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Strybing Arboraetum - San Francisco

Strybing Arboraetum

Golden Gate Park Golden Gate Park Review

GGP is a HUGE park, modeled after New York's Central Park. There's some great history here, and, normally, a lot of cool sights as well. However, GGP is undergoing a major renovation, and some of the tourist attractions are closed and will be closed for the near future.

Going from East to West, GGP actually starts with the Panhandle, an 8-block long/1-block wide strip of park containing a nice bike trail, basketball courts, and dog-walking spaces. It is bound by Oak & Fell Streets, which are both major thoroughfares - making the Panhandle a very pretty freeway meridian. No reason to come.

At the East End of GGP proper, where Haight Street ends, is Alvord Lake - easily the worst part of the park. Lots and lots of homeless, bums, and drug dealers. Definitely avoid this area at night! The good news is it quickly gets better. As you go under the bridge and past the softball diamond you will come to Sharon Meadow - site of the original "Be-ins" in the 60's. The hill to the right is "Hippie Hill."

Moving west, you pass tennis courts, bowling greens, and the impossible-to-miss Conservatory of Flowers. The Dahlia garden next to the Conservatory is spectacular (if it's bloomin' season).

If you'll all look at your maps, you'll see a large oval near 9th Ave, containing the museums and music concourse. This is the area under construction. The new DeYoung is finished and open, but the Hall of Science won't be until October 2008. Don't miss the Rose Garden behind the DeYoung! Ninth Avenue a block south of the park is also a little shopping district, with some nice restaurants and cafes.

The Strybing Arboraetum is a great hidden treasure of SF, and, best of all, it's FREE!

As you go West, the park gets wilder and the crowds thin out. There are great biking trails, pretty lakes, redwood groves and gardens. Now, more than usual, I would recommend spending time here rather than in the more touristed Eastern part.

Address: Area bounded by Lincoln, Fulton, Stanyan

Directions: The 'N Judah' Line runs parallel to the park 2 blocks south of Lincoln and runs all the way to the beach. On the north side, the #5 bus runs the length of Fulton Street.

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Jun 6, 2008
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S.F. Zoo - it ain't San Diego! - San Francisco
S.F. Zoo - it ain't San Diego! San Francisco Zoo Review

The San Francisco Zoo has been much maligned for years. The zoo is certainly not on anyone’s list of beloved S.F. institutions. Some people hate it... and some of them REALLY hate it!

The reasons that the zoo is held in such low regard are numerous. First of all, the zoo does have problems, and seems to have more than its share of “mishaps,” and the world famous Christmas Day 2007 tiger escape did not help any. A Bengal tiger jumped out of its enclosure and killed a young man and mauled another before police shot the animal. There is some evidence that the kids (who were drunk and stoned at the time) taunted the animal, and in town you’ll find there’s a lot more sympathy for the tiger than the kids.

The zoo is in the southwest, as far away from downtown as you can get. Because of its location, it gets some of the worst weather in the City; the average day at the zoo is cold, overcast, windy, and damp.

But it’s not all bad. If it’s any consolation, it used to be worse! They have made some incremental improvements. The African Savannah exhibit is very good – certainly the best thing that the zoo has done in many years – and, if the rest of the zoo were up to this exhibit’s standards, it would be a fine zoo indeed.

The penguin area is fun during feeding time, and the big cat area is pretty well done (though with a higher fence now).

Should you go? Well... even though I’m sure they could use your money, I would put it pretty far down on the list - at least for now. There’s an awful lot of construction going on (which they do a lousy job of hiding, BTW), so it may be that they’re going to open up some new exhibits soon. But, to be honest, I really can’t recommend it.

If you have kids, then that’s a different story; S.F. doesn’t have a whole lot to offer for kids, so the zoo might be an option. But, if you have a car, I would recommend the Oakland Zoo or even Holly Park Zoo in San Jose (for little kids).

Don’t get me wrong... it’s not HORRIBLE. But it ain’t San Diego!

Address: 1 Zoo Road

Directions: Drive westbound on Sloat Blvd., left on Skyline Blvd., then right on the Great Highway,

Phone: (415) 753-7080

Website: http://www.sfzoo.org/

Review Helpfulness: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Written Feb 21, 2008
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Mission District - San Francisco
Mission District Mission District Review

The Mission District is a great place to spend and afternoon eating and shopping. Despite some gentrification, the Mission is still very much the City's Hispanic epicenter. Mission Street in particular will remind you very much of a Mexican Main Street.

The Mission proper is a very large area, but the "hipster" or "tourist" Mission - containing lots of thrift stores, burrito joints, and cafes, is the area between 16th and 19th Streets up and down, and Dolores and Mission left to right. This is part of what some maps call the Inner Mission. The Outer Mission is not as hip, but still has some great restaurants, particularly along 24th Street near Potrero.

My favorite thing to do in the mission is to walk down Mission or Valencia streets and poke around the incredibly tacky Mexican and Chinese junk shops. Mission is especially good for CHEAP luggage, shoes, clothes, whatever. If you're on a budget, do your shopping here!

