up all we knew about San Francisco was that it was really
cool. Eric Burden sang about it, Otis Redding sat on its dock
of the bay and it required flowers in your hair if you were
going there. Sure Tony Bennett left his heart there but Jimi Hendrix
left his guitar, on fire! Well…
it’s true, it’s true, it really IS cool.
rode the subway under the Bay into town (comforting ourselves
with the knowledge that the odds of an earthquake rolling
through while we were underground were minimal) and immediately
encountered some modern day hippy wannabes trying to make
Haight Ashbury may not be filled with real live hippies
We quickly noticed San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods,
each with a unique personality and style. A stroll of a few
blocks — and bam!– a new and wondrous part of Frisco to
discover. The short — and shockingly steep — walk from Haight-Ashbury
to The Castro gave us great views of the city from the hills
of Buena Vista and Corona Heights.
Made famous by
WWII, when thousands of soldiers were dishonorably discharged
as homosexuals, the military dumped them at the Pacific Theater
Administration Center in San Francisco. Many
chose to stay in one of America’s most beautiful cities rather than
face the discrimination likely awaiting in their
veterans settled in and transformed what was then called Eureka
Valley but became known as The Castro, after the theater in the
heart of the neighborhood.
The two blocks
of Castro Street south of the Castro Street Station are a sensory
overload. We had to walk up one side and down the other to take
it all in.
from the police and others, but by 1973 the
times they were a-changin’. The Summer of Love was long past, Harvey
Milk had opened his camera shop and the Twin Peaks felt safe enough
to open the windows for all the world to see.
new friends also filled us in about the famous Castro Theater. A
popular San Francisco movie house since 1922, The Castro
now hosts film
festivals and revivals as well as tributes to some of Hollywood’s
legends. The old palace has maintained its glory through the years
right down to the Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ playing
before shows. The marquee alone is worth the visit.
like the little Rice-a-Roni fellas can with their
A fleet of classic streetcars from the late forties have been
restored and put back into service along with eleven 1928
models acquired from Milan, Italy. We were lucky enough to
get one of the Italian gems.
We clattered and clanked through town until we reached the old waterfront.
though ridiculously touristy, has a distinct personality as well.
It’s pretty much all about fish. Fish markets, seafood restaurants
and cheesy fishy souvenirs. But underneath the tacky veneer there
is a very cool neighborhood in the shadow of The Golden Gate Bridge
and overlooking The Rock. Yup, perhaps San Francisco’s two most
famous sights are both visible from here. The bridge spans the
entrance to the harbor and Alcatraz sits right in the middle of
the famous bay. We coped a squat on the dock of the bay to check
them out and to watch the seals and birds romp and dive in the
harbor. They’re pretty into fish too. From one tourist Mecca to
the next, it was time to see Chinatown.
easiest way to get from Fisherman’s Wharf to Chinatown is
on the Powell-Mason cable car line over Nob Hill. The little
cars have been running up and down Nob Hill since 1873 by
grabbing an underground cable
and being pulled along. The cable is gripped with a viselike mechanism
that is operated by the gripman via the grip lever. It takes an
expert hand to smoothly grab the
moving cable without tossing passengers
all about the car. On the steep downhill the gripman becomes the
brakeman. He must skillfully avoid a runaway car resulting in a
disturbing mishap that involves destroyed historic transportation
and flying fried rice and vermicelli.
Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest in North America and one
of the largest Chinese communities outside of Asia. It is
also a top tourist attraction, drawing more visitors every
year than the Golden Gate Bridge. This too is a unique neighborhood
with incredible shops and restaurants as well as the day to
day business of life in this vibrant community. With all of
the signs written in Chinese and the strange, exotic foods
and wares on display in the windows, it’s hard to imagine
any place else in America that feels as much like a foreign land
On our way
heading south into
This also gave us the chance to stop at the Golden Gate National
Recreation Area just above the northern approach to the bridge.
A short hike up to Battery Yates from Horseshoe Cove yields fantastic
views of the bridge, the bay and the city.
crossed the channel as the sun broke in and out, lighting
different portions of the city and bay as the wind blew the
clouds along. From our two hundred and fifty foot high perch
atop the bridge we scanned the open Pacific on our right,
the bay to our left and the hills of Frisco spread out ahead.
It’s unclear how many, if any, of these survivors were thrill
seekers attempting a crazy-barrel-over-Niagara-Falls kind of endeavor.
why not put up a fence to stop all of this free falling? Well,
a fence would disrupt the form and balance of the bridge just
enough to possibly destroy it.
Wind could catch
no fence, but in 2008 the Golden Gate
Bridge Board of Directors voted to install a net below the bridge
as a suicide deterrent. So far a lack of funding has held up the
little minds couldn’t help but ponder possibilities. Would jumpers
bounce like a trampoline? Would others jump just to test the net?
What would they do with all of the people stuck in the net after
they took the leap? Enough of this crazy contemplation!
Reaching The Presidio on the far side of the bridge, we shook
the flowers out of our hair and headed down the highway. Unlike
Mr. Bennett though, we only left another little piece of our hearts
in San Francisco.