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Posts Tagged ‘Embarcadero San Francisco’


It’s near two hundred days since I slouched atop green Bernal Hill,

Dismissing the dogs drooling over my “Progressive Grounds” wrap.

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I watched with increasing heavy heart the planes fly towards SFO,

Doleful omens that my own flight home grew ever nearer. 

Now, finally, my next pilgrimage is as close as the last,

But it might as well be another two hundred years as days;

With the city again in the grip of World Series fever,

I yearn to bask beneath the evening city’s orange glow.

So much I miss about this cool, gorgeous, dirty, expensive place.

The soulful song of the foghorns out across the Golden Gate.

That heart stopping moment when you crest the hill at Hyde  

And pier, park and prison under a pristine sky come into view.

Community singing with Elvis and Snow White in Club Fugazi 

Before following Casady, Kerouac and Ginsberg to Vesuvio Cafe

Where I sit beneath James Joyce with a glass of Anchor Steam.

Bowing dutifully to Emperor Norton as he leads his latest star-struck

Subjects round the now scrubbed and polished Barbary Coast.

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Standing on stairways in Sunset and Bernal,

Gazing open-mouthed as Karl the Fog weaves his moody magic,

Slicing Golden Gate Bridge and Sutro Tower in half before 

Rendering them clear and whole again in a heartbeat.

Mouthing along to “O Mio Babbino Caro” 

While wrestling a ristretto at Caffe Trieste.  

Devouring warm, thickly buttered popovers by the Pacific

Among the toffs and tourists at the Cliff House.

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Scouring for the latest tie-dye tees in still heady Haight.

Getting through a minor novel on the F Streetcar as it

Clanks and clatters down Market and along Embarcadero.

Savouring the scents of jasmine and lemon on the backyard patio.

Marvelling at the Mission murals and their passion and exuberance

Reassures me this changing city still harbours an independent spirit.   

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Sharing stories of Dead concerts at Lyceum and Fillmore 

In the line for breakfast at Martha’s on Church,

Where the Blackpool boat tram glides past and waves

Its bunting at “Lovejoy’s” ladies taking tea and tiffin. 

Shovelling down “Gilroy’s” garlic fries at the ballpark before 

The circling seagulls, mindful of each innings slipping away,

Prepare to swoop to reclaim their birthright.

Watching a liquid sun decline over the serene lagoon 

Of the soon to be centurion Palace of Fine Arts,

What better resting place after the Lyon Street Steps descent?

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And breathing a sigh of relief as the recycling police

Leave me alone for yet another week. 

These and many more images flood my brain.

But never mind.

For now at least, there’s more baseball torture to

Endure from afar in the dark of the night.

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A First Time Visitor’s Guide to San Francisco (Updated and Expanded)


A little over six months ago I produced a potted guide for first time visitors to San Francisco. It was so well received that, following my recent visit, I thought it might be helpful to update and expand it to keep it fresh. I have also included a number of new photographs to supplement the text.

As before, it is arranged in  no particular order.

1. Golden Gate Bridge

  • The most iconic sight in a city where there are many attractions to compete with that title;
  • Drive it and take in the views from Vista Point (where the tour buses go), but for the killer photos, cross under Highway 101 at the end of the bridge to climb up the Marin Headlands (below) – you may need to wait for a parking space, and the walk up to the nearest point to the bridge can be challenging for some, but you would regret it if you did not attempt it;

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  • If driving, you have to register in advance for the toll (credit card is charged when you return to city);
  • Walk it or bike it too for more wonderful photo opportunities – and for the health-giving properties, naturally;

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  • Approach it by walking from Aquatic Park at the western end of Fisherman’s Wharf, past Fort Mason and along Marina Green and Crissy Field – it’s quite a trek and usually very bracing, but it affords great views of the bridge and Alcatraz;
  • If time permits, take a side detour to the former army post of the Presidio with its fine, preserved military buildings, many converted for modern use such as the Walt Disney Family Museum, and hikes through the woods with yet more stunning views of Karl the Fog lurking over the bridge.

2.  Golden Gate Park

  • Much to offer in a park that it is a fifth larger than New York’s Central Park;
  • Two splendid museums: the California Academy of Sciences with its resident aquarium, planetarium  and rainforest and the modern art de Young Museum where the building is as interesting as the exhibits it contains;
  • Japanese Tea Garden: it may be twee and not the cheapest gig in town, but it is undeniably beautiful and provides tasty oriental teas and snacks in the café;

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  • Walk round lovely Stow Lake and admire the Chinese Pagoda, the bridges and bird life, and climb Strawberry Hill for excellent northerly views;
  • Grab a hot dog or ice cream at the boat house and take  a pedal boat ride;

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  • Linger among the trees in the moving National AIDS Memorial Grove and sweat a few pounds sauntering through the steamy Conservatory of Flowers (pictured below);

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  • The buffalo paddock (don’t expect the creatures to acknowledge you, they are rather shy) and the Dutch Windmill (pictured below) are also worth exploring at the western end of the park;
  • If you crave refreshment when you reach the beach, grab a table in the Beach Chalet, ensuring you enjoy the murals depicting life in San Francisco in the thirties on the ground floor before you do so.

