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S
an Francisco, the spar-
kling city by the bay,
turned out to be ev-
erything I'd read about
and more. I've passed
through this city a half dozen
times and never really taken the
time to check it out. My husband
grew up in nearby Berkeley and
wanted to take some time to
explore his roots and show me
around. It turned out to be a real
treat for me!
San Francisco has a fascinat-
ing history. In 1848 the city's
population increased 25-fold
in a single year when the 49ers
started arriving in search of gold.
By the 1880's, the city started to
develop a reputation as a hub
for the arts when creative icons
like Mark Twain and Robert
Louis Stevenson moved here.
In the 1950's Beat writers came
and hosted readings and bop
concerts in North Beach. This
was followed by legendary rock
bands like the Grateful Dead and
Jefferson Airplane in the 1960's.
These bands were instrumental
in bringing thousands of hip-
pies to Haight-Ashbury. Today,
San Francisco is surrounded
by the high-tech ingenuity that
will drive this country for a long
time to come. It seems as though
this city has been a center stage
and in the forefront of important
changes in this country for a very
long time.
After we arrived at the airport,
we rode the BART train to Fish-
erman's Wharf, hopped on the
Cable Car and rode it to our ho-
tel at the top of Nob Hill. We
actually considered walking up
the hill, but after a brief cursory
look at the steepness of the side-
walk, I said "no way." Besides,
I thought it was unthinkable to
visit San Francisco without rid-
ing the cable car. The fascinat-
ing underground cable system
was invented in 1873 and covers
a ten-mile cross section of down-
town San Francisco. The cars
travel continuously at a speed of
nine and a half miles an hour.
The ride in itself is pure fun and
immensely entertaining.
The cable car dropped us off
in front of our home base, the
historic Mark Hopkins Hotel.
Our room on the 19
th
floor had
an old-fashioned style and ex-
traordinary views of the city.
When the clouds rolled in we
felt like we were perched in
our private tree-house in the
sky. The city was ours and we
walked everywhere from Nob
Hill. We explored China Town,
North Beach and Union Square.
We set up a free guided walking
tour through the website www.
sfcity guides.org.
After settling in at our hotel,
we walked to The House of Prime
Rib on Van Ness Avenue for din-
ner. I don't eat meat often, but I
knew this place was a big part of
the San Francisco establishment
and I wanted to experience it.
Many of the waiters had worked
here for over twenty years and
thrilled us with colorful, old-
time stories. We were served at
our table from giant steam warm-
ers. This restaurant lived up to its
reputation. Fabulous!
After dinner, we hopped in
a cab and went to North Beach
to see Beach Blanket Babylon,
a play that has been a San Fran-
cisco institution since debuting
in the mid 1970's. Beach Blan-
ket Babylon lampoons celebri-
ties and current events and is
constantly rewritten to remain
fresh. The sheer wit of the cos-
tume design and raw talent of
the performers had us laughing
the entire evening. Some of the
hats were so big, it's a miracle
the performers didn't collapse
underneath them.
The Golden Gate Bridge is
without doubt one of the most
beautiful in the world with its
majestic backdrop, tremendous
towers and giant sweeping ca-
bles. Riding a bike across the
bridge had long been a dream of
mine. After a good night's sleep,
we took a brisk walk to Blazing
Saddles Bike Rentals & Tours on
Hyde Street. The helpful woman
behind the counter suggested we
rent a "pedal-assisted" bike with
a battery pack that was used for
boosting the power of the bike.
I had no idea what she was
talking about, but soon agreed
when she explained that this
type of bicycle would climb
hills much easier than a normal
bike. It felt like a strong wind
was pushing us along while rid-
ing. We rode five hours straight
without getting tired. We even
went to Sausalito and caught the
ferry back to the city from there.
Both of us felt it would have not
been possible to cover so many
miles without our "pedal-assist-
ed" bikes. We were thrilled with
ourselves and our bikes!
My husband, a yoga buff,
wanted to spend some time
studying yoga at Fort Mason
Center. The center is a complex
of old wharves and tile-roof
warehouses once a major mili-
tary embarkation point. I had
never heard of this place be-
fore, but soon realized it is now
the cultural heart of avant-garde
San Francisco. All kinds of non-
profit organizations and arts
and crafts businesses have set
TANTALIZING SAN FRANCISCO
Article and Photo by Ann Nelson
A view of San Francisco from Pacific heights.