Solo Travel for Introverts Ratings
Sensory Calm (3 / 5) – San Francisco is relatively quieter than New York or Los Angeles. The sea waves calm the senses. Many neighborhoods are mixed business-residences as opposed to dense urban areas.
Solo-Friendliness (5 / 5) – Very friendly since the region has a younger demographic with frequent solo commuters, modest dining rooms (but with quality food) and plenty of parks and coastline rest areas. Solo folks will not feel out of place anywhere.
Commute Friendly (4 / 5) – There is good public transportation with interchangeable passes for buses and trains, although it doesn’t hold a candle to New York or London. As an aside, this is the reason SF Bay Area is the birthplace of Uber. But public transportation here is definitely better than car-oriented American cities like Los Angeles or the mid-west.
Predictability – (4 / 5) – When I moved here, I did not find anything weird or unpredictable, except the weather. The temperature changes rapidly in the city, the weather swinging from sunny to foggy. Layers are preferable over single heavy jackets.
Safety (4 / 5) – San Francisco is relatively safe. While the city had a problem with homelessness and drug abuse, most unhoused people are friendly, and there is lower violence and crime compared to other big cities.
Nerdy stuff – (5 / 5) – The city is a treasure-trove of museums, historic buildings, engineering feats, the Star Wars special effects studio and Silicon Valley attractions like the HP garage.
Content Warning – Mention of suicide, Vietnam War, WW-II, Discrimination against Lgbt+ community and Nazism
What and Where?
The San Francisco region, called the Bay Area, is a picturesque location on the West Coast of the United States – and my present hometown. Among the great cities in the world, San Francisco is the youngest, both in terms of historic age and demographics. It is very photogenic, from the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to bright colored Victorian townhouses, with cable-cars running up and down steep hills and a view of the bright blue Pacific ocean.
To an international tourist, I would offer caution – unlike the East Coast, the distances on the West Coast are very large. It generally requires road trips by car. For a 2-week trip, I suggest either doing San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas – forming a triangle, or, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego in a straight line along the Pacific Coast, with numerous beach towns on the way (called the Pacific 1 route).
The Golden Gate
Many tourists wonder why the Golden Gate Bridge isn’t … well … golden in color. This is because The Golden Gate refers to the narrow strait which forms the mouth of the Bay. It acquired its name when gold was discovered in California and large numbers of migrants passed through this gate to make a fortune in gold-mining.
The Bridge was painted in International Orange so as to be visible to incoming ships in fogs and storms. The bridge is an engineering marvel, and the visitors center has smaller working replicas to explain the structural integrity. The bridge is also designed to resist seismic events, since San Francisco is an earthquake-prone zone. In recent years, to prevent people from dying by suicide (the bridge being a top spot for so in the world), a large number of crisis hotlines are installed along the bridge’s length, which is a heart-warming community initiative.
Market Street is the main transit artery of San Francisco. It’s a diagonal road from the coastline to the twin peaks and divides the city into two halves. Walking along the market street, I have found several historic attractions, restaurants and pubs alongside, and I recommend this on the first day of visiting SF, in order to get a lay of the land.
Cable-Car of Market St
Cable Cars of San Francisco are the world’s last manually operated ones. A cable car is different from electric cars. Unlike them, it not have any overhead lines. Instead, the line is underground, called a ‘grip’. This grip is mechanically moved, like a conveyor-belt, which physically pulls the cable car along the street.
I rode the line in Market St starting from the Turntable at the intersection of Powell and Market St. There is generally a long queue here, and I recommend taking pictures with the cable car beforehand, instead the riding itself. While riding, if you enter early, choose the side-seats on the outside, which are more fun. When I rode them, I could feel wind blowing across my hair as the car went up and down the hilly streets.
Landmarks along Market St
- Many cultural museums such as those for Asian Art, Mexican Heritage, African Diaspora and Jewish History, along with Modern art and quirky ones like the Museum of Ice Cream (this one’s great for instagram). My favorite was the Asian Art Museum which has stone reliefs and life-size statues of the Buddha from ancient India & China.
- Silicon Valley attractions like Salesforce tower (which streams media) and Twitter and Uber HQs, along with other recognizable brands for a quick picture.
- Various historic buildings, bookstores, libraries and shopping centers – great for just strolling around and discovering new things.
Food along Market St
- Chai Cart – Tea in traditional Indian style, with milk, sugar and cardamom. Go with the Rose Chai if you are feeling adventurous (many westerners don’t like floral notes, so beware). The regular Masala Chai always delivers.