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3. Ferry Building

  • There is a gleaming new cruise terminal nearby but ferries still use it;
  • Its huge popularity, however, stems from the fantastic selection of indoor food and gift stores, including an attractive, independent bookstore and urbane wine bar;
  • Celebrated local restaurateurs demonstrate their skills at the Farmers’ Market, recently voted the best in the United States and the sixth best in the world, outside on certain days of the week;

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4. Cliff House

  • Drive or take the 38 Muni bus from downtown to Ocean Beach for two fine restaurants with stunning views over the Pacific;
  • Stroll along the beach for miles;
  • Explore the remains of Adolph Sutro’s great public baths and watch the endlessly fascinating display of sea birds on Seal Rock (via the fascinating camera obscura if it is open);

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  • Take the short walk to the western end of Golden Gate Park or, if you’re feeling energetic and haven’t forgotten your camera (to catch tantalising glimpses of the Golden Gate Bridge en route), walk back to the city along the coastal trail that leads from Sutro Baths, descending to China and Baker beaches to get close to the Pacific lashing the shoreline;
  • If you have time, call in for coffee and pastries with Rodin at the Palace of the Legion of Honour.

5. Chinatown

  • Witness the largest Chinese community outside Asia going about its daily business;
  • Grant Avenue, though touristy, is best for gifts whilst Stockton contains the markets at which the Chinese women shop for produce not seen anywhere else!;

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  • You must eat here at least once during your stay – I recommend the Great Eastern, after all the President and First Lady eat there when in town, and the R & G Lounge;

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  • Don’t forget to glance to your right as you walk along Grant for views of the Bay Bridge and the Transamerica Pyramid;
  • Amble through Portsmouth Square, where Captain Montgomery raised the American flag for the first time in San Francisco in 1846, and watch the dozens of card and mahjong games being played by the elderly male residents in “Chinatown’s living room”;
  • Dip into Ross Alley and buy an inexpensive bag of the goodies produced in the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.

6. North Beach

  • As befits its traditional status as the Italian quarter, it is full of excellent cafés and restaurants – Trieste with its powerful espresso and live opera the most famous but Greco and Puccini are recommended too;

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  • We have also had good meals at the North Beach Restaurant, Calzone, Sotto Mare, Rose Pistola, Firenze at Night;
  • Rest awhile at Washington Square Park watching the dogs and their humans at play under the watchful eye of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul and Coit Tower;

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  • If you’re looking for breakfast or brunch, join the line outside Mama’s on Washington Square, or if it’s a little later in the day, take your place in a similarly long queue for Tony’s Pizza Napoletana on Stockton and Union.

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  • Have a glass or two of Anchor Steam or Sierra Nevada beer at the Vesuvio Café,  historic haunt of the Beats, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, in the fifties and sixties;
  • Pore over the framed newspaper cuttings and visit the state of the art gents restroom downstairs (I cannot vouch for the ladies, unfortunately);

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  • Peruse the unique shelves of the City Lights Bookstore, one of the most famous in the world, a few steps across Jack Kerouac Alley;

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  • On the opposite corner on Columbus, Broadway is – or, arguably, was – home to many of San Francisco’s more famous fleshpots and the fascinating Beat Museum;
  • If you want to see a cheeky rather than bawdy show, you can do no better than take in long running revue Beach Blanket Babylon – best to book in advance.

7. Palace of Fine Arts

  • The only remaining building from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition celebrating the resurrection of San Francisco from the Earthquake and Fire of nine years before;

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  • It is a beautiful classical structure set alongside a tranquil swan-filed lagoon attached;

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8. Haight Ashbury

  • Whether you’re an old hippie or not, it’s a fascinating place with lots of “head” shops, stores selling retro clothes, good cafés, a massive record shop (Amoeba) and not a few “characters”;
  • Close to Golden Gate Park, it is possible to visit both on the same day.

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9. Alcatraz

  • It may be touristy but no visit to the city is complete without an excursion to the most feared federal penitentiary of them all;
  • In view of its popularity, it’s best to book in advance, preferably before you travel;
  • The day tour is good but the evening (sunset) one is even better, though perhaps not for those of a nervous disposition!

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10. Bay Cruise

  • Sit back and rest those weary feet for an hour or two on the bay, remembering to take suncream, required as much for the wind as the sun;
  • Stop off at Sausalito for a drink and a promenade, taking in those shimmering views from the original “dock of the bay”;
  • The Rocket Boat, with its raucous rock and roll soundtrack, juddering high-speed turns and close-up views of AT & T Park, is tremendous fun, though not for the faint- hearted!

