The Palace of Fine Arts, on the eastern edge of the Presidio, is the area's most interesting attraction. A massive, outdoor rococo pavilion built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the Palace fronts an attractive lake and makes for a pleasant stroll. Skip the adjacent Exploratorium, a mobbed, hands-on science center for tourist families, unless you have kids in tow. The adjacent Marina District is the center of San Francisco yuppiedom, and offers little of interest beyond its pastel-painted art deco homes.
Welcome to the ‘60s, sort of. This district, once the nation's number one destination for hippies and launching pad for such bands as the Mamas and the Papas, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix et al., is now a depressing tourist trap of exhausted '60s nostalgia and tie-died kitsch. Gentrification is the prevailing force in the Haight, and is perhaps most poignantly demonstrated by the double-whammy of a Gap and a Ben & Jerry's at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets. The majority of people you'll encounter here now are young adults who were born in the mid-'70s but dress as though they're reliving the flower-power era they never knew. Fried-brain deadheads, directionless Gen-Xers, and a few true, grizzled hippies run head shops, record and poster stores, jewelry dens, and tattoo/piercing parlors. Apart from a beautiful view available from Buena Vista Park (accessed off Haight Street), there isn't much to do here but shop for trinkets and bongs.
With a few exceptions there's not a great deal of interest in the areas just east of Haight-Ashbury, except, perhaps, the fiercest transvestite hookers in the world. Polk Street, once a gay Mecca second only to the Castro, has lost most of its appeal. Do take a trip up to Alamo Square (at Steiner and Fulton), however, and check out the postcard vista of several "Painted Ladies" Victorian houses against the backdrop of the city skyline.
Japantown is worth an afternoon of dining, shopping, and other distractions. Naturally, some of the best Japanese restaurants are in the Japan Center, the mall-like building that anchors this miniscule neighborhood. The Kabuki Theaters run mostly major-release films, and sorry, but there?s no sushi in the theater. If you really want to zen out, check out Kabuki Springs & Spa (1750 Geary Blvd; 415-922-6000) for massages, saunas, and hot tubbing in a serene environment. The spa is gender-segregated, with women only on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, and men only on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Tuesdays are co-ed. Reservations for massages are essential.
The area north of Japantown is alive with coffee shops, boutiques and the hustle-bustle of local residents who live, work and shop in the area. The setting is upscale, and more sedate than exciting. Still, this retail district has its appealing, interesting corners.
TO THE WEST
As you move west towards the ocean, things become less gay, with the notable exception of the gay beach at Land's End and the gay section at the far northern end of Baker Beach. Golden Gate Park, a great urban park, is an endless source of delights, with museums, the Arboretum, and the Japanese Tea Garden. The Sunset, south of the park, has a student and family population base, and frankly isn't too interesting. To the north is the Richmond, whose older wave of Russian Jewish arrivals now coexists with an influx of Southeast Asians. Clement Street is its main thoroughfare, and it?s a great place for Asian dining and shopping.
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six
Part Seven | Part Eight
San Francisco: Introduction
San Francisco: Where to Stay
San Francisco: Where to Eat
San Francisco: Where to Play/Meet
San Francisco: Where to Shop
San Francisco: Resources