The San Francisco Treat

Growing 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.
We 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)… CONTINUE READING >>

Growing
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.

We
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
the scene.

Haight – Ashbury may not be filled with real live hippies
these days, it plays on that past as a tourist attraction
rather than a current event, but it’s still far out.

The
buildings, the views, the park make this district ooze with
reminiscent coolness. The shops with apartments over them
along Haight. The houses stacked on top of one another along
the sidestreets. The groovy little panhandle connected to
Golden Gate Park. It all adds up to make a very happenin’ little
neighborhood.

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
the movie “Milk”, The Castro is considered
the world’s largest gay neighborhood. Turns out, we may have the
military to thank for this fact.

After
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

hometowns. These
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.

For
a little break, we stopped in at The Twin Peaks Tavern for
a beverage and as it turned out, some interesting conversation.
The group at the next table told us how Twin Peaks — “the
gay Cheers” — was the first
openly gay bar in San Francisco. For years the fantastic picture
windows overlooking the corner of Market and Castro were covered
to avoid repercussions

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.

Our knowledgeable
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.

We bid
our farewells and hopped on the F-line street car for a
ride right through downtown and on to Fisherman’s Wharf.
The city has restored several of the old street car lines, not to
be confused with the famous cable cars. The
street cars grab electricity from an overhead wire and can’t handle
the steep hills

like the little Rice-a-Roni fellas can with their
underground cables.

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.

This area,
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.

The
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.

San
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
as this.

On our way
out of town the next day, we decided to drive over The Golden
Gate Bridge. From Oakland we swung around to the
north so that we could cross the famous span

heading south into
the city.

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.

We
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.

Driving
across, we noticed signs and suicide hotline telephones
all along the bridge. Turns out that The Golden Gate Bridge
is the preferred spot to commit suicide in the United States
and one of the most popular in the world. There is no official
count, since many jumps are not witnessed, but the total
is in the thousands. People travel to the Golden Gate specifically
to jump, leaving abandoned rental cars, empty motel rooms
and a mystery.

Not everyone
succeeds, at least twenty-six hardy souls are known to
have survived the fall, having hit the water feet first at just
the right angle — then not freezing or getting eaten by

a shark.
It’s unclear how many, if any, of these survivors were thrill
seekers attempting a crazy-barrel-over-Niagara-Falls kind of endeavor.

So
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
the barrier and begin to rock and roll the entire structure until
it catastrophically fails. So

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
process.

Our twisted
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.

David &
Veronica, GypsyNester.com


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7 thoughts on “The San Francisco Treat”

  1. >nice tour through the hot spots guys! and yes, unfortunately the golden gate holds a special allure for many to end their lives. a great (albeit difficult to watch) documentary called "the bridge" was made about just that. hope you also made it over to our side of the bay! if not, next time 🙂

  2. >Love that city on the bay! Was just there two weeks ago! You did a nice job of assembling the multitude of SFO's different parts into a sweet, easy to digest package. San Francisco has something for everyone…I love going there – with or without flowers in my hair.

  3. >San Francisco is one of my very favorite places in all the world. As you noticed, it's quirky, bohemian, fascinating and visually stunning.

    And it has the best supermarket in the cosmos. The Marina Safeway, just down from Fort Mason. I'm getting around to blogging about some of the glorious meals there, and I'm back for more in April.

    For the full bridge experience, you should rent bikes from Fishermans Wharf. The ride – stopping at the Palace of Fine Arts along the way – gives you increasingly superb views of the bridge until suddenly you are on it, up close with the signs, the towers, the tourists peering over the railing at the huge ships passing underneath…

    Whiz down the hill to Sausalito, lunch in one of the many restaurants, then load your bike with all the others onto the ferry and glide back past Alcatraz.

    I did this in October and it was the BEST day of my life. Fair dinkum.

    1. Skyring — wow! Great tip — sounds like heaven. Next trip…we’re on our bikes! Have to say some of the hills look quite daunting, but, duh, we didn’t have to do the WHOLE trip on foot!
      Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. >I left my own empty nest in 2004 at the age of 52 and moved to SF to find my missing youth! Lived there for three years and loved the vibe. Now I'm chillin' in Reno. If you're headed up this way, I'd love to meet you. I've been following your adventures for a while. I follow you on Twitter and FB, too.

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