The City: Fort Point – Crissy Field

city_ggb_jimrobertson The area that surrounds the Golden Gate Bridge is just as much a tourist attraction as the bridge itself. While many visitors go TO the Golden Gate Bridge and walk around for the standard tourist “visit,” the best attractions for the Golden Gate are from Fort Point to Crissy Field marsh and beach. Visiting these points of interest will still offer stunning views of the majestic bridge, but from different view points.

Just beneath the Golden Gate’s main visitor center is a national historical landmark — Fort Point, a military fort built during the U.S. Civil War. The fort is now a museum with guided tours offered by the National Park Service. If you’re not up for a tour, the views are still amazing from outside.

Leaving Fort Point and heading inland toward downtown San Francisco is Torpedo Wharf (or crissyfield-frpointpier Fort Point Pier to locals) , which juts out from the San Francisco Bay Trail. Whether fishing or getting a close view of a passing cargo ship, many seem to take the view of the Golden Gate for granted.

The large open field is Crissy Field – now a restored marsh and beach. Prior to it’s restoration, it was an airfield and served as the premier West Coast air base during aviation’s golden era. Native Ohlone tribes were the first to settle in the area and used the marsh area seasonally. The road and bike paths offer the City’s best recreational area – views, open space, easy access and plenty of supporting businesses (See Resources and Info below). The area is not just for tourists, but an open public park area for locals as well.

If you plan on coming to look at the sights, plan ahead. No other area in the San Francisco Bay Area offers the views and open space as Crissy Field to Fort point. All the best of views of San Francisco’s iconic landmark are free while enjoying any number of outdoor activities. And dress appropriately, locals know to dress in layers, as the Gate can often be windy.

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Resources and Info

Bite Suggestions

  • The Warming Hut – Coffee, tea, sandwiches without missing the view
  • Starbucks – Inside the Lombard Street Gate entrance in the Letterman Arts Digital building
  • Chestnut Street businesses: Shops and Restaurants | Map

 

The City: Lyon Street

At the eastern edge of Presidio National Park runs Lyon Street. It’s where the National Park ends and the City begins.  As most of the traffic to and from the Golden Gate Bridge whizzes past the City’s Marina district on a very busy Lombard street, Lyon Street, in contrast, provides a quiet refuge and link for history to Billionaires row.

city_palace of fine artsA general starting point for most is the Palace of Fine Arts, a remnant of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition world’s fair and San Francisco landmark. The Art Nouveau architecture, a pond and resident swans always provide a picturesque backdrop for every visitor. A walk around the grounds is relaxing, and if you catch a visit at the right time of day – you’ll be treated to golden sunsets off the buildings. From here, a walk across the street brings you to Lyon Street.

Along Lyon Street is the Presidio Gate entrance. A quick detour inside the Presidio brings you to most of the former military base’s history – The Officer’s Club (currently the Presidio Social Club restaurant), the Main Post and parade grounds, and Letterman Armcity_yoda_letterman_digitalcentery Hospital (currently the Letterman Digital and New Media Arts Center housing Lucas Arts). Surrounding the Letterman Center is a beautiful landscaped open park with rolling lawns and a creek. It doesn’t offer the open views of the Golden Gate Bridge like Crissy Field, but the atmosphere and winding paths are quite relaxing. Tucked and hidden within the Letterman Center is a life-sized statue of Star War’s Yoda. While tempting to stay in the area for the City’s main sights, Lyon street offers more following San Francisco’s hills.

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Outside of the Presidio Gate, Lyon Street continues up the hill into Pacific Heights. The street ends for cars at Green Street and becomes a pedestrian stairway to Broadway. At the top lies ‘Billionaire’s Row’, named for the large mansions and the extreme wealthy. The area has also been the backdrop of more than a few movies set in San Francisco, which makes the area easily recognizable. From the public stairs are great views to across the San Francisco Bay to Marin, Angel Island, Alcatraz, and of course, the Golden Gate Bridge. Be warned that evenings and weekends brings the tour buses, and lots of traffic – so best visits are during non-peak times.

lyonstep heartThe best part of enjoying this slice of San Francisco are not only the views, but also its proximity to shops and restaurants close by. If you’re going to take in the ambiance of Lyon Street, be sure to bring a friend. Not only will you enjoy views, but have plenty to share when exploring the City’s history.

