I realize I got a touch snippy in that open letter last week to a couple of New York Times tech writers who had recently moved away from San Francisco and who only seemed to want to wax nostalgic about iPad launches and such. Because their piece was couched as a general farewell to San Franciscoa place I think of as a sophisticated, multi-faceted, beautiful, complex city with a wealth of art, design, community engagement, and incredible food and drinkthe fact that all they could talk about were Twitter, Mark Zuckerberg, and fog felt like a prescient comment on the economic and cultural divide that's been the source of much protest and complaint in our fair city over the last couple of years.
Yes, the tech sector is a great economic engine for the Bay Area, but it's hardly the only one. In the same sprit that I'd tell a science nerd going to college they ought to take some English and film courses, I'm taking this unsolicited opportunity to prescribe a few activities and words of advice for any new S.F. residents who care to listen—and who'd like to have experiences in their new home base outside of networking happy hours and startup parties.
Think of it as part enriching scavenger hunt and part etiquette guidekeeping in mind that while all San Franciscans are not the clichéd, over-sensitive P.C. police we are often made out to be, some of us do have a way of being quietly condescending to newcomers who say "San Fran" and have never seen a compostable fork before.
1. Try Not to Make Constant Comparisons to NYC, Chicago, or L.A., at Least in Public
While it's easy for any of us who came from elsewhere to fall into that ___ vs. S.F. conversation trap, and the topic can be fascinating, there's a tendency for anyone new to town to loudly point out ways in which their subways were superior (New York) or their tacos cheaper and superior (L.A.) or their skyscrapers taller and more abundant (Chicago). Most of us who have lived here for a while know and acknowledge these things, and no one is going to argue with you on the public-transportation front. Muni sucks, but BART is pretty reliable and kind of clean, and our tacos can be pretty awesome if you know where to find them. It will be way easier to find friends who can show you around, who aren't all recent transplants like yourself, if you try to be more diplomatic on these topics and recognize how San Francisco's charms can (sometimes) outweigh its weaknesses. Every city, after all, has its charms and weaknesses.
2. Try to Get Out of SoMa, and Not Just By Going to the Mission
As real estate trends have shown us during this latest tech boom, everyone wants to live and work in SoMa. The Mission/Dolores Heights/Castro vicinity has also seen an incredible rent boom and heightened competition for choice apartments. This is where new people in town want to live, with Hayes Valley and Russian Hill/Marina maybe running a close second place. It's nice when you don't own a car to keep to the central city, for sure, but there is a whole city to explore, not to mention beautiful parks in the East Bay and North Bay, and great food everywhere. Hang out at Martuni's and listen to locals belt their hearts out around the piano. Go to a show of local art in the Potrero. Have a late lunch on the sidewalk outside Zuni. Check out Trannyshack or SomeThing at the Stud. Ride a bike to Sausalito and go get oysters. Get out of the tech bubble, as much as you can, and live a little.
3. Ride Muni More Often, and Do So Like a Polite Human
Yes, the Muni Metro can be overcrowded at rush hour (in part because of a boom in new residents!), and has a habit of breaking down at inopportune times. But they have been trying to improve things, and there's no doubt that the most efficient way to get from the Sunset to downtown is the N train, and the same goes for the K, L, T, or M when trying to get from the Embarcadero to the Castro or West Portal. But please refer to our two previous etiquette guides when it comes to riding the trains and buses, because, especially if you didn't ride much public transport in your previous home, you might not be aware that leaning on polls and wearing backpacks on your back is a no-no, and crowding near doors when there's plenty of room in the middle of the car is also inconsiderate. Riding public transit makes you more of a part of the city you live in, and it means that you have a stake in it when it comes to improving itsomething you will not have if you spend your entire life using Uber and Lyft.
4. Don't Crap on the East Bay, Especially If You've Never Been There
This was a trend I observed during the first dot-com boom, and it's something that longtime San Franciscans are guilty of too: The quick dismissal of "Oakland" or the entire East Bay as someplace inferior, dangerous, and not worth visiting. Oakland is, in fact, pretty huge, with a great many safe and cool neighborhoods, great parks for dog-walking and people-walking up in the hills, some cool galleries and bars, and a ton of great restaurants. A short list: Camino, Commis, Boot & Shoe Service, Brown Sugar Kitchen, Ramen Shop, Miss Ollie's, Plum Bar, Haven, Duende, Adesso, Dopo, À Côté, and The Forge.
LCD Soundsystem at the Fillmore in October, 2010. Photo: Julio Enriquez
5. Learn Some History and See Some Music
Before San Francisco was "Techietown," it was a vibrant, living bohemia for a couple decades there, and the culture clash between old and new citizens back then was much different. The Beats and hippies brought drugs, poetry, a general air of libertine love and tolerance, and most importantly, music to this city, and at places like the Great American Music Hall and the Fillmore Auditorium, you can still experience some piece of that history. Especially from the photos and posters on the walls of the Fillmore, you can get an excellent quick primer in S.F.'s rock-and-roll past, from Janis Joplin to tUnE-yArDs. There are countless smaller venues, too, with shows all week, like Thee Parkside, Bottom of the Hill, and the Rickshaw Stop. Also, for the more bookish among you, City Lights bookstore should be a national landmark, and so long as Lawrence Ferlinghetti is still around, it hangs on as a bastion of independent bookselling with roots in Kerouac's beloved Frisco. (Yes, he liked to say Frisco, but you shouldn't.)
