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If You're Goin' to San Francisco ... 

If Haight Street is wall-to-wall people, it must be tourist season. How do you really feel about all those outsiders who swell the city's population?

Wednesday, Jul 26 2006
It's summer in the city, and that means one thing: tourist season. The steady trickle throughout the spring has turned into a flood in July and August, and our streets are once again awash in out-of-towners. Tourists contribute billions of dollars to the local economy every year, making San Francisco one of the country's prime vacation destinations. In recent years, attractions like the remodeled de Young Museum, the refurbished Ferry Building, the redesigned Union Square, and the Giants ballpark have served as focal points for family trips, while business travelers have flocked to an increasing amount of convention space and executive-level hotels. But tourists, of course, get a slightly different view of the city, and have vastly different experiences than its year-round residents, with whom they often compete for dinner reservations, concert tickets, and parking spaces. Are you an apologist for San Francisco's tourists? Take our quiz and find out!

1) According to the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, 15.7 million people visited San Francisco last year, dropping $7.3 billion during their stay. Those numbers are climbing back toward the peak tourist season of 2000, when 17.3 million visitors spent $7.6 billion before terror attacks, SARS fears, and the dot-com depression deterred travelers. To what do you attribute San Francisco's recent upswing in tourism?

A) Wasn't the Don Johnson television series Nash Bridges set here? That oughta do it.

B) Clearly, that Cupid's bow sculpture on the Embarcadero is bringin' 'em in by the bus load.

C) Its resurgent music scene. And by "resurgent," I mean "stuff that old people don't find off-putting."

2) What do you think is the biggest misconception visitors have of San Francisco before they visit the city?

A) That we're nothing but a bunch of queers and freaks. I mean, define "nothing but."

B) That there's a public transportation system. (Bonus point for adding: "Oh, sorry, Muni. Didn't see you there.")

C) That they can get a burger for less than $10. What do they think this is, New York?

3) The 2004 film Sideways, which focused on two middle-aged men on a road trip through the Wine Country, has been credited with sparking a re-interest in that region, especially among tourists who may not realize that much of the film was actually shot in Santa Barbara County. What do you make of the idea that more tourists are heading to Napa and Sonoma in search of a Sideways-type experience?

A) Did any of these tourists play the dumb airport mechanic in the television sitcom Wings? Otherwise, I don't see how you can have a Sideways-type experience.

B) It's just what we need: More folks from Oklahoma gettin' bombed at Ravenswood and gettin' right back on the road.

C) Ah, the Wine Country: It's like Disneyland for adults.

4) John Marks, who has helmed the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau for 19 years, stepped down earlier this summer; his legacy includes a boom in convention space and luxury hotels, which have helped attract business travelers. In an interview with the Chronicle, he said, "In leisure travel, we really compete with the nation and the world: 'Do I go to San Francisco or do I go to Orlando or New York City or Boston?'" How would you answer that question?

A) "Honey, kids, gather round ... we're not going to Orlando."

B) "Boston? Really?"

C) "Paris."

5) What do you think is the most authentic experience a tourist can have in San Francisco?

A) Watching the metallic robot guy perform his routine at Fisherman's Wharf. And then watching him get into his BMW afterward.

B) Oh, Fisherman's Wharf, absolutely. What longtime resident of the city hasn't often thought to him or herself, "Got nothing to do on this glorious Saturday ... except for watching the seals!"

C) Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset before a long dinner in North Beach, some shopping at Union Square, and a moonlit stroll along Fisherman's Wharf ... and then the Mastercard commercial ends.

6) As a resident, what's your biggest frustration with out-of-towners?

A) They take up so much parking! (Bonus point for adding: "Yeah, I live in Noe Valley — so what? You think tourists don't come here?!?")

B) When they stop me to ask if I can take their picture in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, and I explain, "No. I'm an artist."

C) That they've made it lame to wear my "Alcatraz Pscyho Ward" T-shirt.

7) If you could give one piece of advice to tourists visiting San Francisco this summer, what would it be?

A) Don't leave town without getting a burrito in the Mission. And then, please, immediately leave town.

B) Don't call it "'Frisco." It's "Uptightville."

C) Just for the record: Yes, I know the way to San Jose. It's called "the 101."

How to score:

Score zero points for every "A" answer, one point for every "B," and two points for every "C."

0-6 points: Around here we have a word for people who wear flowers in their hair. We call them "dirty."

7-10 points: Hey, tourists aren't so bad. The Financial District needs someone to sleep in it at night.

11-14 points: Congratulations! You're a true apologist for San Francisco's tourists. Now hurry out to that summer home on Lake Tahoe!

About The Author

Matt Palmquist


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