Sunday, July 31, 2011

San Francisco Revisited

Having not been to San Francisco for some 12 years, it was a delight to rediscover a city that I first visited in the seventies. I thought a stroll down memory lane would be a fun way to spend an afternoon but what I found was so much more.

Gentrifying Character
There`s an air of gentrification happening around many of the once-seedy backstreets near Union Square. Many neighbourhoods have also spruced up their picturesque homes and BART feels cleaner, too. Incidentally, BART makes for a very easy (and the cheapest) trip between the airport and downtown is less than $10 and takes about 30 minutes.

In Chinatown, laundry still hangs from fire-escapes Hong Kong style to dry in breezeS that can tunnel UP quite a force from the water; my favourite restaurant (the Far East CafĂ©) is still there but has cleaned up so well that I barely recognized it; and the jazz clubs seem to have shape-shifted appearances, the music is as great as ever. However, too many non jazz locales simply pound with incessant techno-beat music. I call it lazy-DJing – give the crowd an ecstasy pill and just keep blasting sameness.

The best re-discoveries were along the waterfront where former grunge is a distant memory. People and activity is everywhere – including an outdoor Sunday ministry for the homeless that really had unexpected `good vibrations` of friendship and decency. Pier 39 has settled into a pleasant stroll-shop-experiential destination. My biggest giggle came from experiencing Vitality, a Coney-island style spa. Pretty wild with everything from a flavourful oxygen-bar to electronic massagers.

Newest Top Draws
Away from the water, I really loved the attractions such as the amazing California Academy of Sciences and Walt Disney Family Museum.

The California Academy of Sciences is a showcase of our world's three dimensions: sea, earth and sky. In the basement (as in 'sea level') lies an amazing aquarium plus a swamp where Claude, one of only 45 albino alligator lives. Fabulous natural wildlife displays are on the main floor (as in earth), and a steamy, light filled dome contains a rainforest reaching for the sky. Everything`s geared to interaction. I loved the Science Tarot Cards – yes, you read this right. They were designed by intuitive artists especially for the Museum - I picked an image depicting a telescopic view of two stars, one slightly smaller than the other. They looked very real and while the scientific explanation was something about how stars can converge to create a new stars, the parallel tarot reading had something to do with choices.

Disney Family Museum is a wonderful revelation about Walt Disney himself. His family. Background. Early efforts. Failures. The creation of Steamboat Willie – one wall is covered with hundreds of images making up only seconds of film. Snow White. Fantasia. The working model of Disneyland … and so on. His daughter was the driving force behind telling the `real` story about her father, and it really is a delight to discover.