Soloing in San Francisco
What Ever Happened to Predictability?
It was only a matter of time before the Clipboard of Fun™ came to the home town of Danny Tanner. If you’re not familiar, Danny Tanner (played by Bob Saget) was the uptight dad on the ‘90s sitcom Full House. In the first episode of season 3, the Tanner family goes on vacation to Hawaii and much to everyone’s chagrin, Daniel Earnest Tanner (did you know he had a middle name?) planned “every minute of everyday with everyone’s activities” on his “clipboard of fun.” For obvious reasons, San Francisco sounded like the perfect destination for a solo adventure.
The first thing on my clipboard was to head straight to America’s best Chinatown. And right in the middle of Chinatown is the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Friendly cookie makers offer up free samples of warm, unfolded cookies as you walk into the small, utilitarian shop. I was intrigued by the bags of “x-rated” cookies for sale and grabbed some to bring home… They’re not really x-rated, maybe naughty at best (ie “Many a girl is looking for an older man with a strong will — made out to her”). You can also create your own fortune cookies. I wrote two messages on blank fortunes, handed them to a cookie lady, and like she’s been doing this her whole life, she expertly folded my custom messages into a perfectly formed cookie and put them into a miniature Chinese takeout box. It cost $1.50 and may be one of the best souvenirs I’ve ever bought. When Danny (my Danny, not Tanner) later opened them at home, he acted like I’d pulled off an incredible magic trick.
The Coit Tower
This is the best place to go for 360° views of the city. Perched atop Telegraph Hill, you have a gorgeous landscape before even entering Coit Tower, but once you’re in, take the elevator to the 11th floor and walk up to the observation deck on the 13th floor. Built between 1932-33, Coit Tower was paid for by an eccentric named Lillie Hitchcock Coit, who wanted her beloved San Francisco to be as beautiful as possible. Lillie was a wealthy socialite who enjoyed gambling, smoking cigars, and chasing fires. She was basically a firefighter fangirl. She often pitched in to fight fires herself and the firefighters made her mascot and an honorary member. (The fact that the tower resembles the nozzle of a fire hose is pure coincidence, but her ashes being places into a mausoleum with firefighting memorials is not.) The interiors of the tower feature Social Realism style murals depicting life in California by 25 on-site artists.
A Bygone Era
I’ve always been fascinated by Sutro Baths, a massive public bathhouse built along the rocks of the coast in 1894. Designed by Adolph Sutro, the facility was meant to be a recreational spot for San Franciscans with trapezes, high dives, and slides. The Pacific Ocean would fill the pools and at high tide and could pull in nearly 2 million gallons of water making it the world’s largest indoor swimming establishment. It was a glamorous affair — Do a google image search and check out the lifelike paintings of Sutro Baths in its glory. The bathhouse fell out of favor during the Great Depression, was an ice skating rink for awhile, and then was meant to be apartments, but sadly, it all burnt to the ground in 1966. Today, you can see the ruins from the Cliff House. Wide windows display panoramic views of the ocean. The menu features fresh Californian cuisine, including their famous popovers. I like to skip the lines for a table and grab a seat at the Zinc Bar. In the lobby, you can see one of the original ceramic muses from Sutro Baths. It was made in Italy in the early 1890s and unlike Sutro Baths, it’s in fabulous condition.
For Tourists Only
Fisherman’s Wharf is exactly what you think it is — Fish and chips, souvenirs, tourists. These all happen to be things I like. Boudin makes some of the best sourdough in the city. You can buy a loaf shaped like a crab or a bear, or go traditional and get a round filled with delicious clam chowder. Alcatraz is just a 15 minute ferry ride away from the wharf. I took the audio tour when I was a child and still have nightmares about the cafeteria, the most dangerous part of the prison. A different kind of fun, but I also love Pier 39’s musical stairs. They were made by the same person, Remo Saraceni, who made the famous piano from Big.
The sea lions made Pier 39’s K-Dock their home after an earthquake in 1989. There’s plenty to eat in the Bay and they’re safe from predators in this spot, so they’ve stayed. One of their greatest dangers these days is ingesting plastic, which at least partially explains recent bans on plastic straws and grocery bags. What began as a few hundred grew to nearly 2,000 in recent years. They’re fun to watch — They play, bark, fight, swim, and mostly bask in the sun. Check out their live webcam.
I walked down to Pier 45 to see the Musée Mécanique, an antique penny arcade. The “games” are mechanical machines. Most tell your fortune, play music, or simply move or dance around. There are hand crank movies, peep shows, and old time photo booths. One particular machine called The Sound of the Prairie stood out to me because of a placard warning patrons not to play if easily offended. I immediately put in a quarter — The machine came to life and blasted fart noises for several minutes. Another contraption promised to tell me what friends call me behind my back, which apparently is “hot stuff” (thanks, guys). Pop a quarter in the English Execution and watch doll get hanged or the French Revolution featuring a guillotine scene. This place is very different from Dave & Buster’s.
The Painted Ladies are an iconic row of beautiful homes across the street from Alamo Square. You’ve no doubt seen countless photos of this very spot, known as Postcard Row. In order to be a painted lady, a home must be Victorian style and repainted at least 3 colors to enhance architectural details. These aren’t the only painted ladies, but they’re the most famous. If you, like me, thought that the Full House house was one of these Painted Ladies, you’d be wrong. Yes, the Tanner family has a picnic in this park in the show’s open, but the house featured in the exterior shots is actually located at 1709 Broderick Street, over a mile away. Being a ‘90s kid, I also needed to know about the Mrs. Doubtfire house — it’s just under a mile from the Tanner’s house, at 2640 Steiner Street.
As a finale to my solo adventure, I met my mom and sisters at The Orpheum Theatre. In the late ‘90s a $20 million renovation brought it up to the beauty that it is today. It’s a great place to see Hamilton, if you can score a ticket. The show is at least as good as everyone says it is.
Thank you, San Francisco.
I had an amazing time. I think Danny (both Tanner and Bonaduce) would be proud.
Have you ever been to San Fransico?
What’s your favorite tourist spot?