San Francisco, like any famous city, is a degenerate crossbreed of tourist hellhole and fresh paradise. Many have fought fierce winds and seagulls, tramped up and down mountainous streets, and spent half their savings on greasy panhandlers in search of her magic and left feeling swindled. You went to the Golden Gate Bridge and stared at the rust and fog in apathy, wondering if you’re lack of elation meant something was wrong with you. The seals at Pier 39 smell like wet dog and fish and sleep most of the time, and the 40 year old clown who dropped his balls while juggling is more sad than funny. The hordes of Apple, Facebook and Google nerds have successfully descended from Silicon Valley and colonized Haight and Ashbury, displacing the hippies and freaks for geeks and boutiques. So Lonely Planet screwed you and your parent’s nostalgic stories turned out to be lies. Luckily we have compiled a list of truly awesome SF happenings.
Delores Park - More communal freak space than park, this grassy hill in San Fran’s alternative epicentre is the perfect vantage point to check out all the characters that give the city its reputation for diversity. Dolores is a rainbow of dogs, madmen, babies, crust punks, trippers and gurus, who relax together beneath a haze of spliffs and good beats. In my younger days I thought it would be lucrative to buy a bunch of Mexican knick-knacks and sell them in Dolores, I didn’t make much, but I got to meet some of the greatest people I know. So either get amongst the party or stand back and enjoy the people watching, and when you get bored, or that guy talking to himself about God and peanuts becomes overwhelming, head across the road to the Castro District.
Castro - Here it is possible to see a man totally naked at 9am sitting at Starbucks drinking coffee and reading his paper. Gay rights baby. This progressive little suburb was first settled by gay military men after they were discharged during World War II for being gay. It has since grown into a hub of LGBT rights and free expression. Watch some movie with Jane Fonda in it at the theatre, dig the rainbow sidewalks or do the rainbow walk of fame, and if you are coincidentally here during the Pride Festival, strap in, get loose, and pack heaps of glitter.
Clarion Alley Street Art - Fuck museums and galleries, Clarion Alley has murals that make Picasso look like a dweeb. Its survival-of-the-fittest system means that only the best pieces last while the rest get pissed on and covered up. The street is also surrounded by Mexican restaurants where you can score a mind blowing two-meal burrito for four bucks.
Et Al and Capital - If you insist on going to an art gallery then Et Al and CAPITAL are the pick of the litter. Both located in Chinatown, these contemporary spaces filled with mad art pieces by real art geniuses won’t leave you contemplating the reason and merit of some modern art Jackie Chan sculpture made entirely out of bread bag clips.
Readings at City Lights Bookstore - Pretty touristy, we know. But how can you deny nostalgia. Jack Kerouac is the man and he loves this place. The beats were the first dudes to break out of Pleasantville and show the world that smoking dope, tramping around the country, and talking and talking and talking was a pretty great time. If it wasn’t for these guys we’d still be struggling through the adjective-laden passages of Dickens, trapped by the redundancy of his double negatives: “and he was not unwell and yet felt no darkness except for his undoing”, without a glimpse into the technicolour universe of the human psyche. So head to the bookstore and catch a reading, you won’t magically become cool, chances are you will feel a little cheap, but the experience is rewarding nonetheless.
Underground Wrestling Match - Head to the Oakland Metro Operahouse on the first Friday of the month for Hoodslam. This wrestling/performance art/freakiness is like an amalgamation of your childhood dreams and nightmares. And on the first Thursday there is an eclectic array of variety shows to satiate your inner-misfit.
Nightlife - There are plenty of fun and confusing bars and clubs in SF including Knockout, Royal Cuckoo and Rock Bar, but by far the most fun and confusing is OMG. Why? Drag shows. A scene that seems to have all but died out in Sydney is throbbing with transgression in San Fran, and will have you questioning everything in life.
San Fran is as eclectic as the rainbow. It has some of the nicest/strangest people you will ever encounter. My advice is to relish the interaction because the people are the best thing about this city and you won’t find the right ones if you spend all your time at Alcatraz. And remember to pack your beard oil.