It will charm you for sure, but be warned: whether you’re a first-time visitor or a long-term migrant, it may also claim your heart
TEXT AND PHOTOS BY DR. JUN R. RUIZ
Among all the enchanting places I have visited, San Francisco is one of the most spectacularly beautiful cities in the world. The gorgeous natural beauty in the setting of its 43 rolling hills and verdant green vegetation along the bay is by virtue of its location in a lovely peninsula nearly surrounded by water.
San Francisco is located on the northern end of the peninsula that overlooks the great Pacific Ocean in the west and dominates the San Francisco Bay in the east. Then, there is the strait called the Golden Gate that connects the bay to the ocean.
The majestic orange vermillion or international orange color of the Golden Gate Bridge blends with the nearby hills and contrasts with the blue ocean and sky. Photo courtesy of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District
San Francisco is geographically small and home to close to 900,000 people. Furthermore, the city is part of the bigger San Francisco Bay Area that covers nine counties and has a total population of over 8 million.
The breathtaking terrain is complemented by the cosmopolitan ambiance of the metropolis. The diverse cultures and wonderful architecture of the city reflect its rich history. Along with its historic cable cars and the lovely preserved Victorian homes standing proud in the background of the modern skyscrapers, this milieu gives the city the feel of something old and something new.
The breathtaking terrain of the city is complemented by the cosmopolitan skyscrapers in the downtown Financial District. Photo courtesy of Pixabay
The weather is pleasant all year round – having the mild and cool-summer Mediterranean climate. Being surrounded by the cool currents of the Pacific and the bay moderate the temperature swings, resulting in no hot summers or icy winters. The best time to visit is during spring or fall.
San Francisco is one of the top five tourist destinations in America. More than 18 million tourists visit this region annually. The frequent appearance of this lovely city in music, film, television, and popular culture has made it and its landmarks, particularly the Golden Gate Bridge, recognizable worldwide.
Nine rewarding years in the Bay Area
I have been blessed to have lived and worked in the beautiful Bay Area for nine years since 2005, where jobs in my profession can be very difficult to obtain due to fierce competition, and the cost of living is among the most expensive in America. This wonderful location was ideal for me as I had planned to make annual trips to the Philippines to spend treasured times with my family. It was delightful to also have relatives living in the region.
I worked at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara as a gastroenterologist in a group practice of 10 brilliant and hard-working physicians that I truly admire. I was proud to be a part of this group as they are graduates of Stanford, Harvard, and University of California, among others. It was truly rewarding to be sincerely appreciated by the organization for my hard work, and I was honored a Kaiser Physician Hero award in 2008.
My family was in mourning when my father, himself was a physician, passed away in 2012. It awakened my desire to be physically close to them, especially to my mother Ely. Sometimes, it takes a family event to make a life-changing decision.
In 2014, I left my wonderful and fulfilling position at Kaiser to move to the Philippines. I know the medical landscape in Manila may not be as hospitable to the new kid on the block. In rare instances, you need to take a leap of faith and this was that moment.
No trip to San Francisco is complete without riding the historic cable car. This is a unique experience to explore the city
As I bade goodbye to the San Francisco Bay Area and start a new chapter of my life, I would certainly miss these wonderful sights that I learned to appreciate. These are few of the reasons why I left a part of my heart in San Francisco. Almost all are attractions that first-time tourists will love and as well as a former local like me would like to experience again and again.
The Golden Gate Bridge
The wonderful vision of this most iconic landmark of San Francisco is something I will dearly miss. The Golden Gate Bridge is 2.7 km long, connects the city to Marin County, and is named after the strait. The bridge is an engineering marvel, took four and a half years to complete, and opened in 1937.
The Golden Gate Bridge is the most photographed landmark of San Francisco and may be the most famous bridge in the world. You can view the bridge from both sides, but the best vista is from the Marin County side. Hopefully you visit on a clear sunny day to appreciate it in all its glory.
The majestic orange-red bridge is part of the city landscape that is permanently impressed on my mind. The actual color of the bridge is orange vermilion or international orange. The color was chosen as this blended well with the nearby hills and contrasted with blue ocean and sky, especially during the beautiful sunsets.
Riding the cable car
No trip to San Francisco is complete without riding the historic cable car. This has the unique distinction to be declared as the only moving national historic landmark. It was in 1873 that the first cable car made its maiden trip from near the top of Nob Hill. This was designed to solve the difficulties of transporting people up the steep hills.
The cable car is pulled along its hilly track by an underground cable that is operated by a lever in the front of the car. It is a unique experience to explore the city via the cable car as it provides beautiful views of the hills and guarantees an enjoyable ride in a historic fashion.
Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39
Certainly one of my favorite places to go in San Francisco, hanging out at the Fisherman’s Wharf never gets old. This is almost always the first place new visitors head to, and locals like me want to just chill, relax, enjoy the sea breeze, and be amazed at the spectacular waterfront views.
