Despite its proximity to tourist traps such as Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square, the former United States army post of Fort Mason, is a bit of a hidden gem as far as non-residents are concerned. But it repays an hour or two of anyone’s time. Its historic buildings include art galleries, museums, an excellent café cum second hand bookshop and one of the best vegetarian restaurants in the country, Greens. The views across the Marina to the Golden Gate Bridge and back towards Alcatraz are marvellous. I hope the photographs below entice any readers who have not visited the site to include that on their next itinerary.
Posts Tagged ‘Golden Gate Bridge’
Posted in Photo Gallery, San Francisco, tagged Alcatraz, Fort Mason, Golden Gate Bridge, Marina, Marina San Francisco, Photographs, photography, San Francisco, San Francisco Bay, Tony Quarrington on April 6, 2013 | 2 Comments »
Posted in San Francisco, tagged Adolph Sutro, Camera Obscura, Cliff House, Golden Gate, Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Great Highway, Half Moon Bay, Lands End, Ocean Beach, Pacific Ocean, Pacifica, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Seacliff, Sutro Baths, Tony Quarrington on April 3, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
Like many visitors I first encountered the Cliff House on a sightseeing tour of San Francisco in October 1995, calling in after the obligatory orientation stop at Twin Peaks. We had little more than half an hour there, just enough time to peruse the jewellery stalls on the pavement outside, buy a postcard or a packet of Californian seeds in the gift shop and, most importantly, avail ourselves of the washrooms.
We spied an enticing restaurant (there are two of course, but weren’t able even to fit in a coffee. The tour guide will probably have outlined the exotic history of the three different buildings that had stood on the site, including the Christmas Day fire of 1894, the majestic Sutro Baths and amusement park, the atmospheric remnants of which can now only be seen. But the history lesson will have passed most of us by, anxious as we were to move on to the more dazzling attractions of the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Eighteen years and nine trips later, it has become a ritual for us to have brunch here on the first morning of each visit to the city. Sometimes by car, and on other occasions by MUNI bus, we ride out through the Inner and Outer Richmond neighbourhoods, excitedly counting down, or rather up, the numbers of the avenues. We sweep past Golden Gate Park on our left whilst craning our necks for tantalising views of the bay – and the great bridge – to the right as we pray for the interminable procession of traffic lights to be on our side.
We park up behind the wall separating the Great Highway from Ocean Beach and walk towards the Cliff House, hoping that the line for the bistro on the ground floor is not too long. Being told – as we always seem to be – that we have around a half hour wait, we venture outside to marvel at both the bird life on Seal Rock and the engineering masterpiece that is the Camera Obscura.
On returning to the restaurant, we are escorted by a cheerful waiter to a table at one of the large picture windows, permitting either views of Seal Rock and the vast Pacific Ocean beyond, or of the long, bullet straight shoreline towards Pacifica, Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz and all points south. Golden Gate Park, with the Dutch Windmill signposting its coastal entrance, sits half a mile away whispering its hidden delights.
We are given ice cold water and divine warm rolls while we scan the menu, though we hardly need it as our order is always Crab Eggs Benedict for myself and Eggs San Francisco for my wife, accompanied by fried potatoes (not fries), onions and peppers, melon pieces, grapes and salad, juice and unlimited coffee. Heaven!
That’s the moment!
It is only now that we feel truly “home” again – with that meal, that view, that hum of civilised conversation that pervades the dining room. The next week, fortnight or, in our upcoming vacation, month, is laid out before us like a procession of Christmas Days, with lavish presents and sumptuous food and drink on every one of them.
As we leave the Cliff House to walk off the meal on the beach or the cliff tops of Land’s End, the next tour bus pulls up and disgorges its occupants, chattering of Chinatown, Pier 39 and Macy’s, all to be ticked off by lunchtime, to the washrooms, gift shop and jewellery stalls. Perhaps some of them at least will remember that short comfort stop next time they visit the City and decide to inspect the plain looking building by the sea a little more closely.
But I hope it’s not too many, as we would not want our wait for a table to be any more than that customary half an hour would we?
