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February 2, 2011

12 Notable Reasons to Love San Francisco. ~ Caroline Casper

Photo Courtesy of Curis Fry

We’re not in Kentucky anymore… What’s not to love?

1. Street Art, Murals and Intelligent Graffiti

We’re at creative capacity in this town, brimming with more artistic talent than there are means and opportunities to express it, so it’s common to see very intelligent, politically informed and poetic graffiti scribbling on any smooth city surface. I’ve also seen murals and other (spray) paintings on sidewalks and the exterior of random city walls that could easily be hanging in SF MOMA. The city is its own art museum.

2. The Yoga

I spent last weekend at the Yoga Journal Conference in San Francisco so it’s easy to include the yoga community as part of this list. San Francisco is home to Yoga Journal Magazine as well as some of the world’s best teachers (many of whom were teaching at the conference), and when SF has a yoga event or conference it’s impossible to overlook a curious shift in the way people are practicing yoga. San Francisco yogis and yoginis are interesting, inspiring and progressive-thinking people who really are changing lives and making a difference in the world through their practice and non-profits/charities. According to a study completed by Yoga Journal, yoga is the fastest growing sport in the U.S. (more than 14.5 million people are rolling out their mats these days), and last weekend I truly felt like I was standing at the epicenter of it all. There was even a forum on the topic of men and yoga–how to use the practice to be a better boyfriend/partner–and at least a third of the audience was men. That is a reason to love San Francisco.

3. We Love Eye Contact

I recently read that New Yorkers believe that they aren’t afraid to touch each other. If that’s true about New York, than it’s true that San Franciscans aren’t afraid of eye contact. When I say ‘eye contact’ what I really mean is eye gazing–the no blinking, I really love you stare-down you’re likely to encounter at any local yoga studio, Burning Man related event, Ecstatic Dance, the SF Green Festival, Rainbow Grocery or the Yoga Journal Conference…just to name a few of the most common places. If you don’t know what I’m talking about you’ve probably never experienced the gaze but if you stick around the above places long enough, you will.

Whether it warms your soul or you squirm at the awkward thought of it (I myself fall somewhere in the middle), eye gazing is very San Francisco.

4. Gavin Newsom Has Great Hair

Gavin Newsom, the former famed liberal mayor of San Francisco who is now the Lt. Governor of California, lives here and he has such great hair you can follow it on Twitter. Look it up. The handle is GavsHair.

(Photo Courtesy of Brian Kusler)

5. The Fog

This one is all about perspective. To me, the occasional fog in San Francisco is a reason to love this town. It’s like a rhythm–a reliable evening blanket that starts at the top of Golden Gate Bridge and Twin Peaks and then rolls down over the rest of the city at the end of most days. It says it’s okay to rest now. It also offers a (sometimes eerie) mood of contemplation and I love that.

6. The San Francisco Twins and the Tamale Lady

Marian and Vivian Brown are 84-year old identical twins and icons of San Francisco. They are quirky and cool because they walk everywhere together in matching bright outfits and wear hats over their perfectly coifed hairdos. According to Wikipedia, they were born in Kalamazoo, Michigan and moved out here to work as “secretaries” (both of them) in 1970. I once saw them arguing while walking down Fillmore Street and it made me laugh.

(Photo Courtesy of Ian Brown)

The Tamale Lady (aka Virginia Ramos) is also a San Francisco icon. She walks around the inner Mission and SoMa bars with a cooler-on-wheels filled with delicious, hot tamales she makes in her home kitchen that morning with her children. They are about $4 and worth it.

Seeing The San Francisco Twins or the Tamale Lady is kind of exciting, like seeing a rainbow or a praying mantis.

7. The Hunky Jesus Contest

It’s irreverent, sacrilegious and absolutely hilarious. The Hunky Jesus Contest is exactly what it sounds like. Held in the Mission District’s Dolores Park every Easter, it’s a contest to find the best and hunkiest Jesus costume. It’s put on by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a local non-profit group of drag queen activists, and is supposed to be a day of celebration and a reminder of new beginnings. It’s also a perfect reflection of the San Francisco sense of humor.

