A September 2003 trip
to San Francisco by ssullivan
Quote: Ah, San Francisco. One of my favorite destinations for the unique scenery, great restaurants, vibrant gay life, and yes, those darn hills. Ever since my first visit in December 1999 I have to get back to the Bay Area for a visit; most recently over Labor Day Weekend 2003.
I'm personally not a big fan of Fisherman's Warf and Pier 39; my feeling on both of these is that you should go there once to say you've been and then avoid most of the area on future visits. The area is just an over-priced tourist trap that doesn't offer much more than any other touristy waterfront in any other city. At least most of the businesses at Pier 39 are not national chains, so I prefer it to the more corporate Fisherman's Warf. The sea lions at Pier 39 are worth a visit though, and if you take a ferry to Alcatraz or some of the other trans-bay destinations, you may find yourself here anyway. But during the high tourist season, I try to avoid the area as much as possible.
Other areas of the city I particularly enjoy are Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach, North Beach, Nob Hill, the Castro, Lombard St., and Alamo Square.
SF Muni operates buses, historic street cars, light rail, and the famous cable cars within San Francisco. Muni passports good for unlimited travel on all Muni vehicles are the best value, with prices ranging from for a one-day pass to for a seven-day pass.
The BART system (high-speed rail transit) has a station at San Francisco International Airport. Shuttle buses also connect BART to the Oakland airport. BART is the best way to get into the city from the airports or to cross the bay to the Oakland and Berkeley areas.
Other transit agencies, such as Golden Gate and SamTrans, operate buses to suburban areas.
San Francisco is also a very walkable city, but be prepared to climb a lot of hills! For more information on using public transportation, see my free form entries in this journal on the subject.
Hotel | "Marriott Courtyard San Francisco Downtown"
The Marriott Courtyard San Francisco Downtown is one of the newest large hotels in the downtown area, and one of the more reasonably priced. Located just three blocks south of Market Street in the SOMA (South of Market) neighborhood, the hotel is very convenient to public transportation (the Montgomery BART/Muni station is just a few blocks away on Market St. and the hotel is on the 10, 12, 15, and 76 Muni bus lines), the baseball stadium, Chinatown, Union Square, and downtown. The area around the hotel is a mixture of high-rise condos, restaurants, bars, and mid-rise office buildings. SOMA used to have a reputation for being an unsafe neighborhood; however, redevelopment in the last decade has changed much of that, especially in the area near the hotel. We never felt unsafe walking between the hotel and Market Street at night.
Compared to other major hotels in the area, we found rates at the Courtyard to be more reasonably priced, with our two double-beds room going for around $99 per night during the holiday weekend with a AAA discount. Unlike the usual suburban Courtyard locations, this hotel is built in a new, 18-floor high-rise. The entire property seems more upscale than most Courtyard locations I've stayed in, and the large, two-story lobby with a huge fireplace creates an almost luxurious atmosphere for arriving guests. The rooms are not huge but are more spacious than others I've stayed at in San Francisco, and are nicely decorated. Unlike some older properties, rooms at the Courtyard are air conditioned, which can come in handy on warm days in the summer.
My only complaint about the room was the flimsy foam mattress that Marriott seems to think is appropriate for hotels in this price range; however, the beds may have been replaced by now. After my stay, Marriott e-mailed me a survey, and my only negative comments were on the beds. A few weeks later, an e-mail from the hotel's manager apologized for the lousy beds and commented that they had gotten many complaints about them and that new spring mattresses were being ordered to replace the foam ones.
While we did not eat any meals at the hotel, several on site restaurants are available with room service. There is also a cocktail lounge open in the evenings, and a full array of services and amenities for business travelers.
I highly recommend this property for its convenience and wide array of amenities at a pretty reasonable price for downtown San Francisco. For more information, see the hotel's website.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 11, 2004
Courtyard by Marriott San Francisco Downtown
299 2ND STREET
San Francisco, California 94105
Harvey's will always hold a special place in my heart.