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11. Castro

  • Ground zero for San Francisco’s large gay and lesbian community, with rainbow flags are fluttering everywhere;
  • Many eclectic and unique stores;
  • Beautifully restored Victorian houses rivalling those in Haight Ashbury and Pacific Heights;
  • Good cafes and bars, with an especially vibrant night secene;

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  • Perhaps its most famous building is the great movie house, the Castro Theatre, complete with its own wurlitzer;  if you can, book tickets for a film, many of which come as double bills;

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  • You might even get lucky and be able to participate in a sing-a-long version of either The Sound of Music, Grease or The Wizard of Oz. Or if not, Frozen!

12. Alamo Square

  • Position yourself to take the perfect picture of the famous Painted Ladies Victorian houses with the modern city looming behind.

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  • The recent ban on tourist buses should make the perennial wait for the photo unencumbered by human or vehicular traffic a less annoying one.

13.  Mission

  • Boisterous, funky, traditionally Latino and Hispanic neighbourhood, increasingly subject to gentrification;
  • Great for cheap clothing and inexpensive Central and South American food;
  • Take the pilgrimage to the original Mission Dolores church, the oldest surviving building in the city;
  • Take a picnic to adjacent Dolores Park and savour the great views, not only of the city but also of your fellow humans (some of which may be naked – you have been warned!;
  • Difficult enough on a warm day to find a spare square inch, the current re-modeling and upgrade to facilities means that half of the park is closed to the public.

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14. Coit Tower

  • Fire nozzle shaped monument provided for the city by Lillian Hitchcock Coit in honour of the brave firefighters of the Earthquake and Fire of 1906;
  • Take in the wonderful views over the bay, including Alcatraz;
  • See and hear the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill (though you are just as likely to encounter them elsewhere in the city nowadays);
  • Don’t bypass the wonderful murals in the rush to the tiny escalator to the viewing stage.

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  • Climb up at least one set of steps – Filbert and Greenwich are the best – past lovingly tended urban gardens.

15.  Twin Peaks

  • If you take an organised tour of the city, this is likely to be the first place you are taken for its splendid panoramic views of the city;
  • I will take this opportunity, however, to put the case for my adopted neighbourhood of Bernal Heights..

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16. Civic Center

  • Home to magnificent City Hall and several other public buildings, including the symphony/opera and library;
  • Good, cheap farmer’s market on Wednesdays.

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  • You should be aware that this area, along with the adjoining Mid-Market (rapidly being gentrified) and Tenderloin districts, is where you are most likely to be accosted by vagrants.

17. Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39

  • The most popular tourist spots on the bay, where I, along with many thousands before me, fell in love with the city, bedazzled not only by the bay views but the fun and energy of the area;
  • For me, that love may have faded as I have gravitated towards the inland neighbourhoods, but I can rarely resist spending my last full day absorbing the atmosphere;
  • See,  listen and laugh at the crazy sea lions on Pier 39, long since now migrated from Ocean Beach;

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  • Wander round the myriad of gift shops for presents for those back home;
  • Sample seafood at the many restaurants and wharfside stalls – we have eaten well at the Franciscan, Neptune’s Palace and McKormick & Kuleto’s;

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  • The Hard Rock  Cafe is here too if that is more your scene;
  • The Gold Dust Lounge, relocated from Union Square, is a good watering hole with live music;
  • The Musée Mecanique (vintage amusement arcade) and Hyde Street Pier (collection of classic ships, pictured), are two of the best deals, not only on the waterfront, but in the whole of the city; 

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  • Beware the World Famous Bushman!

18. Union Square

  • San Francisco’s “modern” shopping heart is very popular with tourists and locals alike, and I am slowly warming to it, though I still prefer to use it more as a thoroughfare from Market to Chinatown and North Beach;
  • The Westfield Shopping Center, Macy’s flagship branch, Saks Fifth Avenue and many more designer stores account for its huge popularity;
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  • There are a number of good diners and grills in the vicinity, including John’s Grill, Daily Grill and the daddy of them all, the Tadich Grill;
  • It borders both the Tenderloin and Civic Center, so don’t be surprised by the number of homeless people, some of whom may approach you for money, or at least to persuade you to buy a copy of Street Sheet, or they may just open the door at Starbuck’s on Powell for you.

19. Bay Bridge

  • Many, including my wife, prefer this to the Golden Gate Bridge and love driving on both its upper and lower decks;

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  • The new span that replaced the old one destroyed by 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake has recently opened and is stunning;
  • It is spectacularly lit up at night.

