Typekit is moving into a new office that’s still under construction. The staff is all over the country, so when everyone flew in for an all-staff meeting, Bryan surprised them with a dinner party in the construction zone. Best view in the city.
Every few weeks, one of you sends me a note asking what to do while you’re in San Francisco. I get anxious when I don’t have time to answer in detail. Everything! You must do everything!
I’ve lived here for over a decade, and it is perfect. Perhaps you know someone who doesn’t agree that San Francisco is perfect, which is because they are deeply flawed. Come hang out here, and you’ll realize you don’t have to be friends with people like that.
While you’re in San Francisco, you should:
1. Ride a Cable Car. San Francisco has the oldest and largest running cable car system, and it’s the only place where you can still ride a manually operated cable car in street traffic. All the tourists try to board at Fisherman’s Wharf, where they wait hours for an angry, crowded, twenty-minute ride. You, on the other hand, will wait a few minutes on the corner of California and VanNess. When the car arrives, you’ll stand on the running board near the front and hang from a pole. Go ahead and hum the Rice-a-Roni theme song, we’ll indulge. Get off on the corner of California and Market, but before you do, ask to ring the bell. If you ask very nicely, most operators will let you. Ding-ding!
2. Go fishing at the Academy of Sciences. This is our newly revamped aquarium and nature center, and it’s a great place for science nerds to pass the afternoon. Settle in at the planetarium, squeeze tidal creatures in the touch tank, kiss the glass when a penguin gives you the eye, and sit very still for the Giant Grouper who has been with the Academy since the dawn of time.
3. Get a sweatshirt, and get out on the water. If you want to visit Alcatraz, you’ll need to make reservations, but the prison is fascinating and the boat ride alone is worth the ticket. If you’re a more spontaneous sort, you can take a cruise with the Blue and Gold Fleet at Pier 39, and it takes you right under the Golden Gate Bridge. If you like to hike, take the ferry over to Angel Island and explore the trails. It will be cold on the water, so bring a sweater lest you be forced to buy a San Francisco fleece — the universal signal that homeless people should hassle you until you give them a dollar.
4. Eat at the Ferry Building. The Ferry Building marketplace is open all week, and you should eat everything you see there until you can no longer breathe comfortably. Try the Bluebottle coffee, the cured meats at Boccalone, a burger at Gott’s, chocolate pears at Rechiutti, the Cellophane Noodles with Dungeoness Crab at Slanted Door, anything at Boulette’s Larder — it’s hard to go wrong. If you happen to be here on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday, you’ll get to experience the farmer’s market, which is among the best in the U.S.
5. Have tea at the Ritz. Tea at the Ritz Carlton Hotel is slightly cheezy, and an ideal cure for traveler’s fatigue. They have a harpist, bone china, and any number of tiny sandwiches. It’s a soothing way to pass an afternoon. If at all possible, borrow someone’s little girl so you can laugh while she twirls in her fancy dress.
6. Visit Golden Gate Park. There’s so much to do here, but here’s what you should do: Climb the moon bridge at the Japanese Tea Garden. Breathe in the steam at the Conservatory of Flowers. Take in the view from the DeYoung Museum viewing tower. Navigate the paddle boats on Stowe Lake. Brave the cement slide at the Koret Children’s Quarter park. Watch your neck.
7. Take some quarters to Musee Mechanique. This is an extensive collection of antique arcade machines. A few years ago, it moved from a magical, somewhat remote location on a cliff overlooking the sea… and relocated to Fisherman’s Wharf. Sad trombone. Many San Franciscans protested and mourned the move, and I was one of them. But! The vintage arcade machines are still amazing. Go have a look, and we’ll look the other way.
8. See the Golden Gate Bridge. Yeah, it’s gorgeous. Eat a loaf of sourdough bread while you walk across.
9. Hear the organist at the Castro Theater. This registered landmark was built in 1922, and is one of the few ’20s era movie palaces still in operation. The Castro Theater is awe-inspiring, jaw dropping, and when the Wurlitzer organ rises up from the floor, everyone cheers.