In December 1999, when I made my first trip to San Francisco with two friends, I had only been out for a few months and had never in my life been to a gay bar before. So, on my second night in San Francisco, the three of us hit the Castro. The first bar we stopped in (of many that night) was Harvey's, a nice looking bar with large windows situated on the corner of Castro and another street. For the next two or three hours, we drank, snacked on curly fries, and participated in the bar's trivia game (our team, the "Houston Hustlers", barely missed coming in third and winning a prize). It was great fun, and, since then, every trip I make to San Francisco, I make a point of visiting Harvey's for a couple of drinks and to reminisce about my first trip there.
Harvey's is a quaint little neighborhood place. It doesn't draw the huge crowds, but provides a nice, welcoming atmosphere for a mostly gay male clientele to chat with friends or a date over drinks. There is a decent selection of beers and a menu of specialty drinks. Harvey's also serves a limited menu of burgers, sandwiches, and other pub food, which is nothing special but generally good. Music and videos are shown most of the time, but there are special events, such as trivia, on various nights of the week. Most customers in the bar on my four visits there have been with a date or friends, but there are usually a few single guys hanging out at the bar. The large picture windows on both sides of the bar, along with its strategic corner location, make for great people watching; the tables by the windows along Castro St. offer great glimpses into the thriving gay and lesbian community here. Overall, this little bar in "The Heart of the Castro" (as Harvey's proclaims on its menus) is a fun place and worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood.
Muni Public Transportation Routes:
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 15, 2004
500 Castro St
San Francisco, California 94114
This famous little gift shop on 18th Street, just a few blocks east of Castro, gets quite a bit of word-of-mouth publicity from the gay and lesbian travelers to this city due to its funny name. After all, what better name could anyone come up with for a shop selling all the t-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, shot glasses, posters, postcards, and other tchotchkes that any homosexual could possibly ever want than this?
On my last visit (Labor Day weekend 2003), I drug my straight travel companion into the shop with me. He’s very open minded and I think he actually found the experience fun, especially when an employee said to us "Welcome – Does Your Mother Know?" as we entered. My friend responded, "I’m not gay but he is" and pointed at me. I responded "Yeah she does."
I always enjoy stopping in and browsing the shop’s various rainbow-emblazoned items and tacky t-shirts, some of which are so graphic I can’t imagine even the most out-there queens actually wearing them. They also have a good selection of bumper stickers and license plate frames, to help you show your pride on your ride. For postcard senders, you’re sure to find some great postcards to send to your friends back home who didn’t make the journey to San Francisco with you. And then there are the greeting cards. Ranging from the downright hilarious (imagine a rather overweight drag queen dressed as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz on the front exclaiming "I ain’t Dorothy and this ain’t Toto" on the front and inside "And yo’ sho’ as ain’t no 39 no mo’!") to the more serious same-sex anniversary, wedding, and romance cards, this shop has an incredible selection. Had I known on my last trip that the last decent gay bookstore at home in Houston would be closed within a few months, I would have stocked up. Finally, the store has a limited selection of adult novelty items (for a more comprehensive selection of this type of merchandise, several great stores are nearby).
Does Your Mother Know? is a fun shop that should be on any gay or lesbian visitor’s list of places to see. Even if you don’t buy anything, you and your friends are sure to have a lot of great laughs at some of the merchandise.
Does Your Mother Know?
4141 18th St
San Francisco, California 94114
Opened in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge is quite possibly San Francisco's most famous landmark. The massive 1.7-mile structure crosses the mouth of San Francisco Bay, connecting the city to Marin County to the north. The bridge not only provides a vital link in the area's highway system, but it also is a major tourist destination - each year thousands of people make the trip to visit the bridge and admire it's enormous art deco-styled structure.
Despite several previous trips to San Francisco, I had not actually been to the Golden Gate Bridge until my Labor Day 2003 trip. I'm surprised it took my fourth trip to the city for me to finally visit the bridge, as large suspension bridges have always fascinated me. Despite multiple trips to the Tacoma Narrows, Fred Hartman, and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridges, I had somehow never managed to make it to the Golden Gate. So, my first trip was somewhat of a pilgrimage, but it will definitely not be my last.
