While traveling in Europe, one can travel a short distance and encounter a whole new language and culture than that at their point of origin. If anywhere in the United States is as diverse as this, it is the San Francisco Bay Area. The city itself packs a bevy of cultures and ethnic groups into a compact 7 mile by 7 mile area, lending truth to America’s nickname “the melting pot”. From Japantown to Chinatown and back to Little Italy, there is an area of San Francisco designated to each major ethnic group that helped to build this thriving city. But beyond the obvious ethnic divides are the cultural divides that span their gaps. The Bay Area is the place for techies, foodies, and winos, to name a few.
Because it is home to some of the biggest names on the internet like Facebook and Google, San Francisco’s techie culture is impossible to ignore. This is, after all, the birthplace of the iPhone, which can be a useful tool while traveling in the area. Technophiles can go one step further than using a standard GPS system and download apps dedicated to travel in San Francisco. Travel guides from trusted names like DK and Lonely Planet will let you leave the bulky tourist guides at home. Free or inexpensive walking tour apps can be downloaded for directions and self-guided tours. Attractions like the de Young Museum or the Napa Valley have dedicated apps to provide interactive information to visitors. The Silicon Valley, just south of the city, has two museums devoted to technology. The Computer History Museum in Mountain View boasts the largest collection of computing artifacts in the world, whereas the Tech Museum in downtown San Jose provides lectures and hands-on exhibits to give the visitor a taste of the Silicon Valley experience.
As vast and varied as the tech-centric attractions are, foodies will have an even more difficult time narrowing their choices. Visitors to San Francisco can eat a variety of foods at varying price points, from dim-sum under $20 in Chinatown to dining on culinary works of art at the French Laundry in the Napa Valley, where the nine-course tasting menus change daily. But for a dining experience with picturesque views of the Pacific, visit the historic Cliff House on San Francisco’s westernmost tip of coastline. When it comes to California cuisine, chefs favor fresh, locally-grown ingredients. To see where it all begins, a trip to the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market is a must.
As California produces 90% of the wine in the United States, you need not look farther than Napa for a wine pairing with dinner. If you aren’t convinced that California wines can hold their ground against French wines, allow us to refer you to a 35 year-old victory in which Napa’s Chateau Montelena went head to head against four French wines in Paris and came out victorious. With over 400 wineries in the region, Napa is still producing world-class wines. Wineries range from the nationally recognized, like Robert Mondavi or Korbel, to family-owned enterprises like Ceja Vineyards. There is a multitude of ways to tour the Napa Valley. One popular method is the Napa Valley Wine Train, which takes you on a 3-hour, 36-mile journey on rails built in 1864 by San Francisco’s first millionaire, Samuel Brannan. But no tour is more in keeping with modern Northern California tradition than Segway Napa, which guides tourists through wine country atop a Segway.
Obviously, we can’t talk about San Francisco and not mention the Castro district. When one thinks of gay-friendly travel, San Francisco immediately comes to mind. However, if you haven’t heard the news (at least, according to the Advocate), Minneapolis and a handful of other cities have dethroned San Francisco as the “gayest city in America”. Still, each June the nation’s largest Pride Festival and Parade takes place here, a citywide event that is not contained by the borders of the Castro. The district, which marks its territory with rainbow street banners, hosts some of the best nightlife in the city with bars so popular they overflow with customers. This is a far cry from the days where the Twin Peaks Tavern on Market and Castro, with its large glass windows, was considered revolutionary for displaying patrons who were out-and-proud. Regardless of which city holds the title of the “gayest” city in the US, San Francisco and the Castro are still considered gay mecca. It’s good to be queen.