After visiting my sister and brother-in-law in Carmel Valley I spent the weekend in San Francisco. Just for the fun of it.
There are many ways to visit a city as complex and rich as San Francisco. In this first post on the city I’ll approach it through a list of tourist’s must-sees:
San Francisco #1: Golden Gate Bridge
I chose this famous landmark for the title image. According to one tour guide it’s the most photographed bridge in the world. It defines the opening to the SF Bay and connects the city to Marin County to the north.
The nickname for California is the Golden State. The symbol of the state is the Golden Bear. Sports teams in the area have names like the Golden State Warriors (professional basketball), the Golden Bears (UC-Berkeley) and the 49ers (professional football).
Question: Why the 49ers?
Answer: The California Gold Rush began when gold was found at Sutter’s Mill in 1849.
In the upper left of the image, below, you see the Golden State’s state flag with one star and the image of a golden bear.
San Francisco #2: China Town
I stayed at a hotel near Union Square, a central location. It also happens to be around the corner from China Town, perhaps SF’s most famous neighborhood. It is also the first place the tour buses go by when they leave from Union Square.
The green-tiled-roof gate to China Town:
China Town’s main drag is Grant Avenue. The minute I write these words I hear the song “Grant Avenue” from Flower Drum Song (Rogers and Hammerstein, 1958). Along with many memorable songs, this musical represented Asian-American immigrant issues – and reaped all of the glory and grief for doing so.
Whatever the cultural politics of the story and its treatment, Nancy Kwan gives an amazingly balletic and athletic performance in Grant Avenue. I’m sorry I could find only a very grainy YouTube version of it not worth posting.
San Francisco #3: Financial District
The Transamerica Building, completed in 1972, is surely the icon of the district. It is also known as the Pyramid. Here it is:
San Francisco – the whole coast of California – is seismic, sitting as it does on the San Andreas fault:
In 1989 the Pyramid shook for a full minute during the 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake. The building was undamaged. However, the double-decker Cypress Freeway in Oakland across the bay collapsed.
Historical note: the Big One was the 7.9 earthquake of 1906 that destroyed major parts of the city.
San Francisco #4: Fisherman’s Wharf
SF is on a bay, so naturally fishing is in the picture. And so, here’s a picture.
What’s prominent in this picture isn’t fish but rather SF’s famous cable cars.
Fisherman’s Wharf itself is touristy. On a grey, windy and somewhat rainy day, it’s not a great place to hang out. Case in point, here’s a dreary corner a half-block down from the photo with the cable cars:
So let’s talk about the cable cars. Apparently everyone gets excited about the old wooden turn-around points for the cars.
Some guide pointed out that people like the trolleys because they invoke old Rice-a-Roni commercials. Could be. As long as I’m spit-balling about TV associations with SF, I’ll mention Full House and Monk.
San Francisco #5: Ghiradelli Square
Chocolate. It’s all about chocolate.
Luckily, Ghiradelli Square is right next to Fisherman’s Wharf. You can knock these two off very easily. (As well as #9 the Buena Vista, see below)
Apparently chocolate is a thing in SF. I didn’t buy any at Ghiradelli’s. But I did buy some at one of the boutiques in the Ferry Building (to be pictured in next Tuesday’s blog):
San Francisco #6: Lombard Street
No way could I get perspective on this street. So here’s a professional photograph:
Here’s the best I could get:
San Francisco #7: The Painted Ladies
This nickname refers to the gorgeous Victorian houses around Alamo Square. The SF skyline is clearly visible, out of which the Pyramid sticks up.
This neighborhood is near Haight-Ashbury, birthplace of the 1960s counterculture movement.
San Francisco #8: Top of the Mark
The Mark Hopkins is a super fancy hotel.
You go to the top for cocktails and city views.
Across California Street facing Mason Street is the Fairmont, another swank hotel.
On the third corner of this intersection of California and Mason Streets sits this house:
I took a picture of it because it looks important. Turns out, it is. This is Union-Pacific Club, originally the home of silver magnate James Clair Flood. Along with the Fairmont it is the only structure in the neighborhood to survive the 1906 earthquake and fire.
No doubt about it, we’re in the posh part of town known as Nob Hill.
San Francisco #9: Buena Vista Cafe
By popular demand (Hi, Steve!) I include the Buena Vista Cafe, down by Fisherman’s Wharf, on my list.
Read up on the story of Irish Coffee and the bartenders who line up the glasses and sling the stuff.
San Francisco #10: City Lights Bookstore
Founded in 1953 by the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, City Lights is famous for publishing Alan Ginsburg’s Howl and Other Poems in 1956.
These Top Ten landmarks cover it all: the Gold Rush, earthquakes, the fishing industry, old-timely cable cars, Victorian elegance, sex-drugs-n-rock-n-roll, alcohol and Beat Poets.
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen