Starting out my second full day in San Francisco we (Ash and I) decided to go and check out a few areas and, following a fairly heavy days walking, take it slight easier, so we set off South West towards The Castro and Golden Gate Park.
One of the big highlights of San Francisco for someone not driving is its public transport network from the more touristy cable cars and tram lines to the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit system) and electric-powered MUNI bus service which, in my experience, is second only to London and, at times, much easier to navigate.
This allowed the trip to The Castro, which would have been a good hours walk otherwise, to get covered in about a 5 minute BART ride followed by a short walk through neighbourhood between The Mission and Castro Street which, as a visitor to the city, led to seeing some more of the ‘real’ side of things.
The Castro itself, famed for its place in the equal rights movement of the 1970s, is a small neighbourhood centred south of Market Street and north-east of Twin Peaks highlighted very much by the large rainbow flag flying over the Castro Streets junction with Market.
This area had an immediately friendly feel with cafes and restaurants nuzzling between stores of various exotic natures but, rather than the sense of sleaze that some such shops might give of, here they just seem to be another store for those with the relevant interests, much like a comic book shop or video game store might elsewhere.
The other highlight of The Castro for me, despite not being able to go in, was The Castro Theatre which, even from the outside is a real landmark and has an impressive look of a classic movie theatre. While there was nothing showing during my visit it is certainly on my list of places to go and see a movie sometime in the future as much as I would like to further explore the whole neighbourhood.
From The Castro we hopped on the MUNI to Haight Street, home of the 1960s counterculture movement in San Francisco and this is still firmly in evidence in many of the stores on the street, although they now rub shoulders with the mega-corp stores such as Gap and McDonalds which, it could be said, spoils the tone somewhat.
Following a brief look in Amoeba Records, which was a somewhat overwhelming experience for a music lover just with the sheer scale of what was on offer, but is still a must if you like any form of music and its related collectables, we headed into Golden Gate Park with stretches from Stanyan Street at the end of Haight all the way to the Pacific Ocean making it one of the largest inner city parks in the USA.
Golden Gate Park itself is an amazing haven within the city as, once you are past the first area, again populated by a large number of homeless people who have constructed shelters amongst the trees, and a few larger roads you feel you could be in the middle of the countryside.
The lawns in front of the Conservatory of Flowers provide a great spot to relax on the grass in the sun, which is what we chose to do, while a few buskers provided some appropriate sounds on the edges of the area and generally many just chilled out on the lawn in front of the impressive flowerbeds and greenhouse. From the relaxing grounds of the conservatory we headed up to the De Young Museum of Art which occupies one side of a large clearing in the park opposite the California Academy of Sciences.
While some sections of the De Young Museum are, of course, accessible only once paying an entrance fee, just the walk up to its impressive edifice gives you the chance to see some great works including an impressive pair of Sphinx and a piece by Andy Goldsworthy that leads you into the museum with a seemingly erratic series of cracks in the ground and rocks in the courtyard area that gave me some context to his Alderney Stones work I have previously encountered.
Heading back to the Triton on the MUNI we got the chance to see the park in Alamo Square, with its impressive views across the city as well as City Hall, the Opera House and Symphony Hall which are all impressive buildings and form an impressive wide open space.
Dinner on day two was also certainly worthy of note as we took a chance on a small sushi restaurant opposite the hotel and found one of the best culinary experiences I’ve had, not just on this trip, but possibly ever in the simple yet brilliant food on offer and, if you’re in the area around the Chinatown gate I’d strongly recommend the Mikaku Restaurant on Grant Avenue.