Outside the DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park is one of my favorite sculptures, because is about wine. Titled “Le Poeme de la Vigne,” this Poem of Wine is no formal honorific to viticulture. It is a celebration of wine in the form of a mad bacchanalian dreamscape rendered in 3 tons, 11 feet of bronze.
A little backstory. This piece was created by French illustrator and sculpture Gustove Doré for the 1878 Paris World’s Fair. From there it traveled to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, (which was the setting for novel “The Devil in the White City”). San Francisco, feeling a little insecure on the world stage, was anxious to prove that it could also host a fair. A lot of stuff from Chicago’s Fair was purchased and used for San Francisco’s 1894 Midwinter Fair, including Le Poeme de la Vigne.” Several years after the fair Michael DeYoung bought it.
Starting from the base and going to the top, the sculpture is the story of wine. The best strangeness is at eye level. Here a small army of cherubs fight off a stunning variety of vermin and pests ready to attack the grapes and vines.
Armed only with chubby hands and fists, examples include one pulling the tail of a rat, another fending off a beetle, and another wrestles what may be a tarantula but is certainly a big spider, a spider as big as the cherub itself.
Just above the heroic putti is the harvesting of the grapes. Then fermentation, and at the top, indulgence of the efforts. If I had to battle a spider as big as myself, I’d need a drink too.
By the way, the sculpture across the road does not show a muscled man work a wine press. He’s crushing apples. Not nearly as much fun as wine.
One of the questions I often get from my private tour guests is “What to do at night?” After a day of seeing the sites and having dinner, people often just go back to the hotel to crash and watch TV.
Instead of watching TV, why not go to the movies? And go to the movies in style.
The Castro Theatre is a rare experience. A gorgeous Art Deco movie palace, built in 1922 to not only show films but to lure people out of their homes to bask in ornate beauty for the price of a ticket. Few of these movie palaces exist anymore, and even fewer with a full Wurlitzer Theater organ, complete with silent film sound effects. The organ rises out of the floor and is played at night before most screenings.
The Castro screens an eclectic variety of films: second run, indy, foreign, vintage. There are also sing-alongs where lyrics are projected on the screen. Sing-a-long “Grease” and “Moana” are recent offerings,and every year their is the sing-a-long “Sound of Music.”
Visiting a city is about experiencing what you can’t back home. And I’m going to bet that your city doesn’t have a movie palace like the Castro. And if it does, go and compare our palace to yours.
If you’re staying downtown, getting to the Castro Theater couldn’t be easier on MUNI. 3 lines, the M, L, K/T underground trains go to the Castro District, so you never have to wait more than a couple of minutes, and the Castro street station is just across the street from the theatre. Getting back downtown is equally quick and easy.
One of the reasons I love Coit Tower is that its purpose is public space. It doesn’t have what is generally considered a practical purpose, such as a conduit for commerce or a city building for storage or business. It was built with seed money from Lily Coit who left a third of her estate to San Francisco “to be expended in an appropriate manner for the purpose of adding to the beauty of the city which I have always loved.” Coit Tower has much to offer the visitor. From the parking lot, there are views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Russian Hill, and Alcartaz. Inside the tower are murals from the 1930’s PWA project.
Here’s an insider tip: if you need a bathroom, there are art deco toilets inside don’t stand in line at the toiler kiosk outside. All are free.
A $7 elevator ride takes you 15 stories above the city.
The line to get up to the top can be long and daunting, especially during holidays, summer, and weekends. Either go early or later in the day to avoid what can be a 45 minute wait. Getting down from the top can be difficult as well, as the elevator only holds 7 people.
If you don’t get out and go inside while on your private tour in the convertible MINI Cooper, you should make it part of your day when you visit North Beach. After coffee in the the morning, take one of the many staircases on the Western (North Beach) side up to the tower. Then take another staircase back down to North Beach for lunch and a glass of wine.
Since January of 2003, neighborhood volunteers and artists have transformed a drab western hillside staircase into a beautiful and inspiring creation of public art. It was, and continues to be a community project, bringing over 300 people together to enhance this neighborhood. Each of the 163 steps are decorated with a tile mural. Though the city had little to do with the stairs, other than giving permission, a stipend, and staying out of the way, since they are on city property they are for the enjoyment of everybody.
But appreciating the beauty of the tiles is just part of the fun. Climb the stairs and there you get an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean few visitors experience.
Big Tour buses are not allowed in the neighborhood, and it is located just far enough away from Golden Gate Park that few people bother to make the trek to discover the 16th Ave. steps. But for the adventurous willing to walk the 10 blocks it is worth it, and will be one of those experiences to brag about back home. Of course, if you don’t want to walk, I can take you there on a custom private tour as well.
San Francisco has over 670 staircases that are public walkways.
Some, like the imposing Filbert Street steps, are obviously open to everyone. But there are many staircases that appear as if they are private, such as being part of an apartment building or a walkway leading up to a house. Thus these public treasures, which make San Francisco the special place it is, are passed up or unnoticed by visitors and locals.
One of my favorite staircases is Macondry Lane. Tucked away on Russian Hill, it is a block long walkway with beautiful gardens and landscaping, and wonderful views of the Bay. Guests on Small Car Big Time Tours like to be dropped on at the Taylor St. stairs and get picked up on the other side at Jones.
This is a true San Francisco secret and not to be missed.
The Outer Sunset is an area of San Francisco unknown to most visitors to the city. Even residents know little about it, other than it is boarded by the Pacific Ocean on the west, Golden Gate Park on the north, and is usually considered as being the blandest neighborhood in the city.
However bland most of the Sunset is, with rows and rows of look alike houses, there are gems. These quirky homes have a variety of fanciful facades, such as a Tudor, a Spanish style, and Parisian Art Nouveau.
These are the inspired idea of architect and developer Oliver Rousseau. In the early 1930, he wanted to build homes for working class people that had a touch of whimsey and elegance. His ideas and designed were later copied by others.
The largest cluster of these storybook homes is along 33rd to 36th avenues between Kirkham and Lawton streets. If you’re in San Francisco and love architecture, you should make a point to venture out see an area that even most residents of the city are unfamiliar with. Big tour buses can’t take you there. But Small Car Big Time Tours can.
There are many POPOS (Privately Owned Publicly Occupied Space) in San Francisco. They include open plazas, indoor areas with tales and chairs, and, everyone’s favorite, rooftop gardens with great views.
This is the view from 1 Kearny, a beautiful, and perhaps the least known rooftop POPO. It’s a bit of a chore finding it, but well worth the effort. Though the address is 1 Kearny, enter through the lobby on Geary St. Tell the security guard you want to go to the rooftop garden. Inside the elevator is the only sign that lets you know there is a POPO in the building. Go to the 11th floor. Chances are, you will have these great views all to yourself.
If you are interested in discovering more POPOS, go the the SPUR website
Here’s a secret few people know about: the observation deck in tower of the De Young museum (in Golden Gate Park) is free, and open to the public during museum hours. Just tell museum staff you want to go into the tower, and they will direct you to the elevators, which take you up nine stories to the 360 degree glass enclosed observation deck. There are amazing views of the park, the Golden Gate Bridge, and western side of San Francisco—all without an admission fee.