For many of us, San Francisco is the best city in the world. No matter how you score it, good old San Fran always is near the top, whether you leave your heart there or not.
Driving downtown to Union Square is not so bad but it's always best to park early. In fact, one of San Francisco's downsides is the parking problem.
At any rate you can try the Stockton Street Public Parking Garage and if you get there before 10:00 or so you should not have any problems.
In the current economic downturn, some Union Square hotels are offering early bird rates if you leave by 6:00 PM. Parking from 8-6 runs about $30; half that if you get an early bird rate.
Union Square combines the ethnic, financial, artistic, retail and down and out side of the City. In fact, you can hang around Union Square and get your fill of just about anything.
Today we saw a finely dressed business executive give a boisterous panhandler a $5 bill. Where else can you see that?
We were attending a local search technology conference at the Marriot. Since we live nearby, we decided to drive and not spend the night. The conference had discounted rooms for $250 plus taxes; we could save enough to splurge on fried oysters in Pescadero.
If you don't live in or near San Francisco, it is important to remember that visiting San Francisco is not cheap.
The conference was great but technology can be nerve-wracking so at lunch we decided to take a break from the Virtual Earth and see some real Earth and maybe stop by some galleries in Union Square.
We wandered into a gallery on the Square and it was spiffy. Art in The City is always fun, edgy and stylish. At least in the presentation; the presentations can be as interesting as the art.
We saw Chagalls, Picassos and Miros. Most of the Miros and Chagalls were prints and some of the Picassos were ceramic. How does one authenticate a Picasso ceramic?
The salesperson was very courteous, not following us around but intermittently dropping in on us and asking us questions like "wouldn't you like to buy this wonderful Dali?"
The prices weren't listed and we didn't ask. Except once. It was a mobile by Calder, perhaps the best known mobile or 'hanging art' artist.
"OK, how much is this one?" the wife asked.
"$1.5 million", was the answer. Food for thought. We wondered just how many credit cards it would take to buy this one. Probably a shoe box full.
We also wondered where one would put this thing if one were to buy it. At 1.5 Big Ones maybe the only place to keep it is in a really big safety deposit box...
Like many conferences this one got boring after lunch and we decided to leave early and drive back home by Half Moon Bay and Highway 1. We took Market Street to Mission Street and out to Daly City; not the scenic route but perhaps one of the most interesting streets in the U.S.
There must be 10,000 small businesses along Mission Street; many with storefronts barely 10 feet across. You name it, they sell it and in every ethnic variety. And with such a mix.
For instance, if you are Mexican and looking for some enchiladas, you can find them. But perhaps the same restaurant also sells papusas from El Salvador. It's Mission Street mix and match time.
Which really is an apt description of San Francisco: mix and match. In most of California, Latinos are of Mexican descent and in some communities the Mexican ancestry approaches 100%. Not in San Francisco.
In short, you can find a restaurant that says "Peruvian Style" or "Guatemalan Style" but if you are from Peru or Guatemala you can see the difference as cultures and styles criss cross and mix and match.
And the prices are different too. On Mission Street one can still get coffee for less than two dollars but on Union Square two dollar coffee is long gone. In the real world location still matters.
We parked on Mission and strolled through stores where some had ten foot storefronts but were 100 feet deep and filled with every imaginable Chinese trinket sold in the last 50 years.
Going through these stores made us realize that even though we thought we had seen it all, there were a number of trinkets that were totally new to us.
Maybe we need to get out more often.
We stopped at Casa Lucaz on the way out as the wife wanted "chamitles" or sweet corn tamales. It's not clear whether the owner's of Casa are Mexican or not but they clearly have done well for years by providing what the market wants as was in our case with the sweet corn tamales.
As we headed back down the coast past Pacifica, Devil's Slide and Half Moon Bay we were reminded that our favorite route home from San Francisco via Highway 1 is the prettiest highway in the world and just 30 minutes from San Francisco.
Don't believe it? The CHP were stopping traffic just above Pescadero as they were filming a sports car commercial...
We stopped in Pescadero at Duarte's Tavern and had fried oysters; a fitting end to a fitting day.
And as we got closer to home we vowed to get back to the best city in the world more often...and not just for business.
Jack Deal owns Deal Business Consultig and JD Deal Local Search Marketing, Watsonville and Santa Cruz, California 831-457-8806. Related articles, ideas, strategies, tactics and tips can be found at and .