The rest of the city awaited us. The night before was a wild concert, and we slept soundly on the bed in the living room of my friends San Francisco apartment, just down the hill from San Francisco State College.
Before leaving, we decided to consult with a one time resident of San Francisco, Celine. She was a coworker, had been my backpacking buddy, and was in our local newspaper as she was the star of the best reader submitted outdoor photo. Celine is an outspoken feminist and activist, recently dyed her hair three different colors, and walked with me at our graduation. We grew up in the same city and didn’t know it, and have been to Portland for concerts and are close friends and confidants. She was more than happy to tell us of some of her favourite San Fran haunts, and the first one we were able to make it to was Arizmendi Bakery, nestled in the heart of the Sunset District and alive with activity in the morning. The scent of the dough wafted onto the streets, the gathering of locals and pigeons told us that the food was plentiful and delicious. We ordered coffee and breakfast here before deciding on a plan for the day. We saw how close we were to Golden Gate Park, and opted to walk that way. Before hitting the park, we stopped at a sufficiently bohemian bookstore to be inspired, and then headed into the park. Here, we found the De Young Museum.
I had been here once before, in middle school, when Egyptian mummies and daddies lined the halls. This time around, it had the same dazzling array of art that ranged from blown glass with the colors and designs that flow like an underwater current to carvings and artifacts that are several thousand years old, such as the piece of a Mayan wall that someone walking by could have mistaken for an irregularly formed rock, but a dedicated and patient archaeologist recognized as theologically, historically, and artistically significant. It is in this museum, too, that we were able to take the elevator to the top floor, and walk about in the irregularly shaped viewing room. We were joined by the other tourists, but hey, that’s what we were, right?
Although I’ve spent much of my life finding destinations that weren’t for the tourists, I don’t mind seeing the touristy places with the expectation that I will be joined by innumerable others who will take their photos at the same place and pose in the same way. Being a tourist is not wrong, per se, and although I encourage everyone to travel and find the untamed wild that will truly challenge them, I still applaud those with the courage to travel at all (I have friends who are paralyzed by the fear of theft, being lost, etc. and thus never leave the presumed safety of their hometown). Yes, I just justified the decision to visit tourist places.
We footed it from the museum, after having been sufficiently art-ed out for the day, we walked the Golden Gate park, saw the Japanese Tea Gardens (took a tourist photo on the ridiculously arched bridge), watched Wedding photos being taken and a schoolgroup being guided, and we also ended up finding a mini waterfall. It was along the road in Golden Gate, but closer to the west entrance away from the main attractions so it is interesting to think how many people actually found this area.
We went back to the apartment to grab the car, headed to Amoeba. From the music aficionado to the casual listener, Amoeba is a kind of Nirvana (yes, that was a pun, and yes, it was terrible). Row after row of different kinds of media of music and genre greeted us, as we walked down like children in a candy store, our eyes darting back and forth along the colorful array. I’ve heard rumours that concerts come to Amoeba, but on this day, unfortunately there was not one. I picked up the new Jamie Xx album and Kiva picked up the new BØRNS album, and we left content. Next, we picked up Korean food from a place found via Google maps, and took the food to go.
Knowing that we were racing the sunset, we headed directly west, and found ourselves on Ocean Beach. Although the name is appropriate, we commented on the lack of imagination. The beach stretched on for miles, and despite the wind, flocks of people gathered on the beach. The sand was warm and welcoming, the wind utilized by those with kites, and small fire pits were dug and surrounded by blanket wearing youths. We brought the Mexican blanket from my car, spread in on the sand, and sat eating our dinner and watching the sunset. The spicy red of the kimchee almost matched the hazy red of the sunset, but not quite.
That night, after we had safely tucked our leftovers in the fridge, we decided to head to a bar/arcade we had heard about. It was called Brewcade (a name that also seemed to have been named in a matter of 14 seconds). It was a small, blacklit bar that was teeming with people. The beer was cold and served in clear plastic cups, and the light made it look more enticing. We spent a good amount of quarters here, hunting innocent animals in the Big Game Hunt game, terrorizing an innocent silver ball on the Star Trek pinball machine, and fighting off the not-so-innocent invading beasts on some kind of Alien v. Predator game.
