DOA (Dud On Arrival)
1 -- Haight Ashbury - From All You Need Is Love To All You Need Is Security
2 -- Union Square - Pigeons And Peril
At Grant Avenue and Stockman Street, the area's two busiest thoroughfares, you can sample dim sum, explore the fresh fish and vegetable market, consult a herbalist, browse a jade shop or purchase some of the cheapest souvenirs in San Francisco. Early in the morning, stop by Portsmouth Square at Washington/Kearny, where you'll see people practicing the martial-arts form of Tai Chi. The Chinese Culture Center features a museum of Chinese art and "TenRen's Tea Company" at Grant/Jackson is the largest tea emporium in the Bay Area.
You'll want to walk by Waverly Place at Stockton and Grant, called "the street of painted balconies," because of its red, yellow and green paint splashed on the upper level. Ross Alley, between Jackson and Washington, is home to small trading companies and sewing shops. At the "Golden Gate Fortune Cookies Company," 56 Ross St, you can read your fortune and still enjoy the cookie.
Tip: If you visit around the end of January, you'll take part in Chinatown's best celebration, the Chinese New Year Parade. Hundreds of thousands of tourists line the streets and cheer on the colorful entertainers.
Whatever the season, you won't leave Chinatown disappointed. What's more, you'll have plenty of souvenirs to show the folks back home -- everything from fake swords to authentic back-scratchers.
For a get-acquainted tour, try the Chinese Heritage Walk & Culinary Walk - Call for information: 415 986-1822.
A different type of action moved in a century later with the beat generation. Suddenly, North Beach became jammed with famous poets and starving artists. Kerouac and Ginsberg were among them. Two of their familiar haunts are still there -- Spec's 12 Adler Museum Cafe (12 Saroyan Street) along with Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store (566 Columbus at Union).
Today, North Beach hums with action from authentic Italian ristorantes, gelatos, coffee houses and cabarets. About the only place that's more Italian is Italy, so why not save your lira and come explore North Beach? All is not rigatoni and designer coffee, however. North Beach is also home to the strip joints and honky-tonk dives lined up along Columbus and Broadway. Tip: Not a place for family entertainment.
Your tour will not be complete without walking around Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill, (via Lombard Street --- "The Crookedest Street In The World"), with its 1930's art deco work, and a majestic sweep of everyone's favorite view of the City by the Bay.
Alcatraz is part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area and has been part of the National Park Service since 1972. But just because it is part of a "recreational area", don't let it fool you. It's still prison-like and eerie. Visitors can poke around and see the steel bars, claustrophobic cells, mess hall, library, and the "dark holes" reserved for incorrigibles. If you're feeling up to it, you can enter one of the cells. To make the rounds yourself, you can pay $3.25 for an audio tour. The audio tour takes you on an orientation that includes stopping at an open cell. There you'll listen to a recording of spooky voices of former inmates and correctional officers.
But its because of the scenic views that Alcatraz remains a top tourist attraction. The matchless skyline of San Francisco lies before you, framed by two great bridges, the Golden Gate and the Bay Bridge. The trip to Alcatraz begins from Pier 41 with the Red and White Fleet, where for $6.75 ($2 fee for advanced reservations), you get the ferry ride over. Admission to Alcatraz itself is free. After the formal part of the trip, relax on the east side of the prison picnicking and snapping pictures of the abundant bird life on the Agave Trail.
A few warnings: The weather can be tricky. Dress in layers. Never expect to arrive at Pier 41 and find spare tickets. The ferry departs weekends at 9:30 a.m. and every half-hour during the summer, and every 45 minutes during other seasons. There are special rates for children and seniors. And oh yes, this is a must -- an "official" Alcatraz t-shirt which lets everyone know exactly where you've been, prison stripes and all.
For more information call the National Park Service: 415 556-0560. For reservations you can reach the Red and White Fleet: 415 546-2628. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web Site: http://www.nps.gov/alcatraz/
First known as Meiggs Wharf, you can almost hear the original Sicilian fishermen as they hauled their nets out to sea. Even fifty years ago, this was undoubtedly the top tourist attraction in the "City by the Bay." More commercial and cluttered now, it is still the place for the freshest seafood catch of the day.
