Do not go where the path may lead;
go instead where there is no path
and leave a trail.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
BEWARE BEFORE YOU READ THE NEXT PICK!
If you’re going anywhere that has an address of “Pier…,” it can be awfully confusing when you try walking there. Here’s a handy tip that has saved me way too many times to count. All pier numbers start at the Ferry Building. If you go to the right, the pier numbers are even; if you go to the left, they’re odd.
THE "COOL" WHARF
Fisherman’s Wharf is San Francisco’s Number One tourist destination, drawing nearly 12 million people a year to its gorgeous bay views and piers ruled by restaurants, souvenir shops, street entertainers and ornery sea lions. Of course, the flipside of these same attractions are the things that make San Franciscans love to hate the Wharf: tacky trinkets, bad food and cheesy “museums.” Although we may try to steer you away, we will eventually let you in on a couple of standouts to make the most of your excursion. The highlight of any trip to the wharf is a visit to Alcatraz: Unlike the wax museums and candy factory tours, this experience is worth the price of admission, not to mention carving a couple hours out of your day. If you go, be sure to book a reservation far in advance and definitely sign up for the ultraspooky night tour, when you’ll get a true feel for prison life on the cold, dark rock.
Musee Mecanique on Pier 45 is one of the world’s largest collections of vintage coin-operated arcade machines from turn-of-the-century fortune tellers to Pole Position (see related item). Or, if you’ve had your fill of that Disney-esque feeling, head to Pier 23 Café to hang with the locals at a low-key waterfront bar featuring live music, a patio overlooking the bay, no-frills seafood and a conspicuous absence of “I Love S.F.” sweatshirts, silver guys and plastic cablecar figurines.
City Lights Books: Co-founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti; publishers of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl; ground zero for the Beat movement. Lose yourself for a whole afternoon in the maze of sometimes dusty, often overcrowded shelves. The layout begins to make sense after about three hours, and then you discover there’s another floor! But the collection of books is amazing‹hard-to-find books; obscure art books; leftist pamphlets; even bestsellers. If you’re a reader, you already know all this. Midway up Columbus, in North Beach.
While you’re out and about, keep your eyes peeled, and you may catch a glimpse of a large flock of wild parrots roaming the city—stairway gardens in Russian and Telegraph Hill are good places to look for these beautiful birds. The flock was made famous in the documentary “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill”—check out documentarian (and feeder) Mark Bittner’s site at www.markbittner.net/parrot_pages/wildparrots.html for more information including recent sightings, or www.wildparrotsfilm.com for more on the documentary, which is now playing at Theatre 39 @ Pier 39. —Sarah Benzuly
Of all the movies that showcase San Francisco, my favorite has to be Vertigo, which in addition to being one of the greatest psychological thrillers ever made, celebrates the city’s steep hills and expansive views in all of their Technicolor glory. The San Francisco Film Night In the Park series wraps up this season on Saturday the 4th with a free screening of Hitchcock’s classic in Union Square. Showtime is at dusk. For directions and information, visit www.sfntf.org.
TOUR THE BRIDGE LIKE A LOCAL
When San Franciscans take our out-of-town visitors to see the Golden Gate Bridge, we like to impress them with our “secret” vista spot, taking in sweeping panoramic views of the bridge, the city and the Pacific ocean from high up on the windswept ridges across the bay. Here’s how to get there: As you’re driving across the bridge and approaching the north side, cruise right past all the tourists queuing up for the Vista Point and instead head to the next exit, Sausalito/Alexander Avenue. As you come off the bridge, take an immediate left (toward Marin Headlands) and head back under the highway and right up the hill on the other side. As you ascend above the bridge towers, pull over and grab your camera. A short but windy walk out on the cliff will reward you an unforgettable view of our famous landmark and some spectacular scenery.
EXPLORING THE EXPLORATORIUM
The site of the absolutely coolest AES party ever from some years ago, The Exploratorium is a fun, hands-on museum of science, art and human perception founded in 1969 by noted physicist Dr. Frank Oppenheimer. One highlight is the Tactile Dome attraction (reservations required)—we won't spoil the fun by telling you exactly what it is, but it's certainly memorable. As a bonus, it's located at the Palace of Fine Arts (a huge, faux Roman temple designed by architect Bernard Maybeck for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition), so check out the grounds while you're there. 3601 Lyon St.