Posted in San Francisco, tagged AT & T Park, AT & T Park San Francisco, Barnes & Noble, Bay Bridge, Borders Books, Embarcadero San Francisco, Ferry Building, Fisherman's Wharf, Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge, herb caen, Napa wines, San Francisco, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Ferry Building, San Francisco Giants, San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, Sonoma wines, The Book Passage San Francisco, Tony Quarrington on April 1, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
With a little over two months to my tenth trip to San Francisco, I am revisiting, and where appropriate, updating a handful of my articles on the city I fell in love with from afar in 1967 and in person 28 years later.
If I were forced to name the place I would most like to spend a couple of rainy hours, the Ferry Building would appear very close to the top of the list.
It was on 13th July 1898 that the first ferryboat and its passengers pulled into what was then called “The Union Depot and Ferry House”. At the height of its glory in the nineteen thirties, more than 50 million passengers passed through it each year.
Despite two major earthquakes and the construction of both the San Francisco – Oakland Bay and Golden Gate Bridges, not forgetting a hideous double-decker freeway along the Embarcadero, the latter thankfully demolished after the second of those earthquakes, the building with its 235 foot high clock tower inspired by the moorish belltower in Seville, has not only survived but become one of the most popular attractions in the City.
Once the City’s principal transportation hub and beautifully restored between 2003 and 2007, it is now home not only to two storeys of premium office space, but also a permanent gallery of stalls selling locally produced fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses, wines, meats, flowers, chocolate and pastries, as well as one of a kind gift items, many related to the kitchen and garden.
An outstanding farmer’s market takes over the plaza on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and especially Saturdays, when celebrated chefs from around the City demonstrate their skills to locals and tourists alike. Several appealing restaurants and cafés complete the scene.
Located along the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street, it is now one of only a handful of landmarks that I make a point of visiting on every trip to the City, however short. Ten days in April didn’t yield a single cable car ride or journey over the Golden Gate Bridge, but it did include two trips to the Ferry Building, one on the way back from a spending spree at the ballpark (in fact, it is a perfect resting spot if you are making the bracing but arduous hike on a blustery day from AT & T Park to Fisherman’s Wharf, or vice versa).
Its role as a ferry port may have diminished (it now caters only for a handful of local services), and cruise ships may soon be getting their own spanking new terminal, but the building remains at the heart of the City’s transportation system with MUNI (Metro) and BART lines criss-crossing here, and the cranky, lovable F Streetcars rattling by.
Whilst there might be other excellent, if admittedly less expensive, farmer’s markets and wholefood stores around town, the Ferry Building might just be the best. Where else can you pick up those last minute snapper fillets, fresh vegetables, rustic loaves, Californian wines and cheeses, and even pig’s cheeks, to take back to your apartment in Noe Valley or the Sunset? And the visit alone, especially if you tarry awhile and experience everything it has to offer, is worth the journey alone.
Slip into the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchants , share a carafe or two of Napa or Sonoma wine, or indulge in one of the special tasting “flights” where you can sample half a dozen wines at once (I would caution, however, that if you are of a nervous disposition, it comes with a lot of (different shaped) glasses, and whilst it looks pretty, the potential for disaster is considerable). What better to accompany it than a tasty cheese board? And you may stumble upon one of the regular lectures on wine or even meet the individual who made the wine you are drinking, as has happened to me!
If the Giants happen to be playing on the live televisions, so much the better, just order another carafe. And don’t forget to pick up a couple of bottles before you leave.
With the closure of the large Border’s and Barnes and Noble bookstores at Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf respectively in recent years, it is heartening also to find the excellent Book Passage in the building. It may be small but it stocks an impressive selection of books on San Francisco and the Bay Area in particular. Pick up a book and a cup of Peet’s (coffee) from the adjoining cafe, grab a seat outside and “waste” an hour enjoying the bay views.
San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen called it “a famous city’s most famous landmark”, adding that the “waterfront without the Ferry Tower would be like a birthday cake without a candle”.
It is hard to disagree.
