We decided to be tourists for a few days and went up to San Francisco. We stayed at the Argonaut Hotel, across from Fisherman’s Wharf and next to Fort Mason, a large park.
Visiting San Francisco confirms that I want to wait on European travel until next year. Our hotel is right by the cable car base, but only one line is running, along the Embarcadero. The cable cars that go up and down the hills that I was looking forward to riding, are not going to start up until fall.
Chinatown, on the other hand, is going full tilt. We walked to Chinatown, stopping in the adjacent section of North Beach by City Lights Bookstore, stomping grounds of the late Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and store owner, and posing by Jack Kerouc Alley. The North End is pretty quiet before noon, so we kept walking on to Chinatown.
Overhead paper lanterns, murals, graffiti, and store windows kept us looking in all directions.
Chinatown is large and bustling. We walked along Grant St. and around the corner to Portsmouth Square, where we sat in the park, admired the Transamerica Tower, and watched a group of men playing a game of cards that we didn’t understand at all. We settled on lunch at the Hong Kong Clay Pot restaurant. Jonathan’s clay pot of quail and Chinese sausage was a winner, delicious and full of quail.
Having regained our strength over lunch, we browsed a Chinese grocery store, and continued on to the The Wok Shop, to look at the best selection of kitchen tools around. I found the small teapot I needed as a replacement, while Jonathan found a new cleaver. A couple of other items and we were on our way.
We’ve had good luck with the bus system in San Francisco. There’s an app and a search function that tells you how to get to where you’re going. We’ve taken the bus a few times and found it easy to use, with buses running every 15 minutes or so. We haven’t had a long wait, and taking the bus has been easier than getting a cab or an Uber.
On the way home, we stopped to look at a mural of Frida Kahlo, and debated whether she is wearing a mask.
We enjoyed the visit to Chinatown, even if we didn’t buy a lot of things to take home.
Another day, we visited Japantown, which is not as busy as Chinatown, but has a very pretty five story pagoda in the center of Peace Plaza. There are two large malls on either side of the plaza, and lots of stores in the adjacent neighborhood. We had lunch at Marufuku Ramen, and strolled past the unusual and dramatically-shaped Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption. We were so intrigued that we went inside to look at the stained glass.
Our final big outing was a visit to the De Young Museum, part of the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco. The dramatic building dates to 2005, and holds a wide range of materials and exhibits, often puzzling because there are areas thoroughly covered by individual or family donations that don’t fit very well with the mission of a state museum. It’s all interesting, there’s a lovely cafe and a good gift shop, and the entire complex is in Golden Gate Park, with the California Academy of Sciences, and the Botanical Garden just steps away. For those fortunate enough to live in San Francisco, the city has lovely parks. We visitors have to squeeze in time to visit them.
On the way back to the hotel, we passed children splashing in the water in front of the Maritime Museum, and long-distance swimmers pulling lightweight buoys behind them as they swam quarter-mile laps across the bay from the Pier to the beach at the foot of Hyde St. I admire their discipline.
San Francisco is a good place for architecture. In addition to the Transamerica Tower and the San Francisco version of London’s Gherkin, there are interesting Victorian townhouses that we’ve all seen in photos, and a lot of Art Deco buildings. In the evening, we rode the cable car down the Embarcadero and had dinner at Angler, a very fine seafood restaurant. Every bite was delicious.
When you combine a major city, seaside wharves, Victorian houses, hippie landmarks, and tourism, there are a lot of quirky things to see in San Francisco. Stopping along Fisherman’s Wharf, I felt I could almost capture them all in one photo: there’s a gigantic rotating neon sign of a ferryboat, wharves, dads in polo shirts, kids carrying Alcatraz souvenirs, a surprisingly large number of dogs, and various persons who are either on the phone wearing airpods, or muttering to themselves. We enjoyed all the distinctiveness of the city, the great food, and not having to use our car. It was an excellent visit.
Photos from top to bottom: steep streets, former union hall detail, Mission Street substation relief “Power” (1948) by Robert B. Howard, Sea lion on Fisherman’s Wharf, the California bear on his skateboard, a Kawaii (“cute”) figure outside a sushi restaurant, the New People building (if you go in, do you come out “new”?) and a wall mural of Monarch butterfly and California poppies.