Yesterday I spent my birthday in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I started at the de Young Museum, full of artistic treasures both contemporary and ancient, had a lovely interlude in the Japanese Tea Gardens and finished up at the Academy of Arts and Sciences.
I woke early because of the time difference, making my way out of the hotel shortly before nine. I’m staying at Fisherman’s Wharf, widely acknowledged to be one of the tackiest tourist destinations in the city. But at nine, Fisherman’s Wharf is just sleepily opening its eyes for the day, metal grilles on business fronts just coming up, postcard racks getting shifted into position. I got a couple of good early-morning photos and eventually found myself at Ghirardelli Square, home of the old Ghirardelli factory which is now a complex of upmarket or loud touristy shops. Among these was a ‘50s-style chain diner. Food wasn’t fabulous, but it had a great view stretching from the Golden Gate bridge across the whole bay. Plus as I was leaving the waitress pointed out that one of my tourist maps had a coupon for the restaurant in it! Who could ask for more?
In the de Young museum I enjoyed the trip up the observation tower most – I have to say it’s a pretty ugly building from the outside, and kind of oddly laid out inside. But they have a great glass collection. The most striking exhibit was a miniature cathedral made out of gun parts and bullets, housing a human spine like a reliquary. From a distance the construction materials are not obvious and it just looks like a charming (if very dark and shiny) cathedral. Then as you get closer it becomes a little more macabre. But then, as the comment card pointed out, through the Middle Ages churches made a lot of income from saint’s relics they housed.
My favorite part of the day was the Japanese Tea Gardens. Not very large, but lots of winding little paths to follow over bridges and under arches. I then sat for a long time drinking rice tea in the tea house, writing in my journal (until I upset the teacup onto it. Oops.) There is a lovely little waterfall near the teahouse on a small embankment that several ducks use for a home. A little shop behind sells windchimes. It was warm enough in the sun to make an enjoyable walk without being so hot to get uncomfortable after you’d been moving around for a while.
After that I made my way back to the Academy of Sciences. The entry price was steep – $25! I almost passed it up but I decided it was my birthday and I don’t get to see indoor rainforests all that often. That was the best part of the Academy of Sciences, a beautiful spherical rainforest environment with a long spiral pathway that takes you up through the layers. At the bottom fish swim in one of the aquarium pools – which has a glass tube at the bottom where people are walking and sitting underneath! That was pretty cool. The rest of the aquarium was okay, but the crown jewel of aquariums is the Boston Aquarium with the giant tube tank in the middle, the large penguin habitat at the bottom and the sea lions outside. I’ve been there too many times (though admittedly not since I was about 12) to fully appreciate this one. It had a lot of cool interactive digital educational displays though. The planetarium was also not as visually impressive as some others I’ve seen, but I was amazed how much planetary sciences had changed since I was last in a planetarium. So much more detail is available about the space outside our own solar system now. The planetarium let people out on the top floor so I nipped up to see the giant eco-roof, immediately regretting that I’d checked my coat! I thought the view of the roof was way better from the de Young museum tower, anyway.
I took a slightly long route home, but I rode on a bus that turns into a subway train, then transferred to what I thought would be another bus but turned out to be a trolley car! Enjoyed that, but was then a little late meeting an old friend of my parents who agreed to entertain me for my birthday dinner. We went for fabulous Italian food in North Beach and then walked to the City Lights bookstore, famous for being a beacon to the Beat Generation.
And then because I am still a little jet-lagged, I came home and went to bed at ten.
I have much more to share, but I’ve spent enough time on the computer today and not enough exploring the city I flew all the way out here to visit. Next stop: cable cars.