Posted in Photo Gallery, San Francisco, tagged Fort Point, Golden Gate, Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County, Marin Headlands, Oakland Bay Bridge, photography, San Francisco, San Francisco Bay, suicide bridges, Tony Quarrington, Warming Hut on March 21, 2013 | 4 Comments »
Though many people – including my wife – prefer the Oakland Bay Bridge, this remains the most iconic image of San Francisco. And that is reflected in the number of photos I have taken of it from various angles over the years.
Here is a selection of those I am most fond of. Some are familiar images, others perhaps less so.
From the Marin Headlands with Sutro Tower
in the distance and the City to the left
I was walking, not driving, when I took this!
From Land’s End after a hearty brunch at the Cliff House!
“The Warming Hut” – does what it says on the tin
Peeking from behind the “Warming Hut”
Where the tourists get taken
Nearly there! From Crissy Field Beach
Towards Fort Point
Looks pretty sturdy to me
But it’s still the No. 1 “suicide bridge” in the world
Posted in Photo Gallery, San Francisco, tagged Alcatraz, Bay Bridge, Coit Tower, Filbert Steps, Golden Gate Bridge, murals, New Deal, North Beach, San Francisco, Telegraph Hill, Tony Quarrington, Transamerica Pyramid, Work Projects Administration, WPA on March 18, 2013 | 4 Comments »
Pending the imminent return of full-blown articles on aspects of San Francisco, I am posting a series of photo blogs on different neighbourhoods. The first subject is Coit Tower, perched atop Telegraph Hill with wonderful views of the “necklace of bridges, Alcatraz and the bay on one side, and North Beach and the Financial District on the other. And there is another treat inside – the marvellous murals produced under the New Deal in the thirties.
If you want to learn more about the woman whose generous bequest funded this much loved San Francisco attractions, read my article at:
Posted in San Francisco, Travel Diary, tagged Beach Blanket Babylon, Beach Chalet San Francisco, Brian Wilson, Broadway San Francisco, Buster Posey, Chinatown San Francisco, Cliff House San Francisco, Crab San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, North Beach, North Beach Restaurant, North Beach San Francisco, North of the Panhandle, Ocean Beach San Francisco, Pacific Ocean, Riva Grill South Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, San Francisco Giants, South Lake Tahoe, Steve Silver, The Beat Museum, Tim Lincecum, Tony Quarrington, Vesuvio's San Francisco on November 29, 2012 | 1 Comment »
Our first full day in San Francisco and there was much to look forward to, including brunch at the Cliff House and our fifth trip to Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon in the evening, he timing of both dictated by tradition and designed to orientate us quickly back into life in the city.
After a comfortable night’s sleep in our new apartment in the North of the Panhandle, we woke to gentle but steady March rain that left large pools at the bottom of the wooden steps leading down from the kitchen to the shared back garden. The forecast, however, was for it to clear later in the morning to leave a cloudy but dry afternoon and evening.
The Cliff House at Ocean Beach was just a straight ten to fifteen minute drive along Fulton Street to the Pacific Ocean. We passed a verdant Golden Gate Park on our left, whilst on our right, we caught tantalising glimpses of the towers of the glorious Golden Gate Bridge looming over the dense foliage of the Presidio.
We parked several hundred yards short of the Cliff House to enable us to take in the bracing appetite-inducing air for a few minutes before we entered the bistro. The ocean presented a turbulent picture with a swift succession of high rolling waves chasing away anyone brave or foolhardy enough to venture too close to it.
The scene was, however, still a busy one – joggers passing in either direction at varying speeds; people , like us, strolling contentedly in a wind ravaged state of dishevelment; but most of all, dogs everywhere bathing in the freedom and exhilaration of exploring the endless expanse of beach. We must have seen a dozen different species, from caped miniature poodles and chihuahuas and enigmatic huskies to slavering rottweilers. It is claimed that there are more dogs than babies in San Francisco, and on a morning like this, you would not doubt it.
We felt as if we were committing an act of animal cruelty by not having one of our own to exercise. Momentarily, I contemplated hiring one for the week because, after all, this is San Francisco and anything is possible. But pets are not allowed in the apartment – probably just as well.
