While visiting us in December, my parents came across The Beach Chalet, which is situated on the very western edge of Golden Gate Park, across the road from Ocean Beach. Since it opened in 1924, the building has served as everything from a tea room to barracks for troops and now houses the Golden Gate Park Visitor Center and only beer garden in the park. My parents raved about the murals, which were commissioned in 1936 as part of a federal works program, found within the Willis Polk designed building. So, on Saturday we decided to go for lunch (and a beer) at The Beach Chalet and boy am I glad we did – the murals depict wonderful scenes of everyday life in San Francisco and what better way to discover the city than through these murals.
The Embarcadero is the eastern waterfront and roadway that runs for about 3 miles along the San Francisco Bay from Pier 39 to AT&T Park. I absolutely love running along the Embarcadero especially on the stretch between Pier 1 and AT&T Park where you get the most wonderful views of the Bay Bridge and South Beach Harbor. One of my favorite places along the Embarcadero is the Ferry Building which is filled with divine foodie stalls and I love spending Saturday mornings wandering around the farmers market or having brunch in the sun at Market Bar.
Personally, I think that Fisherman’s Wharf should be avoided at all costs as it’s always teeming with tourists queuing to buy tacky San Francisco souvenirs. But if you must head to that side of town, pop into Boudin Bakery (there are locations all over town so you really don’t have to go to the one at Fisherman’s Wharf) for clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl or pick up some Ghirardelli ice-cream (espresso chip is my favorite flavor) or chocolate from Ghirardelli Square (again, there are Ghirardelli shops all over the city so no need to actually go to the one at Ghirardelli Square).
I have only ever been to Baker Beach once on a rather miserable day but I did manage to see the glorious view of Golden Gate Bridge that you get from the beach and I will certainly be returning to tan on the beach when the weather warms up!
Golden Gate Park
I love Golden Gate Park. It extends from Ocean Beach for 3 miles (about 5km) into the city and offers a complete escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. It has a lake on which you can row; a conservatory of flowers (seen in the mural); a Japanese tea garden; a rose garden; a Dutch windmill and tulip garden; a buffalo paddock and numerous fields and secluded places to enjoy a picnic (another thing on my to-do list for Summer). The California Academy of Science, which houses a planetarium, aquarium and rain forest, as well as the de Young museum, whose 10 story viewing deck offers the most beautiful views over the city on a clear day, are also both situated in the park, not to forget The Beach Chalet!
Land’s End sits on the narrow ocean channel between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. I am yet to hike the coastal trails around Land’s End (looks like it’s going to be a busy Summer), but I do recommend a drink at the Cliff House at sunset and a quick wander around the Sutro Baths.
The Marina district is great, mostly for having a drink at one of the many bars on Chestnut Street, but at Fort Mason you can find a farmers market on a Sunday and from March to October, Off the Grid, which brings street food vendors together, on a Friday night. There are lovely views of Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy Field and I sometimes do the Park Run there on a Saturday morning before grabbing coffee and a donut from Dynamo.
This mural shows the Coit Tower architect, Arthur Brown, Jr., holding a plan for the tower where I believe there are many more murals to be discovered. It’s definitely worth the climb up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower – the stairs up the hill pass through lovely houses and gardens and you’ll be rewarded with the most gorgeous views from the top. Also worth a visit in Downtown is the Civic Center Plaza which is flanked by the city hall, with its very impressive dome (seen in the mural), on one end and the Asian Art Museum, which houses one of the most comprehensive Asian Art collections in the world, on the other.
Unfortunately I didn't get a photograph of this mural
Apparently San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese community outside Asia. Wandering through Chinatown is like stepping into another world and you forget that you’re in San Francisco and can get a bit lost with all of the signs being in Chinese. You do however have to avoid the tourist tackiness, so make sure to head off the beaten track and check out the small alleys and amazing selection of Chinese restaurants.
Besides the delicious beer, deviled eggs and fantastic views over the Pacific Ocean (which make a visit to The Beach Chalet a must), I also loved being reminded of all of the places I am yet to explore in San Francisco (just as soon as the rain goes away)!