San Francisco and the Bay Area
Famed for its ethnic diversity, liberal politics, and chilling dense fog, the San Francisco Bay Area manages somehow to both embody and defy the stereotypes heaped upon it. Street-corner protests and leather stores are certainly part of the landscape, but family farms and friendly communities also abound.
English blends with languages from around the world in an occasionally frustrating, often joyful cacophony. Those who’ve chosen to live here often refuse to live anyplace else, despite the infamous cost of housing and the occasional violent earthquake.
San Francisco perches restlessly on an uneven spit of land overlooking the Bay on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Refer to the City as “San Fran,” or worse, “Frisco,” and you’ll be pegged as a tourist immediately. To locals, the City is the City, and that’s that.
Urban travelers can enjoy San Francisco’s great art, world-class music, unique theater and comedy, and a laidback club scene. Many visitors come to the City solely for the food; San Francisco functions as a culinary trendsetter that competes with the likes of Paris for innovation and prestige.
The Golden Gate Bridge leads into the North Bay, with its reputation for fertile farmland, intense material wealth, windswept coasts, and towering redwoods. An adventure here can be urban and touristy or rural and outdoorsy. The far more locally used Bay Bridge leads to the East Bay, with an emphasis on ex-military and pro sports culture, especially in Oakland and in more residential Alameda, formerly occupied by the Navy.
But it’s also home to erudite, progressive (and sometimes aggravating) Berkeley—the birthplace of many liberal political movements from the 1960s all the way up to today. The original University of California sits in Berkeley, offering protest groups for liberals and top-flight technical educations to multitudinous engineers.
South of the City, Silicon Valley is all about the technology. With the likes of Hewlett-Packard, Apple Computer, Google, and eBay headquartered here, it’s no surprise that even the museums run to technology and the residents all seem to own the latest iPod. Visitors gravitate toward the rarified landscape of Stanford University and the multicultural wonderland of San Jose.
For a more relaxed, outdoorsy experience, the Coastside region has a small-town feel with big-time extreme ocean sports. Locals know that this is not Southern California, and pack sweatshirts and parkas as well as swimsuits and sunhats for a day at the beach in Half Moon Bay or Pescadero.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition