A friend once gave me directions by holding out a hand and marking points along his palm, making geography in the topographically chaotic city of San Francisco easier to comprehend. I had recently moved here, and could get lost in a paper bag, so I appreciated his accessible lesson in direction.
Hold out your left palm:
• The expanse from below your thumb to forefinger is the Pacific Ocean and Ocean beach. It’s a peaceful edge of the city, occupied by the Outer Sunset and Outer Richmond neighborhoods.
• The slope upward from forefinger, to middle finger, to pinky is the north of the city encompassing Land’s End, the Presidio, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Embarcadero. Based on approximation, the middle finger is the Golden Gate Bridge (which is appropriate considering traffic during rush hour).
• From the pinky downward is the section of city that is the busiest, including downtown, SOMA, The Tenderloin, The mission, The Castro.
With directions etched in my mind and hand, the best way to really learn the city is by foot. On a warm Labor Day morning amidst the gulls, and crowds, and hills, a friend and I set out to learn the city by the soles of our feet. We began just above Fort Funston, trekked through the fingers of Land’s End and the Presidio, all the way to just past the ring finger in Fisherman’s Wharf. Fifteen miles in a city that’s only forty-nine square miles is no small feat, and we definitely felt like we earned the sundaes we devoured at the end of our journey in Fisherman’s Wharf.
It’s heartening how the city moves by when you take to many deliberate miles by foot. Incongruent conversations of people walking by complement the birdsong and passing cars. The sweaty, sunscreen smell of hordes of beach-goers meshes harmoniously with the salty ocean and smell of sun beating down on Monterey Pines that line the way. It’s so freeing, so gratifying to move openly around San Francisco using feet, muscle, will power, excellent company, and maybe even the lines in the palm of my hand as inspiration.