Gate To The US
haven; gay capital; salad bowl of America; cradle of the hippie
culture, forerunner of the IT revolution – San Francisco is
all this and more, discovers Pravin Sathe
have heard of cities that are the technology capital of a
particular country. Some others may be bestowed with the title
of cultural capital of an area. You may have a city for the
bohemians; a gay capital; a salad bowl of the country; a city
that was the cradle of the hippie culture of the 1960s etc,
etc. But only a single city is all of this and much more -
that too in a country that does not confer such charitable
appellations so gratuitously. We are talking of San Francisco.
Nestled in the sylvan surroundings of the northern part of
California (arguably America's richest state), the city is
in some ways looked at with awe and pride tinged with envy
by the rest of the country due to its unique mix of the old
and the new.
A swanky new airport welcomes you to the IT capital of the
world - state of the art conveyor belts, swift immigration
procedures and a futuristic architectural design that helps
passengers avoid schlepping all over the terminal building
(unlike in other busy airports the world over) for a task
as simple as taking a connecting flight or just plainly exiting
the terminal to go home after a long journey. However, to
remind you that you are finally on terra firma, some facts
will wake you to startling realities -reports say that the
San Francisco airport has a rather unenviable record for laptops
stolen after they pass through the X-ray machines even as
you grapple with the other clearance formalities. The entire
area is a strange co-existence of early 20th century relics
in the older parts of the city with the ritzier areas of the
Silicon Valley where the Pentium 3 is now considered 'antique'.
A small portion of the Pacific Ocean on USA's West coast decided
to make its way inwards towards the east and created a natural
bay. This came to be called the San Francisco Bay, now simply
called the Bay area.
The Bay area is by itself divided into two main areas - San
Francisco proper city including the downtown areas and the
outer spreads such as the Silicon Valley area near San Jose.
Actually the entire northern part of California is the real
scene-stealer - San Francisco (SF), Napa valley, Silicon Valley
and Monterrey. San Francisco itself is a great city when compared
to Los Angeles, which is its more glamourous and possibly
richer tinsel town counterpart in Southern California. Much
smaller than LA, however SF with its urban population of just
around 8 lakh has an old world charm to it. The old city is
one big fun place where you can spend hours on the Fisherman's
Wharf waterfront with its amazing seafood or Pier 39 with
its open-air restaurants and quaint shopping plazas.
Golden Gate Bridge has been San Francisco's most enduring
landmark for years
For Indians who love their curry, a 'not-to-miss' is the 'clam
chowder served in many of the waterfront eating joints
in the entire area - it is basically a huge bun with the center
bread portion scooped out and filled with a coconut curry-based
soupy preparation made from clams. This is then devoured by
dunking bread/bun pieces into it to create a wholesome meal
in itself. However this indulgence might be a little disconcerting
to a conscientious Indian as he would have to do so under
the benign gaze of Mahatma Gandhi who has been honoured by
erecting his statue in the Pier 39 area, a hugely popular
tourist destination. But then in a city that is at the forefront
of liberal thought in the country and where for many bohemianism
is their only raison d'etre, such bashfulness will not take
you places. It was actually a huge libertarian movement in
the 60s that propelled the permissiveness catapulting SF to
the undisputed hippie capital as well as gay capital of the
of downtown SF is roads going up and down like a roller coaster
because of its unique topography. Hollywood buffs would recall
seeing a crooked street with a never-ending S' type
layout - this is very much Crooked (Lombard) Street in the
downtown area. The best way to take in the city is to walk
the entire downtown, which is very easily covered on foot.
A fairly safe city, if those legs decide to give way, hop
into one of those delightfully painted tramcars rattling along
and get transported back into the early part of the last century.
If the ambience suddenly changes and you feel you have crossed
the Pacific Ocean to reach the Orient, do not be too surprised.
In the innermost recesses of the city is a huge Chinatown
(presumably USA's biggest) that adds to the ambience. A walk
down the streets here takes you straight to Shanghai with
old houses and shops selling everything from magnetic medicinal
marbles, feng shui kits, acupressure therapies and what have
you. Restaurants with Chinese symbols offer authentic Chinese
food, which is as far from Indian Chinese food as the Atlantic
is from the Pacific.
of Mahatma Gandhi in the Pier 39 area
Square is the chocolate capital here and in one of the shops
you can actually see through a glass panel the molten brown
yummy delight being converted into the brown bars that most
of mankind has a weakness for. On the streets don't get taken
aback if you are greeted with a Namaste - after all the 'desi'
techies across the bay have taught the local street performers
that though the colour of these geeks' skin may not be the
best 'the pockets, they are a bulgin' with the greenbacks,
buddy - so why not throw in a word or two to please them!!
