When I was in 8th grade, I went on a class trip to San Francisco.
I remember eating Ghirardelli chocolate, I remember getting a migraine on the bus, I remember listening to Hoobastank in the hotel room that I shared with four other girls, and I remember the fog.
En route to Seattle a few years later, my family stopped in San Francisco. I remember walking around Fisherman’s Wharf, I remember it raining, and I remember the fog.
This past spring, on a slow day at work, I was scrolling through a travel article that counted down beautiful places to visit, and San Francisco was on the list. I stared at a picture of the Golden Gate bridge, in perfect focus, enveloped in golden light.
On both visits to San Francisco, I hadn’t seen the bridge like this. I’d seen its feet, hints of the deep red color, and glimpses of the swooping curves. On one day of my class trip, we’d even walked across the bridge, making it visible close up. But for the most part the fog sat right on top, hiding it, keeping its full glory a secret.
As I sat in my desk chair, staring at that perfect picture of the bridge, reading through the gushing comments from people who loved the city, or who dreamed of it but lived too far to visit, I decided I needed to go back.
When is the best time to visit San Francisco? I Googled.
September to November, it answered.
I bookmarked the page.
In light of my 32nd birthday at the beginning of September, I decided to make the trip a birthday celebration. I invited my three closest friends, and I planned the whole thing.
The day before we left, I completely panicked, wondering if everything I planned—everything I knew I would love—was a terrible idea. Maybe my ideal trip was only ideal for me. Maybe everyone would have an awful time and wish they never came and wonder why we were even friends.
You know, just a cute, fun anxiety spiral that concluded this was the trip I lose all my friends. Thanks, brain!
Nevertheless, I boarded the plane with my sister on Friday morning, happy to be playing hooky from work, and texted Allison and Nicole, who were flying out separately, that we’d see them in the city.
Friday September 30th, 2022
“Where are we headed?” our Lyft driver asked as we got in the car.
“Marina Motel,” I answered.
“Oooh!” he said as he zoomed in on his map. “That’s a cool area.”
The smallest weight fell off my shoulders.
My first fear: did I book us two nights at a murder hotel? had immediately been quashed.
After he dropped us off, we left our bags at the hotel and then headed out for lunch.
The hotel concierge told us: “right, right” as our directions to find everything we might need.
And she was right.
We walked down Chestnut St. and found tons of bars, restaurants and cafes. As we narrowed down what sounded good for lunch, we also pointed out possible spots for dinner, and for breakfast the next morning.
It was 70 degrees. A perfect, sunny day. The slightest breeze made us shiver, but it made the sun feel all the more welcoming.
We settled on Bonita Taqueria Rotisse, and I ordered a quesadilla that was almost the size of my forearm. We talked, settling into the weekend. My toes wiggled in my shoes, nervous and excited.
“Which way to the bridge?” Nicole asked.
I held up a pointed finger as I looked down at the map on my phone.
The homes in the Marina District are gorgeous. Big and colorful, they look nothing like the buildings we are acquainted with in Southern California. There are no backyards, the small garages act as the bottom floors of the building, and cars are required to drive over the sidewalk to get inside. We pulled up Zillow, curious and nosey, and we all gasped. Then we pointed, picking which houses we liked most, all while trying to pretend we lived there when another pedestrian walked by.
“Hello!” we would say with our best neighborly wave. “Just out for our daily walk.”
En route to the bridge, we walked by and through the Palace of Fine Arts.
It is so grand and unexpected. The kind of building you don’t expect to see in an American city. The kind that makes you stand underneath it and just look UP. Everyone walked by with a camera, taking in the architecture and showcasing its grandiosity in comparison to the average human.
A girl took pictures in her quinceañera dress, a family smiled for a potential Christmas card, a bride and groom took pictures with a small bridal party which included a cat in a tuxedo.
We kept walking, closing in on the water up ahead. As we walked, we pulled our sleeves up and fanned our faces. I bounced in excitement, thinking I’d outsmarted the fog—which is known in the city as “Karl”—elated to have arrived on such a sunny, hot day. But when we came around the corner and crooned our heads to find the bridge, Karl laughed in our face.
Not an INCH of the bridge was visible. We squinted our eyes at an island in the distance, assuming it might be Alcatraz but unable to tell for sure from the faint, blurry blob we could see.
We laughed, because it was the only thing we could do, and then we started walking again.
We went east, towards the Fisherman’s Wharf, with no real destination in mind. We blended into the pack of runners, bikers, and skateboarders that cruised down Marina Boulevard with their own plans. I began to relax, knowing this is exactly what I wanted to do. I just wanted to walk. To be a part of the city, allowing myself to fantasize that I lived there, the same way I had when I was in eighth grade.
It’s my favorite way to see a city. Slow and deliberate.
We ended up at Great Meadow Park at Fort Mason, and stopped at the top of the hill to take a few pictures.
An older man whizzed by us on an electric scooter, singing the Speed Racer theme song to himself and we all giggled. We sat down on a half wall, looking at the people picnicking, reading and sleeping on the grass. San Francisco seemed to know how to relax on a Friday afternoon.
With a quick stop for coffee, we walked back to the Palace of Fine Arts to watch the sunset. Clouds began to roll in, making it a lot colder. We shivered and ate Madeline cookies. We pleaded with the sun, begging for it to slice through, to give us that multicolor sunset behind the Palace, but it never did. We stayed for as long as our light jackets could stand it, and then we headed back to the hotel.
For dinner, we went to Na’Pizza, which not only had heat lamps, but BLANKETS on every chair.
You do not know cozy until you know a dinner blanket.
We ordered the Gnocchi alla Sorrentina, the arugula salad and the Margherita pizza to split between the four of us, along with a bottle of wine.
“Thank you for coming,” I said to the table of ladies, raising my wine glass. “You guys are my best.”
The phrase felt the slightest bit unnatural on my tongue. I’d only just heard it used a day or two before. But I liked the way it left the compliment open. Because they weren’t just my best friends, they were the best of many things I’d found so far in this life. The best listeners, the best advice givers, the best people to talk to on the phone, or to eat takeout with on the couch, or to ask for help when you’re falling into a thought spiral. They had each gone beyond the bounds of friendship for me, and were more than I could explain. They were just the best, and I was glad I had them with me.