Backpacking San Francisco

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The Painted Ladies at Alamo Square. Many people recognize these houses from the show "Full House". Photo courtesy of Dustin Hacker
The Painted Ladies at Alamo Square. Many people recognize these houses from the show “Full House.” (Photo by Dustin Hacker)

For spring break, some people go home and relax on the couch while others will do a short study abroad trip. Some people choose to go to the beach with a group of friends and well, let’s say, have a good time. And then there are a few people like me, who decide to pack up and travel somewhere alone. This spring break, I headed out west to San Francisco.

San Francisco is a city that I have been to many times because I have family in the Bay Area. Typically, my dad plans the trip and the rest of my family, including myself, is along for the ride. On this trip, however, I was going alone. Ahead of me lied an exciting yet daunting task to plan my entire five day trip to San Francisco.

In an effort to pack lightly and make the trip seem more like an adventure, I decided to pack everything I needed for my trip into a single backpack. The backpack idea ended up working out very well and it made me feel more independent. I felt less like a tourist and more like a traveler. Despite feeling less like a tourist, I went to many of the famous spots throughout San Francisco.

When I landed at the airport, my adventure began. I took the train into the city and got off in the Mission district, a historically hispanic and less touristy area of the city. I went into a small burrito shop and noticed I was the only person who was not a local inside. However, I did not feel out of place and they did not know that I was not a local. I ordered in Spanish, ate the delicious and authentic burrito quickly and left the restaurant to take on the city.

Throughout the rest of the day, I made it to some popular spots, like Dolores Park, Union Square and the Ferry Building, and by the time I got to where I was staying the night, via a metro train, I was exhausted. I had flown 6 hours, seen so much and was ready to relax.

One aspect of the trip that would have been less relevant on basically any other week of the year was rain. California has been in an extreme drought for the last 5 years and rain is the last thing anyone expects to get when traveling to California these days. However while I was there, the sun peaked out a few times but most of the time it was drizzling and there were even a few moments when there was Charleston-like rain – heavy rain. This made traveling with only a backpack a little more difficult, but my umbrella, which conveniently fit in one of my backpack water bottle holders, was a big help.

The rain problem was unexpected but I was able to adjust to it. But there was another “problem” with traveling to San Francisco and carrying my backpack/life everywhere I went. For anyone who knows San Francisco, the city is built on hills, and I had to conquer these with my backpack. It made for a personal challenge and instead of staying away from the hills, I decided to hike them. I climbed up Russian Hill to get to Nob Hill. Then I walked down many hills through Chinatown to get to Telegraph Hill, which I also climbed. You get the point. I was doing city hikes every day.

I saw different parts of the city each day. I walked from Haight-Ashbury, the hippie neighborhood made famous from the Summer of Love in 1967 all the way to the Embarcadero.  Walking through Haight-Ashbury was an experience that brought me back in time because Haight-Ashbury was the neighborhood in San Francisco that much of the music world descended on in 1967. It became the home of the hippies and concerts were played in the streets every night. Seeing parts of the neighborhood that are preserved or representative of that important cultural moment in American history was very unique experience.

On the way to the Embarcadero, I passed by the Painted Ladies houses (made famous to some by the show “Full House”), City Hall, and all the way through the Market Street area. I knew the Painted Ladies were famous, but when my friends gave me a hard time for not making a “Full House” reference in my Instagram caption, I realized how universally recognized these beautiful Victorian San Francisco houses really were.

Despite having been to San Francisco before, I had never spent much time around Market Street which is a very busy part of the city. The coolest part of my experience of Market Street was seeing and riding the Market Street car. They are historic streetcars (different than cable cars) that run through downtown. Riding on one immediately took me back to what I imagined public transit to be like in the 1940s.

A view of the Golden Gate Bridge as the sun peaked through the clouds. Photo courtesy of Dustin Hacker
A view of the Golden Gate Bridge as the sun peeked through the clouds. (Photo by Dustin Hacker)

Because I had been to San Francisco before, I had seen most of the touristy sights. Everyone loves the Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street (the zigzag street) and Ghirardelli Square among many other things. I saw all of those on my trip but because I was alone and not constrained by anyone else’s schedule, I was able to appreciate my surroundings a lot more. I walked through so many different neighborhoods, like Chinatown, North Beach (historically Little Italy), Pacific Heights, the Sunset District, Nob Hill … the list goes on. I got to experience the West Coast melting pot of cultures first hand and was able to interact with people on the street and in restaurants. Seeing pictures of a beautiful city is one thing but experiencing it first hand and immersing yourself in it is how you get the true traveler’s experience.

Like Charleston, San Francisco is a city rich with history and architectural beauty. With Victorian style houses everywhere you look, the city is a place where you don’t have to take a tour or go into a single building and can still be in awe with what is in front of you. The city has character and the people have character. And when you are a traveler who is hiking the city with just your backpack, you will feel like you want to join the culture and character by which you are surrounded.

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