Well this was a first. I’ve been to San Francisco on business before, but this time it was a business trip for Karen and I got to just tag along. We stayed at the remarkable Fairmont Heritage Place at Ghirardelli Square, near Fisherman’s Wharf.
Ghirardelli Square was home to the Ghirardelli chocolate factory from 1893 until the business was sold in the early 1960’s and the manufacturing operations moved elsewhere. Concerned that the square would be demolished for apartments, a group of San Franciscan’s purchased the square and converted the brick buildings into a restaurant and retail complex which opened in 1964. The square is considered the first successful adaptive reuse project in the United States, and a model for other projects like Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
Our “room” at the Fairmont Heritage Place was actually a 1,900 square foot, 3-bedroom apartment with gourmet kitchen. We enjoyed the hotel’s amenities including the free breakfast (they use the fancier term “complimentary breakfast”), daily wine and cheese reception, and exclusive owner’s lounge and terraces with stunning bay views. Arriving on Sunday evening, we decided on dinner at Waxman’s Restaurant, in the square, where we had perhaps the best pasta dishes of our lives.
Before leaving for San Francisco I contacted my friends Scott and Laurie, who had recently embarked on a 10-year sailing trip around the world. They were still in San Francisco, as they make their way down the coast, and we agreed to meet for lunch in the square. When I woke up and looked out the hotel window it was so fun to see their beautiful catamaran in Aquatic Park where they had moored overnight.
Karen had a coffee meeting early Monday morning at a downtown cafe and we were able to get a ride there in the Fairmont car. I came back to the hotel by cable car (Powell-Hyde line) to meet Scott and Laurie. After several cable cars passed by me on Union Square without being able to take any new passengers, I finally walked a few blocks towards the end of the line to get on a car before it filled up with tourists. Despite the rigamarole, it was a fun way to get back. Karen wasn’t so lucky and ended up having to take a taxi back to join us all for lunch.
Karen’s afternoon appointment was with the travel editors at Sunset magazine, in Oakland. I was the chauffeur (and managed to get her there with only one wrong turn). Sunset’s offices are at Jack London Square on the Oakland waterfront, which was a nice place to wander while Karen had her meeting. Jack London, the author, journalist, and socialist, grew up in the area.
In an introduction to a collection of stories, he wrote:
“I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.”
He certainly seems to have lived those words, as he died at only 40 years of age.
Monday night was free so after enjoying the Fairmont wine and cheese on the private terrace, we went to a gem of a restaurant a few blocks away called Frascati. It was cozy and intimate, but with a lively neighbourhood vibe.
The next morning I had time for a morning run, which I used as an opportunity to check out the Coit Tower, which sits atop Telegraph Hill. I ran to the far side of the hill and ascended via the Greenwich Steps, which passed some lovely gardens. Next time I’ll try the Filbert Steps, also from the east side. The Tower was built in 1933, and was paid for by a gift from the estate of Lillian Coit, who died in 1929. Her Will provided that 1/3 of her estate “be expended in an appropriate manner for the purpose of adding to the beauty of the city which I have always loved.” I think her executors did well by her.
Karen’s first meeting on Tuesday was at the Cliff House Bistro, perched above the open Pacific Ocean in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. During her meeting I went for a drive through Golden Gate Park and the nearby Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood, which was the centre of the counterculture movement and the 1967 Summer of Love. I got back to the Cliff House in time to have a few of its famous popovers with cream and jam.
Our next stop was Marin Country Mart, a high-end open air shopping complex at Larkspur Landing, across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. While Karen had lunch with a travel writer there, I drove to the Muir Woods National Monument, one of only a few remaining groves of old-growth coast redwood trees in the San Francisco Bay area. The trees are up to 80 metres tall and 1,200 years old.
Karen’s final appointment was with a travel writer at Tosca Cafe, a hip bar on Columbus near Broadway. I explored the surrounding area, starting with Jack Kerouac Alley across the street, named after the famous Beat Generation writer who frequented the legendary beatnik hangouts on the alley, the Vesuvio Cafe (bar) and City Lights Bookstore. The alley was transformed from a place for trucks to pick up garbage to a pedestrian lane in 2007.
The surrounding area was quite seedy, with lots of bars, nightclubs, strip clubs and liquor stores, but a strange narrow tower with a blue domed roof caught my eye just north of Broadway on the lower slope of Telegraph Hill. It is known as Pasquale’s Tower, built by Pasquale Gogna, a baker from Italy who built the tower in 1933. Legend has it that he then sent for his wife from Italy, but she didn’t like it and left him, heartbroken. Today each of its four floors is a separate one-room apartment.
With direct flights to San Francisco from Victoria, we hope to come back soon to spend more time exploring this great city.