Because I’m not all listed out yet…
Highly Underrated because-no-one-knows-they-exist Bits
1. Cable Car Museum. I couldn’t include the cable cars, because they’re ridiculously expensive if you don’t have a muni pass, they’re full of highly annoying jostling people, and the lines at the turnabouts just don’t bear thinking on. But the Museum… well, it’s just the best Museum in the city. And it’s free! And I guess you can ride the cable car to get there, if you really need to. The sound and the smell of the place, combined with the history, never fails to make me grin. Add in the strangely mysterious underground viewing room, and it’s a little slice of heaven. Thanks to shadarko, I am now determined to visit at least once a year in honor of Emperor Norton and his regular cable car inspections.
2. The Columbarium. Cemeteries and the like have always been my favorite tourist locations. In fact, there’s some cities that I barely remember, except for their cemetery. Hidden in a residential neighborhood above Geary (in what used to be Cemetery Central, before all the dead people were evicted a century ago), this is one of the few remaining repositories for human remains in the city, and it hits the perfect balance of beauty, nostalgia, irreverence, and dignity. The care and invention that people put into their niches is stunning. The last time I went, I spent 4 hours just wandering. And that was before I had a tripod. I think I may have to schedule a return trip soon.
3. The Fates. Well, they don’t really have a name, but that’s what I like to call them. At the tip-top of the high-rise at 580 California, there are a dozen shrouded women looking out over the city. Highly realistic, they were formed by an artist draping living models in a special cementy-soaked fabric, or some process something like that. The intent behind them has been debated since they were installed, but they certainly make that rooftop stand out. They’re most perfectly viewed from Chinatown, making for a nice little outing, and they never fail to send a little shock through me when I spot them.
4. West Oakland. It’s a little odd to put an entire, huge neighborhood on my list, but it needs to be there. And I don’t mean the rapidly gentrifying bits, old houses being turned into co-ops, new lofts and condos placed next to bicycle shops and cafes. I like the bits where the Port of Oakland (or PoO, if you prefer acronyms) smacks into the city and photo-ops abound. There’s a cement plant down there that you couldn’t take a bad picture of if you tried. Weird recycling industries, old wooden railroad trestles and abandoned stations, a recording studio with red bricks and ivy in the middle of a street full of import businesses. It’s just lovely.
5. Albany Bulb. And speaking of lovely, my dog park. The bulb sits right next to one of the last racetracks in the Bay Area, and shares it’s tiny stretch of leash-optional beach with the gamblers and fishermen. Even more enticing than the beach is the actual bulb bit, acres of landfill stretching out in a lightbulb shape to a beautiful lagoon at the far tip, that you can just circle if you don’t mind getting your feet a bit damp. There’s a bird sanctuary on one side, but the real beauty is in the public art. People have made amazing ornate driftwood sculptures and intricate paintings on weathered wood. There’s detailed stencils, a spraypainted yellow brick road with political commentary, twisted iron animals and whirligigs, decorated abandoned bikes, and mosaics from trashed mirrors and ceramics. Someday I’m adding my own little shrine here. It’s a great place to wander.
6. Highway 35, Tunitas Creek Road, and the Tafoni. And speaking of wandering… There’s nothing in the world that I love as much as a windy road. Highway 35 comes pretty close to perfect, with it’s intermittent views of the ocean through forests of sequoias. It’s also not terribly crowded, although on a Saturday, you will see a fair amount of people running with or against you. Which is why you ditch it for an even smaller, narrower road. There’s plenty to choose from. And if you’re the type of person that needs an actual location instead of just the road, well, I don’t totally understand you, but check out El Corte de Madera preserve. An easy walk takes you out to a big ol’ sandstone formation that nature has carved into caves and honeycomb patterns. It’s imposing, and surprising, as you run across it fairly suddenly in the middle of a nice stroll through a wooded hillside. It’s also one of those natural formations that your mind won’t accept as natural, like fairy circles. You’re absolutely certain that these patterns are purposeful, and the caves functional, but the by who and why boggle the mind.
7. Beach camping at Bolinas. Bolinas itself is an adorable little town in a perfect stretch of coast, and a live concert at Smileys is a party I don’t want to miss. But the best thing about the place is that they don’t mind if you throw a wee tent up on the beach, or if you just chuck a sleeping bag out there on a lovely night. Waking up first thing in the morning, unzipping the tent, and letting the dogs gleefully hurl themselves out onto the beach is my idea of a perfect vacation spot.
Bits I left out
Sutro Baths. Historically fabulous, it’s not as great as it was before they renovated the area and made it all history-park-like. They formalized all the spooky out of it. Musee Mecanique. For mostly the same reasons. It used to be in a dark, cramped basement, perched above a seawall. It was so loud you couldn’t hear a horse fall over. It felt like a treasure, your own personal hidden treasure. Now it feels like a museum, with bright white walls, well-designed display signs, and plenty of elbow room. Fabulous, sure, but just not as fun. Sunnyside Conservatory. Once a beautiful, overgrown surprise of a spot, now it is a nicely tended park. (Are we sensing a theme here? If you clean up your shit, you’re not as interesting anymore. Sorry.) Legend says that following some tremendous changes in fortune, it fell into disrepair and became so overgrown that people forgot there was even still a building in there. Until someone’s dog chased a ball into the thickets and revealed… a gigantic Victorian sanitarium. ‘Kay, probably just a legend. But still, cute. The Oakland Mormon Temple. Because it feels tacky to put a church on a list like this. Filbert and Vallejo Street Steps. Because I couldn’t decide which list to put them on. But they’re freaking awesome. The Palace of Fine Arts. Because while my heart may sing and make me want to dance like children of the night while strolling through it, there’s not much else going on there. Children’s Fairyland. Because while I acknowledge the wisdom of the rule, I still hold a grudge for them not allowing me to enter without a kid. Cleveland Cascade. A beautiful spot, but it won’t be truly great until they restore the waterfalls. Defenestration Building. Way fun, but there’s not much exploring you can do. And, if they finally follow through on their threats, it’ll be torn down any day now.
And I should probably stop now. I’ve barely tipped the iceberg of everything I love about the bit that I live in, but I’ve cheered myself up already (searching for a roommate and the high cost of rent has been bringing me down). Now, if I could only ditch the niggling feeling that I’ve slighted something…
Remind me in the comments?