or Priceline. I found a great deal for Le Méridien for under $200/night. Believe me, that’s a deal. The only slight drawback was it was located in the financial district. On the weekends, there is not much hustle and bustle in the Financial District. That’s no problem unless you’re looking for food nearby and most of the restaurants you’d want to eat at are closed on weekends. But it wasn’t a major issue and it was easily solved by walking several blocks in whatever direction. Le Méridien was really nice, spacious and had a great bar as well. I highly recommend it.
The most recent time I went to San Francisco, I was having a bit of a hard time with lodging because I was going solo and paying close to $200/night was just not that appealing to me. Thankfully, there were some resources to at least help with the budget. I looked into Airbnb, but it wasn’t of any help to me. So I turned to Priceline, which I’ve used before and I got a modern hotel, Axiom Hotel, right in the middle of Union Square for a reasonable price. However, there was a drawback, again. This time it was the size of the room. I felt like I was in closet. I’ve stayed in really small rooms before in Europe, particularly Rome, but I had a window that allowed light in. My room consisted of a
closet room that faced to a brick wall, so not only was it small, it was dark, so it felt even smaller. I’m not claustrophobic, but I did NOT enjoy that hotel room because I can’t do small AND dark. Because I got such a great deal, though, I sucked it up, and made to be in there as little as possible. The room was well-appointed and the fixtures were very nice, but beware of the size.
Discovery & Exploration
One of the times that I went to San Francisco with friends, we rode the cable car. There’s nothing more quintessential San Francisco than cable cars. So naturally, when my friend Tiki and I hopped on at Union Square and took it all the way to the end, which is Fisherman’s Wharf. Along the way, we got some of the more picturesque views of the city. Once at Fisherman’s Wharf, we decided to walk a bit. One of the Bay cruise operators was trying to drum up passengers for the last cruise of the day. I’m always a bit skeptical of people on the street trying to entice passengers because it makes me think that it’s not as good as it could/should be if they’re having to work that hard for passengers. But I pushed through the hesitation and we gave them a chance. They were offering a bay cruise around Alcatraz, not to Alcatraz, but they included going under the Golden Gate Bridge as well, so we bought tickets and boarded. Our $15 was well spent! The views were amazing and we had an opportunity to see the Golden Gate Bridge in a way you can’t see from land–underneath. Because I had an out-of -date iPhone at the time, my phone died and I didn’t get many good pictures, but Tiki’s pictures were great!
San Franscisco is known for art, in particular, street art. I have been a big fan of street art ever since one of my friends introduced me to this cool art form. Not only is street art the norm here, it appears to be encouraged. The street artists aren’t just artists, some of them are from councils and activist groups which makes for some very interesting pieces about the political climate of not only the city, but also the nation. The place I know for sure that is heavily covered in street art is the Mission District. The Mission District is a cool, funky neighborhood where you can see mostly anything. There are alleys that aren’t too sketchy-looking to venture down that support these amazing murals and artwork. The residents in this area are more than okay with the street art here because a lot of them have allowed it on their homes and garages. It certainly gives these homes character.
Besides art on walls, buildings, and houses, San Francisco also has art on the steps. The Hidden Garden Steps are a project that include mosaic-tiled steps with a floral theme. I also found out after I left the area that the original mosaic-tiled steps are the 16th Avenue steps which were literally a few blocks away in the same Golden Gate Heights neighborhood. You’ll need a car or a ride-sharing car to get there, but it’s certainly worth it. To see more pics of the entire set of steps, please check out my IG and FB.
Unusual and Interesting
For my never-been-done before activity in San Francisco, I booked Tiki and I reservations to Float Matrix, which is a center where you float in a tank of water. You don’t swim, doggy paddle, wade or anything else, just float. When I write that, it definitely sounds like a first-world activity. And, it is. Floating is supposed to have many benefits, including relaxation and stress relief. In order to prepare for our float, we had to take a shower first to to rid our body and hair of any oils or creams. If you can’t get your hair wet or shy about being naked, then don’t go because you won’t be wearing a swim cap or clothes at this center. You’ll only have on your birthday suit to enter back into the “womb”. Yes, I said womb. A float consists of getting into a tank of tepid water mixed with Epsom salts, devoid of any light, sound, smell, etc. In short, the float is about sensory deprivation. I have to say that on the website, there is light in the tank and I was fully expecting that, but when I entered, the most light I could have was a washcloth that I could roll up and let a sliver of light in. I don’t have a problem with water, darkness, or claustrophobia, individually, but apparently I have a serious problem with it combined. I don’t like going back to the “womb” it seems. My first float was filled with anxiety, tension and stress, all the things it’s supposed to combat. The full session was 45 minutes, but I could only make it through 30 minutes. Tiki and I talked to the owner about it and it seems my reaction is not uncommon and she encouraged me to try again. Yeah, I think I’m going to file that under things I don’t need to try again. If I want to float in salt water, I’ll go the ocean. When I finally emerged, my entire shoulder area was in knots. I was so much more stressed afterward than before, and I felt like I needed a massage. To counter my experience, Tiki loved it! She really enjoyed it and even booked one for her and one of her friends later on back in New Jersey. This was my personal experience with floating and I truly feel this is something that you really have to experience to see if it appeals to you.
Tips & Tricks
- It’s usually cool (read: cold) and sometimes overcast in San Francisco, therefore I recommend a scarf and light jacket. Always. The temperature in San Francisco can vary by month and by time of day, so wear layers and bring a scarf and/or light jacket.
- If you decide to rent a car or if you drove to San Francisco, you MUST drive down Lombard Street, the most crooked street in the world. It’s superbly fun and if it’s not too busy, you may get to go down twice, like my parents did.
- San Francisco has a number of ways to get around, particularly with ride-sharing being born here. But there’s also the BART, which is actually not as inclusive as you’d think, as well as walking. If you decide to walk San Francisco proper, be sure to wear very comfortable shoes and be in good shape. San Francisco is known for its steep hills and they can be unrelenting.
- Clarion Alley and Balmy Street Murals in the Mission District are great places to see street art if you want to see lots of it in one place, but street art is everywhere in San Francisco
- If you drive in San Francisco, be sure to turn your wheels when you’re on a hill. They WILL give you a ticket for not doing so.
- If you want to visit Alcatraz, you need to book your tickets at least a month ahead of time, or settle for a “sail-by” like Tiki and I did or prepare to pay for an entire package that includes entrance to it. Alcatraz tickets are regulated by the National Park Service and sell out fast. I still haven’t been there because of this, but I’ll make it one day.
It’s almost impossible to get bored in San Francisco and every time there is something new to see and explore. It’s a city where you can plan some things while also leaving some plans to be determined. Have you been to San Francisco? What are some of your favorite things to do?