To entertain you, break-dancers with their suits painted silver
or golden strive to gain your attention even as they contort
their bodies into amazing shapes aided by songs blaring full
blast from their heavy-duty portable music systems. If all
that is too cacophonous, just take a stroll on the boardwalk
bordering the waterfront and watch the seals laze around occasionally
grunting to signal their bored disapproval of life in general.
Squint into the distance and across the harbour you will spot
the island of Alcatraz from where the notorious Chicago don
Al Capone made his escape when incarcerated here in the early
part of the last century. Ferry rides from the Wharf take
you there along a route that the prisoners of the 1930s Prohibition
era swam to escape the penitentiary there.
your gaze a little to the left and there you will spot the
structure that will remain SF's most enduring landmark for
years - the Golden Gate Bridge. A harbinger in the technology
of suspension bridges, it was built in the mid 20th century
(1937) to link SF to other parts of North California and then
on to Oregon and Washington states. Today it has many rivals
elsewhere but none to challenge its charm. The fog rolling
down the hills next to the bridge and its imposing super structure
seen from virtually everywhere in the city have not only been
well documented but also have been the setting for many a
novel or work of fiction, including the eponymous one with
a somewhat farfetched plot where the American President's
car is hijacked and he is held captive on the bridge. Its
poorer cousin is the Bay Bridge, which though equally impressive
does not have the same claim to fame. This links SF to the
eastern parts of North California like the port city of Oakland,
Emeryville and Sacramento (the capital of California) and
the University town of Berkeley.
the Muir Woods National Park redwood trees as old as five
to eight centuries are well preserved
Golden Gate's imposing structure can be taken in from various
angles including one from a road at an elevation above it
where a small area has been cleared out as a sort of viewing
gallery. Further to the north of the city after crossing the
bridge (12 miles beyond) is the Muir Woods National Park where
redwood trees as old as five to eight centuries are well preserved.
Some of the trees present a fascinating study for the botanically
inclined as vagaries of nature as well as lack of sunlight
due to the dense vegetation have created a strange phenomenon
whereby the main trunk starts hollowing out and only the outer
bark remains creating tall 100 feet high 'pipes' where you
can see the sky from inside the bottom of the tree.
Cross the Bay Bridge and you reach the seaport of Oakland.
The port here houses the USS Potomac - Second World War President
F D Roosevelt's personal yacht on which he clandestinely met
Winston Churchill in an epoch making meeting where it was
decided by the USA to join the Allied forces and the rest,
as we all know, is history.
to add the quintessential American twist to the story, the
yacht fell into the hands of the underworld, was used as a
front for smuggling and eventually sunk in the SF harbour.
To the country's credit however, it was recovered, restored
and now gleams as a fitting tribute to arguably America's
greatest President ever - F D Roosevelt. In the vicinity is
the University town of Berkeley, a favourite with a lot of
north, the Napa valley is home to some of the best grapes
grown that side of the Atlantic and the wines distilled here
are giving French wines a close run for their money. Most
of Northern California is blessed with salubrious climate
and hence its various areas such as Gilroy that you pass as
you move southwards form the Bay area are also called strawberry
bowl or salad bowl and garlic bowl.
Peters and Paul Church
the south of SF is Silicon Valley, where the climate is ideally
suited for growing money by coming out with any idea (the
more preposterous the better) that has anything remotely to
do with IT or the new economy. The 'ideas' economy has of
course taken a hit due to the technology meltdown but some
brave-hearts are even today trying to see which venture capitalist
will bite. In the euphoria of last year when logic was tossed
over the Golden Gate and into the Bay, literally anything
sold. The Indian presence in this entire 'world capital of
technology' has been all-pervasive for the past few decades.
It is believed that to add to your project's or idea's credibility
if there is an Indian interface, so much the better. The late
Dewang Mehta of Nasscom never tired of telling his favourite
story whereby a start-up in Silicon Valley was trying to list
on NASDAQ. In one of the road shows, a merchant banker asked
the promoter Chris Murphy whether he wouldn't be better off
in the valuation game if he renamed himself Krisnamurthy.
Incidentally areas like Cupertino (in the Santa Monica county
of the Bay area) have a sizeable Indian population and areas
like the Cupertino Hills are lovingly called Marathwada in
honour of its high profile residents like Suhas Patil and
Prakash Bhalerao - cult figures in Silicon Valley.
In the heady days of the 'internet economy' if you had to
sell your house in these rarefied areas, you could actually
have a reverse bargaining whereby prospective buyers would
come and offer you a higher price than the floor you had set.
