San Francisco Highlights

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Downtown 

Ferry Plaza Farmers Market – Great gourmet market, cafés, shops and Book Passage bookstore (One Ferry Building #50, at Embarcadero) Open Tue, Thu, and Sat. 10am-2pm (and Saturdays 8am-2pm for the actual farmers’ market outside). Try their El Porteño empanadas, Blue Bottle coffee, pastries and other goodies! Also great for gourmet gifts and presents. $15-35.

Union Square – Public plaza bordered by Geary, Powell, Post, and Stockton Streets. “Union Square” also refers to the central shopping, hotel, and theater district that surrounds the plaza for several blocks. (333 Post St.) Two cable car lines (Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason) serve Union Square on Powell Street.

Cable Car Museum – The Cable Car Museum is a free museum in the Nob Hill neighborhood (1201 Mason Street) It contains historical and explanatory exhibits on the San Francisco cable car system, which can itself be regarded as a working museum. Open daily 10am – 5pm.

Café Zoetrope – Named for Francis Coppola’s production company, American Zoetrope, the cafe is located in the majestic Sentinel Building, a San Francisco historic landmark in the heart of North Beach (916 Kearny St.) It is a European-style cafe and offer authentic Italian cuisine and a wide selection of Italian and California wines. One-of-a-kind mementos spanning Francis’ long and celebrated film career decorate the walls while the awnings and heated sidewalks. Francis Ford Coppola bought the building in 1972 to be the headquarters for his production company, American Zoetrope. A number of his films including the Godfather II and III, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, One From The Heart, The Outsiders, and Dracula were written, edited, or sound mixed within these walls. Cafe Zoetrope, opened in 1999, was created with much thought from Coppola. Many of the items on the menu are his own recipes and the European ambiance is something he cultivated. Open noon – 10pm.

Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower (murals and parrots) – 210-foot tower in Pioneer Park, was built between 1932 and 1933 using Lillie Hitchcock Coit’s bequest to beautify the city of San Francisco (1 Telegraph Hill Blvd.) The murals inside the tower’s base were painted in 1934 by a group of artists employed by the Public Works of Art Project, a precursor to the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and depict life in California during the Depression. Telegraph Hill takes its name from a semaphore telegraph erected on its summit in 1850 to alert residents to the arrival of ships. Pioneer Park, which surrounds Coit Tower, was established in 1876 on the former site of the telegraph station. As you wander the hill, you may hear the raucous chatter of the neighborhood’s most famous (and noisiest) residents, the flock of parrots featured in the 2005 film The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. Open daily 10am – 5pm.

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The Castro

Castro Theatre – (429 Castro St. corner Market St.) built in 1922 by pioneer San Francisco theatre entrepreneurs, the Nasser brothers, who started with a nickelodeon in 1908 in the Castro neighborhood, and designed by Timothy L. Pflueger (1894-1946) who went on to become a famous Bay Area architect. In 1977, the Castro was designated City of San Francisco registered landmark number 100. It is one of the few remaining movie palaces in the nation from the 1920s that is still in operation. The theater has over 1,400 seats (approx 800 downstairs and 600 in the balcony) and it often hosts musical sing-alongs. In January 2008, for the filming of the Gus Van Sant biopic Milk, restorations were made to the neon on the theater’s marquee and blade sign, and the facade was repainted. The movie about the life and times of Harvey Milk, the San Francisco city Supervisor who was California’s first openly gay elected official (portrayed by actor Sean Penn, who won an Academy Award for his performance), had its world premiere at the theater in November 2008.

