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San Francisco

July 23, 2023   

I thought I would never like this city again.

It was quite random that I decided to visit one of my friends in San Francisco just a week before the trip. When I realized I had many credit card points that were depreciating over time, I decided to use them on flights. This allowed me to meet some old friends and explore new places basically for free.

Day 0: Arrival

I set off on Friday afternoon and, after one layover in Atlanta, arrived at SFO around 8:30pm, during the best time of the golden hours. The view from the plane was phenomenal as the sky split into multiple color layers. I even saw distinctive geological features like mountains and lakes. The shades of the sun made every second a piece of art.

Then I took the BART train to Millbrae, which is just a few minutes away from the airport and where my friend lives. It’s a quite pleasant suburb, filled with numerous Chinese and generally Asian restaurants and businesses, all with signage in Chinese. Every time I visit California, I always experience a surreal feeling as if I might be in China.

Day 1: City Walk

It was a beautiful sunny day and according to my friend, SF is like this all year long, which actually becomes really boring if it’s the same good weather every day for the whole year. But at least for me, as a two-day tourist, I never had a moment not praising the SF weather. It is the perfect temperature with enough sunlight but dry and chilled ocean wind. We walked around 10 miles but I didn’t even break a sweat.

Financial District

We first took the BART train back to the downtown SF area. Walking around the blocks, the city looked much nicer than the last time I came when it was dirty and smelly everywhere probably just because I came across a different area this time. The financial district is quite clean, surrounded by many skyscrapers. The unique pyramid-shaped TransAmerica building was definitely the most eye-catching one.

China Town

I’ve never really had a good impression of Chinatown because it always seemed to represent an outdated, century-old Chinese neighborhood. Things can be deceiving and people are not always pleasant. However, this particular Chinatown was lively, just like the one depicted in the latest Minions movie. We happened to encounter a food-selling event organized by high school students on the Chinatown street. I could feel the vibrant 热闹 atmosphere, which made me feel at home.

After wandering around a few blocks within Chinatown, I had lunch with my friend and another friend who had traveled all the way from Mountain View. It was nice catching up with both of them at a decent Chinese restaurant called House of Nanking, where a scene from the latest Matrix movie was filmed. It was amusing when I tried to order 梅菜扣肉 from the menu. The chef gave me a confused look, then decided to order for us, and we agreed.

Very quickly, a few really nice dishes arrived. They were all dishes I had never had back in China, but they looked and tasted very authentic. Although my roommate from Nanjing said he had never tried any of those dishes either, the food was still very nice.

Golden Gate Park

While the name of Golden Gate Park may sound deceiving, as you cannot actually see the Golden Gate Bridge from the park, it is a vast park with plentiful meadows and recreational areas.

As we walked across the expansive green lawns, the atmosphere was amazing; people were all having fun. It resembled a college campus or Duke Gardens on weekends.

After that, my friend introduced me to a new sport called disc golf, which involves using frisbee discs to play a game similar to golf. It was actually really fun for me, even as a first-timer. I had a lot of fun just throwing the disc far away from the actual target and eventually hitting the target basket after countless rounds. I would love to play more disc golf when I return to Durham.

Day 2: Bay Walk

Broadway along the coast

I’ve always wanted to visit the ocean while in SF, and today was the day. We took the BART to the usual stop and walked a few blocks until we reached the coastal Broadway. It was beautiful and impressive. I saw Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge from the Pier. The Bay Bridge was even more impressive than I had imagined, as I was only familiar with the Golden Gate Bridge.

Exploratorium Museum

This was listed as a top 5 attraction on TripAdvisor, but honestly, it seemed overrated. The museum is situated by the bay and features many interesting interactive exhibits about human senses, such as vision. I enjoyed interacting with some of the devices and learned about a few fascinating psychological effects. However, the place was crowded with kids. Admittedly, I believe it’s intended to be an educational museum for children. Anyway, we had a good time walking around and checking out the small observatory deck overlooking the bay.

On the way back, we walked to the end of one of the piers, which offered an amazing view of the city skyline. It was incredibly pleasant, with no fog, just a chilled breeze and great sunshine.

On the way back on the BART train, I was really amazed by the houses in the SF area. They were so compact, just like those math problems of performing an integral on a function graph.

Meeting another old friend

It was by chance that this friend was also in the same area as I was. He was seeing off his family who were taking a flight back to China after touring America, while I was just randomly here, on my way back to Durham. We hadn’t seen each other for a year and it was great to catch up again, even though it was a brief two-hour meeting over a light dinner. I guess 一见如故 could best describe my emotions at that time.

I am really glad I made this random decision to come to SF for a weekend. It again made me realize the importance of friends and the importance of catching up. I gain a lot of happiness and positivity from my friends and I cannot thank them enough for what they have done for me. I wish one day I could come back to the Bay Area and catch up with the lovely people here again.