Just like the song says “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”. Our contributor Jovana Arnaut, left her heart in San Francisco for the same reason Tony Bennett did: it felt like home.
It was the last stop on the two month drive across the U.S. and as soon as I checked into Hotel Mark Twain, I felt a sense of completeness – I just covered 6,000 miles, visited 20 different cities and met people that will be in my thoughts forever.
While I roamed San Francisco’s hilly streets and sat by its ‘blue and windy sea,’ I noticed that the city summed up my entire experience. Its foggy and cold weather reminded me of the east; its food reminded me of the south and of course, it had its own western distinctions such as Pier 39, the cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge.
The night I checked into Hotel Mark Twain was especially cold. I had driven from Los Angeles up the Pacific Coast Highway and was dressed for warm weather. When I stepped out of my car and dashed across the street to the hotel, I felt the harshness of the wind that the city is famous for.
But the hotel – a boutique property that has been around since 1928 – was filled with warmth, charm and a touch of celebrity. Aside from the fact that it was named after one of the most talented writers of the 19th century – quotations from his works are scattered throughout the property’s hallways and lobby – it also includes a room where Billie Holiday resided back in 1949 and is featured on the ‘World’s Most Famous Hotel Rooms’ list on msn.com.
The hotel is located in the heart of San Francisco and is walking distance to Union Square and various shops and restaurants. It recently underwent renovations to include a free tech area in the lobby and a Hummingbird Garden, a private sanctuary located outside for guests to enjoy.
It also has its own specialty restaurant called Fish & Farm which offers organic produce and sustainably farmed and harvested meat and seafood. In fact, the savory food in San Francisco reminded me of the various flavours and dishes I tried in the South.
During a Local Tastes of the City tour, I had the privilege of eating in some of San Francisco’s prized bakeries and restaurants such as Caffe Roma, Z. Cioccolato, Trattoria Pinocchio and Cinecitta.
And just like the other cities that I visited, San Francisco is influenced by various cultures. This can be seen in the architecture on Nob Hill that was built during the time of the Gold Rush and the reign of the Railroad Barons; and also in its fishing and sailing livelihood found at Fisherman’s Wharf, a tourist hot spot with countless souvenir shops, restaurants and charters such as Adventure Cat that takes guests on a tour around the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito and Alcatraz Island.
There is a separate company – Alcatraz Cruises – that allows visitors to actually go onto the island and step inside the famous prison. I actually had the chance to take a walking audio tour and explore the warden’s office, the rec yard and the cells that were occupied by some of the country’s most notorious criminals such as Al Capone and Robert “The Birdman” Stroud.
I was sitting in the former lunch room of the prison when I heard the last words of the audio tour: “Everything was moving so fast. It’s like everyone but me had somewhere to go…and it scared me to death.” This was said by a former inmate who was released and sent back into the city when Alcatraz ceased operations in 1963.
It was at this moment that I had a revelation: there were many things that I put off in my life, many things that I left unsorted and this road trip was essential in helping me figure it all out. It was necessary to take this journey at this point in my life and it was something that I needed to do on my own.
The wonderful people that I met throughout the U.S. restored my faith in humanity; the time that I had to explore my thoughts and feelings made me fearless; and the cities that left their mark on my heart made me realize that from now on, I want to experience and share life with those that I love.