Two cities for the summer

Stuck at home with nothing to do and in need of a change of scenery? A road trip to either end of the conteninent could do the trick. Head to San Francisco for a sun-soaked Bohemian adventure or to Montreal for a modernized taste of Old World culture.

San Francisco

Haight-Ashbury: The birthplace of the hippie counterculture movement and the site of 1967’s “Summer of Love,” San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood — endearingly known as “the Haight” — still maintains its happening vibe. An abundance of independent booksellers, vegetarian cafés, vintage clothing shops, art vendors, and the absence of chain stores make the Haight the city’s most eclectic district. The infamous free clinic that remains at its original location calls to memory a simpler time, but instead of flower children, the tattooed and mohawked youth that litter the streets and the scent of cannabis that lingers in the air lend to the locale’s Bohemian energy.

Amoeba Music: Located in the Haight, this music megastore boasts a collection of more than 100,000 new and used CDs and records as well as several hundred DVDs, music posters, and clothing and accessory items bearing the store’s fluorescent insignia. The Energetic Rockettes, Electrelane, and hunky troubadour Sondre Lerche have graced the in-store stage where Amoeba, unlike most music stores, holds free shows during business hours. In spite of housing an extensive music library that spans all genres, Amoeba’s used CDs are unbelievably low priced. With a selection as diverse and encompassing as its big-name counterparts, a trip to Amoeba is not only a spendthrift’s wet dream, but also a chance to scope out the city’s most hip denizens.

North Beach: Evoking an Italian atmosphere with its sidewalk cafés, picturesque parks, and Romanesque gardens, North Beach offers a quieter alternative to San Francisco’s fast-paced nightlife. North Beach Pizza, internationally acclaimed for its signature giant slice, delivers to all areas of the city. A hidden treasure with a patio perfect for summertime alfresco dining, Firenze By Night serves soulful Florentine cuisine at reasonable prices. The stomping ground of influential beatniks Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, City Lights bookstore was a literary meeting place for the 1950s Beat Generation and today hosts readings and art shows in the spirit of its co-founder, poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Fisherman’s Wharf: Generally regarded as San Francisco’s tourist hub, Fisherman’s Wharf teems with sightseers who flock to the port’s numerous postcard and T-shirt stands. Aside from the tacky merchandise, Fisherman’s Wharf also includes eateries that serve fresh clam chowder and dishes with fish plucked right from the adjacent San Francisco Bay. A wharf staple, the Bushman — in actuality, a mischievous prankster hiding behind a bundle of leaves — has gained notoriety for leaping in the paths of unsuspecting vacationers for a laugh and, preferably, pocket change. Offering some of the best views of the city, several cruises depart from the wharf and tour the bay, sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge and to Alcatraz Island.


McKibbin’s Irish Pub: Every Wednesday, this Irish-themed bar holds $5 open-bar nights that cater to out-of-towners looking for a cheap way to have fun, meet other vacationers, and take advantage of the lower drinking age (18). On Wednesdays, most of the clientele are American college students, but a determined social butterfly can find party-hardy Montreal natives sprinkled in the mix.

Tam-Tam: Sundays in the city’s namesake Mont Royal park do not slow down for churchgoers; instead, they feature daylong drum circles. All people are welcome, so anyone with a knack for rhythm and something percussive in hand can join the crowd of musicians, artists, bohemians, and students. Most park visitors choose to watch the drum circles and the bizarre Earth-children that frequent them, and the sense of community that Tam-Tam — so called for the French onomatopoeia (for the tambourine) — fosters makes Sunday afternoons much more than a walk in the park.

Sainte-Catherine Street: The pulse of Montreal’s commercial industry, this 15-kilometer-long thoroughfare bustles with clothing boutiques, popular designer emporiums, footwear outlets, and department stores. Sainte-Catherine’s most ingenious attraction cannot be seen from above; a network of malls sprawls underground, a necessity for the frigid winter months.

Napoli Pizzeria: Located on Saint-Denis Street in the city’s Latin Quarter, this restaurant is a
must-visit for more than its savory Italian cuisine. Manned by a staff of friends and family, the restaurant’s service outdoes that of its competitors. The owner often sits down with his customers, offering a brief tango lesson and taking a photograph to put on the wall next to the cavalcade of awards, postcards, and pictures of the homeland.

Vieux-Port: Characterized by its cobblestone streets and ornate buildings, the oldest part of city is situated on the Saint Lawrence River and teems with street performers, terrace cafés, tourist boutiques, and prime real estate. The old port is the best place to spend an evening, soaking in the sounds of classical violinists and Native American drummers while dining in the crisp summer breeze.