Getting to the bridge without a rental car takes a little time, but is not that difficult, as the Muni nos. 28 and 29 bus routes go directly to the southern end of the bridge and the visitor's center. The bridge is also reachable via Golden Gate Transit buses, which cross the bridge into Marin County.
The bridge can be driven across if you have a car, but you may also walk across the bridge on the east sidewalk. Bicyclists may also cross the bridge on the sidewalks, using the east sidewalk at night and during the day, and the west sidewalk during evening rush hours. Information on biking across the bridge is available on the Golden Gate Bridge website.
My travel companion and I chose to walk about halfway across the bridge. I actually wanted to continue the rest of the way to the northern end of the bridge and back, but his feet were sore from walking, and it was rather cold on the day we visited. Walking out onto the bridge is quite an experience, especially for those of us with a fear of heights. The bridge is approximately 220 feet above the water, and is so massive that it makes the ships passing below look like toys. Fortunately the sidewalk is wide, and, if you choose to walk close to the roadway, the vertigo I experienced looking over the guardrail to the bay below was nonexistent.
When visiting the bridge, be sure to take a jacket, even if the weather downtown is warm. On the day we visited, downtown San Francisco was sunny and mild, but the area around the bridge was shrouded in fog, with a stiff wind and air temperature of about 55° F. These weather conditions are not atypical, and tourists who were there in t-shirts and shorts were truly suffering.
For more information on the bridge's history and planning your visit to this San Francisco icon, see the Golden Gate Bridge website.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 16, 2004
Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco Bay
San Francisco, California
Perched on the summit of Telegraph Hill is the Coit Tower, a landmark constructed using a bequest to the City and County of San Francisco by Lillie Hitchcock Coit. Coit, a widow without children, specified in her will that two-thirds of her estate go to the Universities of California and Maryland, and the remaining one-third go to the City and County of San Francisco to beautify her favorite city.
After Coit's death, a design competition was held to determine the form of the memorial. The winning design was a tower to be constructed in Pioneer Park at the top of Telegraph Hill. The tower was dedicated in October 1933.
At the time that the tower's physical structure was completed, the building was largely without adornment. The original plan for the tower had included a restaurant, but, during the construction of the tower, the restaurant idea was dropped in favor of using the space at the base of the tower for exhibitions depicting San Francisco's pioneer days. Two months after the tower's dedication, a New Deal program was launched to hire artists to adorn public buildings in the area and a plan was developed to paint the interior walls of the tower with murals. By January 1934, a team of 26 artists were at work covering the interior walls of the tower with frescoes. Several months later, controversy arose over the content of some of the murals, which celebrated industrial and agricultural working men and women, and including some symbols that were considered to embrace the ideals of communism. These symbols were eventually replaced by other subjects, and the completed murals were revealed to the public in October 1934.
Today tourists flock to the tower to see the artwork inside of it, and for a $3 elevator ride to the observation deck on top of the tower. The view from the tower is stunning. Already perched on top of a hill, the tower provides a great vantage point for seeing across the bay to the East Bay cities, Marin County to the north, the Golden Gate Bridge, Pacific Ocean to the west, and the city itself surrounding the tower.
Getting to the Coit Tower is easiest by taking the no. 39 Muni bus or walking. Parking at the top of the hill is very limited. The walk up Telegraph Hill is steep and can be exhausting, but on nice days the views are incredible and worth the effort. If you do take the bus to the top of the tower, I recommend walking back down, using one of several public stairways that descend the hill from the tower. My favorite is the Filbert Steps, which descends through the trees (watch for the wild parrot flock that lives here) past houses (some reachable only by the steps), flower gardens, and Napier Lane, the last of the city's wooden plank streets, to Levi's Plaza and the Embarcadero.
More information on the tower is available on the Coit Tower website.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 18, 2004
1 Telegraph Hill Blvd
San Francisco, California 94133
Unless you are planning to travel outside the urban areas of the Bay Area, I would not recommend renting a car for your visit to San Francisco. Almost no hotel in the city offers free parking, and sometimes hotel parking is priced as much as $25 per night. Additionally, parking is in short supply in all areas of the city. Driving to almost any destination can be frustrating, as you will spend a lot of time searching for a parking place. In popular tourist areas like Fisherman's Warf, there are some parking garages, but they charge a heavy premium for the privilege of parking there. On the other hand, the city's extensive, safe, and reliable public transportation network, combined with the city's relatively small geographic size, make getting around using by using public transportation and walking a breeze. Not only will you save time and money, you'll likely see more of the city and get to interact more with the local residents, greatly enhancing the quality of your visit.
