From Little Italy with its authentic Italian pastries to Chinatown, the Marina and the colorful Haight, the distinct neighborhoods are sometimes exact opposites of each other. Yet, unlike in Los Angeles, they are all within (relative) walking distance.
There is a large, young crowd of people from differing backgrounds, wide-ranging professions, and unique interests.
The Victorian architecture. It’s just lovely.
You can be as dressy or as casual as you like. From preppy to grunge, San Francisco has a place for you.
The intellectual energy rings. There are around 25 colleges and universities in the area, despite its small size, not to mention the top innovative companies that are based in the bay area.
For me, it has a good balance between efficiency and a laid-back attitude.
It’s only a short drive (or ride) to wholly new areas like wine country (which really is a different world) and Berkeley/Oakland, serving gourmands and tree-huggers alike.
The food. It’s delicious, diverse, fresh, and creative (and you can definitely find your hole-in-the-wall cheap eats if you want, too). Yes, a person can get tired of so much fancy New American cuisine, but I’d take diversity and creativity over repetition and plainness any day.
Buildings have attitudes. I’ve passed a building with a couch sticking out of a top story, giant legs protruding from storefronts (see photo, right), and cheeky signs that make you take double takes as you walk by.
I had done all the touristy things when I was young—the Golden Gate bridge, Pier 39, Alcatraz, the Pink Ladies, etc. – and you should definitely do them too. I’ve also sailed into the city underneath the Golden Gate bridge. Seeing the city, at night, from the water was definitely the most unique experience I’ve had of the place. But as a person no longer living in California, I appreciate San Francisco for the day-to-day enjoyments, like the architecture, the hills, the food, and the friends and family.