20. MUNI

  • San Francisco’s public transit system is loved and hated in equal measure by both locals and visitors;
  • The cable cars, one of only two moving National Historic Landmarks, are not merely tourist toys, many locals use them too, and you must ride them;

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  • The lines on the Powell and Hyde and Powell and Mason routes may be long but it’s well worth the wait – hurtling down Nob or Russian Hill, especially if you nab the lead rail, is a thrilling experience;
  • If you’re averse to waiting in line, take the less busy California Line which starts in the Financial District and runs up Nob Hill before descending to Van Ness
  • The historic F Streetcar, with its colourful fleet transplanted not only from other American cities but from around the globe, runs from the Castro along Market and the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf, is a charming if uncomfortable ride. Don’t expect, however, to get anywhere quickly;

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  • Very few bus rides on Muni are boring – you’re almost certain to be entertained, amused and horrified – or all three, on any journey – after all, all human life is there!

21. Sports

  • If you’re in town between April and October, get seats for a game at AT & T Park to watch the San Francisco Giants baseball team, twice World Champions in the past four years and currently leading the Majors by a distance;
  • Even off-season, a tour of the ballpark, dubbed the most beautiful sports stadium in the country, is a treat;

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  • The San Francisco 49ers football team have vacated windswept Candlestick Park, bound for their new home in Santa Clara in Silicon Valley!
  • You can also get your (ice) hockey fix too between the months of October and April by taking the train from the Caltrain station at 4th and King to San Jose where the Sharks will be waiting to entertain you.

This is not an exhaustive list – I have not even mentioned the many day trips out of the city that can be made, for example to the wine country (Napa and Sonoma), Muir Woods, Berkeley, Monterey and Carmel. But I think what I have included will keep any first time visitor occupied for a couple of weeks at least!

I would be happy to answer any questions arising from this post.

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Stretching from Pier 45, home to the marvellous Musée Mecanique and historic ships, the US Jeremiah O’Brien and USS Pampanito, to AT & T Park at 2nd and King, San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront thoroughfare is one of the city’s crowning jewels.

Its most prized asset is the great San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge, or as it is more affectionately known by locals and other supplicants, the Bay Bridge. The widest bridge in the world, and also one of the longest at more than seven miles, its two decks carry nearly a quarter of a million passengers each day. It may not command the same celebrity status as the Golden Gate Bridge shimmering on the opposite side of Alcatraz, but the views, especially from the recently reopened east span, are stunning.

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But the Embarcadero is not all about the Bay Bridge as the following photographs demonstrate. Sinbad’s at Pier 2 is a fine seafood restaurant.

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One of its more unusual features is Cupid’s Span, a quirky but imposing sculpture, in the two acre Rincon Park, a welcome spot to rest feet wearied by the unforbidding pavement along the water’s edge.

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The main rival to the Bay Bridge in the affections of locals and visitors alike is the Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street.

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.

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The historic streetcars trundle along the Embarcadero with their packed hoardes of tourists seeking fun at Fisherman’s Wharf, bargains at Union Square and Westfield or vintage movie going at the Castro Theatre.

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Apartment blocks and offices loom above the constant traffic.

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In a city renowned for the quality of its restaurants, Red’s Java House is never going to attract any Michelin stars, but it provides good honest fare for fans heading for or returning from a Giants game. It may be basic and unpretentious, but it boasts as many passionate advocates as Michael Mina at the Westin St. Francis Hotel or Quince in Pacific Heights.

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In summer, extravagantly colourful hanging baskets complement the profusion of palms along the roadside.

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Back to the Bay Bridge with a SFFD fire boat sailing under it.

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Finally we reach AT & T Park at the end of the stretch of the roadway named after legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Herb Caen who wrote extensively about the Embarcadero and his beloved Giants.

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I’ve taken pen to paper, or rather finger to keyboard, on two previous occasions on this blog to bemoan the demise of “high street” bookshops, both in principle and in my adopted city of San Francisco. In the first, I lamented the closure of the large branches of Border’s in Union Square, replaced now by a DSW shoe emporium, which, to add insult to injury, my wife loves, and 2nd and King opposite the ballpark. I consoled myself at the time with the knowledge that the Barnes and Noble branch in Fisherman’s Wharf was still carrying the flag, only to discover, shortly afterwards, that it too had made way for an expanded Cost Plus World Market.

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But, in one sense, that has been a blessing as it has forced me to seek out San Francisco’s rich family of neighbourhood bookstores. As a result, I’m no longer sure that I miss the big chains as much as I did three years ago.

On my recent trip I had the pleasure of visiting a number of the independent stores – some new to me, others old friends – and discovered a very different story to the one that confronted me when the giants (no, not those) were collapsing around me a couple of years ago.  Phoenix Books on 24th Street  in Noe Valley was my local store where, on the first morning of my vacation, I picked up a discounted copy of Comeback Kings, a book on the Giants’ (yes, those) 2012 World Series victory.

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A Sunday afternoon stroll down Valencia Street in the Mission unveiled the dual delights of Dog Eared Books and Borderlands Books, though the latter’s sole focus on science fiction, fantasy, horror and mystery is not to my taste. But the painstakingly prepared coffee was! A happy birthday to Dog Eared Books, a partner of the aforementioned Phoenix Books, Badger Books (of which more below) and alley cat books, which turns 21 this very week! On the evidence of these two thriving outlets, the declaration on its website that ‘reports concerning “The Death of the Bookstore” have been greatly exaggerated’ rings resoundingly and joyfully true.

