American Graffiti – Day 82

American Graffiti

Day 82 – June 21, 2003 – Saturday

We are still in San Francisco. We got off to a late start today as I became sick last night after Beach Blanket Babylon. Bozzie Jane answered Alcatraz and Hollywood calls for Ryan this morning. It’s never-ending; people call at all hours of the day and night.

San Francisco is an incredible city with extraordinary natural beauty. The city is packed into a relatively small area of just 47 square miles. There is no way to see it in just a few days, so we were fortunate to have been able to extend our stay here and to help Ryan with his business but include some sightseeing each day. We have seen all of the areas now, though I plan to go back to various spots to obtain additional photographs. There are many distinct areas in San Francisco — diverse communities that make the city what it is. The major areas are:

Fisherman’s Wharf. This is THE hot spot for tourists in San Francisco. The Wharf began back in the Gold Rush days when Chinese immigrants in “junks” fished offshore and provided shrimp, oysters, and salmon to feed the hordes of Gold Rushers. Italian fishermen came next, and they set up stands along the beach to sell crab, shrimp, oysters, and other seafood. Seafood restaurants bearing Italian names still dominate the seafood business along the Wharf, and the fishing boats still occupy some of the waterfront at the Wharf. But the popularity of the seafood, the views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, and the location turned the Fisherman’s Wharf area in to an area filled with tourist attractions of all types — shopping, sightseeing, museums, amusement places of various types, and fine restaurants. Pier 39 is perhaps the best-known area for shops and restaurants along the waterfront. Ferries to Alcatraz leave from a pier on the Wharf. Pier 45 is the home of Musee Mecanique and its wonderful collection of vintage arcade games and toys, the Museum of the City of San Francisco, and the USS Pampanito submarine museum. Popular areas nearby are The Cannery, Ghirardelli Square, and Anchorage Center.

Marina District. The Marina District is an affluent area adjacent to a bayside marina. It’s an especially beautiful area. In addition to green space, the Marina District is home to the spectacular Palace of Fine Arts, the Exploratorium, The Presidio, and Crissy Field. The Palace of Fine Arts is a stunning Grecco-Romanesque structure built in 1915 for the Panama Pacific International Exposition and restored in 1967. Part of the Palace of Fine Arts is the home of the Exploratorium, with over 650 hands-on exhibits for exploring and leaning about science, art, and technology. The Presidio was built as a military base, but it is now a 1,480 acre scenic preserve with miles of hiking trails, bike routes, beaches, and picnic sites. George Lucas was building a new headquarters for his company, Industrial Light & Magic, on the grounds of The Presidio.

Chinatown is fun to see, and the food is great. We entered Chinatown at the Dragon’s Gate at Bush and Grant Streets. This gate was a gift to San Francisco from the Republic of China in 1969. The characters above the gate translate to read: “Everything in the world is in just proportions.” San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of North America’s largest Chinese communities. It covers 18 square blocks centered along Grant and Stockton, bordered by Bush and Columbus. The streets are lined with restaurants, shops, and trading companies. Souvenirs, silk, jade, and antiques are all offered from numerous vendors. Ross Alley is located between Grant and Stockton and runs from Jackson to Washington. Ross Alley was once lined with opium dens and brothels, and it has been a backdrop in many movies, including “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” “Karate Kid II,” and “Big Trouble in Little China.” The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company is a fun stop. You can see how fortune cookies are made. Other attractions in Chinatown include the Chinese Cultural Center, Portsmouth Square, and Old St. Mary’s Church (built in 1852, it was one of the few buildings to escape the fire of 1906

Nob Hill and Russian Hill. At the top of California Street is Nob Hill. This is the site where San Francisco’s early millionaires built their mansions. Many of these mansions are now among San Francisco’s finest hotels, including the Fairmont, the Huntington, and the Mark Hopkins. Grace Cathedral is in Nob Hill as is the Cable Car Powerhouse and Museum, the working center of San Francisco’s cable car system. Russian Hill has steep streets and fabulous views. The San Francisco Art Institute is here as well as the very famous Lombard Street. Lombard Street, the crookedest street in the world, winds in a series of eight hairpin turns in a single block between Hyde and Leavenworth.