We had a twenty minute wait for our table, allowing us the opportunity to check on upcoming events such as the Wednesday prix fixe dinner and jazz evenings, and look in the gift shop. As ever we both ordered Eggs San Francisco (two poached eggs and crab on toasted sourdough bread with roasted potatoes and fruit), accompanied by the establishment’s signature warm rolls – delicious.
Feeling replete we took another longer walk in the adolescent sunshine along the beach towards the south, inspecting the periodic bonfire pits on the beach. Crossing the Great Highway for the return to our car, we called in at the Beach Chalet to marvel at the fabulous Lucien Labaudt frescoes depicting everyday life in the thirties in the city. The brewery and restaurant on the first floor apparently have outstanding views of the ocean, a fact we need to verify before much longer.
We abandoned our planned food shopping trip as we needed time to get ready for the evening (and for me to finish my previous blog post). The mild, partly cloudy late afternoon weather encouraged us to take the long walk to Club Fugazi in North Beach for the early evening performance of Beach Blanket Babylon. The near hour and a half journey took in some of the less salubrious parts of the city (Fillmore and Civic Center) before turning off Market Street to snake through Grant in the heart of Chinatown.
Sadly and inevitably, there was no shortage of vagrants around the Civic Center vicinity, though we experienced no intimidating panhandling. I did purchase a copy of Street Sheet from a man who bore an uncanny resemblance to the queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs when she dresses as a witch and tempts Snow White with a poisoned apple. He even sported the hunch back and hood. But he was very friendly and appreciative of my $2 donation.
For the uninitiated, the Street Sheet is a magazine that has been published by the Coalition on Homelessness since 1989, and is designed to provide information and support programmes for homeless people in the city. The philosophy is not dissimilar to that of The Big Issue in the UK, in providing its vendors with the opportunity to earn money for food, shelter and other necessities.
We joined an already lengthy line outside Club Fugazi around fifty minutes before showtime. I collected our tickets from will call (box office) and joined Janet in the queue. We were surrounded by a dozen boisterous ladies of a certain age in varying states of drunkenness attending the show as part of a bachelorette party. Whilst we didn’t begrudge them their fun, we couldn’t help but hope that their seats were in a different part of the auditorium.
Our prayers were answered as they lurched off to the area close to the stage on the ground floor whilst we were escorted to our seats in the center balcony – our preferred area to watch the show. Arming ourselves with a bottle of Woodbridge White Zinfandel and a large packet of pretzels we were ready to support Snow White in her worldwide search for a prince. No sign of the queen this time – which is just as well as Snow White had a hard enough (or not as the case may be) time without her.
Once again, Beach Blanket Babylon delivered. Although we had only been twelve months before, there was still a lot of new content along with the familiar staples. The highlight for me was when San Francisco Giants baseball stars Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson (no, not the real ones) burst onto the stage holding the World Series trophy and singing We Are the Champions. Her Majesty the Queen’s appalled put down of the upcoming wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton was hilarious and a typical Beach Blanket Babylon satirical slant on a subject often treated too reverently, no more so than in the States.
We had decided that we would try the North Beach Restaurant for dinner for the first time, provided we could gain entry (we hadn’t booked). The restaurant looked very busy, but on presenting ourselves at the front desk, we were whisked to the only free table for two, adjacent to the kitchen. That may not sound the most appealing location, and it was rather cramped, but Janet found it fascinating, catching regular momentary glimpses of the frenzy behind the scenes action as the front of house staff crashed through the doors leading in and out of the kitchen.
But what of the food and service? This was traditional Italian fine dining at its best. My linguine with porcini mushrooms and scallops was outstanding, as was Janet’s seafood risotto – even surpassing the excellent meals we had enjoyed at the Riva Grill in South Lake Tahoe a few days before. And our waiter was suave, attentive and witty – well, Italian.
I had wanted to visit The Beat Museum on Broadway for some time, so as the night was still young (10pm), we called in. The museum itself had already closed for the day, but we spent some time perusing the bookshelves and other fascinating memorabilia, and I bought a couple of books I had not seen before, one the 700 page Hippie Dictionary - A Cultural Encyclopedia of the 1960s and 1970s by John Bassett McCleary and The Beats – A Graphic History.
