Looking far across the bay, beyond the reach of my equipment and what any similarly equipped, self-respecting photographer would attempt to capture, I was doing my best to find a focus point on the Point Bonita Lighthouse. A cute old man walked in front of me a second time, his attention fixed on a small radio clutched in the palm of his right hand. An audio cord and ear buds hung loosely beneath his ears, the sound reminding me of transistor radios from long ago. The old man wasn’t making particularly great time, but was steady and smooth, with the discipline I suppose any athlete could appreciate. As he passed I was close enough to barely make out the tinny audio of a 49er game. The 9ers’ were at home, and down a few points.
Sitting on a nearby bench were two elderly men, engaged in a conversation as they looked out across the bay. They too were monitoring the game on a small radio sitting between them. One held a rolled newspaper in his hand, shaking it at the other as if to add emphasis to a point he was trying to make. “Locals” I thought, noticing the absence of cameras and cell-phones being used in the area to capture evidence of one’s presence while in the City. Instead, these folks were simply out for the day, spending time on the cliffs and beaches with friends or in their own company. Maybe, I thought, this is where the locals go, because so few tourists do.
Visiting San Francisco is a reminder of just how small-minded one can feel when isolated to living outside the city and its influence. Having said that, enjoying the City’s unusual and unexpected is not an endorsement of every social enclave, fringe and counter-culture group or eclectic artist functioning within its boundaries. But it is the unexpected and unfamiliar that attracts me to this city, and without the variety of culture and interest groups it just wouldn’t be as fascinating, or San Francisco.
While visiting the city, especially if you’re paying attention, it’s impossible not to have pre-conceived notions called into question or at least some part of your value system challenged. And I say this as a compliment to the city due to its adding immensely to the entertainment value of a visit. I suppose a cosmopolitan city does this as well as anything, as perhaps it should.
On this particular day my interest leaned towards the historical and several sites in the northern part of the City. I wanted to stay away from the downtown areas and piers, so I started and ended the day with a drive and walk through the Presidio and ruins of a few WWI and WWII era gun fortifications. Fort Point and the military presence in the Bay is an interesting study, and, after learning a bit of its history, I started to see its evolution as a reflection of different eras and mind-sets in the larger history of America.
Such a strong military presence may seem to go against the grain of the City today – or so opines the media, anyway – but a little research reveals this premise as being inconsistent with the complete story. And whether one chooses to know the entire story or not, this remains a beautiful and interesting area certainly worthy of the short drive required from more popular tourist areas around San Francisco.
From the Presidio I worked my way inland to the Marina District. To be honest I was looking for lunch, but I get distracted easily and decided this was much more interesting for the time being, so I kept walking.
The Marina District has its own unique story in San Francisco’s history. Walking through the area today it’s understandable that someone relying on visual evidence alone would not know that history. All indicators have essentially been replaced, regardless of how recent or distant its occurrence. From what I could see in my short time there, evidence of this area’s past has been effectively removed to make way for what we see today. And it is beautiful.
Crossing Marina Boulevard I walked one block to The Palace of Fine Arts. Wow…. Every resident in his or her respective city should have the option and privilege of escaping to an area as beautiful as this.
Originally constructed in 1915 as part of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and to celebrate the rebuilding of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, the
Palace of Fine Arts was designed to last only two years.
Almost 100 years later the palace is still here, but not without nearly being lost forever, and requiring the cooperation and resources of both private and public interests to save and restore it during the 1960s. The purpose and history of the structure is fascinating, and is a good read before visiting the area.
I resumed my quest for lunch, and found it at a neighborhood sandwich shop as I drove west on California Street towards Lands End, where I planned to explore a few cliff trails. Waiting for my cold Pastrami sandwich to be built, I stood on the sidewalk outside the shop for a look around, observing the interesting architecture on both sides of me. This is the west end of California Street, a predominantly residential area with a few corner stores and churches inserted here and there, small enough that you must look for them or risk driving past without noticing. This is another reminder that many areas of San Francisco – perhaps the best and most interesting parts – must be walked to be appreciated.
Sandwich in hand, I drove along El Camino Del Mar and pulled to the side of the road when I found a terrific view of the Bay. Below me was a particularly beautiful park – or so I thought – but later realized it was a fairway for the Lincoln Park golf course.
As I enjoyed my sandwich and viewed the Golden Gate in the distance to my right, a half-dozen or so golfers passed through – slowly.
Apparently this is a particularly tricky section of the course. More than a few golfers were meandering across the course looking for golf balls, lost somewhere on the off-camber terrain of the fairway.
Cyclists passed behind me, attacking the climb that would take them to a lookout above the Bay before turning in front of the Legion of Honor, where they descended down into the City.
Turning the corner into the Legion of Honor parking lot, I walk past a small Holocaust Memorial.
My destination was Lands End, so I quickly walked the Legion of Honor grounds. After doing a little research when I returned home, I now realize a return visit is a must.
After leaving the Legion of Honor and descending through Lincoln Park golf course, I turned right onto Clement St./Seal Rock Dr. Nearing the coast I turned right again onto El Camino Del Mar, where I parked for my final hike of the day. The Lands End area has several trails and access points for hikers and tourists alike, affording countless views of the beaches and cliffs along the coastline.
I accessed the Coast Trail from the parking lot and began walking west towards the Cliff House restaurant and Sutro Baths ruins. The Coast Trail is a wide, mostly paved path that follows an old narrow-gauge rail system that once brought San Franciscans to the Sutro Baths. The trail is popular, but it is easy to escape and venture out alone on several spur trails along the entire length of the main walkway.
Just above the Cliff House and Sutro Baths, I walked down a switchback trail and into a large parking lot, where after descending a long section of wooden steps I found myself on the beach at the Sutro Bath ruins.
This is another area of San Francisco worthy of study, as it reflects the audacity of extravagance and those who dream big, and of a city where anything seems possible. The history of the Cliff House and Sutro Baths embody this philosophy. And I think I find it interesting because both stories are, to me anyway, uniquely San Francisco in character.
The history of this area, like so many in San Francisco, recognizes another side of the City often overshadowed by more popular tourist areas, and because of this remains unknown to many. It is an ever-evolving history requiring a unique combination of geography, cultural diversity, opportunity and, perhaps most importantly, a city willing to entertain a diversity of possibilities.
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