Insiders' Guide: Take A Boater's Stroll Through
San Francisco

By Kimball Livingston
Published: June/July 2013

Read more about why San Francisco is so hot this summer. An insider's guide to the bay, to river hideaways and wine country, and the America's Cup races.

Two blocks on and I'm crossing the California Street Line, hearing the whine of the cables below the street pulling the cars, and I'm looking downhill along the cable car tracks to the bay. Uphill, the tracks draw my eye to an earthquake survivor, the grand Fairmont Hotel and its penthouse, host to presidents and rock stars who do not use the front door. Left and right, more trinkets. I pick a side street, dodge uphill, then right on Mason past shop windows where unlucky ducks hang head down and the scents of boiling rice and dough roll out. I pass warrens that once held genuine opium dens, probably a few even now.

Oops, I'm all the way to Broadway. A mile or so to my left is Pacific Heights, where the tycoons of tech are buying up mansions built long ago by money from railroads and mining. I turn right, and in a couple of blocks I'm at the corner of Broadway and Columbus, a different world. A half-right, angling south, has me gazing down Columbus to an old flatiron building with heaps of weathered copper, Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope Studios, with his restaurant at the bottom. Rising behind is the Transamerica Pyramid. Locals hated it at first. Now it is a landmark.

Photo of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco Photo: Kimball Livingston

A literary destination for three generations.

At every hand is some icon of pop culture or real culture. City Lights Booksellers and Publishers features books you can?t find everywhere. Founder/poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti — a WWII Naval officer and Sorbonne Ph.D. — altered the conversation in the 1950s by publishing Allen Ginsberg's deliberately outrageous poem "Howl," and defending it in court against obscenity charges. Next door is the favored bar of the Beats, Vesuvio's, and diagonally across, neon lights announce the Condor, where Carol Doda in the 1970s debuted silicone-enhanced toplessness to a '70s decade that decided it was pretty cool. Down Broadway is a business selling itself as the Beat Museum, the ultimate irony for the original bop-kabbalah dharmists of counterculture.

Visually, North Beach is a treat (and the energy, the caffeine) and any northbound street leads to Fisherman's Wharf, which locals avoid, but they shouldn't. Yes, it is overrun. It also has good restaurants (Fog Harbor on Pier 39 is dedicated to sustainable seafood). Passing Pier 45, I pause to admire the Liberty Ship, Jeremiah O'Brien. Restored, maintained, and sailed by volunteers, with a colossal, walk-around-inside-it steam engine that stands in for every movie ("Titanic") that needs one, the O'Brien steamed to France under her own power in 1994 to the 50th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion. Open for tours, frequently underway with paying passengers, she's a treasure. The best-preserved of America's diesel-generation submarines, the Pampanito is tied up off her bow.

Photo of ships of San Francisco's National Maritime Museum Photo: Kimball Livingston

The ships of the maritime museum are docked alongside Aquatic Park,
where it's possible to anchor and come ashore.

Trying to ignore the century-old arcade games of the Musee Mechanique, I'm walking deliberately past the vendors — well, maybe just one crab cocktail — to the Hyde Street Pier, the National Maritime Park, where admission to the pier is free. I'm not telling you not to pay to board the ships, but I'm going to simply sit somewhere and breathe in the salt air and take in the view. Tall ships. Tall masts. The Balclutha, 17 times around the Horn. And I'm in a national park? I own this? You own this. Welcome to San Francisco. The cable cars are a block away. Maybe you beat me, maybe not?End of story marker

Kimball Livingston is an international sailor and journalist often called upon to explain the strange goings-on of the America's Cup. He also wrote the book on his home waters, Sailing The Bay.

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