Exploring San Francisco’s Mission District
Our holiday plans were to spend a few days in a posh San Francisco hotel playing tourists downtown.
Until we got the call to enjoy a free stay courtesy of Wilma.
This sweet dog played host to our ‘staycation’ in San Francisco’s Mission District where we discovered that the western side of the City has plenty of fun things to do that don’t involve cable cars or shopping.
Golden Gate Park
Museums – The California Academy of Sciences deserves a full day especially if you are traveling with kids. Plan ahead and pick up tickets first thing for the free movie showings. (Another way to plan ahead is hit the cafe before the lunch rush!)
Their tagline is “Visit an aquarium, planetarium and natural history museum all under one living roof.” And each one is worth a visit including the living rooftop.
Our day at the DeYoung Museum was a little rushed with a tour of Frank Stella: A Retrospective then a fast cruise through the outdoor sculpture garden, galleries and the outlook from the observation deck of the Hamon Tower. We could have used more time here.
Nature in the City – Golden Gate Park has winding trails that start at the Pacific Ocean and lead to hills to climb, boats for paddling, fields for running and playing, and generally enjoying a large green space. You may even come across the bison herd that lives here.
No vacation of mine is complete unless I manage to visit a National Park so we spent time on a couple of days within Golden Gate National Recreation Area using Land’s End as our base. The trails along the shoreline offer stunning views of the ocean and, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge as you make your way up to The Presidio. The Cliff House restaurant offers views but can get busy fast! We decided to enjoy brunch at the bar to avoid the wait for a table.
Fine Arts Museum
We were exploring on Christmas Day so the sister campus of the de Young, the Legion of Honor Museum was closed. The grounds of the museum were quiet and peaceful without the normal crowds.
One of my favorite outdoor artists is Mark di Suvero and he has a very symmetrical piece that mimics the symmetry of the Beaux-arts museum building.
A more thought provoking work is the Holocaust. A single survivor clinging to the fence while bodies are piled up behind him brought back memories of our visit to Auschwitz which I briefly described in my Liberation Remembrance post. This definitely a cautionary tale for today.
Golden Gate Bridge
Everyone needs to experience walking or biking the Golden Gate Bridge at some point when they visit San Francisco. Feeling the intensity of the winds and the currents below are a small view into the work of the construction crews that built the bridge. The classic tale of the bridge painting starting at one end and when it finishes at the other end they just do it all over again is actually true. The scaffolding is attached to the bridge with paint equipment ready for the crew to return after the holidays.
Cities on hills must make use of staircases and San Francisco has many that are fun to climb and beautiful works of art. We made a point to search out some of these in the coastal neighborhoods.
We also found staircases as we did an urban hike from the house to the top of Twin Peaks. We used a guide from the late Bill Choisser and followed the advice to pick up a lunch at the Rossi’s Deli (delicious!) across from the Castro Theatre. The walk was a fun way to see neighborhoods and avoid the traffic going to the top of the hills. The hike can be started from the Castro neighborhood which is easy to access by public transit.
Theater and Traditions
A Christmas tradition in San Francisco is Kung Pao Kosher Comedy. Billed as “Jewish comedy on Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant.” The headliner this year was Elayne Boosler. It was a hilarious night! On Christmas Eve, the restaurant offerings were slim in the neighborhood so once again, we enjoyed Chinese food.
San Francisco still has distinct ethnic neighborhoods. Chinatown is well known but one of our stops was Little Russia in the Richmond District. Anchoring the neighborhood is the Holy Virgin Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church. At the local coffee house we could see some older residents enjoying lunch after Christmas Mass.
Alamo Drafthouse has opened in a renovated theatre on Mission St. This place is pretty swanky compare to the original Drafthouse that opened in a refurbished parking garage in Austin, Texas. Rogue One drew many of the local tech workers that are gentrifying the neighborhood. Signs of tensions between disparate income groups is noticeable throughout San Francisco.
Our home for the holidays was near Mission Delores and it was a beautiful walk to see the parish preparing for the Christmas Mass. The Spanish Mission architecture is found throughout California and these are worth touring if you are a fan of churches.
I also spent one afternoon exploring the Mission District using the new Detour mobile app and will write up my experiences soon in a separate post.
Alas, our staycation had to end. We were sorry to say goodbye to Wilma and hope to see her again someday. She was a fortunate opportunity for us to expand our travels beyond Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embarcadero.
What are your favorite spots in San Francisco?