San Francisco, the essence of California lifestyle
There is something about San Francisco, a Mecca for surfers, a sea lion reserve and the headquarters of cutting-edge technology, that makes the world see it as a standard-bearer of individual freedom, design and the good life. There are hundreds of reasons to love it, and at Lifestyle by Porcelanosa we have chosen 20 that define its style and spirit.
It must have something for Julia Roberts, a resident of Los Angeles, to have recently bought a wonderful Victorian home in Presidio Heights, one of the city’s most prestigious neighbourhoods. The historic house, built in 1908 by architect Sylvain Schnaitt, was bought by the actress to live in with her family for part of the year.
Famous for its steep streets, the Golden Gate and Alcatraz prison, San Francisco has been the scene of unforgettable films, such as Vertigo, by Alfred Hitchcock, who adored the city, especially Lombard Street, which we will return to later.
Landscapes and technology. Wineries and skyscrapers. Spanish history and Chinatown. The contrasts are spectacular. Our favourites are not listed in any order of preference, as each one of them is part of what makes SF one of the most iconic cities in the world.
1. GOLDEN GATE. Built between 1933 and 1937, it was painted orange to prevent the large boats sailing through the fog that often surrounds the city from colliding with the bridge. It is 1,280 metres long, 227 metres high and is suspended on two huge steel towers.
2. ALCATRAZ. The world’s most famous prison, no longer in use, has become a tourist attraction for millions of visitors.
3. PAINTED LADIES. The famous Victorian houses, over 100 years old, which have marked the skyline and remain a distinctive emblem.
4. CHINATOWN. To find out why San Francisco has such a busy Chinese neighbourhood, we have to go back to the construction of the railway, when Chinese labour was brought in for this monumental work. The immigrants created their own colony. Now, tourists walk along the streets surrounded by good restaurants and souvenir shops, all with an authentic oriental flavour.
5. THE TRAMS. They are well maintained, extensively used, and provide an impeccable public service. Climb aboard and they will take you to the city’s liveliest neighbourhoods. They also save you the effort of walking up the steepest streets, and there are plenty of them.
6. MARIN AND SAUSALITO PARKS. To get there, you have to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. You’ll find yourself in Sausalito, a district with a port, where hundreds of floating houses reflect a free and creative lifestyle. Excursions to the Farallon Islands to observe whales are organised daily from Sausalito harbour. Marin and Sausalito natural parks are a national wildlife reserve.
7. TRANSAMERIC PYRAMID. The second tallest building in the city, inaugurated in 1972, defying gravity and earthquakes, which are so frequent here. It is in the financial district and watches over the heights.
8. LOMBARD STREET. Possibly the steepest avenue in the world (and if you don’t believe us, try to walk up it in summer). Scenes from the film “Vertigo” were filmed here.
9. GRACE CATHEDRAL. An architectural marvel and a spiritual symbol of the city.
10. MOMA. The Museum of Modern Art is more than just a temple to art. Almost 24 thousand works of art are housed on its four floors. Its lighting, spaces and architecture make it one of the United States’ cultural gems.
11. HAIGHT ASHBURY. A visit to this hippy neighbourhood, in the hippiest city in the world, is a must. A walk along Haight Street, full of shops and an unmistakeable air of the 60s, is a feast for the senses.
12. THE MISSION MURALS. The murals are one of the most distinctive features of the Mission district, founded in the eighteenth century by Fray Junípero Serra to evangelise San Francisco. It was named after the Dolores Mission, built in 1776. This is a beautiful neighbourhood that keeps its Spanish past alive. Although the work of Fray Junípero has its detractors, the spirit of this Spanish priest has left its mark on the identity of California.
13. SUTRO BATHS. Incredible swimming pools on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, which are actually the remains of a residential complex built by Adolph Sutro. The complex was destroyed by fire over sixty years ago. Today, the pools have become a local attraction and a meeting place to watch the beautiful sunsets.
14. JAPANESE TEA GARDEN. A delicate space with many delightful features reflecting Japanese gardening. A walk along its paths and between its plants becomes a Zen exercise.
15. CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES. Both young and old can discover science and learn about the planets, surrounded by dinosaurs. A spectacular range of exhibits that help us to understand the Earth, its evolution and outer space. Its amazing architecture is yet another attraction.
16. CASTRO DISTRICT. Once an exclusively gay enclave, it is currently one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the city, with streets full of multi-coloured flags, designer shops, bars and trendy restaurants.
17. THE CLOCK TOWER. The tower rises above the Ferry Building, where the boats that serve the city centre dock. The work of architect Arthur Page Brown, inspired by La Giralda in Seville, it is an emblem and a meeting point, surrounded by the gourmet shops and markets which are so popular with the inhabitants of SF.
18. WALT DISNEY MUSEUM. If the characters created by the genius of animation still have a special place in your heart, this is the place where you can recapture some of those magic childhood moments.
19. CITY LIGHTS. Bookshop and publishing house created in the 1950s. Famous for daring to edit Allen Ginsberg’s book “Howl”, banned in the USA because of its explicit sexual content. Housed in beautiful premises, City Lights currently maintains its style, publishing literary works and poetry by new writers.
20. TWIN PEAKS. We are not talking about the film or the TV series, but the hills surrounding San Francisco. 20 minutes from the city centre, the excursion is worthwhile because there is an incredible 360º view of San Francisco. Wow!
Lifestyle’s top tips:
Where to STAY:
- Inn at the Presidio.
- San Francisco Proper.
- Intercontinental Mark Hopkins.
- Mansion on Sutter.
- Fairmont Heritage.
- Palace Hotel.
Where to EAT:
- Koi Palace, the best dim sum in the city.
- The Buena Vista, a typical restaurant in the fishing harbour.
- Charmaine, the best roof top venue with its bar & lounge.
- Verjus, a great wine bar.
- Balboa Cocktail bar, the best mixed drinks.
- One Market, very popular restaurant in the financial district. Brilliant bar and great tasting menu.
- Mister Jiu’s, a Californian-Cantonese fusion restaurant with a Michelin star.
- Pier 39, on the Pacific coast, by the old fishing pier, with spectacular views of the bay and surrounded by sea lions. Its seafood soup is a must.
- For gastronomic routes through Chinatown, Little Italy and the harbour, we recommend the services of Local Tastes of The City Town’s specialised guides.
- Che Fico, modern Italian, a favourite with the beautiful people.
DREAM about living in SF:
- The Malika Z Junaid architecture studio is headed by Malika Junaid, whose work includes some of California’s most interesting and sustainable projects. Among them is Los Altos Hills, a galactic house in the hills surrounding the city.
- M1875, an exclusive residential complex with a contemporary style and a modern atmosphere, located in Mission District, in the heart of San Francisco.
- The PORCELANOSA store, where you can find the latest products by the most prestigious brands in the PORCELANOSA Group and personalised attention for professionals and the public.
Photos by Alex del Río.