GLBT History Museum – (4127 18th St.) Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Transgender Historical Society maintains an extensive collection of archival materials, artifacts and graphic arts relating to the history of LGBTQ+ communities of San Francisco and Northern California. Among the items in the exhibition were the 1919 honorable discharge of gay novelist Clarkson Crane, who served in World War I; the only known photograph of gay men held in the camps that the United States created for the Japanese-American internment during World War II; documents reflecting the life of female-to-male transsexual organizer and author Lou Sullivan (1950–1991); an extravagant 1983 gown worn by San Francisco drag personality the Baroness Eugenia von Dieckoff (1920–1988); and photographs, flyers and T-shirts from the lesbian sex wars of the 1980s-1990s. On exhibit as examples of the society’s artifacts collections were personal belongings of Harvey Milk. In addition, the show included examples from the society’s collections of ephemera; posters; periodicals; photographs; oral history interviews; and film, video and recorded sound. Open daily 11am-6pm.

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Near Golden Gate 

Palm House – (2032 Union St.) stay-cation destination of San Francisco serving tropical food and vacation drinks. Housed in the original 1854 dairy farmhouse where Cow Hollow derives its name and situated behind the second oldest palm tree in San Francisco, Palm House evokes a bygone era of tropical leisure. Anywhere there’s a palm tree is fair sights for the menu. Open daily 11:30am-10pm.

Gio Gelatto – (1998 Union St.) Italian flavors and contemporary worldly tastes meet impeccable craft to surprise you every day with changing creamy, dairy-free and vegan selections with the best seasonal and market offers. Open daily 10am-10pm.

Cinderella Russian Bakery and Café  – (436 Balboa St.) Mike Fishman landed in the city in 1988 from the Soviet Union, and took over the business from two Russian women who ran the bakery before. They trained him and passed on recipes and knowledge. In 2008 Mike and his wife became sole owners and changed the look from dated diner to a cozy place. Mike expanded the kitchen and added outdoor tables and a parklet. Mike made some adjustments to the menu focusing on high-quality local ingredients and everything is made from scratch daily. Open daily 7am-7pm.

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Bookstores

City Light Books – (261 Columbus Ave.) independent bookstore-publisher that specializes in world literature, the arts, and progressive politics. It also houses the nonprofit City Lights Foundation, which publishes selected titles related to San Francisco culture. It was founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin (who left two years later). Both the store and the publishers became widely known following the obscenity trial of Ferlinghetti for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s influential collection Howl and Other Poems (City Lights, 1956). Nancy Peters started working there in 1971 and retired as executive director in 2007. In 2001, City Lights was made an official historic landmark. City Lights is located in Chinatown, near the border of North Beach. City Lights was the inspiration of Peter D. Martin, who relocated from New York City to San Francisco in the 1940s to teach sociology. He first used City Lights – in homage to the Chaplin film – in 1952 as the title of a magazine, publishing early work by such key Bay Area writers. A year later, Martin used the name to establish the first all-paperback bookstore in the U.S., at the time an audacious idea. Open 10am-12am.

Dog Eared Books – two locations in the Castro and Mission ( 489 Castro St. and 900 Valencia St.) If you’re looking for a pleasant place to peruse a lot of books, seek no further! Since 1992, Dog Eared Books has been supplying a book-hungry San Francisco with new, used, and remaindered books as well as magazines, calendars, and blank notebooks. They have a little of everything, but also specialize in off-beat, small press, and local literature. The Castro location has a great collection of LGBTQ+ history books curated front and centre, and both locations carry lots of resistance books. Open daily 10am-10pm.

Adobe Books – (3130 24th St.) Comfy bookshop boasts a diverse selection of genres and a back art gallery in a light-filled interior. Opened in 1989, in the Mission district by Andrew McKinley who was the proprietor for 23 years, during which time the store became a bohemian nexus for a large rotating cast of artists, musicians, writers, readers, and thinkers. In 2001, the former back storage room was transformed in to a dedicated gallery space. In 2012, with San Francisco gearing up for the second dot-com boom, the beloved 16th street shop faced an untenable rent hike and a changing neighborhood. A group of Adobe regulars came together and formed a cooperative structure. A fund raising campaign eased the move over to 24th street,  adding to the small number of existing independent bookstores on the informal bookstore row. Now approaching the 30th year in business, it hosts 159 annual public events, free of charge to the artists, musicians, poets, writers, and thinkers! Open 12pm-8pm, except Tuesdays.