If you've read many of my journals, you'll likely have noticed that I am a fan of using public transportation whenever possible when visiting a major city. As with other journals, I have tried to include a list of the transit routes serving each destination listed in this journal. Additionally, I felt it prudent to include this free form entry to describe in detail some of the aspects of navigating the public transit system in the Bay Area. And, unlike other cities, riding public transportation in San Francisco is a major attraction itself. The city's famous cable cars are operated by the San Francisco Municipal Railway (usually referred to as the Muni). In addition to the cable cars, Muni provides modern light rail service, an extensive bus system, and a popular streetcar service utilizing a large fleet of restored historic streetcars from around the world.
Riding the Muni System
Cable cars. One of the city's most famous symbols, the San Francisco cable car system is one of a kind. The cable car was invented here, and while other cities adopted the technology, all other systems were eventually replaced by more modern systems. San Francisco held onto the cable cars, which are propelled by clamping onto a cable under the street. Today the system exists on a much smaller scale than it once did, with three routes, Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason, and California, connecting the Financial District with Union Square, Van Ness, Chinatown, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, North Beach, and Fisherman's Warf. The cable car system is popular with tourists, but it is much more than a tourist attraction. Many local residents use the cars as well on their daily commutes to work and shopping trips. This is especially evident on the California line, which connects the Financial District to the Van Ness neighborhood via Chinatown. I have been on these cars when there were far more local residents riding than tourists.
The cable cars are so popular that lines to ride can be long, especially during the peak tourist season. The longest lines tend to form around the turntables at the ends of the two Powell Street lines. While the three turntables on the system are worth a visit to watch the operators get off the car and manually turn it around to go back the opposite direction, if lines are long these are not the ideal places to board for a ride. Instead, try boarding at one of the stops along the middle of the route, or head to the ends of the California line (California at Van Ness and California at Battery). The California line is less popular with tourists because it does not have major tourist areas at each end of the route like the two Powell Street lines do. However, the larger California line cars hold more people, and still offer amazing views of the city and bay, just as the Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason lines do.
When riding the cable cars, you have the option of sitting on the benches on the outside of the car, sitting or standing inside the car, or (if you're adventurous) standing on the car's running boards. My recommendation is to try and sit on the outside benches or ride standing on the running boards; the views will be much better and you can watch the car's grip man operate the grip, the clamp that the car uses to grasp the cable beneath the street.
Historic Streetcars. The F-Market and Wharves streetcar route runs down Market Street from Castro Street to the Embarcadero, then turns north along the Embarcadero to Fisherman's Warf. This service operates with a fleet of restored historic streetcars, primarily PCC cars from a variety of American cities and Peter Witt cars from Milan, Italy. All of these cars have been meticulously restored by Muni and the Market Street Railway, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving San Francisco's historic transit systems. These cars provide a glimpse into public transit service from a time when streetcars, not buses, provided the bulk of the public transportation service in cities. While the F line is markedly slower than the underground Muni Metro service along Market Street., it is the only electric rail service to Pier 39 and Fisherman's Warf, and the cars provide a more scenic ride than the subway.
Muni Metro Light Rail. The J-Church, K-Ingleside, L-Taraval, M-Ocean View, and N-Judah light rail lines operate in a subway under Market Street through downtown and at street level in other areas. These modern light rail trains provide fast service to a variety of areas outside of downtown, including the Caltrain Depot, the baseball stadium, the Castro, Mission Dolores, Balboa Park, and Ocean Beach. Between Market and Van Ness and Market and the Embarcadero, all of these lines share the upper level of the Market St. Subway (BART trains run in the lower level), so if you are traveling at any point along Market between the Van Ness and Embarcadero stations, you may take any of these trains. All except for the N-Judah turn around at the Embarcadero station to head back west; N-Judah trains continue at street level along the Embarcadero to the Caltrain Depot. If boarding in the Market Street subway or at platforms on the Embarcadero, tickets are sold from electronic vending machines on the train platforms or in the subway stations. If boarding street-running trains elsewhere, pay your fare at the farebox at the front of the car. As with other light rail systems, Muni Metro relies on a proof of payment system, and all riders are expected to carry a valid Muni pass, ticket, or transfer, which must be presented to a Muni officer upon request.