After a canter past the fleshpots of Broadway, we sought refuge in Vesuvio’s bar on Jack Kerouac Boulevard – yes, another first night tradition. Once more we succeeded in claiming the only two seats available, at the bar. After a couple of drinks we walked down Montgomery through the Financial District before boarding a number 5 MUNI bus at Market to transport us back to the apartment.
It had been a long day but a satisfying one. We were truly “at home” again in our favourite city.
Posted in San Francisco, tagged Alamo Square, AT & T Park, Baseball, Border's bookstore, Cable cars, California Palace of the Legion of Honour, Castro District, Chinatown San Francisco, City Hall San Francisco, Dashiel Hammett, Dolores Park, DSW Shoes, Elvis Costello, Ferry Building, Fisherman's Wharf, Flower Power, Flower Power Walking Tour, Gold Dust Lounge, Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Haight-Ashbury, Hyde Street Pier, Japanese Tea Garden, John's Grill, Lefty O'Doul's, Major League Baseball, Maltese Falcon, MUNI, Noe Valley, North Beach, North Beach Restaurant, public transport in San Francisco, San Francisco, San Francisco attractions, San Francisco Giants, San Francisco tourism, San Francisco transport, San Francisco travel, shoes, Stow Lake, Summer of Love, The Daily Grill, Tony Quarrington, Union Square San Francisco, Warfield Theater on May 1, 2012 | 4 Comments »
Only after we returned from our latest trip to San Francisco did it occur to me that, during the ten night stay, we had neither visited such perennial favourites as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Palace of Fine Arts or Alamo Square, nor taken a single ride on a cable car.
How can you travel nearly 6,000 miles to one of the most popular cities on earth and not take in its most iconic locations I hear you say? Surely, you are missing out on the greatest experiences it has to offer?
That is not, however, the way I see it. Rather than accept that this represents poor planning and an opportunity missed, I rather view it as a sign of our growing maturity as visitors to San Francisco. The fact is that we no longer feel the need to tick off as many of the guidebook recommendations as possible, tiring us out unnecessarily in the process.
The nature of our time spent there is increasingly taking on a different, more relaxed, you might even call it ordinary, tenor, one that more closely mirrors that of how we live at home. Being in San Francisco has become such a familiar and regular part of our lives, somewhere we visit more often even than the places we love in our own country, that it has assumed that status of our second home, and, therefore, somewhere we neither have to pretend to be what we are not, nor have to do what we feel we ought to do.
Choosing to stay some distance from the tourist enclaves of Union Square or Fisherman’s Wharf, as we did in Noe Valley this year, allows us to do as much, or as little, as we feel on any given day.
If all we want to do is to hang out at the apartment in the morning, watching the Bay Area news on TV whilst catching up on household chores, before strolling out to a neighbourhood café for lunch, followed by gift and food shopping and then returning to the apartment for a glass or two of wine on the outside private deck whilst watching the world go by, then so be it. We then might eat in in the evening – or we might try out one of the local restaurants. Or we might decide to take the metro downtown and eat in Chinatown or North Beach.
The point is that we are at liberty to do as we wish, not as we feel we ought to do to make the most of the trip and the not inconsiderable expense. Of course, it has been the happy conversion from hotel to apartment living over the past three years that has enabled us to do this.
And if it sounds to you that living in San Francisco has become less exciting for us, even routine, even a chore, then you could not be further from the truth. Whilst I can comfortably claim that we now feel at home in the city and, for myself in particular, probably did so before I ever visited it, I am tempted to suggest even that we have become, in a small way, San Franciscans, interested in its politics (with a small “p”), culture and, undeniably, its sport – just as we do at home.
And remember – those wonderful attractions are still a short drive or a bus or taxi ride away.