 

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The City: Portola Neighborhood

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Portola is a working class neighborhood bracketed by freeways. It’s a local’s only neighborhood, unless you are visiting an industrial area on the other side of the freeway. Located adjacent to 280 and 101, it’s accessed most easily off of Silver Avenue. The Excelsior and Visitation Valley neighborhoods are on either side, and the back of Portola is McLaren Park.

The neighborhood is served by the San Bruno Avenue business district. Here, the shops, restaurants and public transportation routes intersect. Lunch time is often busy just as it is during regular commute hours. Menu options for those the neighborhood are ethnic Mexican, Chinese, South Asian foods and boba tea. Shopping for ethnic groceries is easy to do.

On the other side of the freeway 101 is the industrial side with many building supply warehouses from granite counter tops, kitchen cabinets and lumber yards. Most of the time, that’s where the locals head to, but if the time is near lunch or dinner, you may find some good options for ethnic food.

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Daytrip: Pillar Point Harbor

CA1Sometimes you just want to go to a place that has parking, activities and food all in one place. Pillar Point Harbor, just outside of Half Moon Bay off Highway 1 offers just that – and views. The harbor is a working harbor, meaning that it’s not a harbor for expensive yachts. It’s a home to commercial fisherman, sport and recreational boating, search and rescue operations and the U.S. Coast Guard. A drive down Highway 1 from The City allows a leisurely drive through several coastal towns along the way.

The harbor is busy on the weekends, especially during good weather, or during the Marvericks surfing event (held in the winter months). The area offers exploration or hanging out on the beaches, eating fresh local seafood and buying fresh seafood catches off fisherman’s boats. Buying fresh seafood is truly ‘catch of the day’, as what you see depends on what the fisherman caught that day. Fresh fish in the area may include crab, salmon, perch, lingcod and rockfish. Commercial fisherman also freeze fresh catches at sea and will sell frozen Alaskan seafood as well.

The harbor provides access to easily accessible beaches, while close by coastal towns of Pacifica or Half Moon Bay also offer shopping and additional dining options. But plan ahead… if you purchased fresh seafood, you’ll want to head home to keep the catch fresh.

Sometimes the best weekend escapes from the Bay Area may be made by not leaving at all.

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  • Half Moon Bay – coastal beach town with annual pumpkin festivals and local antique shops
  • Pacifica – coastal beach town 15 minutes south of The City

 

The City: The Randell Museum

The Randall Museum is a great family museum that offers hands-on experiences for arts and science. Located in the center of the City in Corona Heights Park, it’s easily accessible by public transportation or a walk from local neighborhoods. As of Jan 2016, it’s now closed and undergoing a major renovation and will re-open sometime in late 2016.

For those of us that grew up in San Francisco, a trip to the museum meant two things – space to run around in the adjacent park and viewing the large model train layout. sf_randallrailroadIt was a popular spot for kid birthday parties and visiting for craft and science experiment classes.  Over the years, the museum has offered more to visitors including community events,  science, nature and craft exhibits, summer camps, and a variety of classes for all ages.

Founded in 1937 as “The Junior Museum,” the museum was spearheaded by Josephine Randall, who earned a master’s degree in zoology from Stanford University in 1910. She became the first Superintendent of the Recreation Department for the City of San Francisco in 1926 and held the position for the next 25 years. Her contributions and vision have given the City the rich, community-oriented museum experiences we enjoy today.

With the Randall Museum closed for renovation, patrons are looking forward to all the new improvements – including a new science lab, new natural sciences space for animals, a new community conference room, updated arts and crafts space and a cafe. If you still want to enjoy the museum programs and experiences, the museum has set up shop at a temporary location at the Mission Art Center not far away.

When it returns to the original building – there’s sure to be a renewed interest . I can’t wait for new discoveries and new experiences.