New Sun Hong Kong Restaurant in North Beach/Chinatown. (Photo: Daniel Chodusov )
6. By All Means, Eat and Drink Your Way Through Town
And I repeat, try to get out of the Mission sometimes. There's excellent food to be discovered in the Richmond, in Hayes Valley, North Beach, and Bayview. Take a weekend day trip to the Speakeasy Brewery and tap room. Go have dim sum and excellent pizza in the Richmond. Discover the hidden gems of Chinatown, like New Sun Hong Kong Restaurant. And start to learn from the servers, chefs, and sommeliers of San Francisco who, unlike their counterparts in other cities (especially L.A.), are not just slumming it between gigs in their other career, but who are often cultivating long careers in the food industry and have plenty of smart stuff to say. Also, see our stastitics-based best-of lists here and here.
7. Get Some Wine and Booze Education
Everyone probably realizes that Sonoma and Napa are, like, right there. But seriously, you could be in a tasting room in Sonoma in about 40 minutes if the traffic goes your way, and it's not the sort of thing you ought to be doing with a limousine (or worse, a party bus) full of coworkers. You can say, "I don't know anything about wine," or "People in the Bay Area are such wine snobs" all you want, but the fact is that most of us lifers just end up being connoisseurs of a lot of things, and this is the place to do it. Places like Arlequin Wine Merchant, K&L, Biondivino, and Cask are also great places to start without even leaving town. Tom Bulleit, distiller of Bulleit bourbon and rye, once said to me that of all the markets in the country, the Bay Area is the one that's consistently most filled with connoisseurship of all kinds. We like tasting new things, talking about flavors, remembering what things taste like and comparing them. This isn't about snobbery. It's about making the most out of life and the many great things our money affords us if we live here. Sure, some of it is too expensive. But the more you learn, the more you'll know how not to get ripped off too.
Still from Simon Christen.
8. Embrace the Fog (and Wait for Fall)
It's a fact of life. This little fog-splainer might help you understand. But it's going to be around, daily, at least until September, at which point we get to have about two months of summer, give or take. You learn to take your sunny, balmy, windless days as precious little gifts scattered throughout the year, and reasons to play hookie from work. And some of you will come to believe that wearing layers in the summer can be a blessing, especially come August while the rest of the country is sweltering and dying and praying for a breeze.
Photo: Erik Wilson
9. Don't Make Flippant Comments About Homeless People
Please don't be like this guy, Greg Gopman, who quickly made a lot of enemies among locals with his flip remarks about all the "dropouts" and "degenerates" soiling his walks to work. You don't know their lives, and whatever you may think of our progressive city's leniencies around public space and sidewalk camping, these people often do deserve your empathy. (Or, sometimes, just a wide berth because they are mentally ill and urgently on their way somewhere important.) And if you've made a shit ton of money already and you already own a Tesla and a nice condo, consider giving some to one of these organizations who are, in fact, doing good for those less fortunate in town.
Max (Jax Jackson) and Paige (Nancy Opel) in HIR at the Magic Theatre. Photo: Jennifer Reiley
10. Check Out Some Theater That's Not Just Touring Casts of Broadway Shows
This is only if you actually enjoy theater in some form, obviously. But everyone needs to be aware that SHN, the folks who bring you the touring productions of Wicked, Kinky Boots, and all the rest about a year or so after they're on Broadway (it's been a while since anyone did an out-of-town tryout here, but Wicked did), are not the only game in town. Berkeley Rep does some amazing stuff, some of which later moves on to Broadway (Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking, Green Day's American Idiot), The Magic Theatre, The Exit Theatre, The Shotgun Players, and The Boxcar Theatre do some terrific and sophisticated shows, and even the New Conservatory Theater has some fun (often gay-leaning) work on offer too. And A.C.T., for all its programming flaws, is one of the best funded repertory companies in the country and every season brings in a few amazing things as well, including this year's Venus In Fur.
Photo courtesy of SPARC
11. Get Your Medical Marijuana Card (If That's Your Thing)
Is being a stoner in San Francisco a cliché? Kind of, maybe, at this point, but our city is currently at the forefront of the nation when it comes to leniency around pot dispensaries, technologies for cultivating and growing marijuana, and the marketing and sales of cannabis products (be the smokable, edible, or whathaveyou) to consumers. Just as soon as pot is legalized in California, this is where the connoisseurs are going to be coming, ladies and gentlemen. So, get in while you can, and check out our bonafied high-end dispensary culture at places like SPARC, The Apethecarium, and The Green Door. Just make sure to get a doctor's note.
12. Get Your Earthquake Kit Together
This can not be stressed enough. You need three days worth of water and non-perishable food in your apartment, as well as some basic stuff like a battery- or crank-operated radio, a go-bag, a couple hundred dollars in small denominations, and you might want to consider a stash of Xanax (optional). Check out sf72.org for some more advice. And we'll see you in the park after the big one hits.