Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A Self-Guided Walking Tour in San Francisco

San Francisco is a beautiful city and the best way to see it is on foot. Of course this means plenty of hills and stairs, but just take your time and rest at yummy cafes or take a seat inside one of the many beautiful churches all over the city.

Start at Japantown, which you can get to by taking the 22 bus on Fillmore or the 38 bus on Geary Boulevard.

Once you are in Japantown you can take a walk inside and shop at the lovely Japanese stores then walk one block north onto Sutter street. Between Fillmore and Webster Streets is a place called Cottage Row.


Cottage Row is one of the last original working-class Victorian homes, these built in 1882. They are unadorned and they all share walls, which is unusual for San Francisco. They are also built in an alley way, which suggests the less than important status of the original owners. Back in the 1960's they were destined to be destroyed to make way for newer buildings, but with the help from Justin Herman, who awarded grants to owners to restore them, they were saved. The little walkway and the small gardens and the lovely entryways are wonderful to see.


When you pass through, turn left onto Pine and right onto Steiner, this is St. Dominic's. St. Dominic's Catholic Church was established in 1873 and is quite lovely inside, as you can see from the photo.

Continue north on Steiner and you will run into Alta Plaza. Alta Plaza is up high and be prepared to climb stairs, 100 of them to be exact. These stairs have been used in movies, including "What's Up Doc" where Barbra Streisand drives her car down them. When you stand on them you cannot understand how a car was driven down them, but alas, it was.

Go back onto Clay street and head east for four blocks. Do not be surprised when you run into a hospital. Just go up the sidewalk that says lobby and turn left at the smoker's area and walk towards the cross street and you will see the park across the street. It is a lovely park with palm and eucalyptus trees and convenient public restrooms. There are lovely homes and buildings surrounding this park as well as some stunning views of the upper bay.


On the north side you will see a Beaux Arts building, which is called Spreckels Mansion, built in 1912 by the daughter of Claus Spreckels, the sugar cane king. I believe the current owner is Danielle Steele... it's amazing the amount of money crap- writing can earn someone. Anyway...

The Spreckels architect, George Applegarth, also designed and built the Palace of the Legion of Honor, which was donated to the city in 1924. It was turned into a museum and is located between the Presidio and the Cliff House.

Lafayette Park, Alta Plaza and Alamo Square all had troubled pasts. In 1855 the city granted them as public spaces to the citizens of San Francisco, but squatters laid claim to them and even built on them, the largest being built on top of Lafayette Park, which was not torn down until 1936, but only after the city gave this person a parcel of land off of Gough Street... imagine!


From Lafayette Park, walk north on Gough Street for six blocks until you see the Octagon House, which is a lovely blue Victorian house that happens to have eight sides. They were built in order to allow in more light than your typically shaped home, whether Victorian or other styles. This particular home was built in 1861 and is open to the public, but only a day or two per week, so call ahead. Inside are nice collections of decorative arts and documents from the Colonial and Federal periods.

Now take the 41 or 45 bus (the bus stop is right at the end of Gough and Union) to Washington Square (Union and Powell). When you get off the bus you should see St. Peter and Paul's Catholic Church as well as Coit Tower. If you walk around the block you will see the theater where Beach Blanket Babylon plays nightly.


Walk across the park to go into the beautiful church, which is at the center of San Francisco's Little Italy. Locals call it the "Italian Cathedral". It opened in 1924 and they have a wonderul choral group that just sounds lovely. They rehearse almost every Saturday and you are welcome to go into the church and listen while they do.


Can you guess who was photographed here after their wedding (which was days earlier, elsewhere)? Joe Di Maggio and Marilyn Monroe, in 1957. Another Hollywood connection, Cecil B. DeMille filmed the early construction on the foundation for his film "The Ten Commandments", depicting the building of the Temple of Jerusalem. The film was made in 1923. Because of its proximity to Chinatown, the services are in English, Italian or Chinese, depending on when you go.