Muni Buses. Muni operates an extensive bus system, utilizing both diesel buses and electric trolley buses. The bus system serves many areas that are not served by the rail systems, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Alamo Square, the Western Addition, Japantown, Haight Ashbury, and the Presidio. My experience with Muni buses has been good; on major routes buses run frequently and I have never waited more than 15 to 20 (but usually closer to 5 to 10) minutes for a bus. One complaint I have about the bus system are the bus stop signs, which are sometimes nothing more than a yellow field painted on a streetlight or telephone pole with a black route number stenciled on the yellow field. This can make locating bus stops a little more difficult than in cities that use more obvious signs. However, once you know what to look for, you'll not miss stops as you walk past them. Many newer trolley buses feature automated audible stop announcements and signs inside the buses. These aid greatly in locating your stop when riding buses equipped with this system.
Regular Muni fares (bus, Muni Metro light rail, and streetcars) are $1.25 for a one-way trip for adults, 35¢ for seniors over 65 and youth ages 5 to 17, and free for children ages 4 and under. Transfers are valid for travel in the same direction on all Muni vehicles except cable cars for at least 90 minutes but not more than two hours, and must be requested when you pay the fare on your first boarding. Cable car fares are $3 each way for adults and youth ages 5 to17 and $1 for seniors over age 65 before 7am and after 9 pm. Between 7am and 9pm, seniors pay the regular $3 fare. A more affordable option is a Muni Passport, good for unlimited travel on all Muni vehicles for a consecutive one-, three-, or seven-day period. Passports sell for $9, $15, and $20 and are available at the airport, the Powell and Market cable car turntable, and on the Muni website.
Muni Schedules & Maps
The Muni website, at www.sfmuni.com, is the best source for current Muni route maps, schedules, and fares. You may also purchase Muni passports online through the website.
While the Muni system provides the primary way for visitors relying on public transportation to get around the city, the BART rapid transit trains are your ticket into the city from both the San Francisco and Oakland International Airports, as well as an efficient way to get to some of the suburban areas south of San Francisco and the East Bay communities.
BART operates in downtown San Francisco street, in the lower level of the Market Street Subway, below the Muni Metro trains. The system runs as far south of San Francisco as Milbrae, and, on the east side of the bay, serves Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, Pittsburg, Bay Point, Dublin, Pleasanton, and Fremont. BART fares are priced by the distance you ride, and the system is more expensive than riding Muni. Therefore, it is not really designed for travel within downtown San Francisco. However, for reaching the city from the airports, or for travel to other locations in the Bay Area, it is a fast, cheap way to get to your destination. I have used BART to get into the city on almost every trip I have made to San Francisco, and have found the system to be fast, reliable, and clean. And, given the usual traffic conditions on the 101 freeway between the airport and downtown San Francisco, it may be faster than taking a cab or shuttle van, and much cheaper.
Getting to San Francisco From the San Francisco International Airport
Since mid-2003, BART has served a new station at the San Francisco Airport, allowing arriving travelers to walk from their flights directly to the train into the city. This is a much more efficient system than the old BART service, which required taking a SamTrans bus from the airport to the Colma BART station. The BART SFO station is located on level three of the airport's International Terminal. For passengers arriving on domestic flights, you can either walk to the BART station (about 5 to 15 minutes, depending on which terminal you arrive in), or take the airport's AirTrain shuttle to the BART station. AirTrain operates on the top level of the parking garage and terminals. Follow the signs in the airport terminals to elevators to the AirTrain stops, then take the free AirTrain to the BART station. Be sure to purchase a BART ticket from one of the vending machines before attempting to go through the turnstiles onto the BART boarding platforms. The trip to downtown San Francisco takes about 30 minutes once you have boarded a train, and a one-way trip will cost you about $4.95. This is far cheaper than a taxi ($25 to $37), shared shuttle ($12 to $17), or rental car. Any of the Market Street subway stations will allow you to exit the system into downtown San Francisco. If you need to transfer to a Muni Metro train to complete your trip, get off your BART train at Civic Center, Powell, Montgomery, or Embarcadero and follow the signs up one level to the Muni trains.
