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SAN FRANCISCO: 239 square miles packed with life
World Class City
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The Golden Gate Bridge looking north from Land’s End. Photo By Dave Campbell

Make no doubt about it.

My soul is in the Sierra but my heart is in San Francisco.

One of the great things about living in the Northern San Joaquin Valley aside from the fact it is a great place to live and you have the world’s largest and most varied “farmer’s market” in your backyard, is the fact we are nestled between San Francisco and Yosemite National Park.

You can go cosmopolitan one weekend and wild as nature intended the next.

And you don’t have to do it while living in an aging, cramped flat that rents for $3,500 a month or having to dig yourself out from under five feet of snow just to trek 25 miles to the store to get milk.

It’s almost a tragedy that people who end up living here don’t venture west to the ocean’s edge or east to the mountain’s crest with any regularity to sample the endless smorgasbord of manmade and natural delights.

People from all over the world travel here just so they can take in San Francisco and Yosemite.

My love affair with The City started as a kid.

We’d go to San Francisco several times a summer to stay with my late Aunt Grace Towle who was an emergency room nurse at St. Mary’s Medical Center.

She lived out in The Avenues off Clement Street that parallels Geary Boulevard in western San Francisco. Clement Street — as well as Geary — offers every imaginable dining option possible at significantly less than the restaurants in and around San Francisco tourist traps.

The most unusual restaurant I’ve ever been in was a Mexican restaurant on Clement Street owned by a Chinese immigrant who had a waitress who was Filipino and a cook who was a Greek national that immigrated to the United States after ending his career as a cook on a freighter ship.

The enchilada and chili relleno were the most unusual I ever had but what I remember was how all three of them, owner, waitress and cook, were open and engaging.

And if you want real great Mexican food, head to the Mission District. There are great mom and pop places left that will have your tastebuds thinking they’ve died and gone to Puerto Villa that the gentrification of the high-tech crowd hasn’t pushed out yet.

If you get away from Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, the Embarcadero, Market Street, Union Square, and other high-profile locations there are countless nuggets awaiting.

Although, I confess if I’m anywhere near Pier 39 I’ll head to Chocolate Heaven and fork over $10 for two truffles.

There’s plenty of interesting places to go in a city with 49 hills, 239.84 square miles, and 865,000 residents without feeling you’re running into every tourist on the planet.

Everyone flocks to the block of Lombard Street on Russian Hill between Hyde and Leavenworth streets to go down the so-called “Most Crooked Street in the World” that switches back and forth going downhill to tame a 27 percent grade much like a slalom skier would.

Vermont Street, though, in Potrero Hill between 20th and 22nd streets, is just as crooked if not more yet has less traffic than a rural road in northern Alaska.

Given it is in more of a working-class neighborhood (if such a thing exists anymore in San Francisco), doesn’t have red paver bricks or ornate gardens, and is away from the beaten tourist paths it might be why most people haven’t heard of it.

There’s endless shopping. If you’re feeling rich you can head to Union Square and duck into Neiman Marcus and rifle through the few discount racks there and discover you’re too poor to be even a thrift shopper along the 1 percent.

Then there are endless boutiques in places like Haight Ashbury, the epicenter of the Summer of Love, where you won’t only find one-of-a-kind offerings but you won’t need to pay with an arm and a leg.

The dining and cultural offerings would fill a book. They range from the California Academy of Sciences and Steinhart Museum in the heart of the 1,017 acres composing Golden Gate Park as well as the Palace of Fine Arts to the Walt Disney Family Museum.

Live music from opera to underground music is available every night of the week. There’s live theatre, street performers, and everything in between.

There is a reason why San Francisco is rated as a world class city in the same league as Paris, London, and New York.

Then there are things that tug at your heart as in those “little cable cars that climb halfway to the stars.”

I must have ridden them two dozen times growing up. My last ride — although it was aborted — was my favorite.

I had driven Cynthia to Drake’s Beach at Point Reyes Seashore where I proposed and she said “yes.”

On the way home we stopped at Alioto’s at Fisherman’s Wharf for dinner. Even though the late May skies had turned threatening after sundown, we opted to hop aboard a cable car grabbing onto poles as we took the last two standing positions just as the rain started falling.

As we stood there kissing and apparently blocking the view of a middle-aged French tourist, he uttered “les imbeciles, sortir de la voie.”

Those few words changed the myth that all Frenchmen were romantics.

How can you be idiots in San Francisco where part of the view are people in love with life?

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The Palace of Fine Arts.