From the west side of Coit Tower, take stairs from Telegraph Hill Boulevard to Telegraph Place. At the bottom, jog left to Greenwich Street and walk right to Stockton. Go left for a block to Washington Square, a grassy piazza off which is the Church of Saints Peter & Paul. You’re now in North Beach, the city’s Italian neighborhood with a cafe street scene that is SF’s version of Paris’ Left Bank.
North Beach was birthplace of the Beat Generation, the Beatniks of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Walk through Washington Square and go left on Columbus Avenue, featuring cafes, clubs, and hip boutiques. Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights blogstore is on Columbus near Jack Kerouac Street. Nearby is Cafe Trieste, a favorite of Allen Ginsberg and other poets. But don’t let a literary quest keep you from finding Stella pastries, Molonari salami, Lucca ravioli, or a foamy cappuccino. At Columbus and Grant, you may wish to double back left on Grant the Upper Grant area to soak in some more bohemian atmosphere.
Then head up Grant Street, San Francisco’s oldest street, which will bring you immediately into Chinatown. Chinatown was established during the Gold Rush and grew as the demand for railroad workers increased. It is one of the largest Chinese settlements on this side of the Pacific, with 24 thriving square blocks of restaurants, groceries, and all sorts of gift and specialty shops. The action is to either side of Grant. One good side trip is to turn right at Jackson Street and visit the fortune cookie factory on Ross Alley. Or, go left one block on Clay Street to Portsmouth Square, the center of leisure-time life for the community.
Herb Caen Way on the Embarcadero
The Chinese Cultural Center, at 750 Kearny, has exhibits of arts and crafts. At 650 Commercial Street, which is a block past Clay on Grant, is the Chinese Historical Society. The Pacific Heritage Museum is at 608 Commercial. Four blocks later, at Bush Street, you leave Chinatown via “Dragon’s Gate.” Turn left on Bush Street, skirting the Financial District, until you reach Market, and turn left to the Ferry Building.
For the SoMa stroll, turn left from the Ferry Building along Embarcadero Promenade. Up-close views of the Bay Bridge serve as a backdrop. On your right, between Spear and Steuart streets, is Rincon Center, where you’ll find a zesty food court and a series of WPA murals depicting California history. Continue toward South Beach Park and Marina, where brew pubs and cafes are springing up, lured by the opening of AT&T Park, home of the Giants. The classic brick ballpark is about a mile from the Ferry Building. A walk around the park go left as you reach it takes you to the bay, passing South Beach Marina, Seals Plaza, and McCovey Cove, where home runs to right field splash into the water. Take this stroll during a game so you can view for an inning or two for free through openings in the fence. Circling the park, you’ll reach Willie Mays Plaza with its 24 palm trees planted to signify the center fielder’s jersey number.
From Willie Mays Plaza, walk across King Street on Third. At 615 Third is the birthplace plaque of Jack London. Jog right on Brannan and then left on Jack London Alley, walking through South Park to Bryant Street. Go left on Bryant and then right on Third. Stay on Third for four long blocks, through a gritty area with work-live lofts and the occasional gallery. You’ll reach the Museum of Modern Art, at Third and Minna Streets.
The MOMA building is a work of art, both inside and out; visit its changing exhibits and take a peek inside from the excellent gift store. Across the street from MOMA is Yferba Buena, with its gardens, fountains, galleries and eclectic view of San Francisco. Bordering Yerba Buena, on the Fourth Street side, is Metreon, featuring theaters, cool shops and eateries.
History buffs will want to take a short walk down Mission Street, which is the north border of Yerba Buena, to the California Historical Society at 678 Mission. Across the street is the Ansel Adams Center for Photography. Then jog back to Fourth Street, passing the Marriott, where you can take an elevator to the top to the view out its arched glass windows. Continue to Market Street and turn right.
At Kearney and Market is Lotta’s Fountain, the city’s only water supply after the 1906 earthquake, where a yearly ceremony has been held ever since. On the way down Market, you can explore the remarkable interior design of two hotels: At New Montgomery Street is the historic Sheraton Palace, featuring a garden court dining room with an expansive glass ceiling. Farther down, at Drum and Market, is the Hyatt Regency, which features an indoor glass elevator rising through the world’s largest atrium.
Bike: For a San Francisco to Sausalito Ferry loop, a fairly flat ride of about 14 miles, turn right at the Ferry Building and follow the bike path along The Embarcadero you’ll see signs for Bike Route 5. After about 1.5 miles, at North Point Street, Bike Route 2 takes you west; or, to pedal through Fishermans Wharf, proceed another two blocks on The Embarcadero and go left on Jefferson Street. Either way, you’ll go one mile and then run into Van Ness Avenue at Aquatic Park, where you hang a right and follow a bike path through Fort Mason to Crissy Field. From there, hug the route along the water and follow signs to the Golden Gate Bridge. Across the bridge, follow signs to Sausalito. From the center of Sausalito, take the Golden Gate Ferry, in the middle of town at Anchor Street.