“The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco”. This quote by Mark Twain is kind of funny but also very true. It can be downright chilly in July. I’ve seen many a tourist waiting for a Cable Car and freezing in shorts and a t-shirt. Twenty-five miles outside the city it can be sunny and very warm while downtown San Francisco will be foggy and 60 degrees F. The fog usually rolls in the late afternoon and doesn’t roll out again until late morning the next day. San Franciscans love it and call it their natural air conditioning. However, it depends on what area of the city you’re in too. If you’re at the Wave Organ or Crissy Field it could be cold but around Noe Valley or the Castro, it might be sunny and warm. So a word to the wise, dress appropriately or at least bring some warm clothes just in case. Actually the best time of the year, weather-wise, is fall. September/October weather is usually sunny and warm with very little fog. Another advantage of a fall visit is that the crowds are fewer.
My favourite spot is the Wave Organ just off the Marina. Parkin Yacht Road by the Golden Gate Yacht Club. You walk down the unpaved jetty which runs parallel to the Marina.
What makes it so special is the location. Look west and you see Crissy Field, Fort Mason and the Golden Gate Bridge. Look north and you see the Marin Headlands, Sausalito, Tiburon and Angel Island. To the east, you see Alcatraz, Berkeley and the Bay Bridge. Look south and the city is spread out in front of you. Of course, it is a different story if it is foggy!
It is one of San Francisco’s best-kept secrets and consists of 25 pipes of all sizes which dip into the bay. Some are arranged in groups and others are hidden away. In front of some, there are seats where you can sit with your ear up to the pipe outlet. The sounds you hear are the waves hitting the pipes. It is best to go at high tide.
View of Alcatraz from the Wave Organ.
It is a fun place to explore with steps, nooks and crannies. Built mainly of granite with some marble it reminds me of a ruined temple. On our last visit, we discovered a little secret but I am not telling you. You will have to visit to discover it for yourself.
It is such a peaceful spot. You will probably have the place to yourself apart from a lone fisherman maybe. In the distance, you can see the cars and watch the joggers but you are in a different world. And it is free – which is the icing on the cake.
Between the City and the Golden Gate Bridge lies Crissy Field. This former US airfield has been turned into 100 acres of meadows and marshes where native plants have been re-introduced.
The best place to park is just off Marina Blvd on Yacht Road. The entrance is opposite the Palace of Fine Arts. Head towards the Bay and turn left. Or Crissy Field with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. simply follow the many joggers and dog walkers. The Crissy Field Center is on Mason Street behind the tidal marsh. You can either walk down the promenade or along the shore after crossing the bridge. In the distance, you will see the Golden Gate Bridge.
The path is about two miles long. Look out for the old Coast Guard Station and the Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center. Near the end is the Warming Hut Café and Bookstore. A cold drink or a cup of hot chocolate is very welcome. Continue on towards Fort Point. This is the large brick building under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. There is no entrance fee.
For a map of Crissy Field click here. Note that this is a PDF file and will require Adobe Reader. You can get it free here:
Are Earthquakes scary?
Usually, they don’t last long enough to get you scared. You’ll feel a movement or loud sound and by the time you’ve said, “Hey, it’s an earthquake!”, it’s over. The quake in 1989 was a scary one though. It lasted a little too long and then there were those aftershocks. For days we had little shakers. All in all, it’s something that you just live with. However, I’ll take earthquakes over hurricanes and tornadoes any day.
Here’s a great site for seeing all the latest quakes and how big they were. Usually, it has to be a magnitude 2 or 3 before you can feel it. Even then it depends on the type of ground you’re on.
It Ain’t Perfect in Paradise
It isn’t all beautiful vistas and wonderful things to do. San Francisco has a severe homeless problem that just won’t go away. Political careers have been won and then lost over the issue for the past 25 years and it’s only become worse with the downturn in the economy. The estimate is that there are between 8,000 and 15,000 homeless. Most of the folks are harmless but many suffer from various mental and addiction problems. The city has struggled trying to find a solution to a problem many says is its own making. One of the reasons San Francisco is loved is because it’s so open, diverse and tolerant of people from all walks of life. It’s the most liberal city in the US and this makes it inviting to people from all over the country. People that have fallen through the safety net of their own hometowns come to San Francisco to take advantage of the liberal policy of welfare payments of almost $400 per month. Other places in the US simply do not offer the social services that San Francisco does.
It’s fairly easy to get around in San Francisco as public transportation is extensive. My brother has lived in the city for years and never owned a car. In fact, trying to find parking is sometimes more trouble than it’s worth so leave the car and grab Muni.
Muni is the transportation system. It consists of diesel and electric buses, trolleys that are on tracks and run both underground and on surface streets, and, of course, the famous Cable Cars (bet you didn’t know that the Cable Cars are the only moving historical landmark in the US). The buses run all over the place and most drivers are helpful if you’re a little lost. In fact, San Franciscans in general are friendly and helpful. The trolleys run underneath Market Street and then out to the surface as they head to Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach, The Mission, etc.
If you’re staying outside of the city, you have some options. You can take Caltrain which runs up the Peninsula from Gilroy to San Francisco making stops all along the way. If you’re in the East Bay take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) which runs under the bay and then down Market Street. BART goes all the way down to San Francisco International Airport about 15 miles south of the city in Millbrae. Margaret and I will frequently take Caltrain from Sunnyvale or drive to Millbrae and grab BART. Once in the city, it’s Muni to where ever.
Even if you decide to drive it’s tough to get completely lost as San Francisco isn’t really that big and it’s surrounded by water on three sides. So if you drive until you’re wet just turn around.
Click here for the Caltrain site. It also has an interactive map where you can just click on where you’re leaving from and where you want to go and it will give you fares and schedules.