Photo Essay: The Things I Loved About My San Francisco Summer

by Ekua on August 28, 2012 in California,captured on memory card

This summer, I had a 2.5 month break and didn’t leave the country. I didn’t even leave the state. Ludicrous, I know. But without going beyond a 150 mile radius of San Francisco, I had an epic all-American summer and never felt like I was squandering my time by not leaving. So what makes an avid traveler happy to be grounded? These are the events, people, and activities that made my summer so special:

» Travel friends visiting and tourists in town

Looking up at the redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument

The next best thing to going abroad is having friends you’ve met on your travels visit you. First up was a friend visiting from Oaxaca. The local crew of people I met in Oaxaca and I had an action packed week and a half of sharing our favorite San Francisco experiences with him, hitting up Muir Woods, immersing ourselves in festivals, and plenty of dancing.

Later in the summer, a British friend that I met in Peru who lives in Dubai came into town. Three years after exploring Machu Picchu together, we had a lively reunion over Peruvian food and pisco sours in San Francisco.

Beyond the visitors I knew, I loved seeing San Francisco full of tourists. One night I was inducted into a clan of boisterous Irish folks who were here for the summer on temporary work visas. At a coffee shop, I chatted with a woman from Midwest who was on a solo coastal road trip from LA to SF. Another time, I pointed a group of German guys (with endearingly absurd fake tans and spiky bleached blonde hair) in the right direction to nightlife in the Mission. I love these little interactions with visitors because I feel like it gives me the opportunity to pay forward the hospitality I’ve received on my travels.

» Festivals and parades

Dancers at the San Francisco Carnival

For me, San Francisco’s Carnaval which is held annually on Memorial Day weekend signals the beginning of summer. This year I wasn’t Latin America bound so I was especially keen on soaking up all of the culture and as always, it was a hip-shaking good time.

Man on a crosswalk post at San Francisco Pride 2012

There were massive crowds at SF Pride, so some took extreme measures to get a better view of the parade.

Float at San Francisco Pride 2012

When I see the flamboyant displays of personality that Pride and the rest of festival season bring, I feel proud to live in such an “anything goes” environment where people feel free to be whoever they are.

Drag Queens in Pink at San Francisco Pride 2012

Ladies, you can put as much effort as you want into being fabulous, but at Pride, a man will always upstage you.

Ozomatli at the Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco

Ozomatli got the crowd going at the Stern Grove Festival this year. It had been so foggy that morning that it was practically raining, but with their oh-so California blend of Latin music, reggae, rock, and hip hop, Ozomatli brought out the sun and good vibes in the afternoon.

 » The Fourth of July

Fourth of July backyard barbecue in San Francisco

It’s been awhile since I celebrated a Fourth of July at home, so I was looking forward to it this year. I decked myself out in a ridiculously thematic red, white, and blue ensemble and headed over to my friends’ house for a backyard barbecue. We grilled meat as well as the fake stuff for the veggie crew and washed it all down with American craft brews.

Fourth of July fireworks in San Francisco

Later we went to Dolores Park where we had an awesome view of fireworks all over the northeastern corner of the city. When the city-sanctioned fireworks show began, it was hilarious. You could only see the bottom half of them because the top half was obscured by fog. In the park plenty of people had their own fireworks and while not spectacular, they made everyone oo and ah all the same. There’s just something about being huddled on a blanket with your friends watching fireworks in the park that brings out the kid in you.

» A writing-centric internship and local exploration

San Francisco's Coit Tower

If you had told me at age 21 when I walked across my university graduation stage with two internships under my belt that I’d be doing an internship in the last six months before I turned 30, I probably would’ve laughed. But life doesn’t always follow a linear path — some interests fade or morph while others that have always been there emerge at the forefront.

I took on an internship at the Northern California branch of Hostelling International as a way to gain more experience in writing regularly beyond my personal blog and to get used to having someone edit my work. I served on a panel (on female solo travel!) for the first time and acquired some handy skills in Photoshop and InDesign as well. I started in the spring, but things picked up when summer break began and I had more time. My largest task was writing articles and copy on local things to do, and sometimes I actually went out to do those things so I could incorporate firsthand experience. One of my favorites was an excursion to Coit Tower.

A mural at San Francisco's Coit Tower

I’ve been to Coit Tower before, but this time I did a walking tour of the murals. The murals are stunning to look at even if you’re just browsing, but learning the history behind these Great Depression Era murals is fascinating. If you go here, I highly recommend taking a free tour.

