Many years ago I saw this quote about San Francisco by one of my all time heroes, Frank Lloyd Wright: “San Francisco is the only city I can think of that can survive all the things you people are doing to it and still look beautiful.”, and I have to agree. It’s been about ten years since I was last in the city and wanted to see everything again, so set about showing Mark all the sights as it was his first trip.
San Francisco has a very large collection of stunningly beautiful buildings, it is spacious, has interesting public transport, a beautiful and expansive waterway and high class shopping (including two wonderful fabric shops visited by me). It does, however, have a dark side in the name of a large homeless population, which I found rather distressing.
We really appreciated the magnificent warm weather, having come from the freezing conditions of New York. One of the first things we did was to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.
The views from the bridge are rather magnificent
Now I think I’ve done this before but I was slightly freaked out by it this time so refused to do the return journey, so we walked around to Sausalito and caught the ferry back. The view across Sausalito from the ferry shows what a pretty place this is.
I wanted to show Mark Lombard Street in Russian Hill, which is considered to be “the crookedest street in the world” because it has eight hairpin turns in the space of one block. I found it hard to capture, so this is the best I could do. It’s such a shame about the power lines, there’s no underground power in San Francisco!
The view from the top is magnificent and makes the journey totally worth it.
One place I had never visited before was the Secret Tiled Staircase on 16th Avenue. This is the whole staircase and it looks as though I am at the top looking down, but in fact I’m at the bottom looking up! The tiles are on the face of the steps rather than on the treads, so if you look down there is nothing to see, but looking up is wonderful.
There is a bit of a pattern. The top is the sun going down to the sea at the bottom. The photo below shows the sun and the constellations.
There are 163 steps which have been tiled as part of a community project and this is a lovely place to visit as the views from the top are spectacular.
There is another tiled staircase which doesn’t really appear in the tourist literature, and these are also on 16th Avenue but on a lower level and are known as The Hidden Garden steps. The garden bordering the steps is beautiful and very well tended and the step mosaics show plants and creatures to be found in gardens, so it has a very different feel. It is definitely worth the trek out to see both sets of steps.
A slightly unusual tourist attraction is the Wave Organ which is a wave-activated acoustic sculpture constructed on a jetty in the San Francisco Bay. It is made using funerary stones salvaged when a cemetery was demolished. When the water is at high tide a series of pipes convey the various sounds.
We were marginally underwhelmed by this as the water was calm and the tide was low, so as we left we were delighted to look up and see a dome.
Domes are always interesting so we set off to investigate. Well, what a place! It took us ages to work out what it was, but eventually we found a sign. It’s the Palace of Fine Arts which is a monumental structure originally built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition to exhibit works of art. One of only a few surviving structures from the Exposition (there were ten such palaces built), it is still situated on its original site. It was never intended to survive beyond the Exposition but was saved by a preservation league, so had to be rebuilt and has had quite a checkered history. There are some exquisite components.
I love the neo-classical elements. It is used for weddings and public events and we went inside a large space where games were being played.
It is surrounded by Australian eucalyptus trees. We found all the Australian plants dotted around San Francisco quite fascinating.
Kangaroo paws and Golden Wattle
And some magnificent Corymbia Ficifolia which Mark was rather dark about as he’s planted lots of these and they are nowhere near as spectacular!
I wanted Mark to see the Painted Ladies near Alamo Square. These are Victorian or Edwardian houses which are decorated with three or more colours. These seem to be the ones which are featured everywhere
but I prefer these which are just down the street.
We also enjoyed the large number of markets. We came across this one which was full of local produce and whilst Mark was fondling avocados I happened to look up and spot this rather splendid Beaux-Arts building.
Of course a visit was immediately in order and we discovered that the building is City Hall and was littered with brides (and their grooms). You can just see one past the crosswalk.
The building is magnificent inside as it is out and seems to be part of quite a large cultural centre. We saw the Opera House, Ballet, and galleries. Well worth a visit.
I mentioned at the beginning of the post that San Francisco is renowned for its public transport systems and of course the cable cars are probably the most famous. Mark looking particularly pleased to be on his first cable car ride.
We rode the cable cars up and down the hills and had a night time excursion on them.
We found that if we went to where they started from we didn’t have to queue and risk not getting on. This is not an efficient mode of transport, but it is a lot of fun!
The other vintage form of transportation is the streetcar. These also run on rails, like the cable cars, but they draw their power from overhead cables. San Francisco has the world’s most diverse collection of streetcars in regular transit service, and many are quite unique and different looking. I delighted in the gelato colours and different styling of these streetcars. This is one of the ones that we rode on and it was truly delightful.
I always seemed too close to get a good photo and when I could get the whole vehicle in shot there were too many people around it, so this is as good as it gets! The windows had lovely winders to wind them up and down, it was such a pleasure to be on this streetcar!
The other type of streetcar looks like a traditional tram and it has wooden benches. It reminds me a bit of the trams that run to Glenelg Beach in South Australia.
Of course fabric shopping happened! Britex was actually in the same street as our hotel, which meant that I walked past it every single day. It took me a couple of days to gently steer Mark inside and what a shop! Two floors of really luscious fabrics, and I could have gone mad. I had read that the staff weren’t that friendly and that the fabrics were overpriced. Well, the staff were super friendly. Here is one of them explaining to me that he went in there 27 years ago to buy fabric for trousers and never left! Apparently he still wears the trousers. I’m not sure what the arm gesture is about but I’m sure we weren’t discussing fishing… The fabrics are expensive but they are high quality and I did manage to buy a very interesting panel.
The other store I wanted to visit was the Fabric Outlet in the Mission district. It took us a few days to get there as it was a bit out of the way. Imagine my delight when we got there and I found that it was 40% off most fabrics. Oh joy! Oh boy! We did have a large luggage allowance but I really didn’t want to have a fourth bag to check in, so I did restrain myself and bought two very dull pieces of fabric for Mark and a nice lycra for swimwear for me. They didn’t have a husband chair and I’m sure that if Mark had been more comfortable I may have bought more.
And finally, I caught up with another internet sewing friend: Savage Coco from Naughty Bobbin Patterns, who bought me the most delicious lunch in Sausalito. We had such a great time talking about everything from politics to homeless people to vintage prints, but of course we had a very intense discussion about her outfit – a McCalls top and the skirt from her very own Equinox skirt pattern, which is such a useful pattern. She had added pockets and a back vent and it looked wonderful in the 1970s double knit. I immediately decided that I was going to make one for winter.
I am now waiting in Hong Kong for our flight to Perth. I am slightly incoherent because our travel time this time, door to door, is more than 30 hours due to an eight hour layover. However, I am looking forward to seeing my family and, of course, my sewing machines.