1. This is not Baywatch California.
While the Bay Area is home to epic beaches, we are hundreds of miles from the golden sands of Socal and your bikini is probably not going to work its way out of your luggage unless you are staying in place with a heated indoor pool. The Northern California coastline is foggy, windy and often downright cold as hell, even in the middle of summer. But please don’t let that stop you from going.
The truth is that for raw natural splendor, places like Montara State beach near Half Moon Bay and Muir Beach in Marin County are among the most beautiful stretches of rugged coastline in the entire West Coast. Even right in the city of San Francisco, Baker Beach, with its panoramic backdrop of the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate Bridge, is postcard quality. Nearby Land’s End – where dramatic cliffs tower over the raging Pacific Ocean – might just be the most gorgeous piece of urban wilderness in the entire country. So, ditch the bikini and hit the beach with a blanket and a bottle of wine instead. Except for September. In September, you can go fully nude.
2. Marijuana is a way of life here.
Although the legalization of medical marijuana is now sweeping the country like a tsunami that can’t be stopped, California pioneered the movement way back in 1996 when we defied the federal government and passed the nation’s first medical MJ bill. And guess what? Now we have gone recreational. Just north of the Bay Area lies the “Emerald Triangle”, the premier cannabis growing region in the country, if not the world. Oaksterdamn, an area of downtown Oakland that is bursting with marijuana dispensaries, is also home to the nation’s first cannabis college.
Marijuana is a major part of both Northern California’s culture and its economy, meaning you will smell ganja smoke almost everywhere you go. And when in Rome…
3. You will see gay people.
The San Francisco Bay Area has been the center of the LGBT rights movement since the 1960s and has received wave after wave of gay immigrants from less tolerant parts of the country for decades. Although the Castro District of San Francisco is the official mecca for the community, gay and lesbian couples, as well as transgendered individuals, are welcome and at home all over the Bay Area. If you have a problem with any of this, please go somewhere else. If you are ready for the time of your life however, check out the nightlife in the Castro and the LGBT friendly clubs in the SoMa area or hit up the drag show Sunday brunch at the Starlight Room in the St. Francis Hotel.
4. You might not need a car at all.
Only beat out by NYC, the San Francisco Bay Area’s public transportation network ranks as the second best in the United States. Taking the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) light rail from the East Bay or the Peninsula to San Francisco — which is not only highly walkable but is well served by trolley, subway and cable car lines — is much easier and enjoyable than sitting in traffic for hours and then losing your mind trying to find parking in the highly compact city. Even more fun, the San Francisco Bay is crisscrossed by a network of ferry lines that connect Marin County, San Francisco and the East Bay, providing an adventurous and scenic way to get around.
5. We try to take care of our homeless people.
Remember the movie, “The Pursuit of Happiness,” with Will Smith as a homeless father that makes his way off the street and eventually becomes a rich investment banker? That is a true SF Bay Area story and only happened because of our sincere dedication to helping our less fortunate neighbors. Visitors are often surprised to see the sheer numbers of homeless people in the Bay Area, especially in downtown San Francisco, blocks from the Union Square shopping district, but there are two reasons for this.
One is that unlike other cities, including LA (which actually has a much larger homeless population), we don’t try to push our homeless off into marginalized areas where they are out of sight and mind. The other is that downtown SF is full of services for the homeless, including the soul-powered Glide Memorial Church, which was featured in the “The Pursuit of Happiness,” and which offers over 100 programs to the poor, including three free meals a day. Glide’s supporters include billionaire Warren Buffet, who donates the proceeds of his annual lunch auction to the church every year.
6. Mexican food is cheaper and better than fast food.
Hungry? Hit the taco truck. Bomb-ass Mexican food is ubiquitous throughout the Bay Area and especially concentrated in areas like San Francisco’s Mission District and Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood. A trio of juicy tacos or a fat burrito with all the fixings will set you back less than a Micky D combo and tastes about 20 times better. Mexican immigrants have been an integral part of Bay Area life for generations and their food is the fuel that we run on here — and gratefully. If Trump really ever did build that wall, most of us would probably opt to be on the other side of it – if for no other reason than the food.