Alley Cat Books – (3036 24th St.) Used and new book titles in English and Spanish offered at this welcoming bookstore with an art gallery. It opened in the heart of the Mission district in 2011. They also carry a colorful array of magazines, calendars, and notebooks. The back of the store is an art gallery, where local and international artists grace the high walls. Sometimes you might stumble into an art opening, poetry reading, or film screening. Open daily 10am-9pm.

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Things to do and see

Lucasfilm Headquarters and Yoda Fountain – (1 Letterman Dr.)  The fountain is located just off of Letterman Drive in front of the Letterman center’s Building B, which contains the the Lucasfilm lobby. The lobby can also be explored during weekday hours, and features even more Star Wars memorabilia including a life-size R2D2 and Darth Vader and a selection of books that inspired George Lucas’ most famous creations. However those wishing to avoid weird eye-contact with any Lucasfilm receptionists may want to choose wisely and settle with making a wish on Yoda’s feet. Open 8am-5pm on weekdays only. May the Force be with you!

Palace of Fine Arts – last remaining building from the Panama-Pacific Exhibition of 1915 (3601 Lyon St.) One of only a few surviving structures from the Exposition, it is still situated on its original site. It was rebuilt in 1965, and renovation of the lagoon, walkways, and a seismic retrofit were completed in early 2009. In addition to hosting art exhibitions, it remains a popular attraction for tourists and locals and is a favorite location for weddings. It was one of ten palaces at the heart of the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, which also included the exhibit palaces of Education, Liberal Arts, Manufactures, Varied Industries, Agriculture, Food Products, Transportation, Mines and Metallurgy and the Palace of Machinery. The Palace of Fine Arts was designed by Bernard Maybeck, who took his inspiration from Roman and Ancient Greek architecture. The Palace of Fine Arts has been seen in films such as Vertigo (1958), Time After Time (1979), The Room (2003), and Twisted (2004). It also served as the backdrop for set pieces in The Rock (1996). Lucasfilm headquarters was constructed near the Palace of Fine Arts, which has been noted for its similarity to the capital city of Naboo as it appears in the film Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999). Open daily 10am-5pm.

Lombard Street – Stretching from the Presidio east to the Embarcadero (with a gap on Telegraph Hill), most of the street’s western segment is a major thoroughfare with the famous one-block section, claimed to be “the crookedest street in the world,” located along the eastern segment in the Russian Hill neighborhood. It is a major tourist attraction, receiving around two million visitors per year and up to 17,000 per day on busy summer weekends, as of 2015.

Painted Ladies – (Steiner and Hayes Streets) The famous Painted Ladies of San Francisco are a row of colorful Victorian houses located at 710–720 Steiner Street, across from Alamo Square park, in San Francisco. Built between 1892 and 1896, these Victorian-style houses are one of the thousands built in San Francisco during its booming growth at the end of the nineteenth century. While many of these old homes were lost during the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, thousands of the mass-produced, modest houses survived in the western and southern neighborhoods of the city. The ones on Steiner Street are the most popular and a famous attraction of the city, having frequently appeared in media, postcards and photographs of the city, including an estimated 70 movies, TV programs, and ads, including in the opening credits of the television series Full House and its sequel Fuller House. The term “Painted ladies” was first used for San Francisco Victorian houses by writers Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen in their 1978 book Painted Ladies – San Francisco’s Resplendent Victorians.

Union Street Shops – Victorian in setting, the Union Street Shopping District contains some of the City’s best eateries, art galleries, fine jewelry stores and trendy boutiques. Don’t miss the cross streets – you will find some real gems off the beaten track. Breakfast, lunch or dinner at the great restaurants and cafés will definitely spike the enjoyment of your shopping day.

