18 December 2009

san francisco: a place to be

I recently spent a week in San Francisco (SF). When asked why, I usually gave one of the following answers: "I want to see the Pacific Ocean", "I just need to leave Texas for a minute", or "I have a month off from work - so why not".

During the flight, I sat next to a very nice Vietnamese man whose first statement to me was "This plane looks old!!!" So of course I found my religion (again) and said a quick prayer for a safe trip.

On the way to my hotel, I shared my SuperShuttle with an Ethiopian (or maybe Eritrean - never can tell them apart) driver, an older couple from Boise, Idaho, a local SF woman from the Haight area, and an Asian man. I asked the couple whether Boise should be my next vacation destination. Maybe I was being facetious but they were being serious(ly nice). They assured me that there is alot to do in Boise but they seemed to struggle when pressed for details. The local SF woman (returning from a business trip to Mexico) suggested that I go to Twin Peaks. I then explained to her that in Dallas, Twin Peaks is the name of a restaurant (think Hooters). I never spoke to the Asian man. He was the first to depart.

I stayed in a hotel located a block from Union Square in downtown.  The hotel seemed to be operated by a family of Germans (BTW, I think most of the people in SF are from somewhere other than SF).  It was a budget hotel (so I got what I paid for) but in my mind/spirit it was an exquisite room with a lovely view. The photo below shows the actual view (so I rarely opened the curtains).

Union Square was an excellent location from which to stage my exploration of the city. I found "union" to be an appropriate name. The area (with its upscale stores and its proximity to the Tenderloin district) seemed to "unite" wealthy socialites, drug addicts, homeless schizophrenics, social misfits and me. Based on my brief view, SF seems to be an interesting oil-and-water mixture of people, cultures, class. The city has even managed to preserve pockets of the natural world (Golden Gate park, areas of the Presidio, Muir woods) within a compact urban setting.

On my first day, I walked to the visitor information center to obtain my CityPass (a must have just for the 7 day MUNI & Cable Car passport). CityPass includs tickets for various attractions.  I eventually used the pass for the SF Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), de Young Museum, California Academy of Sciences, Aquarium of the Bay, and a Blue & Gold Fleet Bay cruise.

I finished my first day in SF with a visit to the Museum of the African Diaspora (MOAD).  MOAD currently has the art of Richard Mayhew on display.  I also viewed the following permanent exhibitions:

In the freedom theater, I watched a short film on Toussaint L'ouverture. I think I will add a biography of Toussaint L'ouverture to my reading list. I want to know more about this "black napolean" and the Haitian revolution.

On the second day, my cousin Al was gracious enough to give me a tour and history (he is a native of SF) of most of the city. We hit most of the well known areas including Lombard street (the crookest street), Twin Peaks (unfortunately it was too hazy to see the city), Ocean Beach (Cliff House & Sutro Baths), Chinatown, the Presidio (eucalyptus trees perfumed the air), Golden Gate Park (which still has bison), Fisherman Wharf and more.  It was on this day that I accomplished one of my primary goals, to see the Pacific Ocean.

I was surprised to find bison within the city limits of SF. Since bison were almost hunted to extinction, I suppose I should be surprised to find them anywhere. This photo was taken in Golden Gate Park. They are kept in an enclosure.

I also took this picture in Golden Gate park of a stream that feeds a waterfall. The water is flowing from the right side of the photo to the left side. Doesn't the water look like its flowing uphill? The next photo is the waterfall. This park has several water falls. I understand why the park has so many joggers. I imagine that the sound of running water can be very serene especially when there are not alot of cars in the park.

One of the highlights of my trip was the concert (Queen Ifrica and Tony Rebel) that I attended at the Rock-It Room in the Inner Richmond area. Queen Ifrica is one of my favorite reggae artists. I do not have the words to describe how significant this event was for me. I was front and center at this concert. I had fun dancing, singing and flirting with the drummer (Randy P.) for most of the night.  I even considered renting a car and driving to Santa Cruz to see the concert again.

Instead, on the next day, I went to the de Young Museum to see the exhibition, Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs. I missed the King Tut exhibition when it was in Dallas (due to procrastination).  I spent a couple of hours viewing and reading about the artifacts of this ancient civilization. I purchased too many postcards with images of various objects from the exhibit. So expect to receive something in the mail very soon. :-)

It was also on this day, that I was referred to a vegan Chinese restaurant within walking distance of my hotel!!!!!!! (Why must I leave North Texas to find such goodness?)  In addition to the vegan food, they serve the best lemonade that I have ever (yes, ever) had in my life. It was fresh (no syrup) and I suspect made with agave nectar.

