To most visitors, the city can appear unchanging: Fisherman’s Wharf is still a great place to dine on sourdough bread bowls filled with clam chowder, and Chinatown remains overflowing with discount shops and dim sum eateries. But in the 17 years that I’ve lived here, San Francisco has undergone a metamorphosis. Neighborhoods like Cole Valley, a small community just off the N-Judah Muni line that runs from downtown west to the ocean, was once considered part of the hippie-esque Haight-Ashbury district. Today it’s home to young families and a handful of restaurants ranging from sushi to Italian to French, all located along a low-key stretch of Cole Street entirely unlike the sometimes manic mosaic of Haight Street, three blocks away. And a formerly deserted stretch of Divisadero Street — a north-south thoroughfare connecting the Castro district to the aptly named Marina — now houses tiny boutique shops like women’s vintage clothing purveyor Dina Louise and an array of restaurants, including Nopa, an urban-rustic eatery with locally sourced dishes ranging from rotisserie herbed chicken to Moroccan vegetable tagine. Thirsty? Corner café Bean Bag and nearby Fly Bar & Restaurant offer some of the best happy-hour prices (not to mention $6 pizza specials) in the city.
But that’s just the beginning to a city that has no end. In October 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake caused extensive destruction throughout San Francisco, leading to a complete overhaul of structures and a change in the way we interact with our environment. The city’s Central Freeway and waterfront Embarcadero Freeway, both damaged in the quake, were eventually torn down, opening up the once-blighted neighborhood of Hayes Valley — now a hotbed of high-end shops and -reservation-only restaurants — and allowing for the formerly overlooked Ferry Building, at the east end of Market Street, to be transformed into its current iteration, a culinary showcase. Across town in Golden Gate Park, Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron completely rebuilt the de Young Museum; the resulting eye-catching design blends perfectly into its natural surroundings. And on the other side of the park’s sunken Musical Concourse, seismic damage to the California Academy of Sciences led to a 10-year refurbishment that turned the Academy into the world’s greenest museum and largest public LEED Platinum–certified public building, according to the Academy . With the 2000 addition of the Giants’ AT&T Park, which is easily accessible by public transit, and a network of new bicycle lanes that have made getting around on two wheels entirely viable, San Francisco keeps improving on what was already a great city.
As the weather starts to cool, I hop back on my bicycle and start pedaling out of the Presidio toward McDowell Avenue. The ride is effortless at first, but the path soon morphs into a steep incline, forcing me to switch gears. With my legs now moving more quickly, I ponder the fact that this is a city where you have to work to get things done. It’s one of San Francisco’s most alluring qualities.