Everyone Wants to Get to San Francisco: A ‘Travel Guide’

“I wanted to get to San Francisco, everyone wants to get to San Francisco and what for? In God’s name under the stars what for? For joy, for kicks, for something burning in the night.”

-Jack Kerouac, On the Road

It’s Aug. 31, and I’ve yet to concoct a “pay the cable bill” plan, let alone a definite plan to get the hell outta New York for good. But when I do, I’m going to San Francisco. For a while, moving to San Francisco/Berkeley was a “plan” involving approximately 10 people I work with at Autostraddle.com. We have new ‘plans’ now that still aim to bring us closer together, geographically, but not cohesively. Things are changing so fast. We’ve started like three new Tumblrs since Berkeleystraddle.

Crystal, our Music Editor from Australia who I met ‘on the internet’ via my blog in 2007 and hadn’t seen since she came to the states in 2008, knows about the West of our Future and the East of Our Past. This past June, she arranged to meet Design/Dance Director Alex and I in San Francisco for a few days before making her way to New York for Pride/Rodeo Disco from Sydney, Australia.

This is the story of that trip.

Day One: Flying & Bieberblock

On the plane from New York, Alex sleeps and I pay for Internet to discover that Autostraddle.com, the website I conduct approximately a billion hours a week, has crashed for unknown reasons. I take my last Xanax. I finish reading Chely Wright’s Like Me and almost cry a few times, like when she comes out to her Dad. I hate airplanes. I eat cheese from a tiny expensive box.

We touch down in a perfect 60-something-degrees San Francisco. Due to flight delays, we’re already late to meet up with queer-web-friends — Fit for a Femme, M. & Kate — at the Rickshaw Stop, which is where the weekly lesbian party Cockblock is hosting a Justin Bieber lookalike contest! I KNOW WHAT LUCK.

We shuttle to the hotel on Market & 4th Street, where Crystal is waiting with Tim-Tams, the Tegan & Sara Book, Crocodile Dundee hats and heaps of magazines. Crystal has eyes/ears and therefore already knew how I’d probably feel about the Website Crash of Death and Evil.

We need vodka, we say.

I have vodka, Crystal says.

That’s how Crystal is. That stuff you need? To live your life? She’s got it. Crystal makes me feel calm and like things are gonna be okay. She always wears all black, which is somehow also comforting. Also: vodka in water bottles. Vodka vodka vodka!

First we stop at the wrong bar, but we are already too drunk to know if we’re at a dude bar, or if those dudes look like girls who look like a 16-year-old dude. At last, we arrive at our actual destination: Cockblock on 155 Fell Street.

The bar is big and box-shaped and dark, as bars are, with people smoking upstairs. We’re excited to meet/see each other and catch the tail end of The Contest. The room is all hot energy and carefully constructed deconstructed hairdos. FFAF explains that although my future tomboyfriend …

… really does look like Justin Bieber, the other finalist had really “worked it.” The prize is a trip to New York City, but we JUST CAME FROM THERE.

Then that night I get home and — I believe due to an unsavory cheeseburger — spend the next 24 hours in wretched feverish pain the likes of which I cannot possibly begin to describe.

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Day Two: The Yellow Wallpaper

Day One bleeds into Day Two, just like my intestines and, eventually, Autostraddle. It’s a coincidence!

I stay in the dark room. Details: imagine how I felt when Autostraddle broke; now imagine that my primary organs & digestive system are our web server, and I’ve got a bad case of hostgatoritis. If Autostraddle is down, then I at least should be enjoying the respite.

Crystal & Alex tend to me, like the perfect people they are, and then eventually head out to see Fisherman’s Wharf. I lie in bed, thinking about when my Mom took me to Fisherman’s Wharf when I was eight, and we got shrimp cocktail, and I didn’t know shrimp cocktail was cold and it tasted slippery. We’d just been to Alcatraz and I’d had lots of ideas about things I could escape from, already. It was just me and my Mom, and it was really perfect and fun. Maybe people have kids so they can have perfect vacations like that.

