San Francisco, CA

City Population: 805,235 | City Area: 46.87 sq mi (121.4 km2) | Population Density: 17,179.2/sq mi (6,632.9/km2) | Elevation: 52 ft (16 m)
Dates Visited: 11.02.12 – 11.21.12 | Total Inter-City Miles Traveled: 6,273 miles | Total Hours Traveled: 126.5 hours (5.25 days)

Inter-City Transportation: Amtrak #3 | Origin: Chicago, IL | Stop-over City: Emeryville, CA

Oh, San Francisco. Was there ever a better way to frame my first visit to the Golden City, a place I’ve wanted to go to since I was a kid, than as the last stop on an epic 52-hour long train ride across the U.S.? I think this was pretty fitting.

San Francisco is one of the top destinations in the world. With its sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean coastline and a greatly influential eclectic mix of cultures, arts, architecture, food, and people, the city is so attractive in its abundance of riches that its become the second-most densest city in the United States, right after New York City.

Located at the tip of the San Francisco Peninsula on a small seven-by-seven square mile parcel of land, San Francisco is the site of scenic views, hilly terrain, and a great diversity of microclimates, many of them cold and foggy. It’s also the place where the grids meets the hills; there are tell-tale signs of struggle where planners pushed against nature in their determined efforts to overlay an orderly grid, like the strange sudden twists of roadways or the stairs that seem to slam to a halt. Despite Frederick Law Olmsted and Daniel Burnham’s warnings–curvilinear roads that hugged the contours of hills at least made more practical and environmental sense–San Francisco became a gridded city, a fate that defined not just the city streets, but the many cultural and political boundaries as well.

The grid belies the true topography of the city; looking down at a street map, the gridded streets make the city look deceptively flat. But San Francisco’s hills have such a reputation that they’ve become tourist landmarks in themselves, like Lombard St, the most crooked street in the Golden City with eight, tight hairpin turns. Luckily, however, there is always SFMTA–the public transportation system that was rated number two in the nation (again, after New York City) as the most accessible system in the nation by Walk Score–to take me up and down those hills when I’m feeling beat.

San Francisco is an ever-changing mosaic of cultures, peoples and experiences. A lifetime here wouldn’t suffice let alone the number of days that I’ll be staying here. I’ve been here for a few days already and have had some great experiences so far (with more to come): bicycling across the Golden Gate Bridge (on a tandem), hugging the northeast coastline by cycling from the Golden Gate Bridge Park to the Sutro Baths to the Presidio (oh hills), exploring the privately owned public parks in downtown San Francisco, my first In-N-Out Burger, and finally exploring Chinatown and some great food up that way.

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