James DeKoven
Writer & Content Strategist

Blog of marketing and branding ideas

Opinions, ideas and ramblings

People Who Complain About San Francisco Need to Take a Walk

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The sun rose this morning, which meant I came across the requisite daily article about how San Francisco is now officially the worst place to live on Earth.

No one can afford the housing. Food is ridiculously expensive. Traffic is a nightmare. The sidewalks are filthy. We demolish treasured landmarks and replace them with parking garages and $1.6 million dollar one-bedroom condos.

There’s a lot of truth in these claims. We have real problems that require action from our civic and business leaders. But we also have to stop listening to the doom and gloom accounts penned by lazy journalists, as well as the complaints of lazy SF locals. Let’s take a break from the sky-is-falling freak-out for a moment and remember what I believe is the greatest aspect of this city.

My friend Vince, a lifelong San Franciscan, put it best: “There are few places in America you can live where you can walk out of the door every day and discover something new each time.”

New ethnic eateries to check out. New cafes. New hikes. New views. New strangers to greet as you wait to cross the street. New ways to walk home. New angles to watch the early evening light reflect on a row of 100-year-old Victorians. New people to meet with quirks, personality, chutzpah, characters with jokes to share and stories to tell.

You can see an afro-funk band at the Boom Boom Room or a weird documentary at the Balboa Theatre. Get pastries at Mara’s or a breakfast sandwich at Devil’s Teeth. Trek through Mount Sutro, walk on the shoreline all the way from Land’s End to Skyline Boulevard. There’s plenty of art to see and poetry to hear. And if your conventional therapist isn’t quite doing the job, try some sessions at the C. G. Jung Institute of San Francisco.

I’m not suggesting obscure activities to appear as some sort of tastemaker. Come on, I eat like a monk and only spend money on records. The point is that we have endless off-the-beaten-path social, entertainment, cultural, and consciousness raising options scattered across the town. But those with the gripes seem to make citywide generalizations based on their experiences in a small amount of neighborhoods: Millennials are self-absorbed, tech workers are arrogant, human feces covers the sidewalks, and other tired mythology. They forget that life exists beyond Valencia and Divisadero and Chestnut, beyond SOMA and Hayes Valley and the Mission.

Well, maybe they’re not forgetting as much as they’re lacking curiosity. I bet the complainers rarely – if at all – spend much time in the western portion of the city. I’m talking west of Divisadero all the way to the beach, an area that encompasses about four of San Francisco’s seven-mile east-west stretch. And what about West Portal, Excelsior, Twin Peaks, Parkside, Diamond Heights, Ingleside, Portola, and all of the other less popular neighborhoods?

It’s undeniable that San Francisco has changed, and not always for the better. There’s been an erosion of common social courtesy and spatial awareness. Mom and pop shops that gave you value for your dollar are being swapped out for pop-ups that sell overpriced irony. But we have choices. Just as we have micro-climates, we also have micro-cultures. The Sunset is nothing like Pacific Heights, which in turn is nothing like North Beach.

I have friends here who boast about the stamps in their passport, who can’t stop talking about their next global adventure, yet they never leave the emotionally safe confines of familiar neighborhoods – all while living in one of the world’s best cities for exploration.

Yes, exploration. Everything doesn’t have to be sanctioned by your social media feed. Everything doesn’t have to be trending, curated, gourmet, hand-crafted, or single origin; your scone doesn’t have to be artisanal; your cocktail doesn’t have to be “crafted” by a mixologist at a bar built with reclaimed wood and a purposefully distressed interior; you don’t have to wait 75 minutes to be seated for brunch; you don’t always need Yelp’s permission to choose where to have dinner with your guests visiting from Ohio.

To the complainers, I suggest you wander the city on foot with no particular destination in mind. Revel in the history, the beauty, the parks, the beaches, the coastline, the architecture, the mysterious alleyways and glorious staircases, the odd nooks and crannies you come upon by chance. You'll notice that the good here still far outweighs the bad if only you would stop looking up stuff on your device and start looking around.

Go to an unfamiliar neighborhood just for the hell of it and see what happens. There are gems scattered over the city’s 46.89 square miles. No one’s forcing you to buy $20 salads. No one’s pressing the barrel of a revolver to your head and demanding you overhear an obnoxious café conversation about the virtues of Instagram influencers. You have choices. If you find a particular area annoying, go elsewhere and don’t go back. Explore. All you have to do is turn right instead of turn left (or vice versa) when you walk out of the door.