Phan Quoc Vinh

For a “wanderluster” like me, far-flung places promise exciting mysteries. When I first set foot in California’s glorious San Francisco, I felt as if I was reconnecting with an old flame, albeit one I’d never met. There was a sense of comforting familiarity, and novel excitement.

Pier 39 on a sunny day

A trail of love

In San Francisco, many symbols of love were strewn around the city. I discovered that “Hearts in San Francisco” is an annual fundraising art installation project.

Following Cindy Lee, a tour guide from “Free Tours by Foot”, I wandered from Union Square to Pier 39, snapping selfies with giant heart sculptures in multiple colors. Enjoying the cool afternoon breeze off San Francisco Bay, I softly hummed Tony Bennett’s “I left my heart in San Francisco”. Its timeless lyrics tell of love: “My love waits there in San Francisco/ Above the blue and windy sea/ When I come home to you, San Francisco/ Your golden sun will shine for me.”

A heart sculpture located in Union Square

Ms. Lee explained the history of these meaningful heart-shaped artworks. In 2004, local artists crafted 131 beautiful and inspiring heart sculptures, which were displayed around San Francisco for three months, before being auctioned off for charity. That first year, the project raised nearly $3 million for the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation (SFGHF), surpassing its initial fundraising target. To date, more than 350 of these heart-shaped public artworks have contributed over $11 million to SFGHF.

Ms. Lee brought us to the end of Pier 39 to see the “Open Heart” sculpture, located permanently on Level 1. This artwork was hand-painted by local artist Patrick Dintino, a San Francisco native, whose mother was saved over a decade ago by heart surgery.

Mr. Dintino said that this heart “represents the larger idea of love and self-understanding. It symbolizes the openness of the city’s people, as well as the idea of falling in love with and leaving your heart in San Francisco.”

To discover this bustling city, which has a huge ethnic Vietnamese population, I highly recommend you join walking tours, such as those through the city’s downtown starting from Union Square, through Chinatown, and past the Ferry Building in the bay on Tuesday or Saturday, to enjoy the farmers’ market and Marketplace food haven.

Another option is to create your own self-guided tours to San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, the Golden Gate Bridge, Cable Car Museum, or Railway Museum, wander along Pier 39 to see sea lions sunbathing on the floating docks, or walk uphill on the famously crooked Lombard Street…

San Francisco Bay

Feeling tired? Pay only $2.75 for an F-line Market Vintage Streetcar ticket to explore attractions along San Francisco’s piers, such as shops and restaurants at Pier 39, the Exploratorium where you can participate in scientific experiments, the Aquarium of the Bay, which houses lovely aquatic animals, or the famous Madame Tussauds San Francisco wax museum at Fisherman’s Wharf.

The more you discover, the more you will fall in love with this captivating city.

A street food haven

From Asian delights to Western cuisines, San Francisco has something to satisfy all types of foodies. There’s Belden Place, a narrow alley lined with French, Italian, and Spanish restaurants, exuding a taste of Europe in America. If you enjoy Chinese food, head to Chinatown, where old tea houses serve mouthwatering dim sum.

It is worth mentioning The Slanted Door, a modern Vietnamese restaurant operated by visionary chef Charles Phan in the Ferry Building. This prize-winning restaurant built its name by innovating traditional Vietnamese cuisine. It was worth the long wait to dine in this crowded restaurant, which was a unique culinary experience and left me feeling proud of this American-Vietnamese chef.

Lee’s Sandwiches on Willow Street in Little Saigon gave me the same sense of national pride. So far, Lee’s Sandwiches has expanded to over 60 stores in big cities in seven US states. More than just a fast food chain, the brand is considered an ambassador of Vietnamese cuisine in the U.S.

Are these enough reasons for you to love San Francisco as much as I do?