In the early morning the fog often rolls in,
covering the bay with a blanket of magic foam, obscuring
all but the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. It casts a
pellucid light over "The City." By mid-day the sun burns
through, Coit Tower poking through the retreating fog,
the hills turning into glistening white reflections in
what is the finest city in North America, if not the
world. You have to see this city from afar, from a ferry
across the Bay, or an outpost like Sausalito, to
appreciate the incredible matching of geography and
fortunate development fueled by fires and earthquakes,
causing the city to recreateself several times.
This is the heart and soul of the city -- grand
hotels, not-so-grand and cheaper hotels, department
stores, trendy boutiques, pawn shops with barred doors
and windows, and bars -- clustered around the green
space. There is a parking garage under the square and it
is about the best place from which to launch a walking
tour of the city. If you're staying in a large hotel,
you'll be close to Union Square. The city's famed
tolerance is currently challenged by the growing number
of panhandlers in this area where homelessness has become
endemic. The park is planted with palms, boxwood and
flowers, with benches set around the memorial to Admiral
Dewey's Manila Bay victory of 1898. The square is often the scene of art shows, musical presentations and lots of other events.
South of Market Street, in what has been a blighted
downtown area, is the newest chic development -- of
galleries, nightclubs, studios, museums and restaurants.
Between Union Square and the bay is the work-day
center of the city and the site of some of the city's
outstanding architecture. To the east of the Transamerica
Pyramid is the Embarcadero Center, a huge complex of
shops, offices, apartments and restaurants.
The largest Chinese community outside China has its
commercial center just north of Union Square. You'll find
24 blocks of restaurants, produce markets, shops, temples
and small hotels. It's a splendid area for walking and
sampling exotic wares.
Separated from Chinatown by Columbus Avenue, Union
Square borders the Italian section of town and the city's
bohemian headquarters, filled with espresso bars, fine
restaurants, galleries and theaters. To the east is
Telegraph Hill, with Coit Tower providing one of the best
viewing points in San Francisco.
With Lombard Street as it's main artery, this
unusually flat part of town lies between the Presidio
(the area's newest national park) and Russian Hill. It's
where you'll find funky cafes, some of the city's most
economical motor hotels and wonderful old Victorian
houses on Union Street, which have been converted into
shops. The Marina District is close-at-hand.
Home to the hippy movement of the 1960s and still the
base of the city's counterculture, The Haight as it is
called has lots of color with boutiques of an alternative
nature, some fine bookstores and casual cafes, some of
them sitting on sidewalks along upper Haight Street next
to the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park.
The center of San Francisco's gay community, Castro
Street (at 17th Street and the end of Market Street) has
shops, restaurants, bars and clubs and the renowned movie