San Francisco, open your Golden Gate, sang the girl in the theater. She never finished her song. The date was 18th April, 1906. The earth shook and the roof suddenly divided, buildings crashed to the ground and people rushed out into the streets. The dreadful earthquake destroyed the city that had grown up when men discovered gold in the deserts of California. But today the streets of San Francisco stretch over more than forty steep hills, rising like huge cliffs above the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.
The best way to see this splendid city, where Spanish people were the first to make their homes, is to take one of the old cable cars which run along the nine main avenues. Fares are cheap; they have not risen, I’m told, for almost a hundred years.
You leave the palm trees in Union Square — the heart of San Francisco — and from the shop signs and the faces around you, you will notice that in the city live people from many nations — Austrians, Italians,Chinese and others — giving each part a special character. More Chinese live in China Town than in any other part of the world outside China. Here, with Chinese restaurants, Chinese post-boxes, and even odd telephone-boxes that look like pagodas, it is easy to feel you are in China itself.
Fisherman’s Wharf, a place all foreigners want to see, is at the end of the ride. You get out, pause perhaps to help the other travelers to swing the cable car on its turntable (a city custom), and then set out to find a table in one of the gay little restaurants beside the harbour. As you enjoy the fresh Pacific sea food you can admire the bright red paint of the Golden Gate Bridge in the harbour and watch the traffic crossing beneath the tall towers on its way to the pretty village of Tiberon. When you’ve finished your meal, you may decide to take aboat-trip around the bay to look at the sights. You can stare, for example, at the famous, now empty, prison of Alcatraz. Then why not go to the fishing village of Sansalito — a little like London’s Chelsea or New York’s Greenwich Village — to see people painting and to look at their pictures. You will be able to enjoy a view of the city from the sea and take pleasure in the soft red and blue Spanish-type houses shining in the bright Pacific light. If you have time you might like to go by bus to Carmel, a hundred miles south of San Francisco, where you will discover a wild and wonderful coast with high cliffs.
Although the people of San Francisco prefer riding to walking, you may like to climb up the steep streets. Handrails are provided so that you can pull yourself up. You can enjoy the splendid shops, the view from Telegraph Hill, the houses with fountains and garden: You can also look at the Stage Coach, a familiar sight from Western films, which is in the window of the Wells Fargo Bank in Montgomery Street, near the business centre of the city.
I expect you’ll notice that all over the city the cars are left with their wheels turned towards the side walk so that they can’t roll away. Wherever you walk you’ll find it hard to lose yourself. At most of the important crossings there is a plan of the streets (Lombard Street; Ohio Street; Market Street; and so on)cut into the stone of the sidewalk so that you can look down and see where you are.
After so much walking you may feel tired and sticky and ready for a swim. There is often a thick morning mist from the sea in summer, but the weather can be very hot. Yet nobody swims in the Pacific. It is too risky. There are miles and miles of smooth hard sand, empty because of sharks — those dreadful big man-eating fish — and the high and dangerous waves of the sea. So take a street car from the city centre to the wonderful swimming pool on the edge of the ocean. Afterwards you can go to the neighbouring zoo.Later, while you wait to catch a street car returning to your hotel, you may even see the sign “Doggy Diner” — a restaurant for dogs!
But what about meals for people? As in most of the big cities, the restaurants offer delicious food from almost every country. You could have dinner in Chinatown and then, on the way back to your hotel, catch the last cable car after midnight: it’s not unusual for passengers who arrive late to have to hang on to the sides of the last car for the whole journey.
On Sundays parents often take their children to look at the strange trees in the pretty Japanese Tea Garden in the huge spaces of Golden Gate Park.
With its hot sun and gay night life, San Francisco is a fine place to live in or to visit. It is the most European of all American cities and you’ll be sure to grow fond of it instantly. So tell yourself in the words of a song from the last century, “San Francisco, here I come!”