Tuesday, July 24, 2007

How to visit San Francisco

Residents of the City are famous for not being in agreement on anything, or at the very least, for being against whatever everyone else in the country is for. One point that visitors and residents alike may find common ground is that the best way to truly experience San Francisco is to immediately park your car. Better yet, don't bring it at all, now that the BART efficiently transports you from the airport to the heart of the City irrespective of the weather.

This, however, deprives you of the singular experience of crossing the Bay Bridge and being treated to any of a thousand-and-one different versions of her at first glimpse.
Istanbul, Venice or Manhattan may be among that tier of cities which share the honor of greeting the traveller with such a mixture of pomp coupled with nature's own theatrical flourish, but it is San Francisco that will have the unparalleled choice of vestments with which to seduce you. From the moment the morning sun rises above the Oakland Hills and throws its golden rays against the gleaming city, to the twinkling of a million tiny lights that signal from the other side of the bay by night; pulling you in while shrouded in any number of shades of silhouette, mysteriously wrapped in its signature fog, which may be pouring in through the Golden Gate and over the hills in a wondrous spectacle without peer.

One may experience all that from the ferry, true, yet still you are deprived of the split-second moment when a small rectangular sign formally and crisply informs you in its official civil service capacity that you have just entered the City and County of San Francisco.

While driving on the Golden Gate Bridge is and of itself a singular pleasure, it pales to walking mid span along the eastern deck, with the swirling waters of the bay visible beneath you and the elegant deco towers soaring above. You might even be treated to witnessing a ship slide into the bay or out to sea, accompanied by the bray of sea lions and perhaps even the bellow of a fog horn.

There is that one particular block of Lombard Street which the City offers as an amusing paean to the automobile, but that, too, may be better experienced on foot, especially as the number of waiting cars lined up for blocks continuously multiplies.

Wear comfortable shoes for walking, and don't neglect a pair for climbing streets where the sidewalks become stairs; or for the truly adventurous, the paths that may precipitously ascend and incredulously demand you almost crawl on hands and knees to descend.The promise is always fulfilled that as breathtaking the climb, so too the view. If a journey begins shrouded in swirling mists that it is no trick seem to hum and whisper to you, have confidence that with a dramatic flourish the fog will rise or part or dissolve before you to present you the treasure concealed within its folds.

A necessary prelude to the view from the top of Coit Tower is an appreciation to the murals that wind around the interior corridor. Enter City Hall and crane your neck at the dome from within and you scarcely need to be reminded that it rises higher above you than that of the U.S. Capitol Building.

Don't delay meandering among the timeworn buildings of the Presidio as they slumber seemingly forgotten by time, for even now the work to reimagine new uses for them is taking place that will remove the experience of strolling through the past. It will be left to the citadel that guards the entrance to the Golden Gate while tucked partially underneath the Golden Gate Bridge to assure the visitor that it is all from another time.

At the eastern edge of the Presidio, experience the ancient majesty of the Palace of Fine Arts, as beguiling in sunshine as it is bewitching at night. When the fog dances around the building it will create a dream for you alone.

Walk from Fort Point along the Coastal Trail that faces away from the City to Lands End, on to to the ruins of the Sutro Baths, through Sutro Heights Park and along the aptly named Great Highway to the Dutch Windmill and the Beach Chalet to tour the almost forgotten quaint museum on the ground floor.

Visit the Laguna Honda when the mist is lurking there; explore the nearby trails of Mount Sutro. I won't dissuade you from succumbing to the wiles of Twin Peaks; the gusts atop the summit that seem as if they could pick you up and hurl you over the City and out to sea are the equal of any man-made amusement park's rollercoaster. Return late at night, though, to watch Coit Tower in the distance disappear before your eyes when the lights are shut off. Don't neglect, however, the climbs seldom frequented by visitors (or even locals) to the tops of Buena Vista Park, Corona Heights, Tank Hill or Kite Hill.

Few visitors to the Mission Dolores take the time to stroll through what remains of the mission's cemetery --the only burial ground in the City other than on the Presidio-- and fewer yet ever visit the Columbarium.

Prepare to be wowed by the opulence of the Palace Hotel Garden Court, a none-too-subtle reminder that the dot-commers were not the first ostentatious rich in the City. Save your appetite for Red's Java Hut at Pier 30, howvever, for the quintessential San Francisco meal.

I could not, would not, possiby divulge all of the places to experience the real San Francisco. Some must remain secret, others you will discover on your own. Some you will chose not to uncover, as an archeologist leaves part of a site undisturbed for the future. If you are fortunate (even above and beyond being granted the gift of visiting the City in the first place) as to have a local San Franciscan as your guide, possibly you will be treated to other haunts of the City. Some are as in plaint sight as Lotta's Fountain after the earthquake and fire of 1906. Others more ethereal will be visible for but a moment, revealed to you as would the secrets of a lover. That is what San Francisco will become to you.

No matter how much of the City is revealed to you or you think you know, you will always be aware there is some mystery left unknown.


warrior scout said...

i just wanted to take the time to express appreciation for your blog. i have read a few posts now and have enjoyed some of the sense of the city. it's been a few years since i've lived there and i did indeed leave my heart- or at least a very naive piece. thank you for taking the time to share.....

circuitmouse said...

gee, thanks!