SF Streets, San Francisco
West Portal Avenue is an old style commercial shopping area. It retains much of the feel and charm of a vintage 40's, 50's or 60's neighborhood shopping and commercial center, while welcoming several new era shops and restaurants.
Specialty shops offer much of what you may want from music, books, flowers, electronics, antiques, baked goods, hardware, toys, and candy. Two large drug store chains share the commercial environment with local markets like the Eazy Freezy. Coffee house are abundant. An old style movie theater (long ago converted to three screens) offers first run and art films.
This is a great place to eat. Many good restaurants line the streets here. They range from the casual Manor Coffee Shop, to the mid range El Toreador Mexican Restaurant, to the slightly higher end fare of Roti Indian Bistro. A short stroll down the street should reveal an eatery to satisfy any palate.
The street is served by the L, M, and K street car lines. The name "West Portal" derives from the fact that it is the western portal for the underground light rail cars that go underneath Market Street downtown. If you take the L to the Zoo, you could hop off at West Portal for dinner before heading back to your hotel. Before BART was constructed and the light rail placed underground in downtown, the tunnel was long in service connecting the surface rail between downtown and the western neighborhoods.
This area is located on West Portal Avenue between Ulloa Street and 15th Avenue.
Although Lombard Street is billed as the "crookedest street in the world", Vermont Street between 20th and 22nd Streets is actually crookeder than Lombard. That is, it has more turns per distance than Lombard. This portion of Vermont Street is located in the residential Potrero Hill District and is situated up above and behind General Hospital. It is a bit out of the way for most people. Vermont Street's pavement is neglected and its adjacent landscaping is overgrown. Whereas Lombard Street, with its manicured streetscape and nice brick paving, is located in touristy Telegraph Hill. Vermont Street gets few visitors. At Lombard, however, cars sometimes line up just to traverse the famous stretch.
The turns on these twisting streets serve as switchbacks. The turns help reduce the grade. These would otherwise be extremely steep streets. Note the use of stairs for sidewalk in some stretches.
If you are in the Potrero Hill District and want to check out this winding roadway, keep in mind that it is a one-way street heading southbound. That is, from 22nd Street to 20th Street.
Jackson Square area - the center of at least 6 A's - antiques, art, advertising agencies, Angela Alioto's office (unsuccessful candidate for Mayor in 2003)
Jackson Square is also home of the most upscale and delicious Greek restaurant I have ever been to - Kokkari. Make reservations far in advance. The very fun Bubbles Lounge is also here in Jackson Square, serving dozens of champagnes by the glass. They aren't all $100 per glass (but some are, no kidding).
The area South of Market (SOMA) has been transformed over the past 10 years from a place with a lot of "affordable" (comparatively speaking) apartments to an area of lavish condominiums. This rehab created quite a stir in San Francisco. Those who were being squeezed out resented the "gentrifying" of SOMA, and sometimes responded with vandalism. It got to the point where the "gentry" were foolish to park their BMWs on the street.
The sign at the bottom of this condominium building says "Starting at $400,000." Quite a deal, don't you think, for one of these condominiums?
Check out Vermont street between 20th and 21st. Here you'll find an even more crooked street than Lombard. It's alot steeper and sharper than Lombard and has 6 hairpin turns. It's hidden and a bit hard to find but you'll sure have the fun of getting just as dizzy without the crowds.
I'll a picture soon
The most expensive part of the most expensive neighborhood in one of the nation's most expensive cities is the last few blocks of Broadway Street. It is called Billionaires Row. Many luxury homes occupy this part of Broadway Street.
The most expensive are 9 houses that belong to:
1) Fred Pavlow, Add-a-Garage, 2776 Broadway.
2) Trevor Traina, stepson of Danielle Steele, 2780 Broadway.
3) Norman Stone, heir to insurance tycoon W. Clement Stone, 2790 Broadway.
4) Peter Haus, Levi Strauss heir, 2800 Broadway. In 1996, Haas' Levi holdings were valued in a news report at $2.2 billion.
5) James Klingbeil, of Am. Apt. Communites, 2808 Broadway.