Not content to end the night here, we decided to see what bars and clubs were open. We followed the small stream of people, and not more than a few blocks away spied a two story club with balloons and that seems absolutely packed. On the way, we noticed a lot of men occupied the club, and a lot of men holding hands were coming out of it. Kiva and I both had the same realization at the same time: although I’m sure we would be welcomed, this was a gay bar. We kept walking, and ended up accidentally running into the Castro! This neighborhood was one of the first gay neighborhoods in the US, and is still a center of LGBTQ+ activism, and, of course, it was Pride weekend! This neighborhood was absolutely alive, bars and street vendors were jam packed, rainbow flags and clothes were worn with, well, pride, and the whole street simply felt jolly and alive. The only sight that was surprising was the fully naked man, and although I applaud his ability to feel so comfortable in his body, I would also have been okay if he were adorned. We wandered through the streets, simply one of the many throngs (and thongs) that were present. We finally found a place that didn’t have a line to enter, and we sat at the counter. This was a wine bar, so we did our best to pretend we knew the slightest about wine, and sipped and chatted while crowds passed by outside. It was a surreal and colorful dream.
We ended up walking more that night, and once we left the Castro District (although we could see no visible border, the mood did seem to instantly change) we found a basement bar with a slightly Viking theme. We drank and talked a little more here, and then called a Lyft (the ridesharing service) to come and take us home. A Toyota with a fuzzy mustache picked us up, and we went back to the apartment, feeling light and airy.
Just down the hill from our apartment was a coffee shop by the name of Cafe 50/50, and it had a minimalist aesthetic that drew us in. Although the atmosphere was pleasant, the coffee wasn’t that great, so we decided to move on to our next adventure. After driving a scenic route, we tried to find the Wave Organ, which is a really cool collaboration between human and nature. It is a sculpture on the north end of the SF bay, and as waves rise and fall, the water travels through a series of pipes that creates a deep and sonorous noise, or so we had read. Although the bizarre, relic of a lost kingdom organ was interesting, (indeed, it been created with material taken from a demolished cemetery, such as carved granite and marble) it turns out that it only works at high tide. We had unwittingly arrived almost perfectly at low tide. So, this musical art piece was simply an art piece, and a climbing structure for adventurous youths.
So next, we decided to find the infamous ruins of Sutro Baths.
The Sutro Baths are essentially a memorial to wealthy urban philanthropy that has become a playground and a piece of history. The baths were originally created in 1894 by the ultra-wealthy Adolph Sutro. The Cliff House still exists and is in operation, but other than that the only physical record of his creation is the cement shells of something that once was. Sutro created a massive public bathhouse that was not only aesthetically pleasing but fully functional. The idea, according to the Park Service website, was to create “a healthy, recreational and inexpensive swimming facility for thousands of San Franciscans.” At the height of its operation, it featured slides, trapezes, springboards, a high dive, seven swimming pools, 517 dressing rooms, and could accommodate 10,000 people at once. It was
meant to be educational and had a kind of art/history gallery, and even occasionally featured concerts and shows. In the end, the cost to run it outpaced the profits, and it fell into disrepair, eventually the building fell to a fire. Today, there are concrete ruins, and although people no longer come to swim, Sutro’s initial desire to help people learn and enjoy the beauty of the coast still is fulfilled as locals and outsiders alike flock to the ruins.
We hiked the small trail down, explored the ruinous shell of the building that existed, balanced on the remaining concrete wall, and stood, looking into the lake that had fallen on hard times without the bath house. Like the tea gardens, there was a young couple getting photos done here, as we passed innocuously as the one of many people walking by in wonder at the ruins that were not thousands of years old, as one would be walking along in columns Delphi or the chambers of Ankor Wat, but the ruins of that were really around a century old. We continued southward on the beach, enjoying the sand not as a piece of history, but just as a beach, and we enjoyed it in the way we always enjoy beaches: the soft and giving sand, the children playing or staring in awe into the largest body of water they have ever seen, the initials that have been carved into the wet sand, and the rising and falling of the waves that have always been a metaphor for the breathing and rhythmic nature of the world.
From Sutro Baths, we made our way into the heart of San Francisco, and visited the Museum of Modern Art. The MOMA was undeniably incredible and overwhelming. We trudged through the seven stories and saw the works ranging from the iconic Roy Lichtenstein to placid Thiebaud the defiant urinal made by Marcel Duchamp. In a building full of art, one of my favourite collections were a series of photos taken by an artist whose name eludes me. It was a collection of photos a man had taken of his wife and they captured her and her life so simply and beautifully, ranging from a simple scene of her in their house to her fishing, and the series was made darker and had more prescience with the knowledge that she took her life several years even after they were taken. Even without the backstory, the candid photos were captivating, as she had the kind of expression that the Afghan Girl who graced the cover of Nat. Geo ages ago wore.