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The City: West Portal

A small City neighborhood with easy transportation access, restaurants and shops is West Portal, named after the public transportation tunnel that opened in 1918. Located in the southwest corner of the City, West Portal is nestled between Parkside, Forrest Hill and affluent St. Francis Woods neighborhoods. West Portal is a hub of activity daily. You’ll often see a rich mixture of locals, from school kids to working adults.

The business district has much to see and do with a public library next to the tunnel, a playground above, local shops and a variety of eateries. Menu options for those that are hungry include American, Peruvian, Mediterranean, Italian, Mexican, Japanese and Chinese. There’s also ice cream, dessert beverage shops, a pub, and a bakery, along with Peete’s and Starbuck’s coffee shops. If you’re not serving your hunger pangs, local shops includes a toy store, a music store, antique and clothing shops, a bookstore, hardware store, a produce market and The Empire movie theater.

The popularity of this neighborhood not only lies in all the shops, restaurants, and activities available – but it’s ease of access. From anywhere in the City, you can hop on public transportation and be here in about thirty minutes. Of course it works the other way as well – as getting to downtown takes about 20-30 minutes from the West Portal station.

Whether a rainy day or a lazy weekend afternoon, you usually can’t go wrong with a visit.

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The City: Grand View Park

Grand View Park is south of Golden Gate Park in the Sunset District and offers commanding views out toward the Pacific, north beyond the Golden Gate and east to East Bay. It’s a small park surrounded by residential housing and sometimes called Turtle Hill by locals.

The hill sits at an elevation of 666 feet (203 meters) and preserves an area for some of San Francisco’s last native and endangered plants and insects. While most wouldn’t consider the area a harsh environment, the sand and rock outcropping receives very little rainfall for up to six months, and good dose of wind. Even so, the park receives many visitors seeking a different and local’s look at the City.

While the best time to go is on a clear day, its most ideal early in the morning as the sun rises over downtown or late afternoons to watch the sunset. If there is no marine layer (fog), on the horizon, you can easily see the Farallon Islands about 26 miles due west. Most of the City’s landmarks can be seen, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Downtown San Francisco, De Young Museum, University of San Francisco and Angel Island.

Olympic and World figure skating champion Dorothy Hamill once lived in the area on 14th Avenue after she retired.

Post visit, you can also the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps.

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The City: Lands End

Where San Francisco meets the edge of the Pacific is an area that offers scenic walks, places to eat and historic sites to see. It’s an understated area of natural beauty and surrounded by a residential area. It doesn’t scream tourist destination which makes it great for casual visits. A popular starting point is the Cliff House, at the north end of Ocean Beach. It’s now a bistro and provides an overlook of Seal Rockscity_cliffhouse with sea lions lounging and the ruins of Sutro Baths, which burned down in 1966. The Cliff House itself has had a long history of many incarnations and was completely renovated as recently as 2013. In addition to a bistro, restaurant, and gift shop is the historic Camera Obscura, which projects an image around the location onto a horizontal viewing table via a reflected image from a viewpoint at the top of the building.

Above the Cliff House is Sutro Heights Park. The Park is the former estate of Adolf Sutro (1830 – 1898), a self-made wealthy businessman and 24th mayor of San Francisco. The park provides wide park paths, open areas and hints of a former extravagant gardens. There is a gazebo in the center of the park surrounded by grass fields, a scenic lookout and a few aging statues.

Next to the Cliff House is Lands End Park which offers access to the Sutro Bath ruins, and coastal trails with views of the Marin Headlands and views of the Golden Gate Bridge. For decades, the parking lot was just a dirt lot. In 2010, the entire city_sutrobathsarea was updated by the National Park Service, and added a Visitor Center. At the Point Lobos parking lot are the trail heads for the Coast Trail and a memorial to the USS San FranciscoOff the coastal trail is a labyrinth at Eagle’s Point, constructed by local artist Eduardo Aguilera. With all the scenic views off the Lands End cliffs, don’t forget, there’s a beach, too. If you want to get your feet wet, it’s safest to do it at the beach. There are numerous caution signs about climbing the cliffs, and people who ignore the signs are often in need of rescue.

