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Stories from our Travelers

Weekend in San Francisco, City of Dreamers

On the rooftop at SFMOMA

Outside Farmer Brown

Walkway at the Contemporary Jewish Museum
by Carolyn Clark Beedle

[From Holiday 2009] San Francisco, urban chameleon, city of artists, musicians, writers and wanderers, chefs, scientists, diners and dreamers, has a long and colorful past and a kaleidoscopic present. Forty-nine square miles, a metropolis filled with complex lives, sensational stories and beautiful vistas you’ll stumble across amidst inescapable crisp sea breezes.

Upon approach to San Francisco International Airport, fog is inevitable, the flight delay expected. Fortunate visitors can always find a ride, and friends to meet, maybe old haunts to return to and certainly new adventures to relish. If you’re lucky enough to be a San Francisco weekender, you will be challenged by choices. Rest up before you go, pack sweaters, scarves and comfortable shoes. Do a little research about activities you enjoy in order to plan your best date; for example in October, Fleet Week brings the Navy’s Blue Angels to town, and the sky is filled with precision flight, the loud sounds of fighter jets and other aerial magic.

Climbing countless steps to visit eclectic homes in neighborhoods high on hills above Noe Valley, Portero and the Castro provides astonishing views across a most picturesque city. Even if you don’t know someone who lives there, you can still walk the neighborhoods for exercise and revel in the visual delight. Streets are lined with historic Victorians, buildings of contemporary steel and glass, Art Deco and rustic wooden shingles, but green scrub pines, explosive bougainvilleas, cypress trees, hydrangea and rogue calla lilies dot the cityscape and bring the natural into each block.

We stayed recently for a weekend in the Mission District, a cultural whirlpool. The area has been inhabited by early Hispanic settlers, 19th century Irish immigrants, Latinos from Mexico, Central and South America, industrial workers, urban adventurers, artists, celebrity chefs and warlocks. Signage and conversations in Spanish float above tattooed coffee drinkers, while cyclists, the homeless and day laborers jockey for sidewalk space. The popular restaurant scene has countless nationally recognized stars like The Slanted Door, Blowfish Sushi, Tartine Bakery, Zuni Cafe and Delfina, interspersed with taquerias and delicious cafes and coffee joints; it seems as though there is a restaurant for every 10 people. We had dinner at Foreign Cinema, where three or four independent and foreign films screen nightly on the “industrial chic”-covered outdoor courtyard wall while patrons thrill at the daily sumptuous Mediterranean-inspired menu and cocktails from bar Laszlo. Do make reservations if you go, it’s often completely booked.

A densely built and pedestrian city, parking in San Francisco is difficult and pricey, so your best bets are public transportation, extremely accessible, and those comfortable shoes. On Saturday morning, find the giant indoor/outdoor Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market at the end of Market Street. Vendors from a 100-mile radius offer the organic, the artisanal, the unusual and the fabulous…fresh pomegranate juices, yogurts, honeys and cheeses, fruits and vegetables, flowers, candies, coffee, baked aphrodisiacs, fish and meat and on and on and on. There also are a variety of “cook to order” stands, so plan on brunch while you wander.

San Francisco Open Studios happens on four autumn weekends across the city. Artists in selected neighborhoods afford the opportunity to see the insides of their working spaces: warehouses, garages, former retail, houses, flats and reinvented commercial…meet them, talk about their work and buy direct. It is nearly impossible to walk away empty handed and we did not, impressed as we were mightily with the work of a young painter, Paul Ferney, whose oils emoted the look and smell of the northern California landscape (through early 2010 at Studio Gallery SF).

For a relatively small area, the weekly variety of music and theatre speaks to the cosmopolitan and international appeal of this legendary “city by the bay.” Classical, new wave, world, experimental, avant-garde and popular, there is something for every taste. We chose a favorite music venue Saturday night, the Greek Theatre on the UC Berkeley campus, for a Bob Dylan concert. After the drive across that stalwart Bay Bridge under repair, we wrapped in scarves and blankets to combat the evening chill, seated in the outdoor stone amphitheatre designed by John Galen Howard, UC Berkeley master planner, and financed by William Randolph Hearst. We packed farmer’s market dining treats, but there are gourmet food and beverage stands to stave off hunger or thirst. Gone was the folk singing poet and his acoustic guitar; Bob Dylan and his current band belted old and new tunes, in a slamming blues tempo well suited to the aging rocker who can still work a crowd.

Continuing the musical theme, Sunday we found a new source that combines a trio of San Francisco concerns. Think ethnic and organic and local music and food. Farmer Brown supports local and African-American farmers and celebrates Southern recipes, using organic and/or sustainably raised foods whenever possible. The All-U-Can-Eat Brunch every Saturday and Sunday for only $15, serves up eggs, bacon, fresh biscuits, buttermilk pancakes, fried chicken, and so much more, serenaded by live music from local bands. With "the best bloody Marys in the city," this club fills all the senses.

Walking off the feast, we headed down to the Yerba Buena Museum District. South of Market near the Yerba Buena Gardens are museums, provocative new contemporary architecture and “in fill” promenades. Indoor and outdoor public spaces go on for city blocks, encouraging use of mental and physical energy. At the SF Museum of Modern Art, the Richard Avedon retrospective running through the end of November 2009 is a crowd pleaser. The popular new SFMOMA rooftop garden has a mini-Manhattan feel and offers a reflective respite from the bustle below. Walk through the Yerba Buena Gardens, past the Martin Luther King Waterfall to a promenade leading to the Contemporary Jewish Museum (Daniel Libeskind design) and the Museum of Craft and Folk Art (what fills your eyes will spur your thoughts).

The day disappears and the trip home arrives. There is so much to see and do in San Francisco; you’ll want to plan another weekend visit soon. You may depart with tired muscles and tired senses but will be energized by a brilliant experience.

Dining and the Arts:
Farmer Brown
25 Mason St (at Market), Tel. 415.409-FARM
Foreign Cinema
2534 Mission St, Tel. 415.648.7600
Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market
One Ferry Building (Embarcadero and Market), Tel.415.983.8000
Paul Ferney at Studio Gallery SF
1815 Polk St, Tel. 415.931.3130
151 Third St(btwn Mission and Howard), Tel.415.357.4000
Contemporary Jewish Museum
736 Mission St (btwn 3rd & 4th), Tel.415.655.7800
Museum of Craft and Folk Art
51 Yerba Buena Lane (at Mission btwn 3rd & 4th), Tel. 415.227.4888

Photographs by Bryant Rice.

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