Spencer’s San Francisco

Hello again to another edition of I Heart My City. This week’s questionnaire is courtesy of travel writer Spencer Spellman of the Traveling Philosopher blog. Spencer has traveled all over the world, but he calls San Francisco, California, home. A mosaic of colorful, distinctive neighborhoods, San Francisco is a city of trend-setting high fashion and famous postcard views. Get Spencer’s insider tips to the city, then tell us what you love about S.F. in the comments section below.

San Francisco Is My City

The first place I take a visitor from out of town is for chocolate. San Francisco produces great chocolate, and visitors are less likely to complain when walking the city’s hills if they have the sweet stuff in hand. Try the iconic Ghirardelli Square, upscale outposts like the Ferry Building Marketplace, or the quirky Fog City News, a small newsstand that imports premium chocolate from around the world.

When I crave pizza I always go to Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. It’s not always easy finding a descent slice of pizza in San Francisco, but this satisfies my yearning for a good New York slice.

To escape tourists I head to Sutro Heights Park. Located in the Outer Richmond above the Pacific shoreline, it is one of the best spots in the city to watch the sunset over the ocean.

If I want a taste of my southern roots I go to Southern Sandwich. This Bay Area food truck is run by a group of southern guys making it the perfect fix for BBQ, hush puppies, mac and cheese, and sweet tea.

For complete quiet, I can hide away at the Lands End Trail. Yes, there is in fact hiking within the city limits of San Francisco, even though it’s only a short loop and not what hiking enthusiasts would call hiking. Nevertheless, there are several scenic spots off the trail that have beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge

If you come to my city, get your picture taken with the Bushman or a picture of the Bushman scaring passersby. Camping out near Fisherman’s Wharf, the Bushman hides behind tree branches, then rustles the leaves to scare unsuspecting tourists. It’s a trick he’s played on visitors for more than 20 years.

If you have to order one thing off the menu from any bar or restaurant, it has to be Fernet Branca. This Italian digestif has often been compared to cough syrup, yet it has a cult following in San Francisco.

Rickhouse is my one-stop shop for great cocktails. Similar to nearby Bourbon and Branch, Rickhouse specializes in artisianal cocktails, yet with cheaper prices.

Locals know to skip on getting your first beer in AT&T Park and check out the Public House instead, where you can have a pre-game beer at half the stadium price, and then take a second one into the park.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go to the Mission for tacos. Just follow the scent, or stop by one of the many food trucks and pushcarts, such as ones in Dolores Park, which have tacos for as low at $1.50.

For a huge splurge I go to Bourbon and Branch, a speakeasy requiring a password to enter. Cocktails start at $12, but you’re really paying for the experience. Bourbon and Branch is reminiscent of early 1900s Prohibition-era bars. Pull out your waistcoast and pocket watch for this spot.

Photo ops in my city include the Golden Gate Bridge, and the best vantage point is from the Marin Headlands. There are great photo opportunities from several places in San Francisco, including Alcatraz Island, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Baker Beach, but the view from the Marin Headlands includes shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and San Francisco all together.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be Johnny Depp: good looking, calm, and collected, but not afraid to stir the pot.

The most random thing about my city is that San Francisco’s summer is in September and October, and even then you might wear shorts only a handful of times and will probably skip the ocean because it’s too cold.

In my city, an active day outdoors involves a visit to Golden Gate Park. It’s one of the largest urban parks in the world and 20 percent bigger than New York City’s Central Park. It includes different trails, tennis courts, open fields, and a disc golf course.

My city’s best museum is the Cal Academy of Sciences. It’s not just a museum but a natural history museum, aquarium, and planetarium, all in one.

My favorite jogging/walking route starts at the Panhandle and continues into Golden Gate Park.

For a night of dancing, go to the Boom Boom Room. Or, for live music, check out the Fillmore. When famous musicians are in town, the venue is packed wall-to-wall with people, but it’s better than feeling miles from the stage as you would at an amphitheater. For something more low-key, head upstairs to the lounge.

Tommy’s Joynt is the spot for late-night eats. Tommy’s Joynt takes you back to the good ‘ole days of late-night diners. It features generous portions if you need to line your stomach after a night of drinking but also has a full bar if all you’re looking for is a nightcap.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read 7×7 Magazine.

You can tell if someone is from my city if the person uses the term “cable cars” instead of “trolley” and doesn’t use the phrases “San Fran” or “Frisco Bay.”

In the spring you should leave your umbrella behind. The sun is coming back out.

In the summer you should forget to pack your shorts and expect fog.

In the fall you should pack a pair of shorts because it’s actually summertime.

In the winter you should pack an umbrella and pair of galoshes.

A hidden gem in my city is the Broken Record. It’s on the outskirts of the city in Excelsior but is one of the best dive bars in San Francisco and has delicious food such as a pulled pork sandwich and pork fries.

For a great breakfast joint try Brenda’s French Soul Food. It’s not in the best neighborhood in San Francisco and often requires a long wait on the weekend, but it’s worth the trip when you sit down to plates like cheddar grits and beignets– you just can’t find this anywhere else in the city.

Don’t miss the Outside Lands Festival in Golden Gate Park. Outside Lands is to Northern California as Coachella is to Southern California. The annual festival features three days of top musicians rocking out in the best part of San Francisco.

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Just outside my city, you can visit Northern California wine country. Napa and Sonoma are at the forefront of wine in America, and you can be there in just an hour.

The best way to see my city is by foot. The hills here are unlike any other city in the U.S., but the views you often see make those sore muscles worthwhile. Plus you’ll walk off all the chocolate, beignets, crepes, burritos, and everything else you’ll be eating.

If my city were a pet it would be a scarlet king snake. Pretty with thick skin that will bite but is not poisonous.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is “Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay.”

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss the Exploratorium.

The World Naked Bike Ride could only happen in my city.

Tell us what you love about San Francisco. Leave the details in the comments section below.

Want to see your city on Intelligent Travel? Copy and paste our list of fill-in-the-blank questions into an e-mail, fill in your answers, and send your responses (with any photos, videos or links) to IntelligentTravel@ngs.org.

[San Francisco Guide]

[Photos: Iconic San Francisco]

Photo: Andreas Koeberl/My Shot

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