SANTA CRUZ DAY TRIP
Seventy-five miles south of San Francisco, Santa Cruz has just about everything to love about California: spectacular beaches, mountain redwoods, less-touristed wineries, charming shops, relaxed high-end dining, family fun, and almost as many book and record stores per capita as you’d find in Berkeley—all at college-town prices. If you’re traveling with the kids, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk makes for a perfect day; it is, as the name suggests, a trip to the beach and a theme park all in one. Just north of the Boardwalk is the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, where the contemporary Riva Fish House is a standout among the old-fashioned seafood eateries and giftshops. But for beautiful, unspoiled scenery, visit Westcliff Beach and/or Natural Bridges State Park. The Pacific Garden Mall is the main shopping drag; University students bus downtown to cruise the trendy shops and cafes. Foodwise, consider waiting in line for a big breakfast at Zachary’s cafe; there’s a reason for the crowd. In general, the thing to remember is Santa Cruz is full of delusional hippies, punks, students, street musicians and artists enjoying the good life: Make yourself at home
SIGHTSEE LIKE YOU MEAN IT
Feeling like indulging your inner tourist? Let’s just say that a city that hosts 15 million visitors a year can hook you up. You can tour San Francisco by motorcoach, but why go the ordinary route? Try tandem bike, “scootcar”, amphibious “duck” tour, helicopter or even a Segway tour. Rent a convertible, Mini or a bug by the hour. Charter a yacht. Tour film locations in a “movie bus,” complete with screen. But if you want to look—and feel—like a local, the best way to see the city is on foot. Need some direction? Download a cool MP3 city guide from www.sanfrancisco.com/audiosteps or www.cdbaby.com/cd/waypoint4. And don’t wear a fannypack…
UNDER THE BRIDGE
For an unusual vantage point of the Golden Gate Bridge, check out Fort Point, a beautiful old brick fortress that’s also famous as the site where Kim Novak jumped into the icy bay waters in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.” If it’s foggy, grab a coffee and a hot snack at the nearby Warming Hut and brave the wind—it’s one of the few spots in the city where you just may have the view to yourself.
WE'RE WALKING, WE'RE WALKING
You’ll find that the locals here love to tell you how great this city is. San Francisco nonprofit CityGuides takes civic pride to the extreme, with a group of 200 highly trained volunteers who lead free walking tours all over town. On any given day, there are dozens of walks, ranging from treks over the Golden Gate Bridge to a “Bawdy and Naughty” tour of the old Barbary Coast dives. Just pick a tour you like, show up at the appointed time and look for the person with the badge. (Check out the October Schedule here.) And we know they’re free, but do throw a donation their way; these guides rock.
GET INTO HISTORY
Check out the sole fire hydrant that worked during the 1906 earthquake; it's painted gold to mark its significance. At the corner of Church Street and 20th.
Close to Moscone
HOW'S MY FOOTBALL TEAM DOING?
Fourth Streeet Bar & Deli: East Coasters, don’t forget that your football games start at 10 a.m. out here on the Left Coast. Right near the Convention Center, at the corner of Fourth and Mission, are more than 20 TVs, showing all the games. Gret beer selection, though you may want to start with a Bloody Mary. If you stay for the 1 o’clock game and skip the last afternoon of the show, try the cheeseburger and fries. Tom had it many nights on his dinner breaks from the San Francisco Chronicle, catching a piece of some Indiana basketball on the big screen.
We’re all sound snobs; that’s why we’re here at the AES show, right? Well, those searching for truly wacky ways to indulge that inner audio geek should check out the Audium and Wave Organ. Founded in the late-‘50s by some foreward-thinking composers and designers, the Audium (www.audium.org, Fridays and Saturdays, $15) is a theater dedicated to “the exploration of space in music,” via some VERY retro synth recordings—manipulated live via a custom console—and 169 speakers. (Talk about early surround.) Enter the space-age looking room, allow your eyes to adjust to the gradual darkness, and let the sounds wash over—and around—you.
