By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
Remember that old song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”? It’s easy to lose your heart in and around the City by the Bay. Here are a few of our favorite ways to do so. A warning: we’ve taken a motorhome into (not through) the city several times and have been very uncomfortable with the driving situation and lack of parking. If you don’t have a towed car, consider renting a car for the day. It’s well worth it.
1. Golden Gate National Recreation Area
It was tempting to write this column about Golden Gate National Recreation Area alone, since it now encompasses many of our favorite Bay Area places. Most, if not all, of its 75,000 acres were once stand-alone preserves “” for example, Muir Woods National Monument (great hiking/walking), Point Reyes National Seashore (great birding and coastal views), and Alcatraz (no longer a prison). So when you get to San Francisco, head to one of the park’s seven visitors centers and pick up information related to the places of greatest interest to you. Then you can plan the rest of your visit.
2. Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is more than the setting for a pretty picture. In its 70 years of existence, it has drawn millions of tourists, but many simply drive over the bridge and continue on their way. There is more to experience. You can cross its 1.7-mile span on foot, or while pedaling a bicycle, or take a boat cruise beneath the bridge. We can’t even count the number of times we’ve crossed this historic span, but it never fails to excite and amaze us.
Take a 20-minute ferry ride to Sausalito, a small Mediterranean-style village just north of the Golden Gate. Sausalito history goes back a long way. The village itself dates to the 18th century, when Spanish explorers were drawn by the beauty of little willow trees on the banks of its streams (now the trees stand tall). Today’s Sausalito is better known for its art galleries, shops, and upscale restaurants.
You don’t want to miss Chinatown, of course, but don’t settle for a brief drive-through. Treat yourself to one of several guided tours that specialize in the neighborhood. Allow plenty of time. You wouldn’t want to miss the “Chinatown Fortune Cookie Factory,” and/or one of several other bakeries where you can stock up on almond cookies. Don’t fill up on sweets, though; the food served in the Chinese cafes and restaurants is worthy of its ethnic surroundings.
5. Palace Of Fine Arts
This structure deserves its impressive name, or at least most of it. A palace it’s not. Will you settle for a “spectacular setting”? You’ll join other visitors strolling through the beautifully landscaped grounds and lingering beneath the splendid dome, the Palace centerpiece. The dome is a Greco-Romanesque rotunda standing atop Corinthian colonnades. Around it you’ll find trees, a small lake, and wildlife such as birds and squirrels.
6. Grace Cathedral
At the very top of Nob Hill stands Grace Cathedral, whose treasures include frescoes depicting the sacred and the secular “” lovely stained-glass windows, scenes of the life of St. Francis of Assisi, as well as its Ghiberti doors, appropriately named “The Gates of Paradise.” But that’s not all. Other treasures include medieval and contemporary furnishings, as well as a carillon organ. The church also features two labyrinths “” an outdoor labyrinth made of terrazzo stone and the wool tapestry labyrinth inside. Grace Cathedral, an Episcopal Church, is open to the public daily.
7. Nob Hill
Nob Hill itself may not possess the panache it had some decades ago, but it’s certainly worth your time. We think walking is the best way to experience it. That way you can pause to see San Francisco’s famous hotels “” the Fairmont, Huntington, and Intercontinental. As you walk downhill whistling the tune ” … where little cable cars, climb halfway to the stars … ” you’ll have all the time you need to enjoy a spectacular view of the bay with Alcatraz and Fisherman’s Wharf in the distance.
8. Lombard Street
Located in the Nob Hill/Russian Hill district, Lombard Street has earned the nickname “The Crookedest Street In The World.” We can’t prove it’s true, but those eight hairpin turns in a very short distance are certainly eye-catching. Cars do creep down the steep brick road, but why not take the Hyde Street Cable Car instead? It provides a sense of history along with transportation.
9. Golden Gate Park
Larger than New York City’s Central Park, Golden Gate Park can’t fail to catch your interest. While you relax and enjoy those beautifully landscaped acres, take a moment to imagine this land in earlier times, before the park was created, when it was marked by drifting sand and strong winds. The fact that this park is part of the city of San Francisco is, perhaps, the most surprising. Another surprise “” Golden Gate Park holds an astounding assortment of museums, gardens, and … the next three entries.
10. Japanese Tea Garden
In Japanese culture a garden is far more than a place to grow tomatoes; it’s a way of expressing one’s feelings about nature by choosing and planting each tree and shrub, using stones and rocks according to Japanese philosophy. Native Japanese and Chinese plants “” maple, cherry, cedar, and bonsai (dwarfed, ornamentally shaped trees or shrubs in small, shallow pots or trays) “” enhance the setting of winding paths and graceful bridges leading you to a two-century-old Buddha, and to a Shinto pagoda. Then you can relax while enjoying the Zen Garden, a miniature mountain scene complete with a stone waterfall.
11. Conservatory Of Flowers
This conservatory is about education as much as beauty. Nearly 2,000 plant species are represented, both in exhibits and in floral displays. Visitors absorbing the beauty also experience a moving message about the rapid changes in habitats worldwide, whether caused by climate change or human activities. Displays range from tropical plants to aquatic plants and potted plants. It’s a good place to look, and to learn.
12. M.H. De Young Museum
The de Young contains more than a thousand paintings, but you aren’t required to view them all in one visit. Among the major galleries are American Sculpture & Decorative Art, African Art, and the Oceanic Collection. That’s just a sample of the artistic wealth on deposit here. The Art of the Americas contains objects from Mesoamerica, Central and South America, and the west coast of North America. You can’t help but appreciate this fine museum.
13. Presidio National Park
Presidio history goes back for centuries. After all, through the years the fort served as a military base for three different countries “” first Spain, then Mexico, and later the United States. It was designated a U.S. Army post back in the 1840s, and it played a role in every major U.S. military conflict between 1848 and its closure a decade ago. Today’s visitor can certainly enjoy the history of the Presidio. While not all of the several hundred historic buildings still exist, enough remain to give us a taste. Then there’s the national cemetery and a historic airfield, in a setting of forests and beaches. Oh, yes, it also offers some of the best views in the city.