Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Recommending a Few San Francisco Treats

My friend Dave will soon be going on a trip to San Francisco. His impetus is a Film Noir Film Festival, which should be phenomenal for him, as no one I know loves the genre more.

The movie screenings will be at night and it isn't exactly baseball season--another of Dave's most fervent passions--so he will seemingly have several daytime hours to explore the wondrous City by the Bay.

He has been there before, probably as often as the four times I've been, but I was telling him about some cool places I remembered from my trips (most recently in '03 and '05). So I thought I might expand my list of suggestions--really just possibilities--into a blog post, allowing Dave to easily access it.

And while I hope some other Seth Saith visitors might enjoy reading this, I'm also hoping a few might have some places to add. Please do so in the Comments.

This isn't intended as a comprehensive Travel Guide and as Dave has seen or knows about many of the more obvious tourist attractions--Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fisherman's Wharf, Lombard Street, Ghiradelli Square, Chinatown, the Embarcardero, Sausalito and Napa Valley/Wine Country--I won't mention them again.

But some places he (and perhaps you) might like knowing about are:

Haight-Ashbury - The legendary Summer of Love conclave is still a vibrant, albeit touristy neighborhood with some fun hippie-ish shops, centered around the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets. The Grateful Dead House, at 710 Ashbury, won't welcome you inside, but is an excuse to walk past several beautiful Victorian homes.

City Lights Bookstore - I'd have assumed a voracious reader like Dave would have already visited this famed shop on Columbus Avenue, a great walking street through the heart of Frisco, but he hasn't. Co-founded and still (I believe) co-owned by legendary poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, it was a 'Beat hangout' for Kerouac, Ginsburg, Neal Cassady, etc. and still retains much of its original spirit.

Vesuvio Cafe - Next to City Lights--with just Jack Kerouac Alley in between--this is a trippy old cafe (from 1948) with wonderfully kitschy decor (see photo at right) that likely hasn't changed much since the famous Beats hung out there.

Caffe Trieste - When heading north on Columbus from City Lights, turn right on Vallejo St. and you will find the original location of Caffe Trieste. Most times of day, it's just somewhere to get great sweets and coffee (I don't drink it, but have heard great things), giving a little flavor of North Beach, SF's famed Italian neighborhood. There is often opera music playing and, although the website is confusing as to exactly when (Thursday or Saturday?), there still seems to be regular weekly live music at the Caffe.

John's Grill - At 63 Ellis St., close to where Dave will be staying, this steakhouse is famed for having existed since 1908, for being where Dashiell Hammett often ate and for being featured in Hammett's book The Maltese Falcon. I haven't actually eaten there, but it's worth a peek inside.

Saints Peter and Paul Church - In the heart of North Beach, Columbus Avenue intersects Washington Square Park, where in the morning many Asian residents do group exercises. Overlooking the park is a beautiful white church, magnificent in its own right but more important to me as the place where Joe Dimaggio married Marilyn Monroe. Although, according to what I just found Wikipedia, this isn't quite true, as the couple only posed for pictures there after getting married in a civil ceremony. I think the church displays some photos of the SF-bred Yankee Clipper, whose funeral was held here. The church, also according to Wikipedia, is prominently featured in the movie Dirty Harry.

San Francisco Movie Tours - I haven't done this but think Dave might enjoy. According to the website, it includes locations from Vertigo, Bullitt, The Maltese Falcon, Mrs. Doubtfire and more.

Cafe Zoetrope - located in the beautiful Sentinel Building (at left), on Columbus near the Transamerica Building, this is an Italian restaurant owned by Francis Ford Coppola. I haven't eaten here, but the reasonably-priced menu may offer a deal you can't refuse.

City Hall - Well off the Columbus Ave. tourist drag, it takes some effort getting here, but the gorgeous city hall building looks more like a state capitol and affords the chance to explore other historic buildings near Civic Center Plaza, home to many a demonstration.

Cable Car Turnaround - At the corner of Powell & Market Streets, this is a fun gathering of humanity and lets you jump on a cable car for a ride up the hill. (also quite close to your hotel, Dave)

Legion of Honor Art Museum - A fancy name for what is the primary San Francisco art museum; I like it better than the SF Museum of Modern Art, which is much easier to reach. The 'Legion' has a great collection, beautiful setting and I believe admission is free (but either can or must be reserved in advance; you might want to call - 415-750-3600)

Xanadu Gallery - Just to the east of Union Square at 140 Maiden Lane (also walking distance from the hotel), this art gallery is notable for having been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The photo at right might illustrate why it reminds me of a mini-Guggenheim.  

House of Prime Rib - A good place for good prime rib (if you're looking for one), but not essential compared to what you can find in Chicago.

Berkeley - You can get to the home of the University of California on BART and I've found Telegraph Ave. near the campus an enjoyable place to stroll.

SF Playhouse (Harper Regan) - Dave, I don't know if you'll have time for this around the movies unless you have a Saturday afternoon (for a 3pm matinee), but a theater very close to your hotel will be having a play called "Harper Regan," which I saw in Chicago and think you might like. It's about a woman in England who grew up in the heyday of punk; the show isn't about music per se, but relates to it. (This was my Chicago review.)

Obviously, you're not going to get to all of this, if even any. But although San Francisco is one of those cities that's really hard to "do wrong," I've found that wandering somewhere previously unknown based on someone's suggestion can often provide much residual enjoyment beyond the specific place itself.

If you need any further details on anything, just let me know. Have a wonderful time and try not to leave your heart.


Anonymous said...

I would also add, 'The Stinking Rose' restaurant. Sure, it's a bit touristy, but never has so much garlic been so good! Also, hang out around city Hall when it is closed. The 'weirdos', drunks, and other dark elements of the city can be seen.

SF Playhouse said...

Thanks so much Seth for recommending the SF Playhouse. We're excited to present the West Coast premiere of Harper Regan and hope your friend can make it.

Thanks for naming us one of the SF treats! :)

Dan Meagher
Director of Marketing
SF Playhouse