10. Have some fresh seafood at the Swan Oyster Depot. I think Rachel Ray featured this on her cheap eats show a while back, thereby guaranteeing that you’ll find a line at this tiny seafood diner. Wait in line. Take a seat on a swivel stool at the counter and enjoy a plate of oysters on ice. Grin at the suckers in line, and order another glass of white wine.
That’s it, except for a few bonus beloveds — The Tiki Room, Coit Tower, and the Exploratorium. On Monday I’ll do a locals guide, and tell you all about the places I drag my guests when they’re in town.
For now, what tourist attractions did I miss? Let us know what you’d recommend in comments.
Conversations my cab driver had last night:
With a red light:
“HOLD ON!… (Brakes aggressively.) Sorry about that.”
With his cell phone:
“OK. What time are you getting off? OK. What time are you getting off? OKOKOKOKOKOK. Man, what time are you getting off?
Him: Why are cell phones so useless for the simple exchange of information? You can’t get any information from them. Did you hear how many times I had to ask that guy what time he was getting off? It was like talking to a goddamn girlfriend…
Him: Not to insult women or anything.
Me: Right. Except for how you were insulting women there.
Him: Nononononono. Most women are fine Except for the ones unfortunate enough to have dated me…
Him: Women are great, most women are perfectly great. Except for the ones I’ve dated. Especially that one goddamn
Him: Most women are fine. I mean. But not that one chick. She broke my heart. And here I am still pining for her…
Him: Thirty years later, here I am still pining for that bitch.
Me: You can drop me here, thanks.
Yesterday was so good. It was gorgeous, I got dressed up cute to celebrate the sunshine, and Karen was in from Houston. I met her and a few friends downtown for breakfast, and afterward I called Jordan for a quick coffee at the St. Francis while I waited to take my first city tour.
It was the Market Street tour thorough San Francisco City Guides, a non-profit that hosts dozens of free walking tours. If you live here or plan to visit, I recommend them; I learned a lot.
For example, San Francisco is the second most densely populated American city after NYC. It’s mostly built on sand, and half the Financial District used to be underwater. When they do construction downtown, they sometimes unearth ships. This city is like a fairy tale.
Some of the buildings on Market Street are triangular because Market cuts across the city street grid on a diagonal, creating triangular lots and confusing the hell out of newcomers trying to get oriented.
I’d never noticed this plaque several blocks up from the bay that indicates where the shoreline used to be. During the rush, the bay was filling with abandoned ships and garbage, so the city began to sell “water lots” with the understanding that they’d eventually be filled in with dirt atop the rubbish.
The Shell Building was erected in 1939. After its construction, the war precluded plans for any new skyscrapers for thirty years. The next one went up in 1959 right across the street:
It was at 1 Bush Street, and it was the city’s first glass shell building. Look at how dramatically architecture changed in those thirty years. You can see the Shell Building’s reflection in 1 Bush’s panes. Neat, huh?
The De Young Building was San Francisco’s first skyscraper, and it was built in 1890. In 1962, it was covered with a glass “skin” to modernize it, sort of like the building at 1 Bush. In 2007 it was restored, and the architect who revealed the original face called it the architectural equivalent of raising the Titanic, which is awesome, if a little self congratulatory.
In 1875, a Shirley Temple-type child star named Lotta Crabtree dedicated Lotta’s Fountain as a thank you gift to the city. After the 1906 earthquake, San Franciscans gathered here to find loved ones. Now survivors and San Franciscans gather every year at 5:12 a.m. on April 18th to commemorate the date and celebrate the city’s survival. That’s just a few weeks away, so set your alarm clocks.
One tour down, four to go. This is fun.
As always, a big thank you to Verizon Wireless for sponsoring my Mighty Life List. They’re helping me work toward “Knowing San Francisco like the back of my hand,” and they also gave me a Palm Pre Plus. I used it to take notes on this tour and to take a bunch of the photos, including the one of the Shell Building, which is my favorite. Thanks, guys.