Driving stick in San Francisco

Petrero Hill

I bought my new car, Sheila, just a month or so before moving to California.

When I got her, I envisioned lots of day trips and road trips along the West Coast. This weekend, I had the chance to show Sheila what San Francisco is all about.

When I began to get serious about moving to California and going to grad school, San Francisco felt like a real possibility. The last time I visited four years ago, I was enamored. Northern California is one of the most beautiful parts of the country.

To think that San Francisco is only a five-hour drive away from Los Angeles is kind of mind-boggling to me. You know what else is mind-boggling? How frighteningly steep the hills are—especially when you’re driving stick.

My first car was a stick shift, so I’ve always had an appreciation for the art of getting into first gear. But parallel parking on a steep incline was never part of my training. I might’ve had a mini panic attack over the summer when I was parked between two BMWs on a hill in Runyon Canyon and wasn’t exactly confident that I’d be able to get out of the spot without causing some damage. John gave me a crash course in using the emergency break as a back-up then (and no damage was done), but San Francisco was the real test of my abilities.

There’s something special about zipping around a city as a visitor in your own car. Even though Sheila was embarrassingly filthy (bird poop, bug guts, desert dust, etc.), I was proud to take her around town. We visited Golden Gate Park, drove along the Embarcadero and struggled with directions when we realized you can’t make left turns anywhere. We even parked on one or two of the steepest hills San Francisco has to offer. Though I handed John the keys and let him sweat it out when we parked here.

The weekend went by fast, but knowing the Bay Area is just a few hours away means we won’t go another four years before we visit again, and that’s pretty cool. I’ll share more pictures later this week, when I do my monthly photo roundup.

Do you know how to drive stick? Has anyone ever driven stick in San Francisco?

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  1. This post brought back fond and scary memories of me as a teenager with my fist car – a stick shift – skipping school with friends and exploring the streets of San Francisco. It’s a miracle I never hit anything or that my car didn’t go rolling down the street somewhere.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Wow, that is pretty amazing you managed to pull that off as a teen! It’s a good thing I didn’t have to park on hills when I was in high school, or else I probably would’ve been forgetful enough to let something bad like a rolling car happen. As it was, I left my headlights on constantly, requiring many jumpstarts…

  2. We were in San Francisco for a month, and while we did not have to drive stick, we had a horrible time with parking. The street cleaning made it so you had to park on different streets every couple of days… it was a very big headache. We once didn’t get around to reparking until around 9 at night, when everyone else had already moved their cars for the day, and drove in circles in fast moving night traffic for an hour and a half. It was stressful, and horrible, and the very first thing I think of whenever I remember San Francisco. Ha. I sound so bitter.

    I hope you have more awesome San Francisco adventures! The hills are legendary. I walked EVERYWHERE and came away with the calves of a true warrior!

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Street cleaning is a bitch around L.A, too. I’ve gotten a ticket on my own street because I forgot to move my car. It’s been drilled into my mind since, but it’s tricky trying to beat out everyone else for the spots on the other side of the street!

      We sat in a lot of traffic in San Fran too, which was funny coming from L.A. We thought we were escaping all that!

  3. You drive a stick shift? Wow, that sounds really hard! My grandpa used to drive me around in a stick shift all the time when I was little. Although I’m already 16 going on 17, I don’t drive yet… it seems rather scary! D:

    5 hours from San Fran to LA? Daaaang, California is so big! I’ve never been there before, but I didn’t think that it would really be that big…

    Oh by the way, did you live in Maryland? I saw your MOBBIES 2012 award (congrats, btw 🙂 ) The reason I’m asking is because I recently moved from Maryland a year and a half ago and I really miss it. My boyfriend is still back in Maryland, I love that place! Sorry, I don’t mean to sound creepy, I just got really excited when I saw the word “Maryland” >_<

    • Cassie Paton says:

      It was definitely hard to learn how to drive stick at first, but I’m so glad I did! It’s really fun to drive (that is, when you’re not stuck in traffic…then it absolutely sucks), and it’s a good skill to have. Before I bought this car (my third ever), I drove an automatic. Test driving the new manual, I was a little rusty first, but it’s funny how it comes back to you, like riding a bike!

      And yes, I’m from Maryland! Lived there my whole life before moving here last year. Always nice to meet someone else who is from/has lived there! 🙂

  4. Lol a car is freedom regardless of how it looks. My first car was a 1994 Dodge Intrepid and that bad ass took me everywhere with little complaint. Surprisingly reliable for a car that was over a decade old. 🙂 I don’t know how to drive a stick – for shame! Something I plan to learn in the future 🙂 Have a great one Cassie and enjoy Shiela! -iva

    • Cassie Paton says:

      There’s something really special about that first car, isn’t there? My first car was a ’94 too, and NOT reliable haha. It was actually falling apart in the end, but I loved that thing because it was mine!

  5. You are brave, girl! I have never driven a stick shift before, but driving + parking in ANY car is tough in SF. I couldn’t do it! 😛 My husband, thankfully, does all the driving when we’re in the city, and he has quite mastered the parking in the last 3 years we’ve been in North Cal. But have yet to try it in a stick. 😛 The thought scares me even, haha.

    Also: I had no idea you were in this area! You know I only live two hours away from SF. 😛 Funny enough, I’m hoping to get down to the LA area sometime this summer! I miss it.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      I was thinking of you and other blog friends in the area while I was there! You’re in Sacramento, right? I’ve never been there but would love to visit sometime. And you’ll have to let me know when you’re in L.A.! We definitely need to meet up. 🙂

  6. I lived in SF until age 18 and I never learned to drive! So I’ve never driven stick on the hills or driven them period. But I do remember being 16 when all my friends we learning. Parallel parking on those hills is a beast. Ha, but thinking about it makes me miss my hometown- I miss the hills. Glad you include lots of pics in the next post!

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