Not in the immediate vicinity but minutes away is Lincoln Park and the world-class Palace of the Legion of Honor museum. A full day’s trip might start there and require some extra planning. And to the south is Golden Gate Park and the Dutch Windmill and Garden. It’s easy to make a casual trip out to this area, only to find you’re already making plans for a return trip because there is so much to see!

The area is easily accessible by car and public transportation. Visitors who arrive in the summer, expect to see blue skies and beautiful sunsets. Most are often disappointed as it’s also the time when San Francisco’s fog is heaviest. The clearest weather starts in October and lasts through April.  If you are an early riser, and the weather is clear all the way to the beach, a morning breakfast/brunch in the area makes a nice weekend start. Unfortunately, it’s popularity makes it crowded on weekend afternoons, unless it’s windy and cold — then you can enjoy the views and environment almost to yourself, with coffee or hot chocolate in hand.

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Resources and Info

  • National Park Service Info: Lands End Map | Lands End Brochure
  • Cliff House – Restaurant, Gift Shop, Views.
    • Gift Shop Hours: Every Day    10:00 am — 6:00 pm
  • Seal Rocks – Rock formation yards off the coast with rich marine mammal life (seals and sea birds)
  • Camera Obscura – A historic landmark below the Cliff House. One of the last cameras of its kind in operation.
  • Sutro Heights Park – Public park from former estate and mayor Adolph Sutro. Scenic overlook of area (on a clear day).
  • USS San Francisco Memorial – Memorial to the US Navy warship named for the City.

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Bites:

  • Bistro’s Cliff House – Formal dining with service and views. Great if you are there on a nice evening.
  • Seal Rock Inn – No frills, short order menu. It’s been there for years, and best for breakfast and lunch.
  • Louis’ Restaurant – Like Seal Rock Inn, a family owned no frills short order menu, best for breakfast and lunch, but with better views. During the recent NPS renovations, a grass-roots campaigned saved it from removal.
  • Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant – Down the hill from the Cliff House and on Ocean Beach at the edge of Golden Gate Park. Crowded on weekends and clear sunset evenings. Good food, service and brew.

The City: Coit Tower

Coit Tower sits atop Telegraph Hill, watching over the ports of San Francisco with a regal presence. It serves as a directional marker for people lost in the mazes of the City’s streets. It offers a rich history and a visit not only provides a commanding 360 view of San Francisco, it offers a link to history and culture of the City.

There’s often heavy traffic on weekends and nice days in the summer months. If schedule options are limited during those times, the best way to get up to Coit Tower is to walk up the stairs from Filbert Street. The hill is one of the steepest in the City, but the coit_towersteps to make the trek a bit easier.

It costs $8 to ride the elevator to the top. After climbing a last flight of stairs to the top, 360 degree views of The City will keep you occupied for a while. Again, tourist season may mean long waits – up to an hour on busy days. The elevator takes a minute to go up and only holds 8 people, plus the elevator operator – it’s an old landmark, after all!

Picture postcard visits are often desired, but inclement weather means more time to explore the historic murals.  26 artists painted the tower’s frescoes and breathe with the hustle and bustle of city life in the 1930s. The art honors the dignity of laborers and farmers across the state. The art’s communal, industrious spirit set an uplifting example during the Great Depression.

Post visit, there are many other things to see around the North Beach area.

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Detour: Western Pacific Railroad Museum, Portola, CA

wp_ca89signMost who drive to the Lake Tahoe region enjoy great scenery, abundant recreational activities or just hanging out. If you have a bit of extra time, and have an exploration bug, you might want to take a drive north of Truckee and visit the Western Pacific Railroad Museum. Located about an hours drive north of Lake Tahoe, the drive out to Portola winds through alpine forests, farmland and sierra plateaus. If you drive during the summer, the drive can be stunning on a nice day. You’ll pass through many small towns and farms.

The Western Pacific Railroad Museum is home to North America’s largest and most complete collection dedicated to telling the story of one railroad. It’s also a museum where you get to operate the train. The museum is a working rail yard and has many examples of locomotives, passenger cars, freight cars, cabooses and maintenance vehicles.

Show your kids that not all trains sets come in a box.The museum is in the Sierras and open May through October, although there are no train rides on weekends after September. So planning ahead is advised.


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