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What struck me most about all of the bookstores I visited was the sheer number of people frequenting them, not just browsing the shelves but writing their own blogs and engaging in social media on their laptops, drinking every conceivable coffee permutation and interrogating the community noticeboards for apartment lettings or reiki classes and, in some instances, all three.

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Badger Books on the corner of Cortland Avenue and Bennington Street in urbane Bernal Heights, displayed a particularly fine secondhand selection and boasted a lovely children’s section complete with multi-coloured stools.

Needless to say, City Lights in North Beach afforded me several opportunities to part with my dollars and the Book Passage in the Ferry Building, though relatively small, always contains an interesting and eclectic collection. Besides, there are few better places to sit and read than outside with a cup of Peet’s coffee from the adjoining concession.

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Aardvark Books on Church Street near Market, where I bought a set of vintage San Francisco postcards at just fifteen cents each, The Booksmith (another regular haunt) and Browser Books on Fillmore between California and Sacramento are also fine places to stay awhile.

I may, to the purists, be about to join the dark side with my purchase of an Amazon Kindle, but I will never lose my love for plunging into bookstores (preferably those with adjoining cafes and a place to park the laptop), and divesting them of their stock. I expect that I only scratched the surface with San Francisco’s independent bookstores this time, but if the above branches are typical, their future is bright.

I dearly hope so.

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One of the most endearing but infuriating features of San Francisco’s characteristically quirky public transport system are the historic streetcars that run along the F Line between the Castro and Fisherman’s Wharf via Market Street and the Embarcadero.

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Redolent of a bygone age, they are fascinating historical constructs that appeal primarily to tourists because anyone, local or frequent visitor alike, who has travelled on one, knows that they are built neither for speed nor comfort. One journey my wife and I took from Church and Market to Fisherman’s Wharf last month took an hour and twenty minutes, admittedly extended due to roadworks on Market. 

But, at the best of times, expect a rough, cramped, hot ride that goes nowhere very fast. 

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Whilst there are a number of home-grown, or rather home-built, cars, many have been imported from all over the globe, including as far afield as Tokyo and Melbourne. As I write this now, five and a half thousand miles and eight hours away, streetcars from the following cities are operating inbound towards Fisherman’s Wharf: Louisville Kentucky, El Paso Texas, Juarez Mexico, Detroit Michigan, Brooklyn New York, Boston Elevated Railway, Cleveland Ohio and Milan, Italy. Other cities to have “donated” vehicles from their collection include Birmingham Alabama and Cincinnati Ohio.

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There’s even one from the seaside resort of Blackpool in the north west of England, one I may well have sat on in decades past! We first encountered it in its new San Francisco home whilst waiting for the gleaming, modern MUNI Metro J Church train a couple of blocks from our Noe Valley apartment!

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Many “experts” opine that your best chance of boarding a cable car (which, by the way, costs three times as much for a single journey as a streetcar) is a few blocks away from the Powell Street and Hyde Street termini. That may well be true, but if you wish to ride a streetcar, your best chance of a) getting aboard at all, and b) finding a seat (though the likelihood of you feeling ill may actually be lessened by standing up), you would do well to start at either end of the route (especially alongside Walgreen’s at Fisherman’s Wharf), as the following photograph taken aboard the Baltimore bus at Church and Market would indicate.

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In conclusion, do NOT prise yourself onto one if you need to be somewhere any time the same week (sorry, I exaggerate to make a point). But if you have plenty of time on your hand, do not get stressed very easily and enjoy being part of history, go ahead, sit back and – ahem – enjoy the ride.

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Washington may have had its Art Buchwald, London its J.B. Morton (“Beachcomber”) and Dublin the mercurial Myles Na gCopaleen, but few cities can have been as fortunate as San Francisco in having a chronicler (no pun intended) as prolific, urbane and popular as Herb Caen who wrote in its daily newspapers about life in the city, for almost sixty years.  With more than 16,000 columns of over 1,000 words each, lifelong friend, author and restaurateur, Barnaby Conrad, estimated that if “laid end to end, his columns would stretch 5.6 miles, from the Ferry Building to the Golden Gate Bridge”.

Herbert Eugene Caen was born on 3rd April 1916 in Sacramento, though he claimed to have been conceived on the Marina in San Francisco during the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition as his parents spent the summer there “complaining about the cold”.

He joined the Sacramento Union as a sports reporter in 1932 on graduating from high school.  Four years later he was hired to write a radio column for the San Francisco Chronicle, beginning an association that was to last for 50 of the next 61 years.

On the scrapping of the radio column he persuaded the editor, Paul Smith, that he could write a daily column on the city, and  It’s News to Me duly debuted on 5th July 1938, appearing thereafter for six days a week.