I crawl up to the laptop, thinking “I’m a sad animal in a room by myself, crawling towards the bright machine.”

I bury my eyes in a pillow while my hands type. I think, “I’m a fast typer, even under diress.”

Sunshine hits the corner of my eye through the blinds. I drink some coffee and moan like a performance artist in a cage. Then I fall asleep.

 

Alex ate this, I think it’s a crab cake:

Crystal and Alex return, and I wake up thinking of all the hours I’ve spent in hotel rooms alone while friends are out seeking fun. I wonder if people still expect me for things? I’ve stopped letting myself WANT to have fun ’cause THERE’S NO TIME but enough! Let’s pick it up! It’s time to go see Julie Goldman, star of stage, screen, and our webseries Julie & Brandy in Your Box Office, at Mary’s Futon Shop, which, relative to the distance between Australia and San Francisco, is sort of close to our hotel.

Where the hell is San Rafael? Crystal thinks Ohio is in Michigan.

The cheapest way to get there is by rental car. It’s $30 or so. We pass the Golden Gate Bridge and I remember eating donuts on a rock with my boyfriend and his three-year-old half-sister over Thanksgiving break of 1998. It was breezy, and we were happy. Crystal, Alex and I talk about how ridiculous the BMI scale is until we realize we are LOST.

I am nauseous, I am starving, I AM WOMAN. We arrive only ~30 to 40 minutes late, which isn’t bad, ’cause we still get to see Julie.

Turns out Julie is probs my spirit animal, because just like me, she spent the whole night prior being sick. But both of us asked ourselves What Would Tyra Do and the answer is ROCK THE FUTON SHOP! There’s also cake, but I’m afraid of everything that isn’t a saltine.

We sit in the back because we’re hardcore and then Julie’s up and she makes us laugh so hard we pee our pants and change our pants ten times before it’s over.

Afterwards Julie is famous and signs autographs, but I get to keep the Burger King crown.

I feel I have been cured by the power of lesbian folk-rock music, surrounded by the kind women of the Bay Area and their tropically-printed t-shirts.

I AM HEALED I AM READY FOR YOU CALIFORNIA

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Avatar of Riese

Riese is the 32-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1741 articles for us.

92 Comments

  1. Thumb up 0

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    I can’t believe you accidently ended up at the Condor. That’s hilarious. Also, the couple times I’ve gone to The Lex I’ve had that same experience. It’s not the friendliest place around… especially if you don’t have a fauxhawk and a tie. I don’t think I was butch enough for them. But in conclusion, you should totally move to SF or Berkeley. Even if you don’t end up here forever. It’s one of those places you should live in for a while if you can.

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    This genuinely made me feel sad. But I love SF, that ONE time I went there, and I also liked the weather and didn’t realize they had wax museums so I get it. What a year for losing friends to the west coast! :(

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    …!!! I’ve just spent the last few days crazily researching how I could spend 3 months in San Francisco amongst my creative inspirations (since they all seem to center there, apparently) and then this post pops up.

    IS THIS A SIGN

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      I always thought NYC + SF too, but my only trip to America was to Boston because my best friend was studying there, and I really loved it. Though it seemed disappointingly contrary to the image of America portrayed via the media, like I did not even hear a single gun-shot.

      Oh, and I’d also go to Baltimore for a bit of John Waters pilgrimage.

      Anyway, I loved this “Travel Guide” which I think told us much more than any soulless list of places to eat/drink.

      Also I laughed out loud when you said Alex can’t read. This is fine as long as she continues to read/write the language of infographics.

