The Secret Stairways of San Francisco

Secret stairways are a big thing in the hilly San Francisco, so much that there are entire books and websites dedicated to mapping and telling the history of these places.

My first stairway was the Greenwich/Filbert Steps next to the Coit Tower. I wrote about them here. It’s an amazing secret walkway between extremely well-kept community gardens with gorgeous flowers, leafy trees and all sorts of vegetation. They are also known for a colony of green parrots who were brought in some years ago and have multiplied ever since. I was so lucky to see only one parrot. These guys are a pretty sneaky bunch! These stairs are quite difficult to find but you will manage too if you look hard enough behind Coit tower’s parking lot (and on Google Maps). There is a way to get to them from the Embarcadero side, but I think that going from higher to lower points offers the better views.

My next stairway was in Fort Mason. I was exploring the area and then saw a woman and a child coming down a stairway along the hill. I got really curious and climbed it. It took me to the top of a hill and inside a very quaint park. It was full of teenage boys and homeless men so I kind of had to make myself into a getouttathere. The view from the top was kind of worth the risk, anyways.

view from the top, fort mason, San francisco
View from the top of Fort Mason stairway

My third stairway was the Lyon Street Steps in the Pacific Heights neighborhoods. I was just wandering around and being impressed by all the beautiful mansions when I suddenly stumbled across this stairway from a fairy tale, perfectly manicured with a breathtaking view of the Palace of the Fine Arts. I later on found out that the beautiful mansions are actually located on a street nicknamed “Billionaires Row”, home to some very famous rich people like the Getty Family, Founder of Oracle, and Senator Dianne Feinstein. Rich Bastards. They got the best views.

The last stairways I discovered were Vulcan and Jupiter stairs in Castro district. I thought that Castro was all about the sex shops, nightclubs and bars but turned out that there are many quiet and very green sections of this neighborhood. The steps were not as impressive as the ones I saw before, but I had fun looking at all the beautifully designed houses around them.

If you’re looking for other tips on San Fran, you can read my other posts

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The Artsy Side of San Francisco

McLoughlin Gallery, San Francisco

A few weeks ago I was feeling artsy and through my loyal friend – Google – I discovered the famous Fraenkel Gallery, about 3 blocks from my apartment in SOMA. The art gallery turned out to be one of many in a 5-story building that reminded me more of my alma mater than a creative space. It had long and narrow abandoned hallways that led to different offices with heavy wooden doors and small planks that named the residents. I found Fraenkel Gallery on the 4th floor. Most of the exhibition featured very large photographs of water bodies with one or two people swimming in them. The most interesting thing about them was the price tag that revolved somewhere around US$40k each. I would have paid maybe 20 bucks to have one of them, but who is asking me?

The artist is called Richard Misrach in case you want to find out more..

Despite the creepy emptiness of the building I decided to explore more floors where I saw some avant-garde gay art from Sausalito, strange music installations and more random junk that was pretending to be art. Of course, every single one of these galleries had a white desk with a giant Apple computer screen on it. I think it’s a pre-requisite for getting an operating license in the art industry.

gay art, san francisco
I think there are phallic insinuations in this piece of art..

Of course, as always with my expeditions, I ended up discovering the incredible McLoughlin Gallery, which had a NYC Soho vibe with an array of interesting art works, which reminded me of Rio’s colorfulness. Despite my anti-social self, I struck a conversation with the owner, Joan, who happened to share the same love for colorful esthetics (I felt super artsy because I could hold a conversation with a pro!!).

I told her about all the beautiful art I got to know in Brazil. She claimed that she knew the world-famous Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado because he wanted to exhibit in her gallery but his style didn’t fit in with her esthetic interests. I am not sure I buy this because right after she said this, she got completely engrossed in googling his photographs and talking to herself about each one. At first it was amusing but then I started to get bored and to invent an excuse in order to leave.

Joan and I parted on friendly terms with her asking me to find her Brazilian artists to present in her gallery. The random things that happen…

If you’re looking for tips on San Fran, you can read my other posts:

Painted Ladies and Bubble Tea Cotton Candy in San Francisco

This weekend I had to tick the last few boxes on my list of San Francisco attractions before I head back to Austin.

My first stop was Alamo Square to see the Painted Ladies (row of Victorian style houses which were featured in the intro on the TV show Full House). My Lyft driver was a very nice guy by the name of Dave. He had so many self-administered tattoos (well, I don’t know if they were self-administered but they kind of looked like it) and some very large scars which made me really convinced that he was an ex-convict. Maybe he was actually a poet or a firefighter, but who knows?

When I finally arrived to the destination I realized that I had already been there at least three times, but I never knew that it was a famous place. I took some pictures anyways.

