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Destinations · North America · united states · San Francisco · Essence ·

Ex-hippy mecca and hipster capital of the US

Author: Marta Mannenbach0 COMMENTS

Ex-hippy mecca and hipster capital of the US

The absolute gem of the West Coast, San Francisco is a must-see on your visit to the United States. Well-known for being one of the most European cities in America, this metropolis employs and gives shelter to a great variety of people from all over the planet. It has a population of 815,000 and is the center of a metropolitan area of 7.1 million. My bet would be that at least half of those 7 million have at some point tried or dream of living in the city.
My husband and I chose to move down from Oregon to Northern California two years ago - simply because San Francisco was one of the very few places in America we felt like living in. I had always liked this city from afar and was surprised to find that not only the reality did not disappoint me but turned out to be much more fun than I could ever imagine.
This city has indeed much to offer to a tourist or a resident alike. To be in San Francisco is to be surrounded by a rich history of ethnicities, foods, professions and curiosities. All in all, there is an extremely specific ambience to the place. It has its own micro-climate, micro-areas, micro-everything. Even the small corner stores haven't died out here. It is in fact quite hard to find any huge chain supermarkets with large parking lots; many things here, including the shops, are petite.

Foto: Ex-hippy mecca and hipster capital of the USFoto: Ex-hippy mecca and hipster capital of the USFoto: Ex-hippy mecca and hipster capital of the US

Architecture is one of the most defining aspects of this city. While skyscrapers mark the city center, there are only a few of them and by no means do they represent the typical local architectural style. Rows of colorful wooden two or three-story houses with decorative elements are a much more typical feature. The living space is usually small, but rent is high. Only the richest and luckiest of people can afford to have a garage under the house. It makes life so much easier since parking in San Francisco is the worst I have seen.
The city is nestled between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay on a peninsula. The proximity of ocean can be felt most of the time - it is never too hot. Woody Allen has even claimed to have spent his coldest winter in San Francisco, and he has passed at least a couple in NYC where they have got snow and proper winter. The small local beaches have a great view although the cold water makes them useless for swimming purposes. Unlike Los Angeles, the air in San Francisco is fresh and clean without smog and dirt.
The terrain is beautiful and incredible at the same time. You might think it impossible to walk down a hill with a 60 degree angle slope before you have tried it here. Many high-elevated romantic scenic spots can be found all over Bay Area, and many streets in the city provide a challenge to the nimblest of pedestrians making them into semi-alpinists.
San Franciscans are a really colorful and genuinely diverse crowd. The three groups that stand out the most are hipsters, gay people and the homeless. So if you don't like any of them - this is not your city. Castro District is the center for people with different sexual orientation although the rainbow flags can be seen everywhere in the city and on the outskirts. The local hero Harvey Milk (look up the film "Milk" starring Sean Penn) was one of the most notable gay rights advocates; by now, this place has become known as the American cradle of gay rights and a haven for gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals. I happened to walk the Equality march to the City Council together with a crowd of gay people and their friends due to a documentary film project I was working for, and felt like truly assimilated in the local culture. Incidentally, the number of single straight people is high and it is rather hard to build a relationship.
I've always loved the San Francisco of the 1960s when it was the hotspot of student political protests, hippy movement and great classic rock. Some remnants of those times can be found now but most of the "hippy glamor" is gone. Quite a few of them seem to have become bums and degenerates flattening the grass at the end of the Haight-Ashbury district - the ex-hippy mecca. Oddly enough, there are always many homeless people around the City Council buildings in the central Union Square. Power is in the hands of people - I guess it makes sense. If you take the wrong turn in the city center, you may well find yourself in the "wrong" area where you should be careful not to step on someone lying on the ground in a sleeping bag and hope that no one will want your wallet or start a random shooting. If you ask the locals, they will say that San Francisco is a safe place; still, I think visitors should be aware that there are different sides to the city and know how to behave.
Furthermore, San Francisco could well claim the crown of the hipster capital of the US; the trend has been quick to spread to other parts of the country and all over the planet. There are certain local fads and things (over-stylish young blokes with beards and glasses of the latest fashion; vintage boutiques; small ambient backdoor cafes; tiny cinema caves with rare old films and reels etc.) that can be called hip - but it's important to be careful not to conflate 'hipster' and 'San Francisco'. This might be a great place for eclectic shopping for those ready to spend a lot of time combing through shops and neighborhoods. The Haight-Ashbury district - boasting a much more commercialized appearance these days - offers a variety of clothes and accessory shops: vintage, second hand, 1920 - 1930s fashion, souvenir and hippy gear, etc.
Funky, individualistic and socially conscious are the prevailing concepts. The lifestyle is also wrapped around technology (due to the proximity of Silicon Valley), arts, music and environmental issues. A self-respecting San Franciscan will buy his food at organic food markets, order cheese from a certain farmer and knows the best wine harvest years. They like to be connoisseurs of everything. Quality of food in stores and restaurants is important and since California is the Land of Wine, people here are spoilt with some of the best wines in the world. For this and other reasons San Franciscans are considered to be smug but I really can't say I've met many utterly vacant or arrogant people here.
San Francisco offers many leisure activities and places to visit. Some of the quirkiest are the LSD museum; a street stairway with mosaic tiles; a museum dedicated to the artistic director of a circus company, and the Sutro Baths (ruins of a 19th-century Roman-style bathhouse complex). The more typical tourist attractions include Fisherman's Wharf; cable cars; the Golden Gate Bridge; the historical military building of Fort Point; the Alcatraz prison, and the Alfred Hitchcock tour. My personal favorites are the Twin Peaks hills and the Golden Gate Park where one can find many interesting things to do and connect with a nature in an urban way.

Foto: Ex-hippy mecca and hipster capital of the USFoto: Ex-hippy mecca and hipster capital of the US

Nightlife is pretty active here and offers something for people of all ages: you can choose classic jazz and cocktails on top of a skyscraper hotel; a deadly typical night club, an Irish pub or a fund-raising private party set in a warehouse. Sometimes different cultural events merge: an arts fair where young local artists display and sell their stuff is located in a club-like space with bars and DJs. One of my jobs here is coordinating the Future Shorts Film Festival which has given me a fantastic opportunity to work and socialize with the locals. People are supportive and enthusiastic if they like your product or project. I was lucky and met amazing partners who helped me with venues and technical equipment for the events, and a good number of people have attended my movie nights. San Franciscans are very open-minded; they love arts and film but when you invite them to an event, there is no guarantee they will come even if they say they will. This might seem a fantastic spot for artsy folks but there is also a looming sense of instability in the art and entertainment field: George Lucas had his company here but many people were laid off when the offices were taken over by Disney.
I have only been living in this fascinating city for six months but its spirit has conquered me completely: I feel like I belong here. I suppose if you really like and appreciate a place it does open up for you. There's still so much to explore and savor. I hope I'll be around when you come to visit.

 

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