Early last year, I moved to the Bay Area and found a job at a biotech startup.  I was in my twenties, working on cutting edge technology in Silicon Valley, and San Francisco was before me  Okay, I didn't actually live in San Francisco, but a train ride is no pretext for not getting out.  It was the perfect setup for amazing experiences and I certainly had a good time - but I was often "busy with work."  Looking back, I realize that I felt most inspired to see San Francisco when I was with tourists.  I had friends from Australia visit me on two occasions, and hanging with them made me see the place differently.  Also, it was the impending necessity of moving away from San Francisco that inspired me to fully explore it.  
          The reason I'm moving away from San Francisco is that I'm starting a PhD at Northwestern University in the fall, and will need to relocate to Chicago.  The first time I had a friend visit from Australia, I was in the process of applying to PhD programs, and a bit stressed like many fellow applicants.  For this reason, I didn't even think about tourist attractions in San Francisco, and figured I'd just tag along to whatever they wanted to do.  Sorry for being a useless tour guide!  They asked if I could meet them at after their Alcatraz cruise, and my thoughts went something like this:
Alcatraz? Ehh, that's a popular San Francisco destination.  I've been meaning to see it, and putting it off because, it's like, right at home.
          After their Alcatraz cruise we ate clam chowder, which I have always found delicious.  It is something I rave about to all visitors, because getting clam chowder in a bread bowl at Fisherman's Wharf is as San Francisco as it gets.  But I have to say, I never found it more delicious than the day I listened to my friends acclaim the "chowda" in their Aussie accents.  They even considered getting a second bowl before realizing how filling it was - really?!?  One bowl's always enough for me.  
San Francisco Clam Chowder
San Francisco clam chowder. More delicious when shared with ecstatic Australians.
           After clam chowder, they inquired about the San Francisco sea lions.  Eh, sea lions?  Oh right, that cute sea mammal that hangs out in Pier 39 sometimes.  Unfortunately they weren't out that day, so I showed my friends an old picture on my phone, eliciting many expressions of admiration.  I'll admit, they seemed a little cuter to me after that.  Looking back now, I realize how lucky I was:  Of all the times I've been to Fisherman's Wharf, I've seen them maybe once or twice, and never once when showing tourists around.  
Sea Lions, San Francisco, Pier 39, Fisherman's Wharf
San Francisco sea lions at Pier 39
          At the end of that day, they had an evening flight to Las Vegas so I said goodbye.  I am also happy to report that I visited Alcatraz soon after.  Even bought a cheesy tourist photo!
Alcatraz Tourist Photo
Alcatraz Island Cruises
          The next time I had a friend visit from Australia was a special situation.  The weekend she was in town was also my last weekend in San Francisco before moving.  That same weekend, I was also hanging out with a high school friend who had just moved to San Francisco.  And in that weekend, I learned that I hadn't appreciated San Francisco enough. Because while hanging out with a friend from overseas, and a friend who had just moved to San Francisco, I realized how many activities I was also doing for the first time.  I had lived in San Francisco for a year and a half.  For example:

1.) Despite living near San Francisco for a year and a half, it was my first time seeing Sutro Baths.  
2.) Despite living near San Francisco for a year and half, it was my first time visiting the Marina District.
3.) Despite living near San Francisco for a year and a half, it was my first time seeing The Painted Ladies.  
4.) Despite living near San Francisco for a year and a half, it was my first time biking across the Golden Gate Bridge (although I had been to it countless times, just not biking).  
5.) Despite living near San Francisco for a year and a half, it was my first time visiting Ghirardelli Square.  
6.) And finally, despite living near San Francisco for a year and a half, it was my first time riding a traditional San Francisco Cable Car.  But this is excusable, because there are always long lines to get on, plus one-way fare costs $6 while a single bus ride costs $2.  Clearly not a legitimate form of transportation for locals who actually need to get somewhere.  
          Well there you have it, a glimpse into how I spent my last week in San Francisco.  For more details, see my itineraries, where all the San Francisco ones are from my last week (it's when I happened to start this blog, I'm not THAT lame).   If my friends hadn't come from overseas, I might have ended up doing most of the activities described, as I was planning on making the most of my last week anyways.  However, hanging out with tourists made me see San Francisco in a different light.  Everything in front of me, that was just a part of being at home, was actually a rarity the rest of the world came to admire.  Going forward, I will remember this when I move to Chicago.  When I visited Northwestern University for a recruitment weekend, a day trip of Chicago was included.  They took us to Navy Pier.  I'll go back and explore all the shops until I become an expert.  They took us to the Bean Statue.  I'll go again and try photographing it from different angles, because I like photography.  They treated us to deep-dish pizza.  I'll try every deep dish pizza place in the city.  In my free time, I'm going to take advantage of all the Chicago has to offer, and not just dismiss it as living arrangements for my PhD.  
          I think everyone should try becoming a tourist in their hometowns.  By that, I don't mean you need to throw  your money at every tourist trap in the city, especially ones you have no interest in.  However, I think everyone should make the most of where they live, and get to know the historical or cultural significance of the space they inhabit.   Every city is full of stories, and sometimes we travel thousands of miles to learn the stories of other cities.  Why not explore the stories in front of you?
8/3/2013 08:48:23 am

Hi Charlotte,

Great post, I'd love to visit San Francisco. I love those houses on the hill! I would definitely like to get there one day.

<a href="http://www.theblondediary.com">Click here to visit my blog</a> | <a href="http://www.bloglovin.com/en/blog/7749553">View and follow on bloglovin'</a>.
Read about my next trip: <a href="http://http://theblondediary.com/volunteering-abroad/">I'm volunteering in Peru, Cambodia and South Africa</a>.

Sending love. X

8/3/2013 11:49:13 am

Hey Kelsey,

Thanks for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed the post. I think it's really cool that you volunteer abroad, giving back to the communities you visit and being more than just a tourist. Have a great time, and hope you blog regularly about your experiences!


8/5/2013 05:44:10 pm

Charlotte, Great post, and glad I could be of service. I had a great time touring around with a local, so I highly recommend doing the 'touristy' thing, but it's far more fun sharing with a local like you, haha.

8/6/2013 12:32:05 am

Glad you had a good time! :D


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