My next stop was Japantown. I had no idea as to what to see or do there but trusted it to have good food options. My instincts led me towards a pagoda-like structure that turned out to be Japan Center. It was in the middle of a shopping mall with many little stores with very cute Japanese souvenirs and a slew of semi-authentic-looking restaurants. I picked the one that looked the least authentic and was full of white people because I saw that the food was moving in front of them in little boats. It made me feel more comfortable about deciding what to order. The food turned out to be quite good despite the dreadful company. Next to me there was a very loud Brazilian woman with a huge furry purple bag. Her husband was a gringo and he was dressed in a matching purple shirt that made him stick out like a sore thumb in that place. She spent the whole time loudly scolding her teenage daughter about posting photos on Instagram while the guy just sat there in silence. Thankfully, they didn’t stay for a very long time.

After lunch I tried the most ridiculous dessert: bubble tea topped (literally) with cotton candy. It was a great attention grabber but I think I might have to go to the dentist very soon.

On my last stop I discovered yet another cute spot, Lafayette Park, where a woman in a mini dress and a prosthetic leg was doing a glamour photoshoot (you go girl!) against an amazing backdrop of the city skyline.

6 Miles of Surprises or Where is Chewbacca?

I’m continuing the tradition of super long walks across San Francisco and have been discovering the bold and the beautiful things along the way.

I started my walk in SOMA,  navigating between homeless people and tourists  and right about Chinatown I stumbled upon two young women who were jumping around an intersection with “Honk if you want to save the baby seals” signs. On these signs they drew baby seals in different bright colors. All I could think about was with that with all the troubles in the world how did they end up choosing this one? and what was the logic behind determining that doing what they were doing was useful?  Oh, well. Not all brains are born equal.

Then I went off to find the famous Caffe Trieste, where apparently Francis Ford Coppola wrote the Godfather. I haven’t even seen the movie (shame on me) but I like to give myself destination to discover. The discovery was not so impressive but now I can say that I had been there.

I continued up the hill to Coit Tower, another destination on my todo list. The views on  way up were simply breathtaking. I was too cheap to pay the $7 fee to take the elevator up but did take pictures of the frescos inside, which reminded me a lot of Ayn Rand for some reason.

I got a super secret lead from a colleague about the Greenwich steps. This was a secret passage to the left of the tower, going through something that felt like a tropical jungle in the middle of the city. I saw numerous beautiful flowers, butterflies, humming birds and even a blue parrot. I guess it was not so secret because I bumped into many huffing and puffing tourists that were going UP the stairs. Suckers.

After descending to the pavement I headed over to the marina district and on the way ran into Darth Vader and Chewbacca (Star Wars is another movie I haven’t seen, by the way) who were having a huge fight with the silver statue man (you know, those guys that paint themselves and sit without moving?) Everyone was having a great time taking pictures of the fight. Until the cops started zooming in..

Star Wars at Fisherman's Wharf, Fort Mason, San Francisco walk, Maritime National Historic Park

After what seemed like a very long walk on the equivalent of New York’s horrible time square, San Francisco style, I escaped the dreadful crowds and cheesy tourists traps when I arrived at the Aquatic Park / Fort Mason.  Right about the time I stopped feeling my arms from the cold, I finally decided to head home. I then hopped into my new favorite mode of transportation and spent the $7 I saved at Coit to pay for my Uber ride.

Sausalito is not a name of a Mexican spicy sauce

This weekend I took the ferry boat to Sausalito (only $5  with the Clipper card!) and 30 minutes later I found myself at a little piece of heaven. It used to be an artist colony but now it’s a kind of a yuppies-who-sell-artsy-stuff-to-tourists, type of colony. As always, I started walking in the wrong direction and ended up discovering many interesting things.  I also discovered my dream house for retirement (hopefully, by next year), well actually maybe 10 of them.  This place is so damn cute.

Later, I googled “cool things to do in Sausalito” and found out that I have been doing the right main thing: roaming around. I ended up walking 2- 3 miles until I reached Fred’s Place, where food took ages to be served and the waiters were extremely concerned with offering you coffee every 2 mins. When I finally got my Eggs Benedict, the couple in front of me, was screaming at the waiters to take away their coffee cups and stop asking them about refills. The food was quite good so I’d recommend the place. Especially if you like coffee refills.

Fred's Place in Sausalito
My brunch at Fred
Fred's Place in Sausalito
Fred’s Place

Afterwards, I took the less scenic route and visited art galleries and quirky shops. My current read, a Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, recommends eavesdropping people as a tool to improve one’s empathy (he claims that even Scott Fitzgerald used to have a notebook to take down all the conversation he had been eavesdropping on). I tried to do the same, but then I overheard a man telling a client that his testosterone levels are low and then saw another looking at phallic pictures on his mobile phone. This was too much information so I am quitting on eavesdropping.