Officially, the Wharf begins at the Pier 39 shopping center, and continues to Aquatic Park and Ghiradelli Square. But it's more than just shopping areas, walkaway shrimp and crab cocktail stalls. This renown locale holds the charm of yesteryear, yet gives the visitor the razmatazz of such well-attended spots as the Wax Museum, Haunted Gold Mine, Laser Maze, and Medieval Dungeon.
A good way to meet the locals is to visit The Buena Vista, one of the most established cafes in the City located at 2765 Hyde Street. It's a must-stop place on the map of the well-seasoned tourist who knows that Irish coffee. The Buena Vista's specialty, is served - even at breakfast. Hear authentic Italian spoken at the bocce ball courts at Van Ness and Beach and watch the old-timers play. Then, at lunchtime, sample treats from the Chocolate Factory at Ghiradelli Square.
A perfect time to stroll around Fisherman's Wharf is the early morning. Watch a fishing fleet drying nets, vendors heating up their caldrons of boiling crab and later you'll see the street artists appear, cavorting their way into your heart and soaking up your spare change. Fill the rest of your day at the Wharf with visits to the National Maritime Museum on Beach Street, the Hyde Street Pier with ships of a bygone era, and the Cannery where you'll find yet more shopping.
A century ago The "Big Four" railroad financiers -- Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins and Collis P. Huntington, built their opulent homes there. Today, it remains one of the most desirable neighborhoods in The City.
If you're in the mood for a hike, you'll find "Snob Hill" by heading up California St. until you reach Mason Street, and two of San Francisco's most famous landmarks, The Fairmont Hotel and The Mark Hopkins. Take the elevator to the Top Of The Mark for a cool-down drink, gaze at the City's enviable panorama, and then take a short jaunt across the street.
There just isn't a more famous hotel in San Francisco than The Fairmont, and you get a quick sense of old world charm the moment you step into the lush lobby. You may also want to glance at the Stanford Court on California, and the new kid on the block, The Ritz-Carlton on Stockton.
Nob Hill can easily be reached by the "Powell Street," "Hyde and Beach," or "Bay and Taylor" cable cars. Zigzag along the hilly streets and you'll recall the Tony Bennett ode "...where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars." Or all the way to Nob Hill.
Tip: Take an official "Golden Gate Park Stroll" by "Friends of Recreation and Parks" (415 221-1311), May-October, and there you'll see all the sights from the Japanese Tea Garden and Strybing Arboretum, to the Botanical Gardens and its "living library" of 6,000 plant species.
There are Five Cultural Attractions that offer single admission for only $10. The ticket is good for the Asian Art Museum, California Academy of Sciences, Conservatory of Flowers, de Young Museum and Japanese Tea Gardens. (415 673-6864)
Part of the charm of the park is promenading through the meadows and relaxing. Try renting a boat to glide along Stow Lake (415 752-0347), or gallop your way on horseback (Golden Gate Park Stables, JFK Drive and 36th Ave. 415 668-7360). Golf is also available (415 753-7101) along with tennis lessons (415 753-7101).
Visit this fall and you'll be treated to the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, and Opera in the Park. Spend at least a day and unwind. Then you'll be ready to start touring again, happy, after seeing thousands of vibrant tulips and daffodils baking in the noonday sun.
Java Walk is a unique look at coffeehouse culture (415 673-WALK), while the Flower-Power Haight-Ashbury Walking Tour (415 221-8442) relives San Francisco of the 1960's and "The Summer Of Love."
Cruisin' The Castro gives the visitor a historical perspective of gay history (415 550-8110), while The Cliff House, Musee Mechanique and Seal Rocks (415 386-1170) presents sweeping ocean views, dining, and a mechanical museum with old-fashioned coin operated music machines and games.
Chinese Heritage Walk & Culinary Tour (415 986-1822) goes behind the scenes of Chinatown, while the Historical and Environment Walking Tours (415 824-9295) take you back to the California Gold Rush days.
Marina Green on Baker Street is the perfect place to fly kites, play volleyball, and meet the locals. But don't forget shopping -- Gift Guides of San Francisco, Inc. (415 955-2733) will show you around the wholesale trade centers.
Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, or take Muni's 76 bus across the bridge to Fort Cronkhite for breathtaking views of The City.