Nor is it the case that we no longer go sightseeing – far from it. On our recent trip we may have bypassed some of the more renowned locations, but we made a conscious effort to sample new, and nearly new, experiences, some of which were long overdue. These included a tour of City Hall, exploring Nob Hill, the Castro and Hyde Street Pier in depth, reliving the Summer of Love on the Flower Power Walking Tour, sunbathing in Dolores Park, and spending an afternoon in the excellent California Palace of the Legion of Honour.
Attending two Giants games at AT & T Park and a thrilling Elvis Costello concert at the Warfield, as well as eating out at more traditional restaurants such as John’s Grill (in the Maltese Falcon room) and the Daily Grill (Lefty O’Doul’s was too busy) added real richness to our stay.
And we still found time to take in several of our favourite spots – Golden Gate Park, including the Japanese Tea Garden and Stow Lake, Sunday brunch at the Cliff House, dinner at the North Beach Restaurant, Beach Blanket Babylon, Haight-Ashbury, the Ferry Building and the depressingly under threat Gold Dust Lounge. And, of course, a spot of DSW shoe shopping for my wife in Union Square – now, heretically, resident in the former Border’s bookstore (the shoe shop, that is, not my wife – though she might like to be).
Having read the above, perhaps the vacation wasn’t quite as relaxing as I first thought!
Posted in San Francisco, tagged Bernard Maybeck, Golden Gate Bridge, Great Earthquake and fire 1906, Marina District, Pacific Heights, Panama Canal, Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, San Francisco attractions, San Francisco earthquake, Tony Quarrington on March 19, 2012 | Leave a Comment »
Untroubled by any afternoon fog, the sun slides towards the Golden Gate before retiring for the night.
Swans glide across the placid lagoon. A small boy runs after a ball, inadvertently kicking it forwards each time he reaches down to pick it up, whilst his mother checks her e mails on her new smart phone. Even the ubiquitous dogs and joggers appear to float past as if in a dream.
I glance to my left at the crippling climb up to privileged Pacific Heights, and feel that I could not be more blessed sat here on this bench, watching the day draw serenely to its close, than if I were observing it from above in a million dollar Victorian.
Built, along with ten other structures, on land created with sand dredged up from the bay for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915, the Palace of Fine Arts was designed to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal, but it quickly became a demonstration of the stunning revival of San Francisco following the great earthquake and fire of nine years earlier.
A wonderful place to re-charge your energies, meditate or wind down, especially in the final hour of daylight, the reflecting lagoon, once a frog pond, and the structures that tower over it, form a beautiful classical harmony.
The forty metre high rotunda with its golden dome, visible from both the hill above and the Golden Gate Bridge to the west, may appear incongruous in a city still so young, but it is a nonetheless glorious, sight. The adjoining colonnade, with its groups of columns depicting weeping maidens and decorated with incomplete stairways and funeral urns, complements it perfectly.
The work of local architect Bernard Maybeck, it was built of temporary materials fashioned to resemble stone or marble. Intended to represent a Roman ruin, ironically it survived alone of all those buildings of the much lauded Exposition. So beloved of San Franciscans was it that it was allowed to stand for decades whilst crumbling into decay, befitting the air of “timeless melancholy” that its founders had aimed for. It helped too that, unlike the remaining edifices, it was built on Army land and escaped the prompt demolition that befell those in the dash to create the residential district now known as the Marina.
And then during the sixties a rich benefactor who lived across the street offered $2 million of his own fortune and roused latent public and California State support for its restoration. It was torn down and replaced by one in reinforced concrete at a cost of $7.5 million.
A further major renovation, concluded in 2008, unveiled the shining glory that it is today. It takes little suspension of disbelief to understand why it is so popular as a location for wedding shoots and film sets.
As the previously balmy bay breeze gives way to the chill of twilight, I move away as the tranquility is temporarily interrupted by a small boy in a toy car noisily chasing the ducks around the perimeter of the lagoon. Needless to say, he loses, and peace is restored as darkness falls.
