Is there really a difference between being a visitor to a place and being dubbed a tourist? Perhaps. I know many people who dislike being pegged as tourists, but in Tokyo I can’t help but look like one all the time. I sometimes even use it to my advantage. People are happy to help you find your way, the next train, or the best dish at a restaurant. In Japan especially, a crowd usually forms for a reason, because the site or snack being ogled is worth it. That being said, when I visit many cities in the US, I try to blend in, go off the beaten track, and look as little like a tourist as possible. Why I make a distinction, I’m not really sure.
Dan and I spent last week on a whirlwind trip through San Francisco and Washington, DC. A business trip for him, I was lucky to be footloose and fancy free in two of my favorite cities.
In San Francisco my days were filled with friends and their favorite haunts, and I spent my time eating and drinking in good company. Not once did I set foot in a museum (gasp!). During this trip I finally felt like I was getting to know SF like a local. Well, as much as possible when taking taxis to our swanky hotel on Nob Hill so as to avoid the steep climb…
Then it was off to DC for the second half of the week, where I hit more tourist sites than I did when I actually lived there. Taking in the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery for the first time (shame on me, that place was great!) was one of the highlights, as was the updated Asia and elephant trails at the Zoo and the Rally to Restore Sanity at the National Mall.
Since for me travel is really about food, I’ll share my week in meals: huevos rancheros (just 30 minutes after we stepped off the plane), delicious puerto rican pollo al horno, scones du jour (ginger, lemon, pear, blackberry), tacos and more tacos, Blue Bottle coffee, visits to Arizmendi bakery, the Ferry Building and Tartine, deep-dish and wood-fired pizzas, egg scramble and grits, Taylor’s pastini salad, some of the best baba ghannouge I’ve ever had, and maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but oh-so-lovely California and Virginia wines were consumed, uh, probably every day.
For those who are counting, I had pie three times (apple 1, pumpkin 2). If you include pizza, you can up that six. I also had four scones and one cheese & berry danish. They aren’t really pie, but they count for their buttery pastry goodness.
So what does it mean to be a tourist, anyway? Last week I found myself acting more like a tourist in DC, a city I know well and lived in for years, while in San Francisco, where I’ve spent a total of 6 days, I flitted from cafe to bakery to hair salon like I owned the place. Sure, maybe a visit to Alcatraz would have enriched my experience in San Francisco. Right, sort of like a visit to DC’s Air & Space Museum on a Saturday afternoon (for those of you not in-the-know, that would be a death sentence. NASM be crazy full of strollers. You’ll certainly lose a toe).
So what really helps you get to know a place? Personally, I think it’s in the tacos and cheese grits.