Thankfully all that is in the past and some logic and sense
has been driven into the market.
is also the area where all the suburbs we have all along read
and heard about like San Jose, Palo Alto, and Sunnyvale are
located. The exceedingly liberal Stanford University sits
on a huge campus between the twin cities of SF and San Jose.
Also HQs of Oracle, Apple, Intel and other temples of software
and hardware dot the area. Venture capitalists all have congregated
in areas like Menlo Park where they sit on piles of cash licking
their wounds inflicted by the NASDAQ. With hardly any worthwhile
projects doing the rounds, it is time for introspection here.
The talk however even today is at a level whereby one has
to be exceptionally well tuned into the new economy to be
able to understand the (at times) vacuous discussions.
you move towards the countryside if you see a few bi-planes
lying around don't be flustered. They may be the spare family
planes used in emergencies when the regular goes kaput. After
all in a rich country if you have to be richer,
having just a few automobiles extra in the garage is no great
shakes - but an airplane or two - that is cool, maan!
of Fine Arts
south of this area is the seaside resort of Monterrey. Its
residents call it the most historic city of California. Originally
under Mexican rule till the 1840s it was a major port of trade.
Then in 1846, the Yankees from the East Coast marched in and
annexed it. On the waterfront is a row of small but exceedingly
charming shops selling tourist mementos and Mexican inspired
handicrafts. The town also has a few museums depicting its
a small lazy town on the Pacific Coast, today Monterrey is
known for its golf courses which have been set afire many
a time by Tiger Woods and the seaside villas of the Silicon
Valley honchos and Hollywood stars. The place also has had
Clint Eastwood as Sheriff or Mayor some summers back to put
the final seal of approval. With such a great opportunity
the local area council would be foolish not to rake in the
moolah. Restricted entry to this area is by means of a main
road, which hugs the Pacific Coast on one side and has the
lush greens on the other. Hence, you are supposed to pay an
entry fee of US $ 8 to enter the area that enables you to
take a 17 mile drive called the Pebble Beach drive that enable
you to a) wallow in self pity at your penury, b) sympathise
with the rest of America for the comparative poverty they
are living in, c) turn blue, green, red or whatever with envy,
anger, jealousy or any other state of mind or d) cluck cluck
at the opulent decadence of the area.
A small township within this area and where the drive ends
is called Pebble Beach and houses some of the most expensive
resorts and hotels. As an added attraction, it has a small
golf course the size of a couple of billiards tables. If all
this luxuriance has only whetted your appetite for more, visit
Carmel by the sea nearby and see if any of the villas on sale
there interest you.
Ramada Plaza Intl
Holiday Inn City Centre
Sheraton Fishermans wharf
Westin St. Francis
Metreon multiplex (www.metreon.com)
- IMAX screens, video games, restaurants
Ripleys Believe It Or Not Museum at Jefferson
Theatre district (Market St., Mason St., Geray
St. in and around Union Square
Night clubs at:
Jillians (Metreon Centre)
New Orleans Room in Fairmount Hotel
330 Ritch Street
Piafs (Cabaret) at Market Street
Plush Room at York Hotel, Sutter St.
Within downtown SF - daily pass
- valid for all buses, tramcars etc.
Greater Bay area - BART local trains - fast
and cheap (www.bart.org)
Outer areas - car rentals are convenient and
cheap especially for a group of two or more
- Hertz, Thrifty etc. are available at airports,
Union Square, important stations etc.
Montgomery, Jackson and Columbus
streets form the hub of the stylish bars/cocktail
Lounges. Prominent among them are:
Fiddlers Green - Columbus Avenue
Bubble Lounge - Montgomery/ Jackson junction
Kennedys Irish Pub - Columbus, Fishermans
Golden Gate - drive over it,
take a ferry ride under it (from the Fishermans
Wharf), or drive over the bridge in a 1955 fire
engine, a 75 minute drive costs approx. US $
25.00 per head (www.fireenginetours.com).
Alcatraz- take a ferry ride from the Fishermans
Visit Fishermans Wharf
Go to Anchorage (shopping and eating delights),
Cannery (eating and entertainment), Ghirardelli
Square (chocolate delights, jewellery shopping),
wax museum at Jefferson Street
Pier 39 gives you panoramic views of the entire
harbour; you can pay homage to the statue of
Mahatma Gandhi there.
At Ghirardelli Square
Ana Mandara (Vietnamese cuisine)
Gaylord India restaurant (Indian cuisine)
At Fishermans Wharf
Mandarin Palace (Chinese speciality at Anchorage)
the pure veggies
Greens at Marina Boulevard
Millenium near civic centre
Jouberts - South African vegetarian specialities
at Judah Street 46th Avenue