The Mission is, for the most part, a relatively safe neighborhood. Not always, though.

One area to be wary around is the BART station at 16th & Mission. The plaza here is always crowded with bums, drug dealers and junkies. The good news is that it rapidly gets better as you move south towards 17th Street, or west towards Valencia. What you DON'T want to do is go east. First, you'll hit notorious Capp St. If you want to have fun with a San Franciscan, tell them your hotel is on Capp St. and watch what kind of reaction you get! Capp St. is well known for its junkie prostitutes, and if you see the hookers here you'll swear off sex for good! South Van Ness from around 16th to 24th is only marginally better, and is also a well known gang hangout. Definitely avoid these streets at night.

The Mission can be dirty, gritty, and occasionally dangerous, but it's worth checking out. Just stick to the main streets and shopping areas and practice your street smarts and you'll be fine. And full.

Check out my photos series of abandoned movie theaters...

Directions: The best places to stroll in the Mission are Mission Street from 16th to 21st Streets, and Valencia from 16th to 20th Street.

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Dec 14, 2007
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The New MH DeYoung Museum is Open! - San Francisco
The New MH DeYoung Museum is Open! Golden Gate Park Review

After 5 years and a complete tear down and rebuild, the MH DeYoung Museum is finally open again!

Now, to start off, let me say again that San Francisco has had a reputation for having not very good museums - and the old DeYoung was often sited as an example. The new DeYoung, however, is a vast improvement! The architecture is bold and provocative, eliciting all kinds of praise and grumbles from locals.

Is it a great museum, artwise? I would have to say... probably not. But the overall package of the architecture, the setting, the views from the observation deck, and (some of) the art make it a must see. It is also right next to the Japanese Tea Garden, scross from the soon-to-be-opened Academy of Sciences, very close to Strybing Arboraetum, a few blocks away from the 9th Avenue shopping district, and about a mile or so away from the Haight/Ashbury, so you can make a very enjoyable day out of the area.

Admission is $10 for adults, $6 for youths, but you get $2 off for showing your MUNI transfer or pass! Your ticket also provides same-day admission to the Palace of the Legion of Honor, which is a long ways away, but is actually even better than the DeYoung (artwise, at least).

When you get in, check out the cool courtyards and entryway! The first floor contains a largely uninspiring assortment 20th c. and Contemporary art. The good news is it gets better on the 2nd floor. The African Art is amazing, as is the collection from Oceania and New Guinea. These two areas alone are worth the price of admission.

The observation tower looms 9 stories over GGP, and has incredible 360 degree views. The other 4 photos are taken from there.

Museum Hours:
Tuesday thru Sunday, 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM
Open 'till 8:45 PM on Friday
CLOSED MONDAY!

Address: Music Concourse in GGP, 9th Avenue entrance

Directions: Take the N Judah streetcar to 9th & Irving, walk north 1 block to GGP and follow the signs. If driving, enter park on JFK, find the museum, then park somewhere in the vicinity.

Phone: 1-800-777-9966

Website: http://www.thinker.org

Review Helpfulness: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Dec 14, 2007
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Japanese Tea Garden - Yes, it IS worth it! - San Francisco
Japanese Tea Garden - Yes, it IS worth it! Japanese Tea Garden Review

The Japanese Tea Garden is a lovely little patch of shrubbery and pagodas just to the left of the new DeYoung Museum. And, yes, despite what others may say, it is worth it. The gardens are well maintained, and the bridges and pagodas are beautiful. It's a great place to take some pictures, or just go for a little stroll with your sweetie.

The tea house is fun, especially on a rainy day. It is pricey - I think tea service for two is something like $9 - but it's a great break from a day of running around the park.

Hours of operation:
March thru October - 8:30 - 6
November thru February - 8:30 - 5

Admission is $3.50 for adults, less for kids
First and Last hours of each day are free
1st Wed of the month half price (Sep. thru May only)

Address: Located in Golden Gate Park, next to the DeYoung

Phone: 415-752-4227

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Dec 14, 2007
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Coit Tower - a hike but worth it - San Francisco
Coit Tower - a hike but worth it Coit Tower Review

Coit Tower is a beautiful SF landmark, and should be on your list of must sees - at least for an hour or two.

You can drive to Coit Tower, but I do NOT recommend it! Parking is extremely limited, and you could wait a VERY LONG time for a spot to open up (an hour is not uncommon). The 39 MUNI bus goes to it, but the best way to get to Coit Tower - if you're in OK shape - is to walk. There are several staircases that take you from the lowlands at Levi Plaza (which used to be the shoreline) up Telegraph Hill. The Filbert Street steps are the most well known, but the Greenwich Street steps are nice as well.

The views from the parking lot are great, but you'll have to stand on the walls to peer over the junipers, which need a good trimming. There is an elevator that goes up to the top; for $4.50 - the price of 2/3 of a scoop of ice cream at Pier 39 - you can get some of the best views of the city.

