We had a day to spend with our grandson Dan, and after seeing all of Paris with him two years ago, we wanted to spend our afternoon exploring another beautiful Dewey's Victory city -- San Francisco. We had walked Paris until our legs ached, and luckily a new walking trail has been developed by the San Francisco Historical Society -- the Barbary Coast Trail. We read the online description, downloaded the map, and left at 11:00, which we thought would give us plenty of time to walk 3.8 miles before the theater in the evening.
BART is a good choice for East Bay travellers who want to visit San Francisco without the expense and hassle of driving, tolls, and parking garages. We were lucky to find the last free parking spot in the BART garage at the Fruitvale Station, and we were whisked to the corner of Powell and Market. We wanted to buy a copy of the booklet describing the Barbary Coast Trail.
"Didn't we see the Visitor Center somewhere near here?"
"Are you looking for someplace?" asked a woman of nondescript appearance and indeterminate age.
We had actually walked to the rail and spotted the Visitor Center, but we answered, "Yes, the Visitor Center." Colorful Chinatown
"Well," she continued, "it's down there, and over here is the elevator." She led us to the elevator and to the door of the Visitor Center, was happy to receive a gratuity, and told us whenever we need directions we should ask a homeless person. We were to have further proof of this before the day was over.
We purchased the Barbary Coast Trail booklet and set out, crossing Market to begin at the Old Mint, then back up Powell to Union Square. The Trail is marked by large brass plaques, about 15 inches in diameter, set in the concrete sidewalks. Every time the trail bends or turns there is a plaque, but we still missed several of the turns and had to backtrack. We were glad to have the map and booklet to guide us.
At Union Square we admired the upscale shops and the open square with its turn-of-the-twentieth-century statue of Victory which commemorates Admiral Dewey's exploits in the Spanish-American War. We headed up Grant into Chinatown, and saw many wonderful sights, including a Mah Jongg parlor, Tong buildings, and an enormous variety of stores spilling out into the streets. Everywhere was bustle and business. Modern Chinatown is also Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, etc.
Portsmouth Square, near the old Bank of Canton building, is the site of a crowded park, with more concrete than greenery, and knots of game players, separated by sex. They were mostly older Chinese men and women, but here and there a younger person was evident. The principle games were Chinese Checkers (we guess) for the Kibitzing Chinese Checkers men and cards for the women. People had used all the available park benches, and had pulled up egg crates, etc., as makeshift seats, or were just standing around overlooking the action. There was lots of kibitzing, of course unintelligible to us. At one table we watched a game of lightning chess, the players slamming the time clock in such agitation that the pieces kept falling over.
We had initially thought to visit several of the six museums along this walking path, but as it turned out we saw just the Pacific Heritage Museum, at 608 Commercial Street, located in another old mint, nicely restored to reveal the old basement vaults. (These old mints are of special historical interest because the buildings predate the devastating 1906 earthquake. The current exhibit, Vision and Virtuosity: A Selection of 20th Century Chinese Ink Painting Masters, just knocked us over, it was so beautiful. Somehow this display managed to break free of the extremely rigid styles of older Chinese art, yet avoid the incomprehensible anarchy of some contemporary Western art. That is to say, we liked it a lot. See the website at http://www.unitedcb.com/phm/vision.html.
By this time we realized we could not complete all the side trips marked on the trail map.
Passing a Frank Lloyd Wright Building, and failing to spot the old Belli building, we headed back up the hill to North Beach, going up Columbus Avenue until we came to the Italianesque church where the young Dimaggio brothers spent their Sunday mornings.
After climbing the hill up Columbus Avenue we realized we could not even complete the entire trail, so we short-circuited and headed directly for the piers. Dimaggios' church
We had a lot of fun watching street performers, acrobatic dancers and mimes painted gold or silver and pretending to be robots. We stumbled on past Fisherman's Wharf to The Cannery and Ghiradelli Square. By this time we were resting more frequently along the way.
The plan was to take the cable car back to Powell and Market, but the line was so long we estimated an hour's wait, and then we'd probably have to stand most of the way. So we found a convenient taxicab.
The Golden Gate Theater has the misfortune of being located in San Francisco's seediest district, known as The Tenderloin. As our cab let us out we were grinned at by a very tall drag queen. What to do between now and the play? Everybody in the area seemed to anticipate our question. No fewer than three nice homeless persons volunteered that the only decent place to eat in the neighborhood was Original Joe's, a suggestion seconded by the Security Guard at the theater.
So we did. The waiter at Original Joe's was comical and efficient, the atmosphere dark and traditional, and the staff understood that the only people who ate "No problem" for drivers there were the theater crowd. The food was good if not great, southern Italian fare, and we were glad to have a soft place to sit.
Our grandson had just finished working on the stage crew for his high school theater production, and he was mightily impressed by the skill of the cast and crew at the Golden Gate. Evita did not move us as much as we had hoped -- is it a history? A documentary? The performance featured old movie clips from the 1940's, and the use of the musical format seems odd in retrospect, but at the time we were enthusiastically caught up in the play, featuring an ironic narrative by Che Guevara, and only a few familiar songs.
BART took us back nicely, we returned our grandson safely, who proceeded to bend his parents' ears about the day's adventures while we found ourself climbing into bed about four hours later than usual!