The church is also known as the "Fishermen's Church" and every October they have the Blessing of the Fleet mass to celebrate their fishing heritage and wish the fleets a safe year.

When you leave the church, turn left as you come down the stairs and walk straight ahead, and walk and walk and climb and climb, this is Telegraph Hill and the structure is Coit Tower. Of course if you need a break, there are wonderful cafes and restaurants in Little Italy where you can have a coffee, beer or a great lunch.


Coit Tower was built in 1933 and is 210 feet high. Add the height of Telegraph Hill (284 feet high) and you have one high structure. The views from the hill and from the top of the tower cannot be beat and let's not forget those lovely Parrot's of Telegraph Hill, and trust me, they won't let you forget them. They like to talk and fly in groups.



Go inside the tower, the murals are just amazing to behold, as you can see below.




Many of the murals depicted people in the news at the time as well as life during the depression era. If you look closely, one depicts a robbery in progress in the Financial District, the other is the activity at the Oakland Ferry terminal area. In its day the murals raised some eyebrows because of the commentary on life and politics in America at the time, but now we can appreciate the truth to these spectacular murals.

Take the ride up the elevator to the top of the tower. Some days it can be windy, but the views are spectacular. There are also bathrooms in the tower and they are usually very clean, so take a bathroom break in the lobby of the tower.

Don't just leave this hill because the houses facing the bay are really amazing to look at. There are steep stairs and tightly turning roads, but it is worth it. Take the Filbert Street stairs, which will lead you to Napier Lane. It is the last boardwalked streets in San Francisco (they call them "wooden plank streets"). This area has a truly unique feel to it. I can't explain it other than to just call it a true neighborhood feel. The multi-level homes are adorable with cute gardens and the parrots of Telegraph Hill are many times found around this area, as well.

I have to tell you I am afraid of heights and to walk down these very steep stairs, especially going below Napier Lane, was quite a challenge for me. The stairs are open and steep and at least as high as a 6 or 7 story building, but I did it for you.


When I sat down to eat my lunch I looked down and saw this!



That is a quarter next to the slug!



At the bottom of the stairs, go straight and turn right onto Sansome Street. As you walk along Sansome you will see the Transamerica Building. Completed in 1972, it is 48 stories and 853 feet high, the tallest building in the city of San Francisco. Unfortunately tours are no longer done in the building, but it is still interesting to look at from the outside. The building has 3,678 windows and it takes the window cleaners an entire month to wash all the windows. The outside of the building is covered with quartz aggregate with reinforced rods on each floor. Space between the panels allows the building to move laterally during an earthquake. It's shape was designed to cast the smallest shadow onto the city of San Francisco. Now continue south on Sansome Street until you reach Pine Street.

Now turn right onto Pine Street. This is the Pacific Coast Stock Exchange, or I should say the Old Pacific Coast Stock Exchange, because now it is an exercise gym. The huge granite statues on either side of the building were designed by Ralph Stackpole.




Turn back onto Sansome Street and when you reach Bush Street, turn right and look at One Bush Plaza. This lobby is open and reminds me of the Arts and Crafts style with its sweeping natural designs. The sculpture looks very different dependent upon where you are standing.


Then turn around and look at one of the skinniest buildings in all of San Francisco... there is a sushi restaurant on the first floor.

Now continue to walk until you hit Market Street, about half a block from Bush Street. Cross over to the other side of Market Street and walk west (your right) four blocks to New Montgomery Street and enter the Palace Hotel (Sheraton) and walk straight ahead and this is what you will find. It is probably the most beautiful setting for breakfast and lunch anywhere in the city that does not have a view. You can also have tea on Saturday afternoons.


This entire walking tour should take about 4 or 5 hours depending on many things. Just take your time, take it all in and enjoy yourselves!

1 comment:

Cosgrove Norstadt and Jeff Foote said...

Now here is a blog I can LOVE! I live in San Francisco and you have given me some surprises to go and see...Thank you!