Phan Quoc Vinh
I want to quote the opening of the famous song “San Francisco” sung by Scott McKenzie – “If you’re going to San Francisco…” – to start my story about the week I spent exploring this vibrant harbor city.
A lively multicultural city
San Francisco, located in Northern California, has great cultural diversity. The residents are mostly of European, Western Asian, and Spanish descent. A minority originates from Africa. The city is named after a Spanish Saint: Saint Francisco. You will recognize multicultural influences in the city’s downtown and adjacent neighborhoods.
Following my guidebook’s advice, I started by discovering the Chinese American community, setting off from the distinctive Dragon’s Gate. This “China Town” had a unique look thanks to crimson lanterns hung all around, bright red neon signs, big and small stone unicorns defending every corner, and stalls set on the pavements…
Edging through St. Mary Square to arrive at the memorial stele of Dr. Sun Fat Sen, my stomach started to rumble thanks to the delicious smells of siu mai and sui cao (different types of Chinese ravioli and dumplings), and the irresistible scent of Peking duck.
This city is home to other communities from Western Asia, such as “Japan Town”, located on Fillmore and Geary, which boasts a beautiful Japanese tower. Here, the restaurants offer various Japanese dishes like udon, ramen, and sushi, allowing you to expand your knowledge of Japanese cuisine right in the heart of America.
Don’t forget to visit “Little Saigon”, a miniature Vietnam, located on the junction of O’Farrell, Ellis, and Eddy Streets. It’s just two blocks in size, but you can find many Vietnamese eateries here. I couldn’t resist a homey and hearty bowl of pho at the Ha Nam Ninh restaurant, which dates back to 1958, and a crunchy hot banh mi from Lee’s sandwich shop on the corner of Willow Street.
In addition, “Little Russia” is defined by the hotels on Geary Boulevard between 17th and 27th avenues, encircled by Russian churches and restaurants with Renaissance era architecture. Here you can find many kinds of fresh Russian sausages, candies, and vodka.
San Francisco’s Spanish community has given the city exceptional cuisine and colorful festivals, while charming “Little Italy” boasts dozens of Italian pizzerias around Washington Square. More places to explore San Francisco’s cultural mix include the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the African American Art and Culture Complex, and European-style street foods in a little alley named Belden Place.
San Francisco’s quiet side
Leave your worries behind once you’ve left San Francisco International Airport and enjoy this city’s artistic and peaceful atmosphere.
Riding on a cable car is a must in San Francisco, where the cable car company has the slogan: “Unbeatable views. Unforgettable trips. No experience is more uniquely San Francisco than a ride on a cable car.” This is the last manually-operated cable car system in the world, and a symbol of the “slow life” in San Francisco. Today, most of the seven million people who ride on the city’s cable cars each year are tourists.
More than 40 cable cars operate on three lines from early morning until midnight, taking passengers up the steepest slopes to watch San Francisco Bay from above; to visit the cable car museum; or to stop at the top of the most zigzagging street in the world: Lombard Street, where the speed limit is 10km/h.
Thanks to its seaside location, San Francisco is famous for its seafood. A picture of a large red crab welcomes visitors to Fisherman’s Wharf or Pier 39, inviting them to taste this delicacy. I enjoyed mouth-watering stir-fried crab with glass noodles in a restaurant named The Slanted Door. Here, Chef Charles Phan puts a modern twist on traditional Vietnamese cuisine. As well as winning the title of “Best Chef in California” in 2011, Charles Phan’s restaurant won “Outstanding Restaurant” in 2014 from the James Beard Foundation, which is known as the “Oscars of the culinary world”. It is best to take your time when savoring this dish. Enjoy each bite to taste the freshness of the crab meat and the delicious spices employed by this famous chef.
Sitting in the sun in a shopping center, I started chatting about my travels with friendly local people. The atmosphere was tranquil.
If you can, walk to the center of the Golden Gate Bridge and feast your eyes on the panoramic view of San Francisco Bay with the prison island of Alcatraz in the distance. Inhale the city’s fresh, salty air and you’ll definitely fall in love with this peaceful city.