Haight-Ashbury District. This was the center of hippydom in the 60’s. The most famous landmarks in this area are the former homes of several counterculture icons. The home at 710 Ashbury was the home of the Grateful Dead back when the group was known as the Warlocks. Across the street was the Hell’s Angels House. Janis Joplin used to live at 122 Lyon Street. The Charles Manson family lived at 2400 Fulton. Northeast of The Haight is Alamo Square and a row of beautiful Victorian homes known as the Painted Ladies.

North Beach. North Beach is the Italian area of San Francisco, known for restaurants, bakeries, gelato parlors, espresso bars, coffee shops, and coffee roasteries. It is a very popular area for young professionals and folks looking for great Italian food and popular night spots. Popular sights to see in North Beach include Washington Square, the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, and St. Francis of Assisi Church, dedicated as a shrine to San Francisco’s namesake, St. Francis. The City Lights Bookstore is a literary landmark. North Beach is also home to the Barbary Coast area with adult entertainment. Coit Tower, located atop Telegraph Hill, is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. Coit Tower was named for Lillie Hitchcock Coit. When she died, she left funds to create a memorial to volunteer firemen in this city that burned to the grounds of a number of occasions before a paid fire department was finally established. The Coit Tower offers panoramic views of the city from the observation deck, and the lobby is filled with Depression area murals.

Union Square. Union Square is located in the heart of San Francisco. It is at Geary, Powell, Post, and Stockton Streets. Union Square was opened in 1850, and Mayor John Geary so named it because demonstrations were held there in support of Union troops before the Civil War began. The square block features grassy areas, granite plazas, and performance areas. Union Square is one of the city’s major shopping areas with fashionable shops, major retailers, and fine hotels. Adjoining streets are filled with restaurants, theatres, boutiques, galleries, and more. Maiden Lane is a historic two-block area between Stockton and Grant. During the Gold Rush era, it was an infamous red light district. It is now filled with upscale shops and cafes. The Frank Lloyd Wright Building at 140 Maiden Lane is the only building he designed in San Francisco. An 18-month $25 million improvement project was completed at Union Square in 2002.

Financial District & The Waterfront. The Financial District is located near the northeast edge of the city. This area has been the center for the city’s banking and financial community since the mid 1800’s. Embarcadero Center is nearby — a high-rise complex that extends for six blocks and offers all type of shops, restaurants, movie theatres, office towers, Hyatt hotels, and more. The distinctive Transamerica Pyramid Building is located in the financial district as are the Levi Strauss Visitor Center and the Wells Fargo History Museum. Levis has long been headquartered in San Francisco as has Wells Fargo. The Wells Fargo Museum tells the history of how the company used stagecoaches to move precious metals and people across the country back in the 1800’s. The Embarcadero Waterfront area offers a walkway along the waterfront. The Ferry Building, built in 1899, was undergoing restoration to be used for restaurants and shops.

Civic Center. The classic architecture of the San Francisco Civic Center caused it to be declared a National Landmark in 1978. The City Hall is most impressive — looks like a state capitol building. The other sights to see in the Civic Center area are the Opera House, War Memorial Veterans Building, Herbst Theatre, the Performing Arts Museum and Library, the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, the Asian Art Museum, and San Francisco’s Main Library. The Hayes Valley neighborhood is just west of the Civic Center, and it offers galleries, art and design studios, shops, and bistros.

Castro. The Castro is a predominantly gay area. This area includes the Castro Theater (a great old movie palace), the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society Museum, and the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans-Gender Center. Nearby is Twin Peaks, with panoramic views of the Bay area, and Mt. Davidson, the highest point in San Francisco at 938-feet.

