This Tour Made Possible by… You

I sent out an appeal for sights I could cram into a single afternoon in San Francisco, and the readership of the Twelve Mile Circle came through with flying colors. I wrapped up the business that had occupied me form most of the week and set out on my journey to absorb as much of the city as I could in a just few hours.

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I should have noted in my previous article that I didn’t have a rental car so my apologies for that. However, that still gives me lots of suggestions for the next time I’m here. I factored in several suggestions along with my own research and here is the six mile loop I took, mostly on foot but also with one big chunk on a cable car.

Hotel Workers on Strike

After lunch, I made my way down from Union Square to Powell & Market, the beginning point of a couple of the cable car routes. Little did I know that I was going to have to snake my way through a group of striking hotel workers. It wasn’t my hotel, fortunately enough, because it was rather loud and raucous. I started my journey with some excitement but this would be my only unexpected delay during the entire time.

I was trying to be a little surreptitious when I snapped the picture in case the subjects might be sensitive to those kinds of things. I could imagine a scenario where I would have to explain that I was doing this for some obscure geo-oddity blog.

The Gripman on a San Francisco Cable Car

I boarded the Powell & Mason line to Fisherman’s Wharf. This was actually the first time I’d ever ridden a cable car on the several trips I’ve made to San Francisco over the years. I’m glad I did.

I sat at the very front of the car with my face practically pressed to the glass. The gripman stood directly behind me. I could perceive the complexity of these vehicles from the mechanical levers he grabbed in carefully orchestrated patterns. I couldn’t figure out all of his maneuvers on my brief ride but it seemed to involve aspects of grabbing, breaking and coasting in various combinations. His dexterity was truly a work of art especially with the pedestrians and drivers who seemed unaware the limitations of an approaching cable car.

I found Fisherman’s Wharf somewhat disappointing. This area was extremely touristy with aggressive barkers trying to corral crowds to various shops and attractions. Sorry, but I didn’t stick around long enough to take any decent photos.

Crooked Lombard Street

I hiked up Hyde Street towards Lombard Street to see the so-called "World’s Most Crooked Road." It looked so simple on the map, but soon discovered Hyde Street climbs uphill at a crazy angle as it mounts Russian Hill. I proved to myself that I’m both aging and out-of-shape as I pulled myself uphill slowly. I only had to stop to rest once so I felt pretty good about that and took some small consolation in it.

I don’t know whether Lombard Street is actually the most crooked anywhere or whether that’s all hype, but I can say with confidence that it’s really, really kooky corkscrew twisted. I helped some Japanese tourists with a group photo and I walked downhill. That was considerably more pleasant than the climb up.

Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill

However after Lombard street bottoms-out it begins to climb upward again as it continues towards Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower atop it. I was really getting a workout and hopefully shedding a few pounds I’ve gained from eating my way through San Francisco earlier this week.

Coit Tower is a 210 foot art deco cylinder built in 1933. I’m going to guess that the elevator is original too. It had a human elevator operator who made sure the retractable mesh metal door swung into placed properly. Otherwise visitors might be tempted to touch the wall moving past as the elevator rose. It was one of the noisiest most rickety mechanical devices I’ve ever experienced. Those things have safety breaks, right? I kept telling myself and I figured it must have to pass regular inspections too. That’s how I rationalize my ascent. It was all worth it once I got to the top.

Darrell Place Park

I came back down but I didn’t want to backtrack and I found a neat little alleyway that descended nearly 300 feet from Telegraph Hill almost down to sea level. Alley is the wrong word. It was a series of terraced wooden plank steps and platforms with banisters. Street is the wrong word too but it actually had a street sign and a name, Darrell Place. The neighbors obviously put a great deal of effort into beautifying the pathway with abundant landscaping and I’m glad I got to experience it while traveling downhill.

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I’ve included a satellite image because I thoroughly enjoyed it, and felt pretty good about stumbling across it by chance. I don’t think any roads go through here. The greenery pathway I followed cuts across the entire bottom of this image (the big stripe of shrubbery). Honestly I don’t know where these residents park their cars.

The Embarcadero in San Francisco

I cut down to The Embarcadaro briefly. I include this image because it’s about the only pure geography you’re going to get on this posting. This flat area of San Francisco is primarily filled-in soft soils composed of bay mud. In the next major earthquake it will liquefy and cause great structural damage.

I left that depressing thought behind and started paying attention to my thirst. I had to sneak in at least one brewpub on this adventure. I stopped by San Francisco Brewing on Columbus Avenue and relaxed for a little while.

San Francisco China Town

From there I walked through Chinatown. I was a minority here and I immersed myself briefly in a foreign culture. Most of the shops catered to the Chinese community exclusively. I recall walking past one store and observing a number of large turtles for sale. Undoubtedly they will be cooked up and consumed somewhere this evening.

And from there I returned to my starting point.

Make my Trip

The Twelve Mile Circle traveled to San Francisco, California this week. I don’t have much time to enjoy many of the sites, thought. The sun sets early this time of year and that gives me maybe an half-hour each afternoon after a full day stuck in an office building.

My touring record isn’t very good on this trip even within those constraints. Work has completely taken over any opportunities to explore. Today it was already nearly dark when I trudged from the office, snapping cellphone photographs along the way. That explains the poor quality and lighting on the images below.

San Francisco Cable Car

What would San Francisco be without its famous cable cars? Well, lots of things actually, but surely these endearing throwbacks to a bygone era come to mind as iconic images of this city. These particular cars are queued up at the base of Powell & Market preparing to enter the turntable so they can head back uphill. The spot where this happens can be seen as the circular feature in the middle of the road in this satellite image.

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Cable cars in San Francisco date back to the 1870’s and these are part of the last manually-operated system in existence anywhere. It’s quite fascinating. Cars are pulled by cables running under the street. This means that they run almost silently so I’m being extra careful when I cross the streets. The gripman moves a lever that grabs the underground cable when it’s time to move along the route, and unhooks from the cable when it’s time to stop. I guess it’s good that a cable car line runs right by my hotel or I might not have gotten to see anything touristy today. I know, quit whining.

Union Square in San Francisco

Union Square is a couple of blocks further up Powell Street. It was starting to get pretty dark by the time I got up here so I snapped this photo without delay. It’s not yet Thanksgiving which means it’s time to put up the Christmas tree. I guess I shouldn’t complain — most of the store back home put up Christmas decorations even before Halloween this year.

Actually I rather enjoyed this. Nothing says Christmas quite like palm trees and a giant conifer. One the other side of the park and out of sight of this photo sits a temporary outdoor ice skating rink. I kid you not. It got well up into the 50’s today and yet they’ve got ice skating like we’re in New England or something. Contradictions like these put a smile on my face.

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This is how it would look in daylight

I’m possibly going to have a couple of daylight hours to wander around on Thursday. I need your help. I’m having a tough time finding appropriate geo-oddities and the search engines are failing me. Attempting to search of phrases like Weird Places in San Francisco provides decidedly different results than what would normally come up in other cities. San Francisco is noted for weird people (and I say that in an endearing, complimentary way) so that’s what I’m getting back in my results.

If you know of odd geography in San Francisco, please feel free to add a comment or send me an email. Otherwise you’ll get things like Fisherman’s Wharf in my next posting. Oh, you might also get that crazy squiggly section of Lombard Street too. I guess that counts as weird geography… and I kind of want to see it.