6) Peter Sperling, U. of Phoenix heir, 2845 Broadway. In 2003 he had about $1.5 billion.
7) Larry Ellison, Oracle founder, 2850 Broadway. In 2003 Forbes set his worth at $18 billion.
8) Gordon Getty, Getty Oil heir, 2870-2880 Broadway. In 2003 Forbes Magazine estimated his fortune at $2.1 billion.
9) George Jewett, Weyerhaeuser heir, 2990 Broadway.
There are many streets made dead-end because the terrain is simply too steep for pavement. Some of these places are still access to homes, and so staircases replace the street. The Vallejo Street stairs, which are located between Montgomery and Sansome Streets, below Coit Tower, are among the most beautifully landscaped stairs in the city. Actually, there are two parallel staircases that ascend from the stop sign at Sansome Street to a dead-end portion of Vallejo Street with a great view, 1/4 block from the corner at Montgomery Street. One staircase meanders a bit, having several flights with landings where neighbors keep outdoor furniture among an array of potted plants. The other is very steep and climbs along the right side houses. The landscaping is completely maintained by the neighbors on either side of the stairs, and includes numerous full sized ornamental trees, tree ferns, roses, hedges, and flowering groundcovers, as well as, many types of potted plants at every doorway and corner of the landings. On one landing, there is a rotating drum used to make compost from kitchen greens and clippings from the plants. The best way to appreciate the stairs is during a hike up from North Beach, such as after having an espresso at Cafe Trieste, or on a return route down from Coit Tower. By driving, the dead-end at Montgomery and Vallejo provides the better place to pause for a moment without risk of being ticketed. Both Sansome and Montgomery streets head down directly to the Historic Jackson District. See the next tip for Views from the Vallejo Stair Area.
If you happen to be in Russian Hill, take a charming diversion down Macondray Lane, which is lined with English-style cottages and Victorian homes. The "Lane" is extremely narrow and meant for pedestrian traffic only.
Please note that the area can be difficult to navigate if you have trouble walking, as there are some very uneven cobblestone walkways and a large set of steep wooden stairs at the end, near Taylor Street.
Stretching from approximately Jones St. to Taylor St., Macondray Lane may look slightly familiar, if you are a fan of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City. He used the area as the setting for part of the series. Don't forget to take in the views of the Bay and Alcatraz as well.
Extending for about three miles along the Embarcadero is the Herb Caen Promenade. This wide promenade lines the water side of the Embarcadero and offers outstanding views of the Bay. Historic structures like the Ferry Building, the Agriculture Building, and numerous pier buildings are found along its path. The Herb Caen Promenade makes for a pleasant walk. Be sure not to miss the artwork along the way. The promenade is named after a long time local Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist whose daily columns in the Chronicle were, for decades, a San Francisco landmark in themselves .
If you want to feel the heartbeat of one of San Francisco’s most desirable neighborhoods visit 24th Street. This commercial street is the vibrant. It is loaded with shops, restaurants, coffee houses, and a few bars. The restaurants range from inexpensive to fine dining and the quality of the food tends to be very good.
The shops should satisfy a variety of interests including boutique clothing, books, and even groceries. Several banks are present should you need an ATM. You can even grab an ice cream or a doughnut if you like.
Noe Valley surrounds 24th Street and is loaded with Victorian and Queen Ann Architecture. The weather is usually warmer and less windy than downtown and the western portion of the City. It is a pleasant neighborhood to stroll through.
The portion of 24th Street that serves Noe Valley is from Church to Diamond Streets. Visiting 24th Street near Mission would entail a completely different experience.
You can easily reach 24th Street by taking the MUNI J-Line Street Car from Downtown.
One of San Francisco landmarks (197th to be exact), this mansion was built for and belonged to sugar baron Adolph Spreckels in 1913. It was designed by 2 architects - Kenneth MacDonald Jr. and George Applegarth.
People like Jack London and Earl Cummings were guests in this house.
The owners were famous too - the bronze goddess Victory standing in the heart of Union Square, was modeled after Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, known for her enormous influence in the San Francisco art community. That lady was quite a character - walking naked to her outdoor swimming pool for all the neighbors to see. She could not care less. ;-)
Made of Utah limestone, this building is really magnificent till today. Looks more like a museum than a private residence.
