After living in the Nevada desert for 3-1/2 months I felt a desperate need to be near the ocean. So this weekend I drove to San Francisco. The last 14 miles to my hostel was absolutely horrendous, but the ocean air revived me instantly.
I chose to stay in a military hospital turned hostel at Fort Mason National Park, a unique oasis in the midst of a world-class city. The location is stunning with beautiful views of the city, the bay and Alcatraz. It’s also only a short walk away from Fisherman’s Wharf and Golden Gate Bridge.
Instead of walking the entire city of San Francisco, and not being sure of what I was looking at, I booked myself on a City Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off tour. (http://www.city-sightseeing.us/all-san-francisco-tours.html) My adventure began at Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghiradelli Square area and headed downtown through the Barbary Coast Historic District. The district was notorious for bawdy forms of entertainment before becoming an important shipping port. Today the nine block area features many live entertainment clubs.
In the center of downtown is Union Square with an extensive collection of luxury retail shops, upscale hotels, art galleries and cafes all surrounding the beautiful urban park. Built in 1850, Union Square was the gathering sight for pro-Union demonstrations on the eve of the Civil War. Today, the Square continues to be a political and cultural gathering place. It’s also home to the first underground parking lot in the U.S.
A few blocks north of Market Street is Civic Center, built after the earthquake of 1906 destroyed ¾ of San Francisco, contains many of the city’s largest government and cultural institutions. It has two large plazas and a number of buildings in classical architectural style. In 1951 the Treaty of San Francisco was signed here that officially ended the Pacific War with the Empire of Japan. The dome on City Hall is the fifth largest in the world – taller than that of the United States Capitol by 42 feet.
Continuing on through the Nob Hill region, we breached the gates of San Francisco’s Chinatown, which is the largest Chinatown outside Asia. The Chinese have been in San Francisco since the beginning in 1848 and have a rich history in the area. After the 1906 earthquake thousands of Chinese immigrants spend weeks and months detained, undergoing rigorous interrogations by U.S. immigration officials. Chinatown was rebuilt to look like the American’s wanted it to look by an architect from Columbus, Ohio. Strange.
Adjacent to Chinatown is the North Beach Italian District. The neighborhood is San Francisco’s little Italy and has historically been home to a large Italian American population. There are some amazing scents in the air as I passed the Stinking Rose restaurant. This area was also the historic center of the beatnik subculture. Today, North Beach is one of San Francisco’s main nightlife districts as well as a residential neighborhood populated by a mix of immigrants. This is where I saw the Saints Peter and Paul Church at 666 Filbert Street. Yes, a church with the address 666! It’s also where Joe Dimaggio and Marilyn Monroe had their wedding photos taken.
I was on the famous crooked Lombard Street, however on the western end near the Presidio and Cow Hollow. We didn’t venture up the steep hairpin turns because tour buses have been banned driving down the hill. The eight sharp turns were incorporated in 1922 to reduce the steep 27% grade that was too steep for most vehicles of the time and a hazard for pedestrians.
We were however, able to drive into the Presidio, which served as an army post for three nations for over 218 years. World events, fairs and major earthquakes have left their mark. The fog was still lifting as I reflected on the National Cemetery and walked along the tree lines path to admire the Golden Gate Bridge and centuries of architecture. This is the only area in San Francisco permitted to have greater than 1’ of space between houses.
After seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, named after the Golden Gate Straights, I hopped another bus to drive me to the Golden Gate Park. The park was my personal favorite area of San Francisco and a true treasure. It took 7 years to prepare the soil and it 20% larger New York’s Central Park. Visitors can go horseback riding, bicycling, hiking, and walking for days to discover the park’s gardens, lakes, and monuments in its entirety. http://sfrecpark.org/parks-open-spaces/golden-gate-park-guide/
Stay continued for more on my visit to San Francisco later in the week.. Please check out the photos at: http://emiling.com/photos/san-francisco/