I was neither born nor raised in the city of San Francisco but, like many residents of the Bay Area, I state that I am from the Golden Gate City while traveling. It makes sense — San Francisco is a well-known city and gives the person I am talking to a clear visual of where I’m from on a map of the United States.
But personally, I have a fondness for San Francisco comparable to an individual’s love for his hometown. There are few pastimes I enjoy more than exploring its art museums, visiting Union Square or sampling foreign or unique cuisines with friends. After 17 years, the city is welcoming and familiar enough to make me feel like I really know it.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of spending four days in San Francisco while attending the annual Harvard Model Congress conference for high school students. While the conference attracts a handful of local schools, many of the participating delegations are from outside the Bay Area. Because of this, the conference allots time for San Francisco exploration and touring.
The 2014 conference marked my third and final time participating in HMC before I graduate this coming spring. While these conferences taught me invaluable lessons about debate and speaking, they also gave me a new appreciation for San Francisco and showed me the beauty of being a tourist in my hometown.
My idea of being a tourist in San Francisco started during my first conference when I was a sophomore. I was talking to a girl from Florida attending the conference with her school. It was the first time she had been to San Francisco and she was telling me about the locations she was excited to visit. She listed classic San Francisco attractions: Pier 39, Coit Tower, Alcatraz, Union Square, cable cars and Ghirardelli Square. Yet, as she finished the list, I realized I had never done most of the activities on it. Despite being a Bay Area native, I had never watched the sea lions at Pier 39, admired the murals within Coit Tower or learned about the eerie history of Alcatraz. And, I had never used a cable car as a means of transportation.
At first I shrugged off my acute sense of bewilderment over the fact that I had never visited many of the landmarks San Francisco features on its postcards and refrigerator magnets. I reasoned that I had never been to those places because they were overrun by tourists, and I was certainly not a tourist.
But at the same time, I wondered if I was missing out. After talking with the girl from Florida, I resolved to give San Francisco’s landmarks a fair chance and not just write them off as tourist traps.
Two years later, I am partially successful, having checked Pier 39 and Coit Tower off my list. And in all honesty, I had a lot of fun visiting both places. There’s no denying Pier 39 is overrun with families from all over the world shopping, eating and taking photographs. Yet there is some beauty to observing all of this, and I realized while I was there how quintessentially San Francisco the pier really is. I don’t think I’ll feel the desire to visit again in the near future, but it’s an experience I can now understand and appreciate as a local.
On the other hand, Coit Tower should be regarded as a gem for tourists and locals alike. Not only does its classic San Francisco steepness test the quads of pedestrians, but it offers the best view of the city and the Bay. And even if that view is familiar, it still makes for the perfect backdrop of a photo with family or friends.
No matter how long you have lived in the Bay Area or how much you love San Francisco, I encourage you to be a tourist for a day. Mixing San Francisco’s landmark destinations with the lesser-known local favorites truly does make for an experience which will leave you with an even deeper appreciation of the Golden Gate City.
Annika Ulrich is a senior at Aragon High School in San Mateo. Student News appears in the weekend edition. You can email Student News at firstname.lastname@example.org.