8. Urban Stairs

San Francisco is a city of hills and steep streets which means it’s also a city with a myriad of often hidden urban stairways–a little known and uniquely San Francisco phenomena. As the story goes (and according to sisterbetty.org Stairways of San Francisco), Jasper O’Farrell, an SF civil engineer and the first surveyor to lay out most of the city’s modern plan (circa 1839), wanted curved streets that conformed to the terrain. Real estate developers, however, wanted straight streets so lots would be easier to subdivide and sell. As you can imagine, the real estate developers won that argument and, as a result, some of San Francisco’s streets were built so steep and impassible that the city built stairways to provide access and shortcuts to areas unreachable by any other means. Aside from a handful of famous stairways that everyone knows (like the Lyon Street Stairs or those leading to Coit Tower), many of the often century-old stairways are beautiful and quiet city escapes used only by locals (I’ve read there are 300 of them).

9. The Coffee Options Are Plenty

It’s okay to hate Starbucks here because, unlike most other towns in America, there’s probably another option for a morning cup of coffee or tea on the next block–and it’s probably less crowded, locally owned and serves organic and/or fair trade beverages (and they’re usually better tasting). I love the coffee options here. My favorite local spots are Blue Bottle, Philz, Four Barrel and Ritual. And if you like tea, Samovar has spectacular options.

10. Porchlight Story Telling Series

Porchlight is an event that has been inviting San Franciscans to stand up and tell their stories for the past eight years. Each month, co-founders Beth Lisick and Arline Klatte invite six people from different backgrounds to show up at the Verdi Club and–in front of a packed theater–tell ten minute true stories without using notes or memorization. Throughout the years I’ve heard some remarkable and bizarre stories told by a sex worker, a drag queen, local writers Dave Eggers, Mark Morford, Stephen Elliott, Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) and an old guy in a Santa costume who was fired from Macy’s at Christmas time. The most memorable story, however, came from an ER nurse who said she quit her job at SF General Hospital because she was sick of helping men remove their penises from (heavy) foreign objects. Porchlight is a creative, hilarious, heartbreaking, and shocking show of real humanity.

(Photo Courtesy of Travis Grathwell)

11. Because You’re Probably Not From Here

Most SF residents didn’t grow up here, so all of the things that are uniquely San Francisco and go unnoticed by natives–like parking your car on ridiculously steep hills and apartments that have neither central air conditioning nor heat–are new and interesting to the rest of us. If you’re not from here you’re likely to better appreciate these certain SF nuances. For instance, when I first moved here (I’m from Kentucky), I noticed that people don’t go to church, they go to yoga. Buses can and actually do run on electric wires, and the young guy in your office wearing torn jeans and sporting a full tattoo sleeve is probably the company owner.

12. Because Eventually, You’ll Leave.

I don’t have any stats or figures on this one, but I hear that most people don’t live in San Francisco forever. Whether it’s the eventual strain of incredibly high living costs, distance from family or an inability to withstand the cold summers, most people eventually move away from the city. Life here can sometimes seem like a temporary, hedonistic playground before (delayed) adulthood. So in the spirit and joy of impermanence (and because one day you’re likely to live in a town that doesn’t have any of the aforementioned attributes) I enthusiastically decree that San Francisco is a total blast.

Caroline Casper is a writer and yogini who works in online marketing and digital sales at Yoga Journal and Vegetarian Times in San Francisco. She specializes in–and is mostly curious about–writing and ideas surrounding social change, sustainability, health, yoga, meditation and like-minded practices. She grew up in Louisville, Kentucky and has lived in various other cities throughout the world only to discover that San Francisco is where she feels most like herself. (Of course this will change again too). She is forever grateful that her world is saturated with so many teachers, everywhere, all the time.

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