Postcard from San Francisco

Enjoying the lunch, live music and the afternoon sun after a game of tennis

Enjoying the lunch, live music and the afternoon sun after a game of tennis

Since returning to San Francisco from my travels, I’m looking at the city with new eyes. I’ve always appreciated the beauty of the city, but now I’m actually seeing the city’s sparkle.

I find myself toting my camera around with me on my daily walks around the city trying to capture the angles of the amazing architecture, or the shimmering water of the surrounding bay, or the way the light is reflecting off the hills.

Given my reignited love of San Fran, I thought I’d share with you my 7 favorite spots:

1.  Golden Gate Park: One of 200 parks within the San Francisco city limits, Golden Gate is the most extensive. Created in the 1860s, the park comprises more than 1,000 acres, is more than 3 miles (5 km) long, and ½ mile wide. It is 20% larger than New York City’s Central Park.

While walking in the park last weekend with my friend Sonal, I was surprised at how much activity was going on—from a lindy-hop street dance to a 70s-style roller disco, to thespians reciting Shakespeare on grassy knolls. It was a fantastic day just strolling through the park and people watching.

Not to be missed is the Conservatory of Flowers, a greenhouse and botanical garden that was erected in 1878. It is both the oldest building in the park and the oldest municipal wooden conservatory in the United States.

Golden Gate Park's Conservatory of Flowers

Golden Gate Park’s Conservatory of Flowers

2.  Presidio: The Presidio is a former military base and now a park. It was erected as a military installation by the Spanish in 1776, was ceded to Mexico, and finally seized by the U.S. government in 1848. The park is nearly 3 square miles including Crissy Field, a former airfield, which has been restored to its natural wetland state.

The Presidio is one of the best places in the city to view the Golden Gate Bridge. Once the world’s largest suspension bridge, the structure is still impressive, standing 746 feet (227m) above water. Perhaps the bridge is best known for its bright vermillion paint job. Called international orange, the color is thought to enhance the bridge’s visibility in the fog.

Glorious Golden Gate Bridge

Glorious Golden Gate Bridge

3.  The Marina: The Marina is a neighborhood tucked into the side of the Presidio and directly facing the wide expanse of the Bay from Crissy Field. The views from this pocket are incredible, with a clear sight to Alcatraz, Sausalito and of course the majestic Golden Gate Bridge.

My friend Lizzie lives within steps of the Palace of Fine Arts, built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exposition. Originally built using temporary materials, the structure was entirely re-built in 1965 and retrofitted in 2009. Surrounded by the lagoon and backlit, the Palace is exceptionally beautiful at night.

Saturday morning at the Palace of Fine Arts

Saturday morning at the Palace of Fine Arts

4.  Embarcadero: Originally the home of the city’s port, the Embarcadero is a stretch of bayside that skirts along the eastern edge of the city. A walk along the Embarcadero (something I do almost every day) takes you from the home of our World Series Giants, under the Bay Bridge, past the Ferry Building, to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39.

A walk along the Embarcadero is a great chance to view the city’s collection of public art, including large multi-storied sculptures and poems embedded in the sidewalk. A particularly cool sculpture is called Cupid’s Span. The artists said they were inspired by San Francisco’s reputation as the home port of Eros, hence the giant-sized bow and arrow of Cupid.

Cupid's Bow, Public Art along the Embarcadero

Cupid’s Bow, Public Art along the Embarcadero

For more than 100 years, San Francisco’s streetcars have been taking passengers from one end of the Embarcadero to the other. Note: the city’s streetcars are not to be confused with the famous cable cars, which go up over the hills, not around the city’s perimeter.

Admittedly, I didn’t pay much attention to the street cars until my friend Suzie was visiting form NYC and pointed them out to me. See, the city’s antique streetcars are actually a collection of trams from around the world, with specimens from Australia, Mexico, Portugal, England, Switzerland and Japan running the rails.

My favorite is a mellow orange window-paned version from Milan. Click here to see the full collection of antique streetcars.

Streetcars along San Francisco's Embarcaedro

Streetcars along San Francisco’s Embarcaedro

5.  Towering Hills: San Francisco is known for its hills, with more than 50 hills within the city limits. A cool way to take in the city’s views is via a mosaic walkway that climbs from the Inner Sunset neighborhood to Golden Gate Heights.

This staircase is known as the 16th Avenue Steps and was inspired by the tiled Santa Teresa Steps in Rio de Janeiro. This community art project was completed in 2004 and comprises 163 mosaic panels that feature handmade animal, bird and fish tiles imbedded within the mosaic. More than 300 volunteers joined in to complete the project.

16th Ave. Mosaic Steps, San Francisco's Sunset neiighborhood

16th Ave. Mosaic Steps, San Francisco’s Sunset neighborhood

6.  City Neighborhoods: San Francisco is a small city, with a population of only 800,000. It’s also small in stature, comprising an area of only 7 square miles. This compact size makes the city very walk-able, making it easy to stroll from one neighborhood to another.

While open to debate, there is thought to be 36 distinct neighborhoods within 5 major city divisions: Downtown, Richmond, Sunset, Upper Market and Bernal Heights/Bayview. I admit, I can’t keep the neighborhood boundaries straight, but you’ll generally know when you’ve strayed into Chinatown or the old Italian section of North Beach or the historically gay-friendly Castro or the Latin-infused Mission District.

One of my favorite neighborhoods is Cole Valley, just to the west of the hippie enclave of Haight-Ashbury. This little nugget is within walking distance to Golden Gate Park and is lined with turn-of-the century townhouses, sweet cafes and independent stores.

Chilling in Cole Valley, a cool San Fran neighborhood

Chilling in Cole Valley, a cool San Fran neighborhood

7.  Ocean Beach. The western border of the city is a stretch of the California coast called Ocean Beach. More known for its nightly bonfires, than sunbathing, this bit of beach is host to harsh currents, frigid waters and soup-like fog. Not to be put-off by such conditions, Ocean Beach is our city’s local surf spot.

Surfers on Ocean Beach, San Francisco, California

Surfers on Ocean Beach, San Francisco, California

Do you have a favorite place in the city? Leave a comment so we can all check it out!

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This entry was posted on Sunday, February 17th, 2013 and is filed under North America.

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