Also inside, for no charge, are the famous fresco murals. Occasionally vandalized by people objecting to their socialist messages, and, more recently, by dumb people who just want to carve their initials in something, they were done in 1934, at the height of the American Socialist movement. The longshoreman's strike was in the same year. They are great works of art in themselves, and you can spend hours (well, maybe one hour) looking at all of the details.

Website: http://www.coittower.org/

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Feb 5, 2007
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Looking down Market Street - San Francisco

Looking down Market Street

The View From Twin Peaks Twin Peaks Review

If - and only IF - it's a clear day, you'll want to make the short drive up to Twin Peaks. The view is incredible. You'll get to see most of San Francisco (at least, most of SF that is of interest to the visitor), and, on clear days, you'll see a lot of the East Bay and Marin.

There may be public transportation here on MUNI - I'm not sure. If you don't have a car you can get a similar view from Tank Hill (click here) or from Market Street above the Castro.

There is parking, but you may have to wait for a spot to open up if it's busy. This also used to be a popular "Lover's Lane" kind of place at night, though I think people have gotten more uptight in recent years!

Directions: From the Castro, take Market Street up the hill and follow the signs. Take a right on Twin Peaks Blvd.

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Jan 29, 2007
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from the website - San Francisco

from the website

St. Stupid's Day Parade! Seasonal Events Review

If you are in town on April Fools Day, you MUST take part in the St. Stupid's Day Parade. It happens every April 1st, rain or shine, and starts usually from the Transamerica Pyramid. The marchers - all wearing ridiculous outfits and carrying stupid signs - walk around the financial district, and do stupid things. One of the highlights is the "sock exchange," where everyone meets on the steps of the Pacific Stock Exchange and hurls socks at each other. Another is the traditional "throwing of pennies at the Banker's Heart," which takes place in front of the Bank of America building.

This IS San Francisco nuttiness at it's finest. To miss it would be... well, stupid!

Directions: Meets (usually) at Transamerica Building and tours the Financial District. Check the website.

Website: http://www.saintstupid.com

Review Helpfulness: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Jan 26, 2007
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Market Street Railway Museum - San Francisco
Market Street Railway Museum Market Street Review

This newbie and freebie is a delightful little museum in the shadow of the Ferry Building. It opened on Sep. 2, 2006.

It's a small, one-room affair, but it contains some really cool stuff! Among the old, battered street signs and placards, you'll find the railway agent's logbook filled out on the day of the 1906 earthquake (he described the weather as "smoky"), and a rail transfer from that morning. There's also an interactive video screen which has some great old movies and pictures of Market Street pre- and post- earthquake.

There are also plans to put a car facade inside the museum, but that probably won't happen until December, 2006.

The gift selection is quite good, with some excellent clothing featuring the old streetcar signs, and lots of great postcards and books.

And when you're ready to take the F-line streetcar, it stops right outside the door!

The museum hours are...

Wed. thru Sat. - 10 AM to 6 PM

Cost: FREE

Address: 77 Steuart St.

Directions: The museum is located on the plaza facing the Ferry Building on the SW corner.

Website: http://www.streetcar.org

Review Helpfulness: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Written Oct 29, 2006
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Where the Tanner's live - San Francisco

Where the Tanner's live

If you want to save $ on postcards Alamo Square Review

Though you may have never been here before, you've seen Alamo Square a million times. A favorite postcard view - pictured on such TV shows as "Full House" and that horrible show with Brooke Shields (what was that called?) - no view is as quintessentially San Francisco as the famous row of 6 Victorians with the city skyline looming in the background.

Alamo Square is a 4-square block patch on the top of a hill just north of Haight Street in the Lower Haight neighborhood. The famous view is looking east, towards downtown. Surrounding Alamo Square on all sides are many beautiful houses, mostly of the "stick style," which was the 1880-1890 period, immediately preceding the Victorians. There aren't any cafes or anything on the square, but if you walk downhill to Haight St, or go downhill on Fillmore heading north, you'll find coffee and food.

The Zen Center is pretty close to here (I'll try putting a tip on it soon), and the Lower Haight is just down the hill.

Alamo Square is pretty safe at night, though it is close to an unsafe area a couple blocks downhill and to the East. This would be Buchanan Street - the designated crack dealing area. The corner of Page & Buchanan in particular should be avoided. There used to be some gnarly housing projects in this neighborhood, but the replacement housing has cleaned up the area considerably.

VERY IMPORTANT PHOTO NOTE - if you want to take some serious pictures here, come in the afternoon! The morning light is no good; the Victorian house-fronts will be in shadow.

Alamo Square also happens to be 3 blocks from my house. So if you're going to be in the neighborhood, send me an e-mail and I'll meet you for coffee!

Address: Between Scott & Steiner and Hayes & Fulton.

Directions: Alamo Square is bordered by Scott & Steiner and Hayes & Fulton Streets. There is no parking garage, but street parking should be available. The #5 or #21 bus goes right to it, or you can take a bus to Haight and Pierce and walk uphill 4 blocks.

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Jun 29, 2006
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