By Paul Iorio
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, March 24, 2002
San Francisco's great attractions -- the over-photographed Golden Gate Bridge, the famous-for-no-good-reason Coit Tower and, stop me if you've heard this one, cable cars climbing foggy hills -- are the sorts of cliches that almost give cliches a good name. Still, there's only so much you can take of overly familiar beauty. Here are seven lesser-known places -- all free and accessible without a car -- that even Bay Area fanatics may not know about.
A Shell gas station at Gateway marks the eastern edge of the San Andreas, whose full width takes about seven minutes to walk. (Don't try walking its length, which spans more than 800 miles.) The hike along Hickey, through a mostly suburban section of Pacifica, is hilly, scenic and rugged; at Firecrest Avenue, there's a commanding view of the Pacific. The fault ends at Inverness Drive and Hickey, where the ground tilts toward the ocean.
No physical clues suggest that this area is on a major fault, and the people in the area with whom I talked had no idea what they were sitting atop. Though small quakes occur frequently, a temblor above a magnitude 8 on the Richter scale hasn't rocked this region since the 1906 quake, which caused enough shaking and fire to destroy almost all of San Francisco.
To reach the San Andreas Fault, take the BART train to the Colma stop and connect with SamTrans bus lines 122 or 121, which stop on the fault at Hickey and Firecrest. Drivers can take the Skyline Freeway (Route 35) south to Hickey and head west.
Halfway up Centennial is the U.C. Botanical Garden -- the United Nations of flora collections, with thousands of plants from around the world. My favorite is the cactus garden, which stars a 30-foot Argentine specimen. Farther up the road is the Lawrence Hall of Science and its sweeping Bay Area panorama (the museum has science exhibits as well as a planetarium). Beyond that is the southern tip of the massive (2,077 acres) Tilden Regional Park, worthy of a day trip in itself.
To visit Centennial Drive, walk east from the Berkeley BART station past the campus campanile to California Memorial Stadium on Stadium Rim Road, which intersects with Centennial. By car, cross the Bay Bridge, take I-80 north/east and exit at University Avenue. Follow the walking directions from there.
The main drag is El Camino del Mar (no tour buses allowed), lined with Mediterranean-style palaces and modern mansions -- "view homes," in real estate parlance. Among the highlights, from west to east, are the vista above China Beach; the house at 308 Sea Cliff Ave., which has a sleek, almost cinematic walkway and patio overlooking the bay; and the dazzling homes at and around 160 Sea Cliff Ave.
If you want to buy in, be prepared to shell out some serious moolah: The coastal homes cost $6 million to $9 million (300 Sea Cliff reportedly went for $15 million), according to real estate agents.
Also of note is 25 Avenue North, a cul de sac leading to Baker Beach, where the surf is unusually explosive -- which must sound great at night to neighbors. To the west of Sea Cliff, on top of Lincoln Park, is the city's best art museum: the Palace of the Legion of Honor, noted for its French paintings and sculptures.
Sea Cliff can be reached from downtown by taking westbound city buses on either Geary Street or California Street to around 35th Avenue.
It's most tempestuous in the fall and winter, particularly in November and during storms, when waves can rise up to 40 feet. The weather is usually blustery and cool, so bring a jacket.
Ocean Beach, spanning four miles of San Francisco's western coastline, from the city's southwest border to the Cliff House, is the last stop on the N train line.
The red fiberglass dog head, created by Harold Bachman, has been a fixture in southern San Francisco since 1965, four years after the diner opened as part of the now-defunct Doggie Diner franchise (its current name is officially the Carousel Restaurant, but almost nobody calls it that).
The food, sadly, is upstaged by the mascot; the diner serves, among other items, a rather unremarkable burger, fries and soda for around $5.
Move fast: Despite its popularity, the diner will probably close in three years when its lease expires, according to the restaurant's co-owner.
The diner is at the end of the L train line, at 46th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard. It's open Monday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
You may know it best, though, as the setting of "Tales of the City," the novels by Armistead Maupin. It's no secret that Macondray was the model for the books' fictional Barbary Lane, but it wasn't the shooting location for the PBS miniseries based on the works.
Located between Jones and Taylor streets (though it technically begins at Leavenworth Street), Macondray starts as a paved walkway and ends as a stone path leading to the wooden Taylor Street steps, which are featured in the miniseries.
Two blocks west on Hyde Street are restaurants and cafes, including Sushi Groove (1916 Hyde) and Swensen's ice cream parlor (Hyde and Union streets).
The best part of Macondray Lane is between Jones and Taylor streets, north of Green Street; take the Hyde Street cable car to Green Street and walk east.
In the Buffalo Paddock, 11 bison graze unenthusiastically while completely ignoring human onlookers. Shaggy, misshapen and mellow, they look vaguely inanimate, like discarded carpets. Bison have grazed in the park since the 1890s, though the members of the current herd are mostly descendants from a group donated in the 1980s.
About 12 blocks west is another rare sight (for a West Coast city, at least): a Dutch windmill, built 100 years ago and renovated in 1981. Walking into the adjacent tulip garden can be like strolling through a 17th-century Flemish painting -- especially in March when the flowers are in full bloom.
In Golden Gate Park, the Dutch Windmill and Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Gardens are at John F. Kennedy Drive and Great Highway; the Buffalo Paddock is at JFK Drive near 36th Avenue, which can be reached by taking the N train to 36th Avenue and walking north.