Successive generations have staked their claim to the City by the Bay, lured by the promise of gold dust, flower power, and dot-com wealth. But San Francisco’s real riches are anything but ephemeral
By Joe Yogerst
Photographs by Aya Brackett
“Out on the road without you, without your charms…” With lyrics like these, one would have thought Journey’s 1978 rock ballad “Lights” was about a woman rather than a city. But that’s San Francisco for you—a metropolis that inspires grown men to pen sentimental love songs and pine for their return to the City by the Bay. One website claims that more than a thousand songs have been written about the place, and I don’t doubt it. Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco; Otis Redding sat on the dock of the bay; Scott McKenzie bid us to wear flowers in our hair. But it’s Journey’s anthem that whirls in my head now as I drive out of Marin County and across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Past the toll plaza on the far side, I turn into the lush grounds of the Presidio, the historic army post that is now the city’s largest green space. And I find myself thinking about my personal ties with San Francisco. If you can pass heirlooms and houses from one generation to the next, then why not a city? Because that’s what happened to me. Like so many young Americans of his generation, my father moved here straight out of high school, fleeing the east coast winters and sedentary mind-sets in favor of a climate (both physical and cerebral) more in keeping with boundless energy. And while he didn’t stay for long, he often returned, sometimes with me in tow. Some of my earliest memories of travel—and perhaps the reason I later became a travel writer—are of those childhood forays to Frisco, as dad fondly called it.
And, wouldn’t you know it, I moved here myself in the 1980s, during what I look back upon as my starving-artist years. I lived (and wrote) in a ramshackle Victorian row house with a redheaded med student from L.A., an émigré Argentine carpenter, and a budding young female artist from Chicago who channeled Flower Power long after the last of the original hippies had fled to the redwoods. We were, in our own way, a microcosm of San Francisco’s singular hybrid culture, all of us drawn by the same compulsion: to discover for ourselves a city that has long attracted dreamers and schemers to the promise of its transformative power.