- Sushirrito – Combination of Japanese Sushi and Mexican Burrito. It is a giant rice roll with fish, meats and hot sauces inside. I recommend the Latin Ninja roll with salmon poke, plantain and mango sauce.
- 20th Century Cafe – Vintage Central-European cafe with specialities from Vienna, Prague and Budapest. My favorite items here were the Tokaji sweet wine from Hungary, and Medovik (Slavic Honey Cake).
Love & Revolution
The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood is the birthplace of Hippie Counterculture of 1960s – an important part of San Francisco’s history. It started with students all over America coming for spring break with flowers on their hair and new ideas in minds. They opposed capitalism, Vietnam War, sexual restrictions and gendered expectations of the 1950’s American society.
This Summer of Love gave rise to psychedelic rock music, a new wave of youth activism, animal rights messages, a call against authoritarianism and inclusive socio-cultural norms.
Walking around Haight-Ashbury today, I found several shops selling T-shirts tie-dyed in rainbow colors, knick-knacks like lava-lamps and Anti-Vietnam Protest badges. There were many street musicians, vegan cafes and revolutionary book-stores which pulled me back into the 1970s. It was a memorable experience.
TieDye Store: Love on Haight
Vegan Burger: VeganBurg San Francisco
Herbal Store: Twisted Thistle Apothecary
Castro District is the LGBT+ neighborhood of San Francisco, which rose when the US military discriminated against Lgbt+ members and discharged them. The folks who were let go settled down here and created a safe haven for themselves. The attractions here are the GLBT Historical Society Museum and the Castro Camera – which started off as the center of Harvey Milk’s activism, and now has been converted to Human Rights Campaign Action Center and Store.
The Beat Generation refers to the post-war literary genre in America which emphasized rejection of consumerism and materialism and instead, embraced eastern spiritual paths like Buddhism and Hinduism, creating the New Age movement in America. City Lights Bookstore is the birthplace of this revolutionary movement.
I felt I could spend hours at this place since there were many books that caught my attention – old school books written by those fleeing Fascist and Authoritarian regimes like 1960’s China, Russia, Germany etc., to Black Rights and Marxist critiques of white supremacy and capitalism, to early Feminism – all classic gems from older times. But I also loved politically current books – like 10 Steps to fight a dictatorship in your country – with proven examples from the Middle East and how to de-escalate an aggressive law enforcement officer if you are a black person or PoC.
The walls on the store has photographs and murals showing its activist past, including a “Free Speech Zone” sign, from an older time when treason and anti-obscenity laws shut down various authors critical of modern power structures.
Hour Trip from SF : Silicon Valley
Less than hour from San Francisco by Caltrain or car, lies the South Bay, today known as Silicon Valley, the heart of semiconductors, computers and the internet.
Computer History Museum
The Computer History Museum, Mountain View houses the largest and most significant computer artifacts in the world. I could’ve easily spent an entire day here if I could, although 1 hour is sufficient for a quick guided tour.
It contains all machines from ancient abacuses and the differential engine by Charles Babbage to supercomputers like Cray-1. It also has old punch-card systems from IBM and (pictured) the full apparatus of ENIAC, with explanatory labels regarding what each component does.
Several older folks in my tour-group had become nostalgic about vintage apple, xerox and DOS PCs on display, recalling their own memories with them with delight. There is also commentary on the socio-cultural impacts of computers, from the Allied efforts against Nazism (including those of Alan Turing) to how Ubuntu and Linux were a part of the Hippie value systems of free and open software with communal contributions.
Stanford University Campus
The Stanford University Campus in Palo Alto is a beautiful place to stroll or bike in, with gardens and parks adorning traditional buildings in the Early California style. There are long hallways gilded with pillars, intricately carved entrances and ornamentations appearing all over the walls in a beautiful yellow-stone.
The Hoover Tower is my favorite attraction in the campus. From the tower-deck at the top, I could see the campus’ entire layout and the surrounding Bay Area. The tower also has 36 giant bells which are rung in specific sequences at certain times of the year according to the college tradition.
The Cantor Arts Museum is a lovely place to visit too, and my favorite item here was the garden with several Rodin statues from the original cast, which show the human figure in great detail including veins and folds of the skin. Lastly, I visited the Main Quad which is a beautiful courtyard housing a Memorial Church, covered in murals with colorful details.
Coming Up Next
I am writing 2 more parts about the San Francisco Area. I will write about natural wonders – ancient redwood forests and picturesque beachfronts, and historic neighborhoods – Mission District and China Town (The oldest in America).
Stay tuned !