I started my second day in San Francisco intent on taking things a little more easy. So often when holidaying in a big city things become so hectic any sense of relaxation is lost and this time round I aimed for that not to happen. So, after a comparative lie in (by my standards), I took a stroll around North Beach in the direction of Telegraph Hill.
As I’ve said previously North Beach is an old neighbourhood, famous as traditional home to San Francisco’s Italian population and, on the blocks east of Columbus Avenue this is thoroughly evident. Mixed in amongst the townhouses and small apartment buildings are any number of restaurants, cafes and delis with a distinctly Italian flavour; from the obvious red, white and green bedecked facades to more modest (and generally far superior) establishments.
All of this centres on Washington Square Park and the adjacent St Peter and St Paul Church and its impressive edifice. The park is only the size of a city block but offers respite from the bustling Columbus Avenue that cuts through its south-west corner and is surrounded by many of the aforementioned bars and cafes that, even mid morning on a Friday, were busy with a few famous examples having queues out the door awaiting their reportedly impressive breakfasts.
I didn’t linger long here though and instead continued a further two blocks up Stockton Street before turning on Lombard. Famed for its steep twisty section on the slopes of Russian Hill a few blocks to the west, Lombard is also the main road that allows vehicle access to Telegraph Hill, and, by the time I joined it, I was already a fair way up the steady but impressive incline.
As the street reaches the more pronounced outcrop near the hilltop (on the other two sides it’s a sheer cliff) it takes a winding route but here the footpath deviates through a small wooded area, complete with coyote warning signs.
Once surrounded by the trees it is again easy to forget this is in the heart of a city as its comparative altitude over the surrounding coastal area separates it from any but the loudest traffic noise.
Once clear of the ‘forest’ I found myself at the base of the Coit Tower monument from which there are yet more impressive views of the city from Russian Hill to the west across Alcatraz and the North Bay as far round as Yerba Buena Island.
The hill itself takes it name from the fact it housed the city’s original telegraph point to communicate the arrival of ships into the bay across the network of docks that stretch around much of the southern shore. The tower meanwhile stands as a monument to the fire fighters who lost their lives during the 1906 earthquake that destroyed much of the eastern side of the city.
I had hoped to head up to the top of the tower but with a long queue and surprisingly high cost for what is, essentially a short elevator ride, I skipped that content with taking a look at the murals inside the tower’s lower floor and having time to further explore some of the streets of North Beach.
Heading back down to sea level I past what I later discovered was the site of San Francisco’s Tower Records and is now a chain pharmacy, though knowing this makes the mural of Bob Marley and other musicians along the wall of the car park make slightly more sense.
After a relaxing afternoon during which I was introduced to the Geek And Sundry YouTube channel, and specifically the LARPS and Critical Role series, we headed out to The Warfield on Market Street to watch doomy metallers Ghost and psychedelic hard rockers Purson, which you can read more about here.
Saturday was another day for taking it easy so in the late morning I took the opportunity to head down Columbus Avenue until I hit the coast and have a look around the Ghirardelli Square shopping centre. While mostly taken up with bars, restaurants and slightly twee gift shops, the main feature of the ‘square’ is the Ghirardelli shop and café selling more chocolate and chocolate based food and drink than I’d seen outside of Cadbury World in what was once the chocolatier’s main factory.
Later in the day we headed out to a bar a few doors down from the apartment that had first grabbed my attention with its name, Naked Lunch – taken, of course, from the William S. Burroughs book and evoking something of the areas’ association with the Beat Generation. The bar itself, while only comparatively small, offered a great atmosphere whether you wanted a drink or, as we did, something to eat, in the form of small but impressive range of ‘sandwiches’ (what we’d call burgers on this side of the Atlantic).
Alongside some great, simple, food Naked Lunch also had a selection of board games and old school arcade games free to play and, while I didn’t have a chance to go back there a second time, would strongly advise anyone visiting San Francisco to check it out if you want a surprisingly unpretentious bar with a great atmosphere.
We followed the meal up with trip to the cinema, my first in the US, to see The Last Witch Hunter, and I have to admit to being somewhat overwhelmed at first by the scale of the multiplex. Spread over four floors it was enormous compared to the four small-screen cinema we have at home, but, unlike similar large-scale movie theatres I’ve visited in the UK, there was still a sense that the whole place was geared to watching movies not just selling food and ‘concessions’ with movies as a sideline.