Its 55 rooms are currently occupied by one of the wealthiest SF residents - famous romance writer Danielle Steel who has been living there since 1990. Back then she paid something like $13 million and, rumor has it, a few years ago someone offered her $50 million for the property. She passed. :-)
Located at the corner of Columbus and Kearney, this building has a lot of history. First, it was one of the few buildings to survive the Great Earthquake and subsequent Fire of 1906. Hence the name the "Sentinel Building."
It was commissioned by corrupt SF Political Boss, Abe Ruef, whose office was on the top floor.
Get this, the ground floor used to the Caesar Grill in the 1920s but closed down for selling alcohol during the "Prohibition." The "Caesar Salad" was coined here!
In the 1960s, it was a radio station and home of the Kingston Trio who recorded many albums in this building. In fact, the Grateful Dead recorded the song "Anthem in the Sun."
I spoke to the bartender and he told me that this place used to be one huge party filled with great musicians of the 60s.
Francis Ford Coppola bought this building in 1972.
Martin Sheen's voiceovers for the movie "Apololypse Now" were done here.
The bottom is now a restaurant: "Cafe Niebaum Coppola."
For $175.00, you can rent screening room (catering and film rental not included).
SF City Guides has been offering walking tours to the public for over 30 years. Nowadays, more than 20 thousand people participate in it annually.
It is run by locals, who have to pass an exam in order to qualify and become a tour guide.
To make your pick, go to the website and choose a neighborhood you want to explore.
TIME: Usually in the morning (first tours start at 10am, last tours start at 2pm). Some tours are offered every month throughout a year, others run for a couple of months only on weekends.
DURATION: 1 to 2.5 hours.
PRICE: Free but donation is very much appreciated (guide will pass an envelope at the end of a tour).
GUIDES: Are recognized by City Guides logo badges.
RESERVATION: No need. Just show up. Although party of 8 and more people is required to contact CG few weeks in advance, organize a separate tour and pay for it.
I have done 4 tours so far:
- Pacific Heights Mansions tour. 13 people showed up and we have been looking at some pretty spectacular mansions for 2.5 hours. Our guide has been doing the tours for 8 years, so he knew a lot of interesting stuff.
- The Palace Hotel tour. 9 people showed up and we spent 1.5 hours walking through hotel, learning about its history and people who made that history.
- Coit Tower tour. 13 people showed up and we spent 1 hour looking at the murals from the 30s. Heard many stories about painters and people depicted in their murals.
- Nob Hill tour with Paul Cooney. Fantastic 1 hour 45 minutes.
Had a wonderful time on all of them!!! Highly recommended.
Tourists swarm Lombard Street (the crookedest street which has 27% grade) on a daily basis, but little do they know that there is another street in San Francisco - Vermont, which offers similar experience (it has 14.3% grade).
Located in the ignored Potrero Hill neighborhood (McKinley Square), it has 5 full turns and 2 half turns.
Little is known about its past and how it came to be, but my guess is that with a boom of automobile industry in the 20s, residents decided to make the street more accessible for cars and multiple turns were the way to do it.
If going to Potrero neighborhood just to see the street is not enough, bare in mind that Hill also has better than average views of the City and Bay.
TO GET THERE: buses 27, 10 (from the downtown) + some walking. Or just go to Trip Planner and find the best rout for you.
Try taking a leisurely walk starting from the SFO Visitors Center on Market, up the stairs to the Cable Car Station on Powell and Market. Then proceed to Union square and have sip coffee while taking in the view. Proceed to Maiden's Lane into exciting Chinatown. Sample dumplings, chicken feet, Chinese cookies and noodles all at very reasonable prices. From here you can head to Coit Tower for a beautiful view of San Francisco Bay and the city. Then on to the world's crookedest street, Lombard! This certainly is an exhausting walk as it is uphill most of the time. Take a nice photo of the winding street and head down towards Bay Street into the Fisherman's Wharf! Allow about 3 hours to do this leisurely walk. Don't forget to put on a nice comfy pair of shoes.