When the U.S. entered the Second World War in 1942 he joined the Air Force, assigned to communications, and reached the rank of captain.  Returning to his Chronicle column, he continued to record and comment upon the foibles of local government and personailities.

Caen often referred to San Francisco as Baghdad-by-the-Bay,  a term he coined to reflect the city’s exotic multiculturism.  A collection of his essays bearing the same title was published in 1949, going through seven printings.  In 1953 he published the book Don’t Call it Frisco after an Examiner news item of the same name on 3rd April 1918 when Judge Mogan, presiding in a divorce case, stated that “No one refers to San Francisco by that title except people from Los Angeles”.  Emperor Norton had previously raged against the use of the term and issued one of his imperial proclamations to that effect.

However, a year later, Caen left the Chronicle for higher paid work at the San Francisco Examiner, for which he worked until 1958 when he was persuaded to return to his former employer on the promise of a better salary.  His “homecoming” column was published on 15th January of that year.

In 1976 he published One Man’s San Francisco, a fine collection of some of the best writing from his columns.  In 1988, the fiftieth anniversary of the column was marked by a special edition of the Chronicle’s “Sunday Punch”.  At the age of 75 he decided to slow down by reducing his output from six to five days a week!

Caen was hugely popular and a highly influential figure in San Francisco society.  He was described by the Chronicle as a “major wit and unwavering liberal who could be charming, outspoken and, at times, disagreeable.”

He called his work “three-dot journalism”, in reference to the ellipses by which he separated his column’s short items, all composed on his “Loyal Royal” typewriter.

His writing was imbued with a gentle, dry wit and an intimate knowledge of the politics, society and culture of his adopted city and the wider Bay Area. Hardly a show, party or any other significant event in San Francisco was complete without Caen’s gregarious presence, and his clever, sometimes acerbic, comments on it the next morning in his column.  Conrad said that “he seemed to know everyone in the world; he somehow made them honorary San Franciscans and let us, his readers, have the privilege of knowing them, too”.

His witticisms and plays on words would fill another ten features, but here are a few:

  • “the trouble with born-again Christians is that they are an even bigger pain the second time around”;
  • “I tend to live in the past because most of my life is there”;
  • “cockroaches and socialites are the only things that can stay up all night and eat anything”; and
  • “the only thing wrong with immortality is that it tends to go on forever”.

The Bay Bridge was “the car-strangled spanner”, City Hall “Silly Hall” and Berkeley was “Berserkeley”.

Whilst many of his invented words have passed into history, others have become not only synonymous with San Francisco but entered the everyday language.  On 2nd April 1958, in a Pocketful of Notes, he reported on a party hosted by 50 “Beatniks” which spread to “over 250 bearded cats and kits”.  This is the first known use of the word.  And during the Summer of Love in 1967 he contributed more than anybody to popularising the term “hippie”.

In 1996 he was the recipient of a special award from the Pulitzer Prize Board which acclaimed his “extraordinary and continuing contribution as a voice and conscience of the city”.  On 14th June of the same year 75,000 people, including Walter Cronkite, Robin Williams, Willie Mays, Don  Johnson and Mayor Willie Brown who presided over the event, celebrated Herb Caen Day.

He espoused many liberal causes over his career, including a life long opposition to the death penalty.  He was also one of the first mainstream newspaper men to question the Vietnam War.  But it is to his beloved San Francisco that we return for one of his most passionate campaigns, namely to have the hideous and excessively busy Embarcadero Freeway, or “Dambarcadero” as he called it, demolished.  Success came, but from an unexpected source.  The Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 damaged it so severely that the decision was taken to pull it all down.  A three mile sweep  of the Embarcadero is now named “Herb Caen Way” in his honour.  The wide promenade is the most eastern street in San Francisco, curving round its northeast corner, proceeding along the waterfront, and ending near AT & T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, the team Caen adored.

Despite a terminal lung-cancer diagnosis, Caen continued to write almost until his death on 1st February 1997, though his output understandably shrunk over time. His funeral six days later was held in the Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill, attended by 250 people with hundreds more outside listening to the hymns and eulogies over loudspeaker.

Caen had willed to the city a fireworks display which was given in Aquatic Park in front of Ghiradelli Square, concluding with a pyrotechnic image of a typewriter on the bay.  This tribute was attended by many of his friends and fans, who gathered on Herb Caen Way… on the Embarcadero, lit candles protected from the wind by dixie cups, and walked north along the waterfront to Aquatic Park.

And all this for a local hack!

John Steinbeck wrote that he “made a many-faceted character of the city of San Francisco….It is very probable that Herb’s city will be the one that is remembered”.

But the last fitting words should be left to Caen himself:

“One day if I go to heaven…I’ll look around and say ‘It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco'”.