The American River at the Marshall Gold Discovery Site in Coloma, California

After researching information on Gold Country attractions east of Sacramento, I ended up taking a trip out there to write an article. This American River scene was one of many lovely views at the Marshall Gold Discovery Site.

The Gold Bug Mine in Placerville, California

Later, I put on a hard hat and took an audio tour of the dark and damp Gold Bug Mine in Placerville. The whole Gold Country experience was a pleasant surprise — thoroughly entertaining as well as a relaxing break from the city. While I was there, I stayed in the Sacramento Hostel where I chatted with international guests who were in the midst of big USA trips and got a little taste of the travel life.

Balmy Alley Murals in San Francisco

For my last piece, I explored a place I’ve gotten to know well, 24th Street in the Mission. Pictured here is Balmy Alley, a narrow street off of 24th Street that’s covered with murals. I’ve walked down 24th Street innumerable times, but the most familiar places can remain fresh when you look at them with traveler’s eyes.

» Getting lost at home

The tiger of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco

After visiting Coit Tower, I wandered aimlessly on Telegraph Hill and came across some quirky hidden places. In this garden, I almost forgot I was in San Francisco.

3D chalk art on the Embarcardero in San Francisco

My friend and I went to check out some 3D chalk art at the Embarcadero one afternoon. The title aptly read, “Your community is your classroom.”

Waterfall at Levi's Plaza in San Francisco

Afterward, we walked aimlessly around Downtown and the Financial District — places I rarely go — and came across some cool public spaces like the interactive fountain at Levi’s Plaza.

I’ve neglected Pacifica. I usually just drive through it on the way to somewhere else. But one day, a friend and I wanted to do a coastal hike close to San Francisco and we came across a spot there called Mori Point. So we checked it out, and just south of the city, we found a bit of the craggy California coast experience we were looking for.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Nomadic Samuel August 29, 2012 at 12:11 am

I can’t believe I’ve never taken the time to properly visit SF having only spent time in the airport en route to somewhere else. I’m really impressed with the diversity in your photo essay – especially the scenic shots.


Ekua August 31, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Thanks for your comment 🙂 It looks like you need to plan a trip here! I’m obviously biased, but San Francisco and the rest of Northern California are great places to explore. I’ve lived here most of my life and have yet to run out of things to see!


Katy September 13, 2012 at 11:02 pm

I’m heading down to SF for 3 weeks in a day or so (stopped off in Portland on way down from Vancouver). His has made me even more excited than I was already, which was pretty darn excited!

Any other suggestions for free or cheap things to do in the area?


Ekua September 15, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Welcome to SF! I’m really into the Mission District… Dolores Park on a sunny weekend afternoon, mural alleys, taquerias, dive bars… all cheap or free options. I also recommend galleries in the Tenderloin, in particular White Walls, Shooting Gallery and 941 Geary…they’re all run by the same people and feature unique art. Wrote about them and a few others here:,3943

I also love the Lands End hike to the ruins of Sutro Baths and then on to Ocean Beach. It’s beautiful in any kind of weather, but try to do it on a nice day and you’ll have great views of the GG Bridge, the coast, and the Marin Headlands.

The SF Fun Cheap website is a good resource for random free events. I find some cool stuff on there!


Katy September 17, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Thanks! I’m sort of doing the opposite to your post and have rented a flat to create a ‘home’ having been on the road for a while. So once I’ve finished lying on the sofa eating cookies and watching the biggest loser, I’ll be all over those suggestions! 🙂


hannahinhanoi September 14, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Ekua, this is a fabulous post. Thank you for writing it. I’ve actually never been to SF (well, the airport, not the city). Now I have a good list of things to do when I finally make it out to California.

It took living in eight different states (or maybe that was just part of growing up) for me to really understand the value of taking time to appreciate the community I was living in. Now that I’ve spent one year living in Asia (with plans to spend many more there after grad school), I come to that community with a new appreciation for my own understanding of its depth. My grandmother once told my sisters and I to “put down roots everywhere you live.” I didn’t understand it at the time and I didn’t want to value that advice. As I’ve grown up, moving becomes harder so it becomes more important to me to make connections with my own community, even though I have never lived in one state for more than six years.


Ekua September 15, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Thanks, Hannah! It’s so weird to think of SFO as a transfer airport when it’s been the starting point of almost all of my amazing journeys! I think a not so explicit theme of this post was that a great way to balance life and travel is to blur the lines between two. In this case, it’s about living at home with eagerness of a traveler. And on the travel side, I’m with you that the older I get, the more I want to connect meaningfully with places I visit rather than hop around… I think it’s possible even if you don’t have a chance to stay in one place that long, it just depends on how you approach it!


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