The smothering heat radiated off the sidewalks the first week of last September: 106 degrees, a record for this city, which prides itself on its coolness. Our Uber driver wore a sleeveless undershirt and sighed when we asked him to crank up the AC. In Washington Square, where the grass is usually covered with people and dogs on a sunny day, the few who ventured outside huddled in the shade of trees, the way cows do in Texas.
Last summer was a hot one, and we traveling Texans, who’d come specifically to escape our own heat, were completely unamused to find ourselves having flown out of the frying pan into the fire.
It happens, especially in these days of wild temperature swings, and the San Francisco experience in September (which we Texans recognize as still being summer; we’d left behind a temperature of 100) wasn’t our year’s only foray into the dragon’s mouth. In June, we’d gamely tried to hike a wee bit in 101 degrees in Bend, Ore.
Even the Northeast’s early fall wasn’t safe. We would wind up trekking around in upper 90s heat in Boston the last week of September, when we typically find ourselves in coats. In fact, we’d brought coats. Our coats laughed at us.
We learned a few things last summer and early fall. Chief among them: Don’t take escaping the Texas heat for granted. You might not.
So, some practical thoughts on preparing for and surviving when you jet off to someplace cool and it winds up hot:
1. Know that weather predictions aren’t what they used to be. If you mention air conditioning in San Francisco, where many buildings aren’t air-conditioned, you’ll get a knowing laugh: “Oh, we only need it three days out of the year.” Nope, nope, nope. You now need it more than that. You’re San Francisco. You know about global warming. So, folks: Don’t believe the hype. Always be prepared for sneaky heat. If you can’t live without air conditioning, book air conditioning. And in Europe, unless you’re booking June-August, ask if it will be turned on while you’re there. I’m serious. Sometimes it’s not.
2. Some of us can’t afford air conditioning in San “Ha Ha We Only Need It Three Days a Year” Francisco. My husband and I are averse to spending $300 or more on a hotel room, so unless we’re booking a property we know well, we book boutique hotels the old-fashioned way, on the phone, and ask for a cool room. They always laugh and say we don’t need it. Last year, they were wrong. But we were lucky enough to have booked Washington Square Inn ($249 for the smallest room; for us, this was a splurge), where we had a big bay window that opened and a seriously ferocious ceiling fan. Both helped us immeasurably during the heat wave, although nothing could save the 106-degree day from being miserable. Hint: During the day, close the windows, trapping in whatever night breeze there was, and lower the shades. Hope housekeeping leaves them that way.
3. Always pack shorts. Always. I did not on the late-September Boston trip, assuming I’d be cold. I found myself shopping for shorts. And in September, they were hard to find.
4. Find places that are air-conditioned, you fool. Even in San Francisco, some restaurants are. Find them. Eat there. Movie theaters also tend to be air conditioned, although we went to one movie in a stuffy theater in Boston. We saw a ton of movies in San Francisco.
5. At the risk of being super unprogressive: Avoid public transportation during a heat wave unless you know the conveyance is air-conditioned. San Francisco’s buses aren’t, of course, because … well, you’ve heard it by now. We nearly died going four blocks. Use cabs, Uber, Lyft and such, and make them turn on the AC even if they’re trying to save money by not. They will. They want those stars.
6. If there’s water to get in, get in it. I guess that means bring a swimsuit, which I didn’t when we went to Oregon in June. So, I watched from the trail as other hikers moseyed into the water. Jealous was I. Speaking of Oregon, it, including Portland, has more affordable air-conditioned hotels than San Francisco, but it doesn’t do AC the way Texas does. Nothing glacial. Keep your expectations low.
7. Avoid the sunny side of the street. I know: This seems obvious, but when your destination is on the sunny side, you sometimes ignore the fact that it can be 5 to 10 degrees cooler in the shade. Take advantage of that. Stop every now and then in the open doorway of an air-conditioned shop. Or — what the heck — go in and spend some money. Stay cool.