After so many weeks on the road, the opportunity to step off the saddle and remain ‘stationary’ –of sorts!- was exhilarating, liberating…and admittedly, a tad bizarre. We were extremely privileged (and spoilt!) to have to opportunity to stay with friends of my family in a beautiful apartment right in the hub of the Haight-Ashbury district and just a short bus ride from downtown, with the best of what San Francisco has to offer right at our fingertips. We wanted to make the most of our time and as such vowed to fill our days accordingly- grateful for the relief of milder days in the misty city, along with the sheer bliss of public transport without our bikes and panniers in tow.
We begun by exploring the Haight-Ashbury district- a bohemian, trendy area famous for being one of the central, key areas in which the hippy culture of the 1960s flourished and, indeed, remains to some extent today. This was the foundation of the Summer of Love; home to psychedelic rock and the San Francisco Renaissance. We dove straight into the quirky boutiques and vintage clothes stores, digging through the secondhand wares to fashion ourselves in something other than our lycra shorts and cycling tops for the duration of our ‘holiday within a holiday’. Height Street was a scene of alternative stores, alive with the younger, perhaps ‘eccentric’ generation of the city- lined with smoke shops and galleries, bars and record stores, with musicians perched in porch ways, sitting on stone stairs strumming away as crowds drifted by. We felt relaxed and at home in this vibrant environment, and enjoyed exploring!
To extend our ‘alternative’ exploration of the city further, we also ventured downtown on the Sunday for what is famed to be the ‘biggest party of the year’ in San Francisco- the Pride Parade.
The streets were positively buzzing and alive with atmosphere as we stepped off the bus onto 8th Street and confronted the crowds pushing against the barriers lining Market. It was a scene of pure flamboyant colour, glitter and balloons- of loud music, outrageous outfits, feather boas and flower garlands, and the odd touch of nudity and a hint of S&M! It was absolutely fantastic- I enjoyed the buzz of the atmosphere and the open celebration of diversity and sexuality that united all corners of the city. It was most amazing, in particular, to see members of the SFPD joining in the parade with relish- even having members of the department proudly walking hand in hand with their partners to the cheers of the crowd! I’ll venture to guess that such a scene of acceptance, unity and diversity within public office is still many years off yet in the UK- in spite of improvements on that front in recent years.
We saw young couples and families, joined together as adoption by same-sex couples begins to move towards becoming mainstream; we saw costumes and dress ranging from experimental to the extreme to the non-existent! Theo wow-ed the crowds as he showed his stuff on the dancefloor and ran circles around us, and motivational speakers took to the stage to speak out against prejudice and discrimination, pushing for a peaceful co-existent between all members of the human race- regardless of their colour, background, race, religious affiliation or sexual orientation. It was inspiring and exciting to be a part of- and perhaps it was slightly unconventional for us to opt to bring Theo along with us, but we maintain that exposing our son to the world and all that it encompasses is the best form of education we could possibly give him: we want him to grow up with a balanced, open mind and without prejudice or judgment that all-too-frequently arises from a lack of education or understanding. The Pride Parade certainly offered that!
From the parade we strolled downtown, passing some of the more spectacular city buildings and skyscrapers until we passed the F line tram to reach the ferry building. Theo enjoyed watching the boats to and fro in the harbor as we curled up with cups of tea and enjoyed a rare moment of peace and stillness.
Having Theo with us wasn’t easy, however. Without a pushchair (sorry, stroller!) he had to walk everywhere or come on our shoulders; with tiredness added into the mix and nowhere we could put him down for a nap, he became bored, frustrated and slightly tricky to handle. We began to long for the simpler days of riding, when the sanctuary of the trailer offered a retreat for those times when Theo became too overtired: his own space, somewhere to wind down, to sleep. Having a toddler on tour really is a whole other ball game in comparison to adult travel. We can’t do all the ‘touristy’ bits we crave- all the sightseeing or trekking about that exploring a city usually requires- but on the other hand, Theo spots and relishes with excitement the simple little things around us that us adults would normally tend to overlook. His thirst for adventure, to explore and learn and ask endless questions- it’s oddly infectious, and adds a whole other dimension to the adventure.
We also spent one long afternoon hopping aboard the many buses, trams and cable cars of the city and ended up seeking out San Francisco’s large Chinatown- which quire frankly puts Liverpool’s attempt to shame. It was incredible: so, so busy (the moment the bus entered the outskirts of Chinatown, it was immediately overflowing with people packed together in a manner so uncomfortably intimate, you were literally rubbing up against complete strangers. Not good.) but alive with colour, spices and quirky architecture. Just strolling along the maze of streets, we simply took in the sights of the multitude of exotic foods and spices- many I have never even heard of, let alone seen!- with completely ignited the senses in an almost dizzying manner. There were beautiful hand-woven silks and brightly coloured lanterns; carved wooden boxes and delicately crafted bags; each shop an explosion of fantastic colour and unique wares that had me wanting to stroll through and slowly savour the sights unfolding before me. Absolutely mesmorising. The gate into the Chinatown was quite beautiful too: and surrounded by the great eye-capturing architecture, it truly felt as though we had stepped into the east. Mind you- I’ve never been to China, so I’m not exactly well-equipped to speculate…
San Francisco is definitely ‘my kinda place’. So young and vibrant, and with so much to offer- and yet wonderfully compact and accessible, without the mundane, mind-numbing commutes that are typical of London or some of the larger UK cities. It doesn’t feel too crowded, too busy or too loud; and with little corners and streets bearing hidden treasures just waiting to be unearthed and discovered, it truly is a tourist’s paradise. There is no end of options for dining and daytrips too. We can’t wait to discover more!