Getting to San Francisco From the Oakland International Airport
BART does not have a boarding platform at the Oakland Airport like it does at the San Francisco airport. However, AirBART shuttle buses provide a connection from the airport terminal to the BART Coliseum/Oakland Airport Station every fifteen minutes. Transferring to the BART station from the airport on the bus takes about 15 to 30 minutes, depending on traffic. The fare for the bus is $2 for adults and $.50 for children 11 and under and seniors over age 65. You must purchase a $2 BART or AirBART ticket from the vending machines; bus drivers accept cash (exact change) for child and senior fares only. A better option is the BART Travel Pack for AirBART which you can purchase in advance online from the BART website. This fare item includes two AirBART tickets for the shuttle bus and a BART ticket to get you to downtown San Francisco from Oakland and back. The current fare to downtown San Francisco from the Coliseum/Oakland Airport station is $3.15. Travel time via BART's trans-bay tunnel is about 30 minutes.
For More Information
The BART website is very easy to use and well-designed. The site has system maps, station information, and an interactive trip builder that allows you to enter your origin, destination, and desired departure or arrival time. This tool is great for planning trips back to the airports, because it will tell you exactly which train you must be on to make your desired arrival time at the airport.
After five visits (two for pleasure, three for work) to this wonderful city in a four-year period, I've seen quite a bit of San Francisco. However, there are certain activities that I always manage to do when I'm there, no matter how short the visit (on some of my work trips I've had no more than one evening to go out and have fun). Here are some of my favorite places and things to see.
Riding the F Market/Wharves historic streetcar line. During the early 1980s, the cable car system was shutdown for 18 months to be completely rebuilt. Fearing a loss of tourists, the Chamber of Commerce worked with Muni to create a temporary historic trolley attraction to replace the cable cars during the shutdown. Muni pulled out some of its old electric streetcars, cleaned them up, and arranged for similar historic equipment from around the world to be shipped to San Francisco. These colorful cars formed the basis for the Market St. Historic Trolley Festival, which opened in 1983. While popular with tourists, the streetcars were also a hit with locals, some of whom abandoned their cars or the newer Muni subway cars for the historic cars on Market. The festival was such a hit that summer that it was brought back repeatedly and ran for five summers. This festival set the stage for a much bigger project, the return of historic streetcar service to Market St. on a permanent basis. After years of planning, the new F streetcar line opened in 1995, running down Market Street between the Embarcadero and Castro St. In 2000, the line was extended along the Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf, linking many of the city's major tourist destinations, and providing much-needed transit capacity for local residents.
As with the cable cars, riding the F line is stepping back in time. The bulk of the F line car fleet is made up of PCC Streamliner cars from several US cities. These cars have been painted to reflect the paint schemes of the many different transit companies that operated these cars in the mid-twentieth century. While the cars have been adapted in some ways for modern use, such as making them wheelchair accessible, Muni and the Market St. Railway have worked to maintain as much of the cars' original appearance as possible. A second major class of cars, the 1928 Peter Witt trams from Milan, Italy, still bear much of their original Italian styling, including advertising posters inside the cars printed in Italian. Finally, a fleet of fifteen unique historic cars from around the world can be seen running the tracks during busy tourist weekends and special events.
More information on the historic F line, and the planned E Embarcadero historic streetcar line, can be found on the Market Street Railway and Muni websites.