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We had purchased tickets before leaving home for three San Francisco Giants games at AT & T Park this month. The first was against the American League East’s bottom side, the Toronto Blue Jays, whom they had beaten on the previous day, courtesy of a two-run homer from Andres Torres and a rare for this year, quality pitching display from Tim Lincecum that evoked memories of his Cy Young award winning years of 2008 and 2009.

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We arrived, courtesy of two MUNI routes, around an hour and a half before the scheduled first pitch to enable us to survey the wares in the Giants Dugout Store, perambulate around the park, take photographs and, of course, avail ourselves of the culinary delights on offer. Despite a hearty breakfast, the Polish kielbasa dog on the Say Hey Sausage concession stand proved too enticing to resist.

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Early morning fog had been burned away by the time the Canadian and American national anthems were sung beautifully, though I do not recall the name of the chanteuse  in question.

The starting pitchers, Barry Zito and R.A. Dickey, kept the offenses quiet during the first four innings, though Dickey took an immediate grip of the Giants batters, whereas Zito (pictured below), whilst maintaining a better, two to one strike to ball ratio, struggled to finish off his opponents.

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Dickey’s dominance with his knuckleball received its deserved support in the fifth inning when the Blue Jays bats scored the only four runs of the game. At the time we thought that Sandoval had made an out at third base that would have ended the innings at the cost of just two runs – and Pablo felt so too as he stood, arms in teapot position, for several seconds. Apparently, however, TV replays narrowly substantiated the umpire’s decision. It proved academic anyway as the Giants “failed to trouble the scorers” in cricketing parlance for the remainder of the game.

Last year’s National League MVP, Buster Posey had a frustrating afternoon, but his presence, at the plate and behind it, still evokes excitement, and not a little adoration, among the AT & T Park faithful. He will not have to wait long before again being a major influence on a game.

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Pablo Sandoval, like Posey, leading the race for a position in the starting lineup in the National League’s All-Star team, was one of the few Giants to come out of the game with some credit, making the team’s first, and until the last inning, only, hit, and performing some neat, efficient plays at third base. Although his “running” around the bases is more likely to elicit chuckles than cheers, he is surprisingly athletic in the field and has an accurate, venomous throw.

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Hunter Pence, like many of his team mates, flattered to deceive with several ferocious swings of the bat that, at the moment of impact like that pictured below, looked as if they might end up in Oakland rather than the hands of the Blue Jays’ outfielders.

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Giants’ mascot, Lou Seal, entertained the crowd, especially the younger fans, throughout the afternoon, though he was conspicuous by his absence at the end of the game. It was hard at times not to contemplate whether it might have been worth Bochy letting him loose as a pinch hitter late on in the game. Having said that, his speed around the field makes Sandoval look like Usain Bolt.

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Tradition dictates that, if the Giants’ are losing at the onset of their ninth innings,  the home crowd is encouraged to join in Journey’s great anthem Don’t Stop Believin’ . It has done the trick many times over the past three years but did nothing to inspire their innocuous bats on this occasion. There was to be no emotional walk-off win this afternoon, though they did manage to get two men on base in the ninth inning when Sandoval came to the plate for the last time with two outs.

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A limp display by the Giants but there were consolations – the weather was hot and sunny, the bay looked serene and we had great seats immediately behind the Blue Jays’ dugout, half way between home plate and first base. I had, however, committed the ultimate sin for anyone visiting San Francisco in believing the weather forecast. The early morning cloud was scheduled to linger by the bay for the afternoon, so we omitted to take either suncream and, in my case, Giants cap, to the park. The resulting sunburn was not what I had  anticipated having to contend with after barely 48 hours in the city!

I did, at least, remember to take my jacket!

After two World Series in three years, expectation is now high, perhaps unreasonably so, in the Giants Nation. And some comments on social media following the game exposed the irritating modern impatience for victory every time the team takes the field. The team has faltered before at various points in the season over recent seasons and, whilst there might be just cause (decline of the pitching rotation, lack of batting power, frailty on the road) to believe that they might not be playing in October, it is still far too early to be writing this proud, resilient team off. And the atmosphere as we walked back along the Embarcadero was resigned but relaxed rather than critical. You cannot get too depressed about the fortunes of your sporting heroes in this city. There is too much else to raise the spirit.

Our first port of call (pun perhaps intended) was the Wine Merchant in the Ferry Building where we mulled over a bottle of Napa Valley “pink” before deciding where to eat. We succeeded in resisting the blandishments of Fisherman’s Wharf, preferring to walk up Market Street and cutting up along Sutter before reaching Union Square.

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The Daily Grill, next to Lefty O’Doul’s on Geary Street, was relatively quiet (though, purely coincidentally, full by the time we left), so we took refuge in its old-style San Francisco ambience, the sort of dining establishment that famed San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Herb Caen, would be found in late at night.

And what was the first thing our server wanted to talk about – yes, the Giants ailing fortunes! There is no escape from baseball talk in a city where every third person you see appears to be wearing a cap or Giants sweatshirt or cap.