Posted in San Francisco, tagged academy of sciences, Alamo Square, Alcatraz, Beach Blanket Babylon, Cable cars, Castro San Francisco, Chinatown San Francisco, Cliff House, Club Fugazi, Coit Tower, de Young Museum, embarcadero, Ferry Building, Fisherman's Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Haight-Ashbury, Japanese Tea Garden, mission san francisco, painted ladies, Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, Tony Quarrington on October 27, 2011 | 7 Comments »
2. Brunch at the Cliff House
You’ve already read about this. After our first night’s sleep in the city we always head out next morning to the to the Pacific Ocean to have brunch at the Cliff House, the former centrepiece of what used to be a great seaside amusement park and elaborate public baths (though little else of it remains now). There are two restaurants there with the most fabulous views of famous Seal Rock (I think the name speaks for itself), and miles of golden but windswept beach stretching south and past the western edge of Golden Gate Park. You may have to wait for a table but, when you do, get a seat by the big picture windows (you will be directed to one anyway) and enjoy. The Crab Eggs Benedict is to die for!
3. Painted Ladies
You will possibly already be familiar with the famous scene of the six colourful Victorian houses with the modern cityscape behind them. The “Painted Ladies” (I don’t think I could afford one even after a triple rollover on the UK lottery!) are positioned on the southern edge of Alamo Square in the Lower Haight neighbourhood, which has the added advantage of being a perfect spot for a picnic (and dog watching!).
4. Golden Gate Park
One of the largest urban parks in the world, you could spend several days exploring the Park, but here are a couple of highlights:
a. Japanese Tea Garden
Glorious setting with beautiful trees, winding footpaths, curved bridges, still pools with enormous carp swimming in them and a massive bronze Buddha – you could almost be in Japan. Enjoy a range of oriental teas and snacks whilst giving your feet a well earned rest.
b. California Academy of Sciences
Planetarium, rainforest, aquarium and other displays in one stunning building. Opposite is the highly acclaimed de Young Museum.
Plenty of other attractions such as Stow Lake, the Buffalo Paddock, Dutch Windmill and the Conservatory of Flowers, and facilities to enable you to undertake every possible physical activity and sport.
5. Beach Blanket Babylon
This musical revue, performed in Club Fugazi (pictured), is the longest running in the world, another of our must do activities on every trip to SF – we never miss. Uniquely San Franciscan, it follows Snow White (who hails from SF of course!) on her travels round the world to find the man of her dreams – she has to do this because most of the men in her native city are gay!). She meets dozens of familiar and, to a non-US resident, perhaps some less familiar, characters and…..well, I won’t spoil it for you. It is an hour and a half of sheer fun, fast-paced, absolutely hilarious, lots of extravagant costumes and you can have a bottle or two at your seat to supplement the mood!
The oldest, and one of the largest Chinese communities in the States, it is virtually a city within a city, a vibrant, densely packed 24 blocks crammed with gift shops, market stalls (you need a strong stomach to look too closely at some of the produce!), restaurants and even a fortune cookie making factory. And you cannot go to SF without having at least one meal there. We would recommend the R & G Lounge and the Great Eastern.
7. Golden Gate Bridge
If I needed any proof that these selections were not necessarily in order of favouritism it is the fact that I have left this to number seven. You must drive it, bike it or walk it of course. After you have done so, there is a scenic spot that the tour buses use to take their photos looking back at the bridge or across to the city. But the stellar views of the bridge with the city and Alcatraz in the background come from crossing the main road (it is signposted from the aforementioned car park) onto the Marin Headlands. There are several wonderful spots there, the best being just before you return to the main road. You can’t miss it.
8. Palace of Fine Arts
Built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, designed to showcase the remarkable recovery of the city since the great earthquake and fire nine years earlier, this remains one of the most beautiful and tranquil locations, especially at dusk when swans, geese and ducks glide serenely on the lagoon whilst young children run after balls on the perimeter.
9. Ferry Building Marketplace
Ferry embarcation point for Oakland and Alameda, the building also houses a superb collection of upscale eateries and produce stalls, all providing the freshest ingredients. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday the front – and, on the latter, the rear too – plays host to the wonderful Farmers’ Market, one of the best in the U.S.A. You may even have your lunch prepared by one of the city’s top chefs as they advertise their creations here too.
