San Francisco

Andrei Marks · March 19, 2013

Last weekend I was in San Francisco, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so impressed by a city. (More pictures to come later)

I can’t recall having visited anywhere where pretty much every site or section of the city that I walked through elicited a “wow, this is incredible” feeling from me as frequently as San Francisco.

I have a theory about cities and their aesthetics. Or at least cities and their aesthetic appeal to me, personally. Either they overwhelm you with the sheer number and height of their skyscrapers, or they give you vistas. Or some combination of the two. New York is representative of the first. San Francisco has the second on lockdown. My current locale, Philadelphia, in comparison, simply doesn’t rate, however pleasant it is to live in a flat city with a baby skyline.

I was in town with my wife, who was interviewing for a fellowship, and we got to walk around quite a bit.

We stayed near Civic Center, and two days in a row I walked from there to the Pacific.

The first day I park-jumped from Civic Center up to Jefferson Park, to Alamo Square, down the Panhandle and all the way through Golden Gate Park to touch the ocean. It was sunny, quite a walk, and I was impressed by the amount of nature in the city. I took a bus back down to Union Square to meet up with my wife for post-interview wine at First Crush, then dinner in Chinatown, and a walk down to the Embarcadero to see the Bay Bridge’s Bay Lights art installation.

The next day we started with breakfast at Dottie’s True Blue Cafe, since we were a block away and it had almost 2,000 Yelp reviews, so why not. It was pretty good, though my giving up of red meat/sausage cuts out about 85% of most brunch menus. We took on some of San Francisco’s hills directly (jogging would be so awesome there!), and walked through Chinatown again, this time ending up in Washington Square. We headed up to the top of Coit Tower, on Telegraph Hill. Then down to Pier 39, which was so touristy it was almost a caricature of itself, then began our long trek westward.

We saw the Musee Mechanique, which wasn’t as impressive as I had hoped, though I was struck by the number of “scene”-type arcade machines. Little mechanical dioramas, essentially, which take a coin and then act out a short 10-15 second scene. I had no idea those sorts of things existed, and feel sorry for pre-Youtube era entertainment. (And for us, for whatever comes next.)

Afterward we stopped at Ghirardelli Square for some chocolate shakes and reading, then walked down through the Fort Mason park area, down Marina Boulevard past the Marina Green, and walked around the Palace of Fine Arts.

That was my absolute favorite part of the city. It’s so unlike anything I’ve ever seen, a Romanticist painting come to life. I was utterly dumbstruck by the beauty of the architecture and the grounds. Once, in college, I lamented with a friend that the United States had too few gargantuan monuments. Like Rome’s Altare della Patria. It’s criticized for its size, but fuck ‘em I think it’s awesome. We joked about putting a gigantic pigeon statue somewhere in the middle of nowhere, visible from some transcontinental highway. The Crazy Horse Monument, and Mount Rushmore, are definitely two places that pop into mind. So I’m glad the Palace of Fine Arts exists.

We walked through the Presidio along the shore and up to the Golden Gate Bridge, and then took a bus to the Cliffhouse for sunset, dinner, and drinks.

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Every time my wife and I step off the bus in New York, and walk around Manhattan, we come away with a contact high. Maybe we should move back, as soon as we can, we say. Maybe a large part of that reaction comes from nostalgia and having so many fond memories of being young in the city. But a part of it is certainly owed to the city itself, for being so much unique and so much more everything than any other city experience. San Francisco definitely gave us a little bit of that feeling, of being in a place and knowing that it’s somewhere you need to be.

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