San Francisco trip recap (the non-GDC parts!)

Earlier this month I travelled to San Francisco with Aspen for GDC. We allowed five days before the conference and three days afterward for sightseeing (and getting over jetlag). The flight over was pretty empty, so we had entire rows to ourselves to sleep on.

We had initially booked a hotel quite a ways away from the conference centre, and somehow didn’t notice until two days before leaving that it’s an unsafe place in an unsafe neighbourhood. Thankfully we were able to get a refund on that, but the only decent places available on such short notice were really expensive. So we just had to suck it up, and ended up in a four-star hotel half a block from the conference… our bank balances are not happy about it but at least it was a nice stay in a convenient spot.

I’m not sure exactly what I expected from SF, but it’s a nice place. It feels quite similar to Melbourne (much moreso than London, which is the only other overseas city I’ve spent significant time in), except the buildings are bigger and everything’s a bit more epic. The streetcars, variety of food, shopping, even the way people dress, were a lot like home. It was pouring with rain on the day we arrived, which continued right up until the start of GDC and resumed a day after it finished. So almost all of our sightseeing was done under umbrellas, but we planned out our days and made the most of it.

The food in SF, at least at the places we happened to eat at, was for the most part really good. Lots of cheese, which I can hardly say no to. There was a Californian Pizza Kitchen opposite our hotel, which is sort of like Pancake Parlour but for pizza and, well, better. I have never had such an amazing meat pizza in my life. Pizza is just ruined for me now. We screwed up our first attempt at tipping there, but made our waitress’ night in the process (she made sure to come back and compliment our hair). We ate at a bunch of different places throughout our stay, and the only disappointment was a Mexican place that everyone had been raving about. Blerh. Overpriced and just not that great.

We went to Golden Gate Park twice, going through the flower conservatory the first time, and the botanical garden and Japanese Tea Garden the second time. All very pretty. The city shoreline is nice albeit full of pricey tourist traps. The Musée Mecanique was entertaining and more than a little creepy – full of old amusements that wouldn’t be too out of place in a horror film these days. Turns out Aspen’s a lot better at Addams Family pinball than I am!

Right after GDC we wandered through the farmer’s market along Market St and the Ferry Building, then rented bikes and rode around the city, across the Golden Gate Bridge and to a ferry in Sausalito. The bridge is awe-inspiring up close; it really does make bridges around here seem like cute little toys. I don’t handle heights super well sometimes so it was a bit nerve-wracking trying to take photos in the wind right at the bridge railing, but worth it.

We wanted to check out the Exploratorium on our last day but it turns out it’s closed on Mondays so we just went to the movies instead (10 Cloverfield Lane is pretty good!). I only have one comment about this experience, which is that we really should have eight different flavours of Coke Zero in cinemas here too.

I’d read a lot of comments on San Francisco’s safety, and occasional lack of it, before arriving. It was startling to see how different the city could become from one block to the next. I didn’t really feel unsafe given the number of people around, but it was eye-opening. On another occasion I walked halfway across the city at 5am back to the hotel, and it was fine. The city is so well-lit and so deserted at night that I didn’t have any issues, though I was passing through the ‘nicer’ parts of town. I don’t think we went into the Tenderloin at any point, except maybe to the edge of it for that last night at karaoke.

I’m still confused about the sheer number of Walgreens around the city. They seemed to be even more common than 7-Elevens. Convenient, but mystifying. Do people really need that many drugstores?

If and when I come back for another GDC, I’ll probably spend a lot less time in SF but will try to organise time in another part of the country before or after the conference; perhaps somewhere outside a city. I do like mountains.

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