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        me too! i’ve always thought NYC & SF in the US, I feel like I’ve thought that all my life. I lived outside of Boston for a year. It was nice, because of history, but also well mostly b/c of history. I feel like it’s such a college town. I also have liked Vancouver and, slightly less so; London. I can see myself living in Oregon or something later on. But the only consistent convictions have been sf and nyc. i guess that’s where i heard there would be other weird people.

        also john waters is always the first thing i think of when i think of baltimore.

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    i’ve been twice. the first time i was going through alcohol withdrawl, and the second time i tried to live there with my ex girlfriend. we’re pretty much hobos so we didn’t pay for anything and it didn’t last long… hoo hoo, and we knew nothing about the city. if only this was posted a few months ago, we would have known where to get coffee.

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    San Francisco was the place my parents dragged me to as a child. I would spend summers in the sun by the pool and then suddenly i was in the car in three sweatshirts going up and down hills looking at pastel houses. I would drag my feet through museums and shiver on the wharf while wrinkling my nose at the smell of fish. My parents tried to point out all the interesting things “this is where the beatniks hung out. They wore a lot of black too”. I wish I had picked up my feet a little more and embraced the fog because now my parents won’t pay for me to visit bookstores or ride cable cars.

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    I had the exact same experience as you all did when I went to the bars–not nearly butch enough which really pissed me off, I’m a bigger queer than any of them. Also get ready to freeze all year round.

    I think everyone has ‘alternative’ hairstyles partly because it’s always so damned windy there it’s like having your hair in a blender. Knots for days.

  7. Thumb up 0

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    i never comment, but i read all posts avidly. i feel compelled to say this: i’m moving back to SF tomorrow, after a year away, and the reasons you love it are the reasons i love it, too. the beats, when i was fifteen, were magical, and San Francisco is magical, and i miss it like burning. This post has gotten me even more excited to go.

    the one fly in the ointment of all of this magic, is, unfortunately, the Lexington. I’m still sad and ashamed that it’s the only full-time girl bar in the city. It’s a terrible place to feel camaraderie; it’s never felt welcoming. Especially if you’re not white, young, upper-middle class, height-weight proportionate and ‘alternative.’ I’m embarrassed that the city I love so much was unwelcoming to you, particularly when this space you’ve carved out of the internet has been such a welcome refuge. On behalf of queer San Francisco, I sincerely apologize.

    But that aside, you should definitely move to San Francisco! And bring all of autostraddle with you!

    • Thumb up 0

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      This explodes my wee native SF heart into a kabillion pieces.

      I feel like Rufus Wainwright in that one song where he’s like “…and I’d better be prominently featured in your next slideshow!” except the part after that, because look! I am! In your slideshow/blog post! Hot sauce.

      Look, the trick about the Lex is not to give two shits about the kinds of girls who mistake Australian accents for Austrian ones, because, well…that’s pretty self-explanatory, no? Otherwise, you might as well rub a shit ton of MAC on the low end of a few broomsticks decorated with feather earrings and call it a day as far as making new friends goes. (That is not a comment on anything other than character, be t-dubs.)

      Alex, I feel like you need to move to Oakland where BC-dubs and Dr. Dyke reside. I swan it’s always 10-20 degrees warmer there – 9/12 mos. of the year it’s mid-60s to mid- and upper 70s! I did for 10 years and I really miss it. Popping in and out of SF as needed is a cinch and think of everything nearby – beaches, redwoods, t-shirt skiing, glorious mountains, lakes and rivers galore, wineries, lesbianslesbianslesbianslesbians for days.

      PS. The ones in Oakland are way less cunty than the ones in SF. Trust. (No offense, super nice SF dykes.)

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      I feel like I should point out that there were some really nice people at the Lexington as well, Alex and I played pool with them. In my head we won, but I don’t know if that was a real outcome or one i made up.

