There are two rules for visiting San Francisco. First: Drive a convertible to enjoy the breathtaking cityscapes. Second: Spend the day with a local who can share their inspiration about the city by the bay. Together with skateboarder and fashion designer Benny Gold, we explore San Francisco in a smart cabrio electric drive.
The San Francisco morning air is soft and mild. Early sunlight illuminates the brightly-colored facades lining Valencia Street. The hip spot in the Mission district is regarded as the longest stretch of independent retail shops in the world. No surprise then, that Benny Gold has opened his store right here. The Florida-native quickly became involved in the California skateboard scene after moving to San Francisco. Exploring both the worlds of freelance graphic design and skateboarding, he soon decided to combine the two, laying the ground for his clothing brand Benny Gold, today a San Francisco staple.
“This is our third location,” Benny proudly introduces his store. “It has been open for about a year now.” A mural by local artist Brian Barneclo and the enveloping scent of spicy chai welcome the visitor. The in-store café is the latest addition to the shop. “You have to do more than just sell clothes – you have to create an enjoyable experience for the shopper,” Benny explains. “I brought in local providers that produce right here in the neighborhood. They created special blends exclusively for the Benny Gold brand.”
Supporting the local scene and sustainability are important aspects to Benny. “We try to keep things green. Our whole café relies on organic and compostable resources – we try to do as much as we can.”
The Valencia neighborhood, Benny points out, has a very community-based and independent spirit. “This area offers an experience you can’t get anywhere else in the world.”
Cruising San Francisco – all electric
Parked right outside is our ride for the day: a new smart cabrio electric drive in white and electric green. Eager to experience the thrill of silent yet powerful acceleration of the fully electric convertible, Benny hops in.
Being used to moving around the city on his skateboard, he quickly draws a comparison. “The smart cabrio electric drive reminds me of riding a skateboard. Small and whippy, you can maneuver around pretty good. I enjoy driving that.”
As we navigate the streets of The Mission and make our way to Bernal Heights, one of the city’s trademark vantage points, it becomes clear that this is an extraordinary city. Letting in the warm California breeze, it is hard to miss the positive energy in the streets.
Benny nods in agreement. “I love the creativity and independent nature of San Francisco. I think the people that were drawn to San Francisco were always outliers in a way. If you look back at the Hippies and the Beat Generation, you can see it – but also in today’s skateboarders or the people disrupting the tech industry. People in San Francisco think a little differently.”
At the Northern tip of the Mission district, we stop at SoMa West Skatepark. Beneath the ramp of the 101 freeway, an avid skateboarding scene has found their playground. “There is an awesome scene here,” Benny says.
While running his own business and being a family man, he still tries to make time for skateboarding as often as he can. “Whenever I feel like meeting friends or after a busy day of working, I go here – there’s always a familiar face, whether it’s a seasoned pro skateboarder or kids trying their first tricks.” And with that, he pushes down the first ramp.
Food for thought
It’s early afternoon and the palm trees at the corner of Dolores Park are glowing. It’s time for food. Benny has steered us to one of his favorite restaurants in the city, Namu Gaji. Behind the door with the tree trunk logo lies a cozy dining space with an open kitchen.
The busy sounds of cookware and the delicious flavor of Korean fusion food fill the room. Original illustrations of renowned San Francisco street artist Mike Giant grace the wall.
“I come here at least once a week,” Benny says. “The owner, David, is a local DJ and a good friend of mine. My go-to dish here at Namu Gaji is their stone pot, an awesome variation of the classic Bi Bim Bap dish.”
Over a bowl of hot food, we look back on the day’s journey. San Francisco is a vibrant city that hasn’t lost its inspiring local spirit, despite the tech boom from Silicon Valley and rising cost of living. Cruising in our smart cabrio electric drive was the perfect way to explore the ever-changing angles and sceneries of the city by the bay. And what lies ahead for Benny Gold? “I can see my brand becoming more and more refined as it grows. We moved away from classic streetwear towards men’s wear and lifestyle products. I’d love to open more stores in the future and continue telling my story.”
Relive our journey and watch the film.
For more information on the new smart cabrio electric drive and the electric drive model range, click here.
Production and creative direction: smart magazine
Direction, camera, and editing: Modest Department
Music: Victor Brand