Unreconstituted and fully paid up member of the Woodstock Nation that I am I could not complete my list without recommending that you take a look at the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood. The centre of flower power in 1966-67 it still retains some of that independent, colourful streak and there’s some interesting shops and cafes along the main drag. The architecture of the area, principally Victorian, is very attractive too and you are only a few minutes walk from Golden Gate Park.
I said at the beginning that this was my personal “best of” collection. There are, however, plenty of other places and experiences that we enjoy greatly in the city. I haven’t mentioned the tourist honeypot that is Fishermen’s Wharf not because I don’t like its carefree, festival atmosphere, its one of a kind gift shops, seafood restaurants and hilarious sea lion colony, just that there are places I’d rather spend my time.
And then there’s Alcatraz – no (first) visit is complete without a trip to the island just a mile and a half offshore. Admittedly, there are thousands of tourists streaming back and forth across the bay from dawn to dusk, but there is no doubt that it is an awesome and moving experience. Even better if you do the Alcatraz by Night tour when you are on the island at sunset, very atmospheric and quite scary.
Coit Tower, with its views and delightful steps leading up to it on all sides is another favourite, provided I have trained sufficiently for the climb! The panoramic scene from Twin Peaks is worth being run over by tour buses for too. And how could I forget the awesome, 8.4 mile long Bay Bridge which is currently getting a makeover following the part that was destroyed in the 1989 earthquake.
Posted in Personal, Travel Diary, tagged Aquatic Park, Crissy Field, F Streetcar, Fisherman's Wharf, Fort Mason, Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County, Marina San Francisco, MUNI, Presidio, San Francisco Public Library, The Franciscan, Tony Quarrington, Warming Hut on April 7, 2011 | Leave a Comment »
Three and a half days to go – time to settle back into The City. One thing we had promised ourselves on this trip was to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and back. We had driven it many times but still had not experienced the thrill of stamding on it midway across the bay.
Abandoning – not for the first time – the late running MUNI buses in our neighbourhood, we walked to Van Ness on another warm, clear morning where we picked up a no.47 to North Point. From here we cut through Aquatic Park to Fort Mason where, conscious of eating early this evening, we felt it was time to have a light lunch. We discovered the Readers’ Cafe in Building B which not only served fine food and the strongest, handcrafted coffee imaginable, but contained a large second hand bookstore.
As we ate our tofu and avocado sandwich (me) and flapjack (Janet) it was also nice to know that we were contributing towards the San Francisco Public Library. I took the opportunity here to engage a local woman in conversation about how lucky she was to live here permanently. Whilst acknowledging her good fortune she said she really loved London!
We have enjoyed our two stops at Fort Mason, barely half a mile from Fisherman’s Wharf yet I wonder how many tourists ever get to visit it or are even aware of it. And do San Francisco residents make as much use of the facility as they might?
The walk through the Marina and Crissy Field was challenging as we had both the brisk coastal wind and strong sun in our faces. The Warming Hut, therefore, proved a very welcome refuge. Aside from the food and drink available it has a very interesting gift shop with a number of San Francisco related books that I had not seen anywhere else. After a short break we walked up the hill to the entrance to the bridge, stopping constantly to take photographs of the killer views.
The camera was called into action many times again as we made the trip over into Marin County. We quickly became immune to the noise and rush of the traffic, although we had to be on our toes to avoid many of the (local) cyclists who seemed to think they were riding flat out in a velodrome rather than on a pedestrian filled six foot wide pavement. With the constant photo stops and observation of a sea lion diving for fish, it took us around three quarters of an hour to get to Vista Point on the other side of the bridge.
After a comfort break and more photographs, we set back across the bridge to make the return journey which took just half an hour. Coffee and chips were our reward before we caught a no. 28 bus back to Fort Mason.
We spent the next hour and a half exploring Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf before retiring to The Franciscan for dinner. Excellent food, attentive service and sunset over Alcatraz made this one of our better evening meal experiences on the vacation. I had crab enchiladas and Yukon mashed potatoes with zucchini whilst Janet had Crab and Shrimp Louie with fries.
We took the F Streetcar to Market before picking up the no.5 MUNI bus to take us back to the apartment.