There's really no city like San Francisco, California.
I know, I know. You could say something like this about every city, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a city that doesn't have its quirks and specialties. To other cities' credit, they have their cool parts. But I've been to a lot of cities in my short time here on Earth and, so far, San Francisco is my favorite.
why I like San Francisco, California:
You've got the pristine and mysterious Pacific Ocean lapping to the left, making its way inland through the San Francisco Bay. As the water sprawls its way in, it surrounds the little islands (Alcatraz, Treasure, Yerba Buena) and fills any space bounded by Napa to the north, Berkeley and Oakland to the east, and Silicon Valley to the south. Its omnipotent aquidity gives you a floating feeling that whispers "life is what you want it to be." (Or maybe that's the voice in my head?)
You also have ginormous hills (in the east we call them 'mountains') of lush, moist rainforest green rising up past fog's reach and dipping right back down to the water's edge, rendering the landscape just as fluid as the seascape, and life equally as such.
Throw in sunshiney spreads, crisp glacial lakes, ripe vinifal valleys, rock-and-shrub mountains and arid mission towns--all within a short drive per cardinal direction--and your life is at your fingertips. Right now.
Every city has its "sections," usually based on ethnicity, but San Francisco throws ideals and lifestyles into the residential mix. In the Mission you'll find every Latin and Central American country represented via restaurants, cantinas, clubs and sidewalk markets and shops. And I truly mean "represented" to include the indigenous and beautifully-haphazard way these places are set up. (At Sonia's, for example, you'll find Sonia slowly cooking at a small kitchen with a play pen set up for her granddaughter and a box of tortillas on the floor next to the cash counter.) Set against a backdrop of Latin pop, bustling merchants, and smells food. You'll also find the gringos (non-Latin; artists, entrepreneurs, normal people) who've assimilated into this lifestyle living above all La Hubbub in tiny studios or 1BRs.
Chinatown, Japantown, North Beach (vaudevillian/carnivalian/adult-night clubs/literary), The Castro (gay), and more. I'm not an expert in the least sense of the word, but this is what I've consumed as a short-time resident, and I love it. There's a place for everyone, even if you're normal.
But there's a constant throughout the urbus major--a sense of commonality--whether it's physical (in the ubiquitous pastel Victorians and square, Spanish-Scandinavian blockhouses), political (in the commitment to common-sense socioeconomic policies), mental (in that everyone has to deal with the bums), or simply visual (it's hard to find a place where you can't see the red spires of the Golden Gate Bridge).
The people make San Francisco San Francisco.
In one block I saw a group of Latinos making cat calls; a fat, barefoot black lady wearing daisy dukes and screaming across the busy street at a wasted bum peeing himself; some 'bohemes' grabbing falafel sandwiches on the go; a lesbian couple holding hands; an Asian street merchant selling some shit; me in the reflection of the window of 826 Valencia; and a huge man in a pink fairy costume riding a bike.
My trip was fast and furious (Friday-Monday)--the details of which are not the focus of this particular post--but it was a much-needed break from the rigid, uptightity of DC. As a short contrast, we have one area, AdamsMorgan/Dupont, that is supposed to be cultural and thornily bohemian but it lasts all of a few blocks and can be considered pretty much unaffordable (at least on a receptionist's, er, office manager's budget. I share a 1BR). It's been whitewashed, gentrified and slowly homogenized.
I guess that's invetible, though.
Except in San Francisco, California.