Too tired to walk? Gray Line Cable-Car Tours (415 558-9400) gives a two-hour "trolley hop" all around town. You can tell friends back home you went everywhere without getting off the trolley.
For architecture mavens, you'll need an entire day to take in this extravaganza that Mario Botta designed. His black and white topped cylinder-like structure in the center is the heart of the museum. Everyone has their own description for it, with some writers calling it a "giant slinky stopped in mid-slink."
Spend time in the atrium that spotlights an expanse of alternating black and gray granite. White walls contrast against the gray, giving the space an art deco feeling. If it has a familiar look to world travelers, that’s because the artist designed it to resemble a European plaza, so it's roomy yet inviting. Of course, you came to see the exhibits, but for many, just looking at SFMOMA itself will be more than enough to make the visit worthwhile.
SFMOMA is located at 151 Third Street. For directions and ticket information call: 415 357-4076.
Rumor has it that Indians who once occupied the hills of San Francisco nicknamed the twin bluffs "Maidens' Breasts." Today the curvaceous crests can be reached by following Market Street, a main thoroughfare that circles up to Portola Drive, and leads you to one of the City's most cherished landmarks.
Once you twirl your way up and arrive at Twin Peaks, providing you have the weather gods on your side, you'll see beyond the fog. In the meantime, before you, will stretch a magnificent vista of the 47-square-mile city winking and blinking its morning lights just for you. Gaze out and look at what you'll see -- the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, downtown, Marin Headlands and Farallon Islands.
If you're game, (and please bundle up), you can park your car and climb the railroad ties strategically placed on both peaks. When you arrive, words like breathtaking and spectacular will come to mind, although you'll find them inadequate when looking down on San Francisco, America's favorite city. In just one visit to Twin Peaks you'll feel you have glimpsed heaven San Francisco style, including the earth and the stars.
You'll go bananas watching "Beach Blanket Babylon," a fun-spirited, goofy musical revue, now in its 22nd year at Club Fugazi, 678 Green Street at Powell. If you have only one night for theater in San Francisco, this is it. Every one knows it, unfortunately, so the shows tend to be sold-out. Avoid being disappointed and call from home to book seats: 415 421-4222.
What makes "Beach Blanket Babylon" lovable, successful, and watchable, is its wacky story lines. A frequent one features Dorothy of "Oz" whose love search takes her from Paris to Tokyo, and introduces guest parodies of everyone from Liz and Larry, to Prince, Elvis and Madonna.
"Beach Blanket Babylon" is the world's long running musical, a beloved San Francisco landmark that amuses with every unremittingly frenetic costume and choreographic change. And the props? The most famous are the hats, especially the one of the San Francisco skyline which is 8 and a 1/2 feet wide!
Kids will love it, too, admitted only on Sunday matinees. "Beach Blanket Babylon" plays Wednesdays through Sunday. The best time to grab a seat is during the winter holidays. Somehow, there's nothing like watching a tap dancing Christmas tree.
The Jefferson Airplane lived there. So did peaceniks, war protesters, hippies, flower power children, LSD, and love, man. That was the time to be in Haight Ashbury. People were too friendly -- or maybe too stoned to attack bystanders.
Now let's look at today. If you walk around trying to relive the past, right away you will get a creepy feeling. The old haunts look haunted and the neighborhood is rundown. If you're like many tourists, you still must see it, but you'll need to drive through it with a Janis Joplin tape blaring "Take A Little Piece Of My Heart." The Haight captured ours back in the '60's, but those days will never come back again.
Transients make up a major portion of this population, and, much like the drifters who joined the gold rush, drifters will seek out unsuspecting tourist for handouts. At night, especially, the ambiance that permeates the park area should not be considered safe for families. Congregate near the Gray Line Ticket office, and you can at least hop on a tour, but even here, be wary of the multitudes of pigeons as they coo and doo along the path.
On the bright side, Union Square does have notable department stores such as Sak's Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, plus eye-catching boutiques. The cable car clangs along Powell Street, you can catch a good meal at the St. Francis, and "Phantom Of The Opera" is still breaking records at the Curran Theater. With so much to do in the adjacent area, you don't need to feed the pigeons in the park.