San Francisco is a place, and a state of mind. If you were lucky enough to have been born here, well, then lucky lucky you that everything lined up so neatly. There are also many San Franciscans who were born someplace else. They live here, and they know this City is where they belong. They were born San Franciscans — it just took them longer to get here.
Then there are those who were born San Franciscans, but don’t live here, and have never lived here, and may not ever live here. It’s a unique kind of romance to have with San Francisco, although it has all the pros and cons of a long-distance relationship.
Tony Quarrington is that kind of person. Tony lives in the UK, about 30 miles east of London. He’s thoroughly British, but Tony and his wife have fallen in love with San Francisco. (Well, of course.) They come here as often as they can — ten times, at last count — and Tony runs an entire blog about “An Englishman’s Love Affair with San Francisco.” Crazy street-cred, right there.
This spring, Tony and his wife have returned to San Francisco for the eleventh time. But this time, they’ve decided to stay in a rather delightful neighborhood they discovered during their last visit: Bernal Heights.
During our tenth visit to San Francisco last June, we took the short walk one morning from our Noe Valley apartment to Bernal Heights, ascending the hill from Precita Park, having lunch at the Progressive Grounds coffee house and buying provisions for our evening meal at the Good Life Grocery before taking the surprisingly short stroll back to 28th Street.
We enjoyed the superlative 360 degree views from the top of the hill and the ambiance of this “village within the city” so much that we vowed to base ourselves on our next trip in what has subsequently been dubbed the “hottest neighborhood in America”.
That trip is now imminent. After a week’s skiing in Tahoe, we arrive on the first day of April (St. Stupid’s Day) at our Bernal cottage where we will be staying for the next two weeks.
Having already spent so much time here, Tony intends to go native in mainland San Francisco:
Being in San Francisco has become such a familiar and habitual (in the best sense of the word) part of our lives, somewhere we spend more of our time than anywhere else, other than our permanent UK address.
What has happened is that OUR version of San Francisco has shifted both geographically and metaphorically from the waterfront to the neighborhood we have chosen to live in for a few short weeks (oh, that it could be more).
If all we want to do is “hang out” at the apartment in the morning, watch the news on KRON4 while catching up on household chores, before strolling out to a local café for lunch, followed by food shopping and a return to the apartment for a glass or two of wine on the outside private deck, then so be it. We might then have dinner in the apartment – or try out one of the local restaurants. Or we might decide to take a trip downtown and eat in Chinatown or North Beach.
We feel no pressure to conform to the expectations of others, to be perfect tourists (if that is not an oxymoron), although, inevitably, as the trip draws to a close, the realization will again dawn on us that we haven’t seen and done as much as we would have liked!
But what of our stay in Bernal?
It would be disingenuous to claim that we will be spending the majority of our time in the neighborhood. But we will be exploring the celebrated stairways and gardens, not to mention every square inch of the hill itself, and patronizing the cafés, restaurants and stores (but, sadly, not Badger Books). And we could not visit without seeking out bargains at the Alemany flea and farmers’ markets.
Okay, that right there is pretty much the backstory of EVERY San Franciscan who has ever ended up in Bernal Heights. All of us, at some point, retreated from the waterfront to settle in to the high-altitude rhythms of Bernal Hill. Which is to say, all of us, at some point in our ancestral history, arrived here as mere visitors. Unless you’re Ohlone, in which case, yes, you were totally here all along.
So… if at some point in the next two weeks you encounter a British gentleman floating through Bernal Heights with a big happy grin on his face, please do smile back, and share some local wisdom or a secret or two. He doesn’t live here, but he may be a terrific neighbor — someday.