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          im agreeing with you here – my girlfriend and i go to the lex all the time, and to be honest, we usually stick out like sore thumbs. that being said, we love it!! the bartenders are sweeties and honestly, who cares if it’s a butch crowd or a femme crowd or whatever – it’s the one place in the city (besides orsons) where it’s all lezzies, all the time. plus, the jukebox plays way better music than qbar has been on most recent tuesday nights. oh, and the gay rodeo chick? i know exactly who youre talking about! i randomly interviewed to live with her 3 yrs ago when i first moved to the city. i didnt get the room, but randomly ran into her at the lex a few months ago and she gave my girlfriend and i free drink tickets and is always super friendly!

          oh and riese – i was totally at cockblock that night for my girlfriend’s birthday. we brought some straight girls and they loved it – it;s the best dance party in the city!

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          We love the Lex, too! I can’t believe nobody is more enthused about Erotic Spot the Difference. That game is super boss when you are wasted.

          Tell the gay rodeo chick we want to gay rodeo! We are busy with fencing lessons for the next few months, but yeah. GAY RODEO!

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          haha apparently there’s gay line dancing somewhere in daly city once a month… to beyonce. no idea how that works, but i believe it. coincidentally, my boss told me today that in between “super macho buff” phase and his current buddhist one, his gay uncle was very much a gay cowboy and very into the rodeo and line dancing circuit! amazing, right?

          swear i saw you last weekend at mango!

  8. Thumb up 0

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    san francisco is my home and it can make my heart feel great and expand to three times bigger with love, and it can also make it hurt and maybe feel sort of stepped on.
    sometimes i get that feeling like i’m not cool enough to live here, i’m not part of the club. but then, i think maybe a lot of people feel that where they live.
    the fact is that even if i don’t think i’m cool enough, i am technically part of the club. and it’s a wonderful club to be in. san francisco has been my salvation from so much, and for that alone it has a special place in my heart area. also there are so many cute dogs here and a lot of them wear little dog outfits which has always been one of my embarrassing weaknesses.

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      also i didn’t think that my macbook would automatically type in my full name…i guess now if you really want to live in san francisco, you now have the ability to track me down and steal my apartment.

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    This is gorgeously autowin-ish. I’m also in a state of transition. I never thought I would leave New York let alone for LA, but I have somehow become entrapped in the idea of palm trees and an easier life. When did New York become so HARD? New Yorkers hate LA. That makes me sad to hear but I need to give it a shot. I like the weather.

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      After being born back in NY/Boston- moving to SF/Oakland/ and Berk – I absolutely NEVER thought I would say these words, but they are so very, very true: I LOVE LA. I love Hollywood, Silver Lake -the neighborhood not the quotes around it place, Los Feliz, I love the coast down there… would die to live in Laurel Canyon…

      You have to find your groove, but the majority of the people down there have always been so gracious and kind- of course no one believes me (their loss)- and while I sadly no longer live there? ALWAYS a concert, always an Art Happening… it’s so alive down there. The shallow crap, just look away and don’t feed them a second of energy. Nothing to it- just look away.

      I also miss NYC but fear returning as I’ve heard that (as much as I love Varvatos) CBGB’s to John’s gorgeous yet out of reach shop is emblematic of what I left and what is there and the ‘Clean Up that Went Too Far’ … heck, I’ll shut up now. Never be ashamed to fall in love with LA; just get air-conditioning/a solar panel just for your AC!

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    The best place in the world to fall in lust or love. Next time you are in town, check out Baker Beach, The Legion of Honor and the view at the end of Geary overlooking the Old Sutro Baths. SF is full of magical sights. Thank you for writing about its unique vibe. . .

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    COULD YOU PLEASE JUST GET HERE ALREADY. i need friends like i need vitamins which is like woah.
    -
    i’ve definitely had the weirdest year of my life, having moved to Brooklyn 10 months ago from Canada, and then now having moved to San Francisco 2 months ago. one thing i can say for sure is that both cities are awesome, but san francisco is FUCKING FREEZING. wtf! it’s supposed to be california! i basically grew up with this mythological image of california as a place of non-stop sun and beach boys songs, and this is not so. BUT. i really can’t overstate how many lesbians there are here. like i can see four right now just from where i’m sitting. YOU GUYS IT’S MAGICAL. get here.