We lunched at a small Indian place across the street (and the bill, somehow, was paid for by Kiva’s mom. I’m still not quite sure as to how this happened, but I remember I’m grateful). After this, we went on the search for Clarion Alley, as we heard this was an alley full of revolutionary artwork. After driving into the part of town we could tell was not for the wealthy, we parked in a parking garage, and ran smack into a pride parade. We followed the marching and chanting and dancing crowd through the streets, until I revealed that I had to go to the bathroom. We inquired at a couple of stores, and we learned that the closest public bathroom was the local police station. We crossed the diminishing crowd at the tail end of the parade, and entered one of the roughest stations I have been to. The station felt like it fit into the persona of the neighborhood – poor but hardworking, and as I went into the bathroom and locked the door, I was unaware of what was going on outside. I heard a knocking on the door, told whoever it was that I would be “Just a moment,” and finished my business. As I left the bathroom into the main hallway of the station, the atmosphere had changed. There was a lady with a bicycle talking intensely to the officers at the desk, and I remember Kiva grabbing my arm and essentially telling me “We’ve got to get out of here.” Apparently, the station was going on some kind of lockdown, and we were moments away from being locked inside. We hurried out the front door, as officers behind us clanged the heavy locks into place. Whatever the threat, we were now in the relative safety of outside. No one outside even seemed to notice. We laughed uncomfortably, knowing that if I had decided this was a good day to air dry my hands rather than towel dry them, we would be spending the next few hours locked inexplicably in a rough station in a rough neighborhood.
We were just blocks from Clarion Alley, so we continued on. This alley was filled with street art, and busy with artists and residents walking by nonchalantly as we stopped to admire the different tags and art. The art ranged from radical to memorials to political to homeless rights. It was definitely interesting.
I won’t forget that night. We went back to the little flat, tired from the busy day of walking and exploring. I decided this would be an appropriate time to nap. Christina’s brother’s new puppy decided this would be a good time to try to garner attention. As I tried to sleep I remember hearing Kiva quietly playing with the excitable pit bull in the quiet apartment. The apartment did have a kind of side porch, which was lined with different plants. I decided to rise from the porch and go take a look. As the sun was setting, Kiva and I tag teamed the pup, trying to tire it out. We threw a cowhide toy for it to chase, tried to pry it from it’s mouth, and kept playing with it as the red hues of the sunset filtered into the window. At one point, I walked outside, and sat on the wall of the porch, surrounding by low plants and bathing in the hues of the sunset, looking along the strip of apartments as cars in all different shapes and sizes driven by people of all different shapes and sizes passed by, unaware of my spectating. It felt surreal. That night, Kiva looked happier than I have ever seen her.
The next day was our day to head home. The only eventful thing about this day was our stop in IKEA in Emeryville. I have never been to an IKEA, and it was honestly on my bucket list.
It was absolutely worth it.
I don’t know why, but I am fascinated by IKEA. When they have the layouts of the tiny floorplans replete with furniture, I am astounded by it all. Yes, I did want to see all of the different cabinet features. Do I want the glassware in my dream home to be protected by clear or opaque glass? I’m not sure, but I saw the difference. Black or white tile counters? Which kind of couches. I can’t stress enough that it sounds like I am being sarcastic about it all, but I’m not. I entered almost every single fake apartment they had. I checked out the bedroom layout. I sat on the different dining room chairs. It was so great. I’m grateful to Kiva for indulging in my weird desire.
The drive home was hot. We were both tired from a long but full weekend. I always wonder about living in a city. I am drawn to the clash of culture – concerts, art pieces, restaurants, and the like, along with the clash of cultures – growing up in a very homogeneous area, I wasn’t exposed to food that varied from the traditional styles. The pace of the city is fast and lively, and can be a testament to the evolution of humankind. Poverty can exist blocks from mansions, and in the city there can be a disconnect not only from the natural world but the spiritual. I’ve never been very religious, but I know of the peace that I have found while gazing on a waterfall under the moonlight or the exhausted and exhilarated feeling of hiking a peak and taking in the sights. I don’t know where I will live in the future. I do know that either way, I will continue to visit cities and taking in the sights. I am sure I will balance my desire for people and their creations with nature and its creations.
Until next time, don’t forget to never stop exploring.