If you’re looking for something a little more organic, check out The Wave Organ, an acoustic sculpture built into a jetty in the San Francisco Bay. The sculpture features 25 concrete and PVC “organ pipes,” with building materials salvaged from a demolished cemetery. Go near high tide for the best performance. In the Marina district; www.exploratorium.edu/visit/wave_organ.html.
PLAYING STEVE MCQUEEN IN YOUR RENTAL CAR
Okay, so you’re probably not tearing around town in a ‘68 Mustang GT 390 Fastback, but you can still have a little stomach-dropping fun in your Hertz special on the slopes of Russian Hill. Head to the neighborhood outlined by Hyde, Pacific, Taylor and Bay streets for the biggest brake burners—particularly Taylor Street between Broadway and Green, and Leavenworth Street between Union and Broadway. And of course, everyone has to drive the famously curvy Lombard Street once. But my all-time favorite drop is two blocks south: The stretch of Filbert between Hyde and Leavenworth, with a 31.5 percent grade, is the steepest slope in the city. Bonus points for taking air…
THE ANTIDOTE TO THE MUSIC CHAIN STORE
Looking for the 7-inch single of Fiery Furnaces’ “Crystal Clear”? Itchin’ to hear that Foo Fighters UK import with their “Darling Nikki” cover? Can’t find Square Pusher on vinyl? Or maybe you just have to have every Venturescollection of surf hit covers? Try Haight Street’s Amoeba Music, home of one of the country’s largest selections of new releases, imports, reissues and out-of print albums. Hailed by Rolling Stone as the “World’s Best Record Store,” this indie gem stocks more than 200,000 new and used CDs, plus100,000 vinyl LPs, 45s and 78s. Also packed in the store’s collossal 24,000-square foot space are thousands of new and used DVD and Laserdisc titles, plus a healthy collection of cassettes and rare posters. Chances are, if you’re looking for it, they’ve got it. Now, if you could only expense that shopping spree.…www.amoeba.com.
FERRY BUILDING MARKETPLACE
You could spend half-a-day perusing through the newly redesigned Ferry Plaza and gorging yourself on anything from a crisp glass of chardonnay, goat cheese, FRESH oysters, a tea break or the farmer’s market, where you can buy anything from garbanzo beans in the shells, four-pound heirloom tomatoes for $7.99 a pound, lavender-infused rock salt to everything pleasing the gourmet guru! (Thursday: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Saturday: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Sunday: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.); www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com.
WHOLESALE FLOWER MART
Peruse various flowers…pick some up for the booth. Those who watched your shift may be more forgiving that you “ducked out” a little longer than expected if you come back with a beautiful bouquet! And what better way to make your booth “blossom.” Open to the public after 10 a.m. www.sfflmart.com.
A LONG, STRANGE (ROAD) TRIP
If you’ve wandered around San Francisco, no doubt you’ve seen those “49 Mile Scenic Drive” signs posted here and there about town. If you want to check out the city but are just not the tourbus type, take a self-guided journey in the comfort of your own car: Following these signs will take you on a, well, 49-mile scenic loop through our greatest hits, including Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, Chinatown, Golden Gate Park and of course, the beautiful Pacific. You can even start your loop at the sign right outside Moscone. For a map and more, click here.
EAST BAY BARGAIN HUNTING
Held on the grounds at the Ashby BART Station in Berkeley, the small but eclectic Berkeley flea market is a real throwback to the 1960s, and is just the place to pick up some love beads, a dashiki, tie-dye shirts, incense sticks, revolutionary books, antiques, folk art, body oils, books, music, clothing, international foods—you name it. It's easily assessible by the BART subway. Saturday and Sunday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Free admission.
Also easily accessible by BART (it's two blocks from the Lake Merritt Station—exit and head toward the freeway), the Oakland/Norcal Swap Meet is a medium to large-sized flea market with tons of junque, household items, collectibles, music, etc. Many booths seem to be run by people who clean out attics and garages during the week and have no idea what they're selling. It's Sundays, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Oakland's Laney College parking lot at Sixth and Fallon streets. Admission $1.