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    confession time: I had to read Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis and it made me hate him. I have not read any of his other books. I was repulsed. I hope this does not make me a bad queer!

    This makes me want to go to San Francisco, and also I think it would be super awesome if there were “Travel Guides” for other gayborhoods, such as Northampton or Dupont Circle. I’m sure that I’m not the only college student who will have to pick somewhere to live when she gets out of school and wants it to be the best, gayest place in the country.

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    I’m going to SF in the spring and this made me so so so exited.

    If you’re still in NYC in October, though, I’ll look for you. If you see someone smiling at you, it might very possibly be me.

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    i don’t think i’ve ever thought any thoughts about san fransisco, but this made it look like a nice place to go. i just sold my yellow hoodie because it looks bad on me but then i saw it on you and i had instant regret but then i remembered that it looks bad on me.

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    I got so excited when I saw you guys had written about San Francisco because I happen to live in that wonderful city!

    I too recently had my first SF strip club experience, I didn’t go to the Condor (no old enough) but I went to Roaring 20′s. It was so weird!!

    I’ve never been to Alcatraz, but it’s on my to do list. And, I don’t know why the ladies at the Lexington did appreciate your presence. I hope they read this and feel like ASSHOLES!

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    Yes, yes, yes — move here! As a native midwesterner, the beautirific loveliness craziness that is the Bay Area was a bit jolting at first, but it is so worth it.

    And, FYI — the dykes/lezzies/and super-cool queers actually live in Oakland, not Berkeley. No offense, but Berkeley isn’t the friendliest unless you’re under 21 at Cal or a 40+ something queer with babies and cash. (SF is nice too but it’s even more nice to save $1000+ in rent in Oakland — more cash for cocktails later). :-) Plus, there’s an up and coming queer dance scene in Oakland, like Hella Gay Oakland, the monthly Hey Girl Hey near Lake Merritt, etc…can’t wait for Oakland pride this wknd!

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    Riese, this was beautiful.

    I live my life like this too, ‘if I just get out of this city and travel to these places I’ve read about and dreamed about and built altars to in my mind, somehow my life will fall together’.

    I have no money and people terrify me, but somehow when me and these things exist in another geographical location, everything will just be fine.

  18. Thumb up 0

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    “Anyone know of a place that isn’t life but isn’t death either, a place where a person can hang out for free before moving on to the next stage of life?”

    Mom and Dad’s? That’s where I found a place between life and death and am currently living. Just be careful or you may never want to leave.

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    This is f*cking fantastic. Like, exactly what I needed to read. I took a leap of faith a few weeks ago by accepting a job offer in San Fran over returning to Asheville. This post makes me less nervous/apprehensive about my decision and the west coast, amid packing and moving in 2 weeks. Imma hit up that coffee shop, mos def. It sounds amazing!

    Also – if I may make a recommendation – some friends took me to DJ Purple in the Mission while I was there for interviews. It was a B-L-A-S-T, however, I wish I could remember more of it. I DO know that there were many laid-back queers there and that beers were insanely cheap. Me 1, Brownout 0.

    I also can’t wait to make sourdough on the west coast! Kitchen experiments!

  20. Thumb up 0

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    I’m born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and I’m doing everything in my power not to leave. While all my friends have migrated south or east, I’ve stayed right here. I’ve never been able to put it into words why I love this place so much. It’s more than just being a gay mecca. San Francisco (and to some extent Berkeley and Oakland) are queer in a way that other places try to force themselves to be. It’s not something you can create by starting up more gay bars or having a gay pride event.

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    I moved to San Francisco a few months ago and it was the best decision I ever made in my life. If any of you have the means to do it, you should, you really, really should. It’s super gay here.