Union Street and Pacific Heights. This area was originally known as Cow Hollow as it began as dairy meadows. Union Street features picturesque upscale shops, galleries, and restaurants in renovated 19th-Century Victorian buildings. Union Street is a popular night spot with many pubs and restaurants. Pacific Heights is home to many stately mansions of turn-of-the-century Victorian architecture. The movies “Pacific Heights” and “Mrs. Doubtfire” were filmed using Victorian homes in this area as was the TV series “Party of Five.” The Haas-Lilienthal House at 2007 Franklin Street is a landmark Queen Anne Victorian built in the 1880’s.

Mission District. Centered along 24th Street and Mission Street, the Mission District is primarily a Mexican and Latino area. There are a lot of cantinas and Mexican restaurants in the Mission District and large, colorful murals on building walls. The Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center explains the history and process of mural art. Mission Dolores was built in 1776.

South of Market. SOMA, the area South of Market, is home to the Moscone Convention Center, Pacific Bell Park (home of the San Francisco Giants), Zeum, Yerba Buena Gardens, Center for the Arts, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Metreon Center.

Japantown. This area is home to over 12,000 citizens of Japanese descent. Japan Center is a complex of Japanese shops, restaurants, and art galleries. The five-tiered Peace Pagoda is located in the plaza. The Japanese Cultural and Community Center houses an archive of Japanese American history.

Richmond and Sunset Districts. The Richmond and the Sunset Districts are two large, ethnically diverse residential areas. The Richmond is north of Golden Gate Park, and the Sunset is south of the park. The California Academy of Sciences, the University of California at San Francisco, Ocean Beach, Cliff House, Seal Rocks, Sutro Bath Ruins, Coastal Trail, Land’s End, China Beach, San Francisco Zoo, Lake Merced, Stern Grove, and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor are all in this area.

Dinner tonight was at Mel’s Drive-In. The movie “American Graffiti” was filmed at Mel’s. Mel Weiss and Harold Dobbs opened the first Mel’s Drive-in back in 1947 in San Francisco. The restaurant’s incredible popularity allowed it to multiply into eleven Northern California locations, but after reigning for 20 years, the Mel’s era came to an end with the arrival of fast food outlets. Before the scheduled demolition of the first Mel’s, filmmaker George Lucas discovered it and decided to use it as the centerpiece for his classic film “American Graffiti.” Although the restaurant was still torn down, nostalgia prompted Mel Weiss’ son Steven to open a new Mel’s thirteen years later in 1985 with the help of partner Donald Wagstaff. Located at 2165 Lombard Street in San Francisco, the restaurant appeals to families wanting to share the tastes, sights, and sounds of the drive-in era and American Graffiti with their kids. See We enjoyed our dinner, and the cherry pie was extremely good. Our waiter, Frank, was really on the ball, and we met Erin, Tanya, Jen, Hayden, and Jack at the table next to us.

We saw a few sights on the way back to Ryan’s, and we hit Blockbuster to rent “American Graffiti.” What a great movie — one of the best of all time. It was even more fun to watch after having just been at Mel’s Drive-In.

The Daily Journal of Round America:

Each day, we collect our thoughts on a web page just like this. We drop in some of the photos from the day. Our goal with the Daily Journal is to write about the towns we visit, the sights we see, the people we meet, and the pie we eat. We write about where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going, but we also make observations about what we’ve seen and done as well as about life in general.

You can follow our travels from the Daily Journal section of this website. Other pages of interest include the running report of “vital statistics” on the Trip Scorecard, our nominations for the Best & Worst of the trip, as well as a rating of the pie we eat. If you’d like to see information for a specific state or town, click here, and then click on the state of interest, and the full itinerary is shown.


More Information on the Sights Visited Today:
San Francisco California — Fishermans Wharf — Marina District — Chinatown — Nob Hill — Russian Hill — Haight-Ashbury District — North Beach — Union Square — Financial District — Civic Center — Castro — Union Street — Pacific Heights — Mission District — South of Market — Japantown — Richmond and Sunset Districts — Mel’s Drive-In