Fortune Cookie Factory in Chinatown – (56 Ross Alley) The cookie company, located between Jackson and Washington Streets in Ross Alley, was opened in 1962. It is owned by Franklin Yee. They make traditional fortune cookies, as well as chocolate flavored fortune cookies, almond cookies, and other sweets.Visitors can observe workers using motorized circular griddles to create fortune cookies, which they sell for $5 a bag or flat cookies for $3 a bag (March 2015). The company also makes “fortuneless” cookies. They charge 50 cents for photographs of the workers and the factory interior. Open daily 9am-6:30pm.

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Beaches and Mountains

Baker Beach – great view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is roughly a half mile (800 m) long, beginning just south of Golden Gate Point (where the Golden Gate Bridge connects with the peninsula), extending southward toward the Seacliff peninsula, the Palace of the Legion of Honor and the Sutro Baths. The northern section of Baker Beach is “frequented by clothing-optional sunbathers.” Baker Beach is part of the Presidio Park, which was a military base from the founding of San Francisco by the Spanish in 1812 until 1997. From 1986 to 1990, the north end of Baker Beach was the original site of the Burning Man art festival. In 1990, park police allowed participants to raise the traditional large statue but not to set it on fire, since the beach enforces a limit on the size of any campfires. Subsequent Burning Man events have taken place in Black Rock Desert, Nevada. A fatal shark attack occurred on Baker Beach on May 7, 1959. This was the only shark attack recorded on Baker Beach.

Ocean Beach – great for watching sunsets – It is adjacent to Golden Gate Park, the Richmond District, and the Sunset District. The Great Highway runs alongside the beach, and the Cliff House and the site of the former Sutro Baths sit at the northern end. The beach is a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The average temperature for the last 5 years has been 13.2 °C (55.8 °F), so the beach is popular with surfers for its strong currents and waves.

Twin Peaks Hills – best view of the city and the bay (501 Twin Peaks Blvd) Named for a pair of 922-foot-high summits, it is a remote residential neighborhood with modern homes densely packed on steep lots along winding streets. A grassy 64-acre hilltop park is a popular attraction, with its hiking trails leading up to wind-swept peaks and 360-degree views of the Bay Area. The triple-pronged Sutro Tower antenna that soars over the neighborhood is a fixture in the skyline.

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Berkeley

Cafe Mezzo – great fresh salad and sandwich bar (2442 Telegraph Ave.)  Try their sandwiches, served with a wedge of watermelon. Established in 1983, Mezzo is home to the freshest salads and sandwiches, with huge portions and healthy homemade ingredients. Mezzo re-opened in June 2017 after burning down in 2011. Open 8am-10pm but closed on Mondays.

Sleepy Cat Books – (2509 Telegraph Ave.) Owner Jeff Koren originally opened Sleepy Cat Books a decade ago in Orinda but moved to Berkeley to sell both new and gently used books, and will hold many literary events. Stop by to say hi to the two cats, Oliver and Lyla, that are always at the bookshop. Open daily 12pm-7pm.

Moe’s Books – (2476 Telegraph Ave.) Since its inception back in the heyday of the Beatnik era, Moe’s Books has managed to become more than just a great bookstore–it has achieved the rarified status of a beloved landmark institution as well. Situated just four blocks from the University of California campus, Moe’s has managed to mirror the often turbulent and triumphant times that have come to epitomize all that is exciting and unique about Berkeley. Founded in 1959 by Moe Moskowitz and his wife, Barbara, the original site of the store was a small shop on Shattuck just north of University Avenue. He moved the store up to Telegraph Avenue in the 1960s, right in the middle of the Free Speech Movement and the famous anti-war demonstrations that put Berkeley on the political map. Open 10am-10pm.

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Photos by K. Sark

This entry was posted in Architecture, Art, Books, Café Cultures, Cities, Design, Eco friendly, Film, History, Museums, Restaurants and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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