So this has taken me a little bit longer to get to than I had planned but here we go, “the city by the bay”.
Having visited San Francisco in the past I took the first part of my first day in the city to have a scout around and see much I remember of the place and what new things I could find amongst what I remembered.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that what I found was a city that was at once familiar yet new and that I could, as I remembered, explore a fair chunk of it on foot, something that I found to be the best way to get acquainted with a place during my various trips to London over the years.
My morning took me to the Embarcadero in the shadow of the bay bridge where I got a taste of some of the real life elements of the city as fisherman, mostly it seems from Chinatown, lined the head of the Pier 14 while seagulls watched on, no doubt in hope of some of the left overs or spoils of the fishermen.
Further along the Embarcadero I found Cupid’s Span, an unmistakable piece of public art in the shape of a giant bow and arrow emerging from the ground and got a further taste of city life as hip, young professionals shared the space on the benches with members of the cities large, but seemingly generally harmless, homeless population.
This, all in the shadow of the cities financial district, highlighted by the Transamerica Pyramid, provides a perfect microcosm of the city as a whole where big business mixes with the ‘hip’ the homeless and the traditional to form a melting pot of culture like few others in the world, marking what has made the city so famous for the past century or so.
My continued initial explorations led me to discover the South of Market Street (or SOMA) district of the city that seems to have undergone something of a relatively recent revitalisation with a large conference centre, Museum of Modern Art, IMAX Multiplex and many small art galleries and facilities.
As well as these I found the fabulous Yerba Buena Gardens which nestle in the shadow of many high-rise buildings as well as a 19th century church building to create one of the many small park like havens for the urban landscape which mark the city out as something unique. As I found it the fountain monument to the civil rights movement was undergoing maintenance but this hadn’t stopped many of the cities seemingly young and hip, (many I assume attending one of the nearby buildings associated with artistic education) from relaxing on the grass on the warm and sunny afternoon.
If you ever chose to head to the city I would strongly recommend taking some time to explore this area and relax in the park.
Continuing up Mission Street (which here runs parallel to the cities main thoroughfare of Market Street) I spotted what seemed to be a small but interesting comic shop, so headed in to find what it actually was (as well as a shop) was the Cartoon Art Museum where, for only $7, I was able to explore four exhibitions of cartoon and comic book art.
As well as what seemed to be the museum’s standard exhibition exploring the history of cartoons from Hogarth to the recent reinvention of the DC Comics universe (via early newspaper comic strips and single panel cartoons to Stan Lee’s creations and the 1980’s reinvigoration of the comic) the other exhibitions explored graphic storytelling, Superman and the work of Sam Keith.
For anyone with an interest in cartoon art or comics the Cartoon Art Museum is an absolute must and a true hidden gem in SOMA.
North of Market Street is something of a different story and comprised the next part of my days explorations (now accompanied by a something of a ‘local guide’ in Ashley Seymour).
Once you are past the high-end shopping district centred on Union Square you hit Chinatown and the atmosphere changes entirely and, while still friendly, this is clearly a neighbourhood that is very much what the name suggests and most of the voices you hear change from speaking English to Chinese and the areas small park area is filled with Chinese families playing in the sun.
Along both the more tourist inclined Grant Avenue and its parallel, more truly Chinese street, of Stockton the shops are filled with exotic foods and souvenirs and even the smell changes as spices fill the air, while I found nothing particularly engaging in terms of attractions in Chinatown it is certainly an area worth taking a walk through and seems to be home to several restaurants (both Chinese and otherwise) worth investigating and continues the feel of San Francisco’s compact but cosmopolitan nature.