By Žikica Milošević
I was flipping through an American tourist magazine once which described Lisbon to American readers. The description went something like this: „Americans will find Lisbon familiar because it unmistakably resembles San Francisco, with its trams and hills overlooking the sea”. If you want to describe San Francisco, one of the few hubs of American tourism, we can apply the reverse description – of all the American cities, San Francisco will look irresistibly familiar to you with its hills and trams and sea, because it resembles Lisbon.
San Francisco resembles other cities too, other than Lisbon which gained iconic status after Wim Wenders made that movie. It resembles the city you have been dreaming about. It looks exquisitely European with its Victorian houses, and you have seen it as a backdrop in hundreds of films. You simply cannot resist using it in movies because it is so photogenic with its Chinatown and old slow trams that you can hop on as they are moving. Here, you can see Keanu Reeves falling in love with a ditzy and sad Charlize Theron one day in November. You chase bad guys in your car up and down the San Francisco hills or go down the serpentine-like streets from the hills towards the sea. You can cause trouble with Jackie Chan in Chinatown or stop by to have a local speciality. Or you can be seduced by the three sisters from the Charms TV series who will also defend you against demons. There are too many mental images from the collective unconscious that make San Francisco look so familiar and feel like home to us.
Naturally, let’s start with the most visible one – the Golden Gate Bridge. Frommer’s travel guide describes the Golden Gate Bridge as “possibly the most beautiful, certainly the most photographed, bridge in the world.” It was deliberately painted orange to increase its visibility in the fog, as a contrast against the blue sky and the blue sea, say the engineers.
Psychologists claim that orange is the happiest colour and that in a country where you are expected to be happy and in a city where the fog often makes you miserable, there is nothing better to prevent people attempting suicide by jumping from the bridge than painting it orange, a colour that brings nothing but joy. Of course, we should not forget Alcatraz. You know all about it and you also know that the ocean surrounding it contains dark secrets. Al Capone and the like are no longer inmates here, but there will always be visitors who come to Alcatraz to feel the spirit of this infamous prison.
Today, Alcatraz is a public museum and one of San Francisco’s major tourist attractions, attracting some 1.5 million visitors annually. Now operated by the National Park Service’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the timeworn former prison is being restored and maintained. There is also Fisherman’s Wharf, with its docks and restaurants. You can even eat at Bubba Gump Shrimps, made famous by the movie Forrest Gump, although Forrest Gump and his best friend of similar IQ have never founded this brand in reality. But this is America, where dream precedes reality.
San Francisco is all about free spirit. It was the first town to have gay neighbourhoods when being gay was dangerous or hidden from the public. The proximity to Silicon Valley and the city’s European demeanour, as well as the multiculturalism of California, have transformed San Francisco into the city of youth and good fun. There is plenty of money here too. As of 2020, San Francisco has the highest salaries, disposable income, and median home prices in the world at $1.7 million. As of 2016, the San Francisco metropolitan area had the highest GDP per capita, labour productivity, and household income levels in the OECD.
As of 2019, it is the highest-rated American city on world liveability rankings. And we are talking about the list on which the Americans always ranked poorly, unlike the Canadians, Australians, Japanese, Scandinavians or Viennese. When the sea fog falls on the city, it gives it a special eerie tone, which makes San Francisco unique in these southern latitudes. After the war, the confluence of returning servicemen, significant immigration, liberalizing attitudes, along with the rise of the “hippie” counterculture, the Sexual Revolution, the Peace Movement growing from opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War, and other factors led to the Summer of Love and the gay rights movement, cementing San Francisco as a centre of liberal activism in the United States.
San Francisco is often mentioned in hippie songs and it frequently appears in our dreams and visions. The City of St Francis is also one of the most visited cities in America and everybody’s desired destination.