    Sidenote: I have looked upon the autostraddle writing on the Lex bathroom wall so many times and have searched out for the MYSTERY WOMAN who wrote it. I have asked people waiting in line if they knew what it was to to help narrow my search. Alas, mystery solved. I have to call 14 people now to let them know. Also, I’m still going to ask people waiting for the bathroom because it turns out it’s kind of a good pickup line – thanks team!

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    I live like an hour from the city (wait sorry I should say San Francisco, it’s only “the city” for people who live in San Jose it’s stupid little sister), and so every time I get sad I want to take the train up and spend the day there and now I’m not even sad but I’m still want to go!!!

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    I loved this recap, Riese. Also, this:

    “I don’t really know why to go anywhere besides what I read in a novel once.”

    This is how I feel about Morton’s steakhouse. Whenever I visit the USA I go to Morton’s because that’s where the kids in “Less Than Zero” always go to eat. And I only realised how crazy that is, to go to Morton’s again and again, no questions, because a book once taught me that Morton’s is where people can go to eat. I’ll probably keep going back though.

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    I did go to SF two years ago and it was pretty impressive for a girl who lives in Hong Kong. Even went to the bookstore mentioned above and bought a big load of books. How did you find the Blue Bottle Coffee Company? I was uable to find this shop, even with the help of the locals. So the compromise is….Starbucks! Well, I ended up with getting a drink from a lcoal shop. Anyway, I would love to spend some time there if some relatives are nice enough to donate some money for this poor girl.

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    This was well enjoyable to read :)

    “I’m convinced that we get less and less authentic the more we know”

    This just helped me articulate a feeling i’ve been having lately that as you get older you lose a little bit of the original ‘you’ and now i’m scared that I’m a totally different version of me that is ok and everything but I have a sneaking feeling that the original (authentic) version was way better.

    wah :(

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    I don’t know but I want to go to San Fran. It is like Vegas but only for the gay homos. But I am Canadian, so I would have to go to our Vegas equivalent which is Montreal. Which is the equivalent to pretty much every city in the world except for New York. Our New York equivalent is Toronto. *disclaimer This is all in my head, no majority has agreed upon this.
    I feel like I am the equivalent to a news reporter, I say too much.
    So uh, yeah…I like this website plenty.

  27. Thumb up 0

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    san fran is wonderful.
    I really want to move up there however my gf does not love sf the way i do. its also really expensive.

    i think i’ll be happy enough if we at least just move to Culver City if we plan on staying in elay.

    happy moving! & welcome to west coast.

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    I left my heart in san francisco. Every time I leave there it is like breaking up with the city. My sister used to live in the city and now has moved out to the ‘burbs in Marin. While her house is awesome and has a pool and is much better suited to raising to small children. I will miss taking the muni home from the bar late at night, getting a donut from happy donut then stumbling around the corner home.

    I will always want to live there.

    Also try Peets coffee.

    this comment is really late but whatever.

  29. Thumb up 0

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    just went to san fran for the first time and hit up the lex. “gayer than thou” was def the atmosphere. oh shit. they seemed genuinely annoyed i wasn’t hipster cali butch. sorry. didn’t get the memo.

    LAME-O. why do lesbians hate so?

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    Right everyone.

    Hello. London here.

    Im coming to California for 2.5 weeks in June with my girlfriend. We are very excited indeed as its the first time we’ve been to the west coast. We’re flying into LA and flying out of San Fran and want some proper californian recommendations. Incidentally, pride in on in LA during our visit which is great but would definitely welcome some other suggestions for fun things to do!

    Alice

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    This makes me so glad to be near enough to San Fran to visit relatively often :) I have some great memories there, of course they don’t include bars or anything cause I can’t really go to those places yet but there’s the warf, cable cars, my friend’s crazy dad gunning us down a steep hill…
    And I don’t get why there has to be some unofficial dress code at the Lexington, I thought gayelles liked femmes anyways :/

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