Riding the cable cars. More than just a practical, inexpensive way to get around the city, the cable cars are a historic icon. This early mode of mechanized public transportation was invented here, and no other city still has them. Cable cars have no motor or power of their own; instead, these cars clamp onto a moving cable located beneath the street and are pulled along by the cable. The open-air cars offer some amazing views of the city, especially if you’re brave and lucky enough to ride standing on one of the running boards. Muni’s cable car operators are some of the most interesting people you’ll meet in the city, and they love to entertain tourists. Many of them have developed their own rhythmic style of ringing the car’s bell, which is used to alert automobiles and people of the cable car’s approach and warn them to get out of its way. Each year there is a cable car bell ringing contest, and car operators compete for prizes to see who has the most entertaining ringing style.
There are three cable car lines remaining in the city. Two of these lines, the Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason run north and south down Powell Street between the wharf area and Union Square. These cars are single-ended, meaning they have an operator’s grip (the clamp mechanism used to clamp the car onto the cable under the street) at only one end. These lines all rely on wooden turntables at the end of the line to turn the cars. Watching the operators run the car onto the turntable, get off, and then manually push the car to spin it around to go back the opposite direction, is fun and worth a visit to one of the three turntables.
The third cable car line, on California Street, uses larger double-ended cars that do not have to be turned on a turntable. The California line is less popular with tourists and seems to attract more local commuters. While the views from this line are only slightly less spectacular than those on the Powell Street lines, they are still quite incredible. The California line also has the advantage of not ending at major tourist attractions like the two Powell Street lines do, so lines to board it are usually much shorter. The longer, double-ended cars also have more open air seating and are a convenient way to get from the Financial District into the heart of Chinatown.
Union Square. Union Square is a park occupying a city block in the heart of the city’s shopping area. Just a few blocks from Market Street, Chinatown, and the summit of Nob Hill, the neighborhood surrounding Union Square, is filled with upscale shops and department stores, excellent restaurants, and countless hotels. The square itself provides an urban gathering place for local residents and visitors, and is frequently the site of festivals and art shows. I love visiting the square when there is an art show going on, as I have seen some amazing work by local artists. On my last visit I discovered a wonderful Italian photographer that now lives in San Francisco, and purchased three of his prints which now look wonderful in my living room.
Experiencing the street life of the city. As with any other major city, San Francisco has a homeless population. My intent with this entry is not to offend anyone; I do not make fun of homeless people nor ignore the desperate nature of their plight. However, there are several street people in San Francisco that take great pleasure in entertaining tourists or standing on corners to preach the message they feel called to share with the public. It is not unlike visiting the French Quarter in New Orleans or Times Square in New York, where there are many street entertainers. The funny thing is, I somehow manage to run into these same people on every trip I make to the city.
First there’s the "No Sex Before Marriage" man. This guy sits on a stool at the corner of Market and Powell, near the cable car turntable. I have never once, in all of my visits to the city, not passed this corner and have him not be there. Next to his stool, he holds a large sign that is almost as tall as he is. In huge letters, it says "NO SEX". This covers less than half of the sign, though; the rest is covered from top to bottom in meticulously lettered Bible verses and other rants about the evils of premarital sex, homosexuality, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, and children born out of wedlock. This man sits very quietly unless someone makes eye contact with him or the sign. He then belts out at the top of his lungs "NO SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE!" and starts preaching to the crowd and handing out pamphlets, which contain all of the text on his sign, to everyone around. After the crowd disperses, he shuts up until someone else starts reading the sign or makes eye contact and he repeats the process. Given his location next to a very busy crosswalk on Market Street, there is ample pedestrian traffic to keep him busy spreading his message of abstinence.
Another favorite of mine is the "Bushman." This guy hides out on the Embarcadero in Fisherman’s Wharf between a trashcan and a "bush" he has made of sticks, leaves, and a wooden frame. While crouching between his bush and the trashcan, he is almost invisible to passing tourists who are paying more attention to the boats and activity in the busy wharf area. When he catches tourists walking by that he knows are not going to see him, he jumps out and yells "BOO!" right as they walk by, scaring them. More than once I have fallen victim to his scam. Often tourists stand on the opposite side of the street to laugh at the reaction of the bushman’s "victims." For a picture of the Bushman, see shaunandtrish’s San Francisco journal.
District of Columbia County, District of Columbia