Friday, August 03, 2012

San Francisco 2012 Part 2 - the great outdoors

One of the things I've always thought was weird about New York is that this is a city on the water, yet with the exception of obvious tourist traps like Coney Island, most people never go there. If someone talks about going outside, they talk about going to a park - most of which are located inland. (And if they go to Coney Island, they plan it for a week or more - it's like a trip.) The city's always looking inward, ignoring this giant expanse of beautiful water surrounding it. It's an example of this sort of tunnel vision that I feel like a lot of New Yorkers have - it's as if nothing exists outside the city borders, like the edge of land (and for some people, the edge of Manhattan) is the literal edge of the known universe.

San Francisco is a marine city - at least that's how I remember it, and I still felt that way on this trip. People there look outward. The city's surrounded by beaches on practically all sides, and where there aren't beaches, there are cliffs and rocks to climb. Only the downtown area is really built up and over the water's edge. Most of where the land meets the water looks like this:

That's the back view of Cliff House, which I wrote about earlier. We climbed up and around those rocks - there's a hill going up to the left so it was actually kind of hard getting back up there! It was pretty high to our left from where we took this photo, and mostly just cliff rocks. We tried to follow some people who made it before us, and just did what they did. Doc Martens are not made for rock climbing!

The great thing is I guess both because there are so many places to explore and relatively few people for a city of its size, areas where the land meets the water are almost never crowded.

That's Ocean Beach along with some of San Francisco's famous fog. (It burned off quickly, but I like the ghostly look of the ocean through the fog here.)

I've always liked the fact that whereas going to the beach in New York is a major activity and a day trip that people have to dress the part for, people in San Francisco will just go to the beach for lunch and wear regular street clothes. It's just another part of the city - what's so special about it?

This appeared to be some sort of dog walking club. Just walking right next to the water in their sneakers and jeans. You just don't see that on beaches in NYC, where the water is treated like an exotic vacation destination even though it's all around us.

This is about the time when I should mention that we had a Mustang convertible on this trip, and despite the fog in a couple of the above pics, it was sunny both days we were there. Well, I now understand why a lot of guys driving convertibles wear baseball caps. It's not because they think they're Derek Jeter. It's because you will burn your head to a crisp in sunny weather otherwise, and yes, that happened to me. It was fun, though - but on the second day we had to ride with the top up.

This is my wife driving the Mustang through the Presidio on day 1. Such a beautiful day! (I cropped her face out; she's a private person.)

Another thing I like about the west is that it is much less of a nanny state. In New York, if you're in a situation where you find yourself asking "are we allowed to do that?", the answer is almost definitely "no."  The operating assumption is that pretty much everything fun is against the rules unless someone tells you otherwise. (That doesn't mean you can't break them, but sometimes it feels like half of any average New Yorker's life is spent trying to sneak around and not get caught doing things we're not supposed to.)

In the west - not just California, but all of the west - you can kill yourself. Nobody's going to stop you from jumping off a cliff into the ocean to go swimming if that's what you feel like doing. They still trust people out there to have some common sense, and if they don't, well, it's just Darwin at work. At most, you'll have to deal with a sternly worded "caution" sign like this:

I liked this guy:

Now, you can't see it from that angle, but that rock he's standing on is in the Pacific Ocean. To get there, you have to cross about 20-25 feet of open water. Time it wrong and you'll either get swept out or dashed against the rocks. But he knows what he's doing, and there's no rule that says he can't climb up there and fish.

Here's the best shot I got of the Golden Gate bridge - beautiful! (As per above, you may notice the distinct lack of protective railings, at least where I was standing there. There does seem to be a fence a bit down below, but up where I was, it was just an open-air field on top of a cliff with a dirt parking lot.)

This is in the Marin Headlands. We were trying to go to Kirby Cove, an area I camped in when I was a kid and I really wanted to go back. It's got a beautiful enclosed beach with a breathtaking view of the bridge and city behind it... but there was no parking! A weekend day and the beautiful weather conspired to make for some crowded conditions in this area. Not only were there no spots, but there were lines of cars waiting to park. So notwithstanding my comments near the top of this post, there are definitely some outdoor areas that can get crowded at peak times.

A later view of the bridge from a more developed public area. I'm totally not sad that it was covered in fog - I got my sunny-weather shot above, and fog is just as much San Francisco as sun! The city's famous for this, so I was actually happy to get this kind of shot.

That's the city of San Francisco with its "other" famous bridge - the Bay Bridge - from the rocks of Treasure Island. Treasure Island is kind of a hidden gem - not many people from the city seem to go there, because it's kind of difficult to get to (the exit and onramp to and from the bridge are kind of an adventure) and there's not really much there other than this view. But the view is so worth it! I'm not sure how much you can see below but here's a 180 degree panorama shot:

(The copyright line is there because I used this in a business tweet.)

That's the entire city including both bridges (the Golden Gate is way in the background to the right) and Alcatraz.

I'll just close out with the aerial shot - you might be able to see more by opening it up. You can actually see exactly where we were standing on Treasure Island by comparing this shot with the one above. Check out the city's famous fog rolling in - it's amazing to see what looks like the whole Pacific Ocean covered by it!

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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