I received several suggestions from my vegetarian friends of places to eat in SF. So on my fourth day, I took two buses (in the rain) to get to Herbivore. But it was worth it. Below are the corn cakes with black beans, house potatoes, and salsa that I ordered.  Herbivore also played R&B  music from the 60s &70s!!!!  I was singing and eating.  I also ordered blueberry corn bread to go.

After this great breakfast, I visited the California Academy of Sciences. This place contained an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum, and a 4-story rainforest all in one building!  This place really needs a full day to be fully explored and appreciated. I only had the energy for a few hours (since I did not go to bed until after 4am).  I loved the fact that it entertained and excited kids with science. I regretted that I was one of the few people in the building with brown skin. Perhaps the day I attended was just an anomaly.  The only place that I took a picture at the Academy was in the aquarium. I have a "thing" for jellyfish.

On that same day, I also did a 45 minute walking tour of the Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park.  There is a SF non-profit organization that has over 300 volunteer tour guides. The organization has regularly scheduled tours of various SF landmarks, neighborhoods, historic sites, etc.  These are some of my favorite photos taken in the garden. I will post more on Facebook.

The next day I visited Muir Woods. Fortunately, we arrived before many of the other tourists. I was able to walk a significant portion of the woods in silence. For a brief moment, I did not hear any man-made sounds. I experienced a quietness that can never be found in urban areas.


According to Wikipedia, the average age of the redwoods in Muir Woods are between 500 and 800 years old with the oldest being at least 1,200 years old.  Below is an example of one of the many "green" (my description) trees in the woods.  These moss and fern covered trees seemed to emit light.

After leaving Muir Woods, we stopped briefly in Sausalito and then at the Golden Gate bridge. Below are just a couple of photos taken at the bridge.

After spending the morning at the Muir Woods National Monument, I headed to the SF Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).  I took the following photo on the 5th floor (Sculptures). The piece (Princess of the Posse by Chris Ofili) is mounted on two lumps of elephant dung. And dung is incorporated in the center of the painting (in her necklace). He has used this technique in other works too. Unfortunately, the richness/depth of the colors and the detail of the piece do not seem to be captured in my photograph.  But this was my favorite find on the 5th floor.

I think I spent the most time on the 4th floor in the Media Art gallery viewing Candice Breitz's "Working Class Hero (A Portrait of John Lennon)" where twenty-five people (on individual screens) are synchronized singing every song from Lennon's first solo album. I also viewed Breitz's "Mother" which is a collection of edited film performances by Faye Dunaway, Diane Keaton, Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, and Meryl Streep designed to reveal a composite of the Hollywood cliché of the difficult mother.  It was very interesting and yet difficult to describe.  Snippets/lines from each film are looped, edited, and/or synchronized to tell a story of motherhood. Each actress appears on a separate screen. And only the actress can be seen or heard.  All other elements in the original movie scene are removed. In some parts, all actresses were used. In other parts only a subset of the actresses were used.  My favorite floor of the SFMOMA was the 3rd floor (photography) especially since the 2nd floor was closed on my visit. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take any photographs on the 3rd floor.

On the sixth day, I spent the morning in the tourist trap (aka Fisherman's Wharf/Pier 39).  Since I had tickets (via the CityPass), I took the Blue&Gold Bay Cruise.  The cruise does go under the Golden Gate Bridge and circle Alcatraz.  I was somewhat bored and probably would not do it again.  After the cruise, I walked the boardwalk at Pier 39 before going to SF's other aquarium,  Aquarium of the Bay. This aquarium is not very impressive. It has underwater tunnels for viewing fish and sharks.  The only highlights were the jellyfish. Did I mention that I have a "thing" for jellyfish?

I spent the rest of the day with family. My cousins, Al and Shelia, treated me to lunch and good conversation at Spinnakers in Sausalito.  Afterwards we toured even more of SF.

My final day in SF was spent walking the city.  I returned to Chinatown (on foot). Getting to Chinatown on foot involved walking up some very steep streets. I must admit that I was ready for a breather when I reached the Chinatown gate.  So I stopped to have a typical American breakfast at a French Cafe in Chinatown. 

One of my missions in Chinatown was to purchase tea for a friend. This is a photo of the tea shop where I sampled ginger oolong tea and loaded up on green, black and spice tea.

After shopping in Chinatown, I headed back to Powell and Market street to ride the Cable Car (for the first time).  Since I needed to go to Union Street, I rode the historic cable car (Powell/Hyde line) from Powell/Market to Hyde/Union.  This was an experience that I do not need to have again. It was far too crowded for comfort. But at least I can say "Been There, Done That". I headed off to a jewelry store that a friend told me about. There I met a jewelry artist named CaraMia.  Her store is amazing. Check out the pieces that I purchased.

Overall, SF made for some nice downtime. And it is definitely a place to be.


David Scott said...

Nice article.

John L. said...

Amazing insights, details, and pictures :).