IT Editor Janelle Nanos is blogging from the West Coast this week and taking suggestions from readers on where to head next.
Greetings from San Francisco! I lived in this fair city for the summer four years ago, and I'm having a hard time believing it's taken me this long to return. As I'm sitting here typing, I'm listening to the sound of the trolley and am taking in a view of Coit Tower, the Transamerica pyramid, and the ridiculously curvy Lombard Street. But after arriving in town yesterday, all I really wanted to see was the icon that I missed the most: the Golden Gate Bridge.
I'm staying with a friend in North Beach, which is only a few blocks from the hubbub of Fisherman's Wharf, so I decided to revel in the full-fledged tourist experience for a change and join the hordes of bikers who pedal along the Embarcadero. I snagged a bike and map from Bike and Roll and set off to explore the water's edge. Dodging tourists and hawkers along the wharf, I traveled on the bike path past Fort Mason and the tall ships that are currently in town, getting a glimpse of Alcatraz and a bevy of sailboats in the throes of a regatta.
As I approached that art deco wonder that spans the Bay, the fog had rolled in, wrapping its two arches like a shawl. So it was perfect time to snap a few photos and take advantage of small cafe and gift store on the shore, for as I overheard one tourist say, "You can't really resist a place called the Warming Hut." I'm not going to lie, I was expecting to be gouged on food and exposed to a large quantity of Golden Gate keychains, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the gift shop and cafe both shared an overtly green theme, and that all of the proceeds from store purchases go towards supporting the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.
Inside the store you could browse a variety of books on organic gardening and living greener, or grab a cookbook by Alice Waters (the local food guru who runs the restaurant Chez Panisse). There were prints available of the iconic Michael Schwab park posters, and I was very tempted to pick up the very cool Green Zebra guide, a coupon book that offers discounts on organic establishments throughout the Bay Area. Its $25 price tag can be recouped with a single coupon, and all of the proceeds from its sales go towards the San Fransisco Green Schoolyard Alliance (hint: The coupons expire in December, so it's best to pick up the book early in the year). There's also a variety of gifts made from recycled items, from Elephant Poo stationery to recycled glass vases and candle holders made from EcoTwine. I snagged a collapsible basket made from recycled chopsticks and the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market Cookbook as a gift for my friend. The food items on the menu at the cafe were all locally sourced, and though I worried that my compostable spoon would melt in my corn chowder, the Warming Hut served its role quite well.
I continued pedaling along the very windy Crissy Field, where I noticed quite a bit of renovation is taking place, and many of the old airplane hangars will soon be repurposed for Pilates and gymnastics studios. I then wandered over to Fort Point, the pre-Civil War era fort that sits at the foot of the Golden Gate. Its small museum highlighting the efforts of steelworkers who built the bridge is often overlooked by tourists, said one of the park staffers, and they only get about 1,000 visitors a day (most people don't realize that there's free parking at the fort, and that you can hike up and cross the bridge without having to pay to park). But I found the photos of the workmen balancing on the bridge cords fascinating, and though it was extremely windy, the fort offers one of the most fabulous views of the bridge that I've seen, which you can catch a glimpse of here:
After the view, I hopped back on my bike and wandered along the bike path, pausing to get a glimpse of the Exploratorium and the Palace of Fine Arts before fulfilling my second craving (after seeing the bridge). And that would be an In-N-Out burger, which, as many of you readers know, may very well set the standard for best burger in my eyes. One cheeseburger animal-style later and I was in bliss—and picking up the hamburger location guide, which is available for free at the counter and helps you locate the chain throughout California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. But there's only one in San Francisco, and it's in Fisherman's Wharf, so if you can handle the crowds, it's worth it. Yum.
Photos: Janelle Nanos