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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.

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As we were due to return the hire car by 2.30pm we felt we should make best use of it by visiting some of the sights less easy to get to by public transport or on foot.  Firstly, we drove out to Ocean Beach and explored the delightful districts of Parkside and Sunset, before stopping at 16th and Moraga to walk up and down the beautiful marble stairway with outstanding views of the Pacific coastline.   We noticed that many of the animal designs in the marble contained people’s names, presumably by way of sponsorship, and set me to look at the possibility of having our names included on it.

Our next stop was Twin Peaks.  It had been the first place in San Francisco we had visited on a coach tour back in 1995 and, to be honest, I don’t think either of us had taken much note of it then, more interested in later delights such as Fisherman’s Wharf and cable car rides.  The absurdity of that attitude was exposed when we feasted our eyes on The City laid out before us on this warm, sunny morning.  What struck me in particular was just how near everything was, you could almost take it in the palm of your hand and stroke it.  

We prised ourselves reluctantly from Twin Peaks and headed down into the Castro and the Mission where we tried to find a parking space close to Dolores Park to relax and enjoy the famed views of the city from there.   But it proved futile, after all it was Friday lunchtime, the sun was beating down and half of San Francisco had got the same idea – never mind, we will do it before we leave.

A tortuous drive back through the Mission and along the Embarcadero meant that we handed back the car to Avis on Beach Street less than an hour before we were required to.  By this time we were hungry and in Fisherman’s Wharf where we had a mediocre lunch experience on the previous day.   However, we had enjoyed a nice meal at Lou’s at Pier 47 in the past so felt comfortable in sitting down at one of the outside tables there.  We were not disappointed as my salmon cakes and Janet’s red snapper were excellent.

With the car returned it was time to collect our City Pass booklets which I had purchased online before leaving the UK.  We walked up Mason and Columbus in the blistering sun to Washington Square where, still replete from lunch, we crashed out on the ground with a cold drink.  However, we soon sought sanctuary on a park bench, as my damp shorts testified that the heat of the past few days had still not drawn the dew left by the incessant rain beforehand from the grass.

Washington Square was understandably busy with bikini clad girls stretched out in the sun, Chinese elders gossiping under the shade of the trees, a single hippie playing catch with himself and office workers resting on the way home to make phone calls to arrange their evening activities.

Refreshed, we walked through the heart of Chinatown to Union Square, stopping only to check the closing time of the restaurant we were planning to eat at later, and for Janet to have her first fix of DW Shoes on Powell whilst I collected the City Pass booklets from the visitor information centre on Hallidie Plaza.  We then used our 7 day MUNI passport for the first time in returning to the apartment.

The highlight of the day, with the possible exception of Twin Peaks, was the journey back into the time in the evening on the no. 5 bus.  After the no-show on Monday evening, which necessitated the life threatening cab ride to the Warfield, at least the bus had the decency to turn up tonight, even if we had more than a ten minute wait in the increasing cold.

The journey was uneventful until Fillmore when a middle aged woman with a motorised wheelchair got on.  The step onto the bus was lowered by the driver to allow her to enter.  The bus was very busy with standing room only at this point but the woman had to manoeuvre herself into the wheelchair user space a third of the way along the bus.  The next five minutes entailed those sitting at the front of the bus having to bring their feet up onto their seats to enable her to get past, when she then engineered a 27 point turn into her appointed position.  It was clear from when she told the driver where she wanted to get off that the same pantomine would be required sooner rather than later.

However, it got worse.  At the next stop a young girl got on with a child in a buggy, which would inevitably complicate matters a little.  But when TWO more girls got on with buggies at the very next stop, this was going to be very interesting.  Once we had reached Larkin and the female wheelchair user wanted to get off it looked an impossibility – until the three girls with buggies, noticing that seats had been vacated, leapt back into the seats, in an almost orchestrated manoeuvre,  with the buggies, complete with babies, in their arms, allowing the wheelchair to get through, and universal applause from the front of the bus.  In our experience there are very few MUNI journeys, especially at night, that cannot provide some such adventure.

We had decided to revisit our favourite Chinatown restaurant, the Great Eastern on Grant and Jackson, and despite the delay caused by the bus journey, we were found a table immediately.  Although the R & G Lounge that we had eaten at in 2008 was possibly the smartest Chinatown restaurant we have eaten at, the Great Eastern has now given us three consistently good meals and is thoroughly recommended – my scallops with straw mushrooms and sugar snap peas, along with shrimp fried rice, was filling and delicious.

And I can proudly announce that I completed my very first chinese meal without resorting once to a spoon or fork, even to clear the final scraps off my plate.  It was chopsticks all the way – and it was still warm when I had finished! 

A couple of large straight Jack Daniel’s for me and two gin and tonics for Janet at Vesuvio’s in Columbus and Jack Kerouac Boulevard completed our evening, apart from a relatively smooth if painfully slow MUNI bus home.

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