This originated as a wharf for fishermen who set out to the bay to catch fish. Now, the wharf is a commercial center of souvenir shops, restaurants, entertainment, and other tourist attractions. These include Pier 39, Ghirardelli Square, Aquarium of the Bay, and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. This is also where you ride the ferries to Alcatraz and for Bay Sightseeing cruises.
Most people flock to the 45 acre-waterfront complex of Pier 39. The waterfront is definitely touristy – there are over 100 shops, fine restaurants that serve the best seafood dishes, and a variety of entertainment options. Be dazzled by the sea lions that camped out in the marina, as these are nicknamed “Sea Lebrities”.
The Painted Ladies and the Victorian houses
Other than the Golden Gate Bridge, the lovely portrait of the Victorian houses in the city is my favorite and uniquely San Franciscan. These beautiful houses are known for its complex architecture and ornate embellishments. About 48,000 homes were built in the Victorian style between 1850 and 1915. Though several houses were destroyed by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, many remained standing or were rebuilt.
The most photographed row of Victorian houses in the city is in the beautiful neighborhood of Alamo Square. The “Six Sisters”, “The Postcard Row” or “The Painted Ladies” are the picture-perfect Queen-Anne style houses on Steiner Street that were built in 1895. In American architecture, any Victorian house painted in three or more colors to embellish their details is considered a Painted Lady.
These houses are considered as precious city landmarks, and are often shown in the foreground of panoramic pictures of the city’s downtown skyline. This image is picturesque, having appeared on numerous postcards and in the popular TV series “Full House”.
My favorite vista of San Francisco is from the summit of the city’s second and third highest hills – Twin Peaks. They lie at the heart of San Francisco, and reach a height of over 900 ft. At the top, the 360 degrees panorama of the city and the bay is so spectacular.
These two hills were first known in Spanish as El Pecho de la Chola, the “Bosom of the Indian Girl”. Twin Peaks are the only hills in the city that are uninhabited and left in their original state. Always bring a light jacket or windbreaker, as it is windy up there with the strong cool breeze and fog from the ocean even on warm days.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is an oasis of verdant greenery and serenity in the heart of San Francisco that provides an escape from the busy city life. This beautiful park is one of the world’s largest urban parks, at more than 1,000 acres.
If New York City has its Central Park, then this sanctuary is the counterpart in San Francisco. There are several attractions, and my favorite is the Japanese Tea Garden that features koi ponds, a five-story pagoda, and a zen garden. In addition, there are a flower conservatory, botanical garden, the Stowe Lake, and a tulip garden with Dutch windmills that are a testament to its lush natural vegetation.
You also see the California Academy of Sciences that is home to a planetarium, an aquarium, natural history museum, four-story rainforest, and a coral reef ecosystem. In addition, there are hiking paths, playgrounds, picnic groves, tennis courts, and baseball fields to meet everybody’s interest.
Excursion to Monterey
A drive to the spectacular Monterey coast was always on my list when I had a visitor in California. Its beauty of granite-rock coves, rocky cliffs, azure waters, and cypress trees has been immortalized by numerous writers and artists.
I personally love the towns of Monterey and the picturesque Carmel-By-The-Sea. Popular attractions are the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Carmel Beach, and the quaint and beautiful streets of Carmel.
If you want the most breathtaking panoramas of the peninsula, cruise through the twisting 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach. Along the way, you see the grand estates, the famous golf course, and the Lonely Tree, perhaps the most photographed tree in the world.
The most photographed row of Victorian houses in the city is in the beautiful neighborhood of Alamo Square, known as the “Six Sisters” or “The Postcard Row”. These houses are often shown in the foreground of panoramic pictures of the city’s downtown skyline. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association
My former home city of Santa Clara is located in the area called Silicon Valley. Here you find the most intellectually dynamic and culturally diverse people in America, if not in the world. The name is originally derived from the high concentration of companies that use silicon in the manufacture of semiconductors and chips employed in computer circuits since the early 1970s.
At present, the valley is the world-famous hub of the computer industry, especially in the innovations in software and high technology. The biggest companies, like Apple, Google, Yahoo, and Hewlett-Packard, are all based here.
Silicon Valley, especially Palo Alto and Santa Clara, are among the most desirable areas to live, albeit very expensive. It is the ideal place for both single and married individuals with families, as there is so much variety of restaurants, stores, and lots of green space for sports, family picnics, and other activities. The commute is fine and it is close to San Francisco. My personal favorite hangout place is at Santana Row, with its restaurants with al fresco dining, and the nearby Valley Fair Mall.
I will definitely miss the California way of life, and I’d love to visit the San Francisco Bay area soon as this has been a part of my identity and an integral piece of my being a physician. However, I would look forward to living in the Philippines to be close to family. If there would be hardships along the way, I am confident that I can overcome it with my sheer determination and God’s help.
After all, it is more fun in the Philippines.
June 2016 Health and Lifestyle