Uncle Roger's Guide to the sights and sounds of San Francisco

The San Francisco Bay Area, Top View
San Francisco is one of the most popular places to visit in the world, and for good reason. This is a city unlike any other in the world. Immortalized in song, text, verse, film, and just about any other media you can think of, San Francisco is a special place.

There are lots of books on the shelves that will make sure you don't miss any of San Francisco's world-famous attractions. Everyone knows you have to see the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, and Fisherman's Wharf to name a few.

But what about all the not-so-famous but still really cool stuff that natives know about that isn't in the books? That's where this list comes in. Born and raised in The City, I've seen and done a lot in this town. Here's just a few of the lesser known things to see, hear, and do in San Francisco.

Urbano Drive and the Sundial
'Way back when, before even the smallest patch of land in The City was worth a quarter of a million dollars, there was a racetrack right here in town. Unfortunately, people kept having babies, and the land was sold to build houses. The track itself, however, lives on in the form of Urbano Drive, a mile long oval street built on the old racetrack. And in the center, there is a courtyard with giant sundial in the middle, dating back to the World War I era. How big is the sundial? Well, let's just say I never made it to the top when I was a kid. (It's actually the world's largest.)

Stern Grove
Stern Grove is a huge tract of parkland in the Southwest corner of The City. Donated to The City years ago by an elderly widow, in honor of of her late husband Sigmund, this park is home to lots to see. During the summer, free concerts take place every Sunday, with venues ranging from Opera to world music to broadway musicals.

The Grove is in a 100 foot deep valley, with tall eucalyptus trees climbing the sides. There are meadows, a clubhouse, picnic areas, and even a lake. In the summer, Stern Grove is home to the Pine Lake day camp. The Trocadero Clubhouse, at the east end of the park still sports bullet holes on the upper floors from the 20's and 30's when it was used by gangsters.

Just up the street from the main entrance is Sava pool, named for the world famous olympic swim coach, Charlie Sava, who taught thousands of San Francisco kids how to swim during the many summers he spent working there.

Glen Canyon Park
Another lesser-known -- to tourists -- park is Glen Canyon Park at the foot of Twin Peaks. Glen Park offers a playground, gymnasium, and baseball fields. But that's not all. It's the home of San Francisco's other city-run summer day camp, Silvertree. It's also home to one of the two Ropes Courses in The City, where you can test your fear of heights and increase your self-confidence among the treetops. And Glen Park features some of San Francisco's best -- if not it's only -- rock climbing. Although not the most challenging routes in the world, it is a fun place to spend an afternoon hanging from rocks.

The Josephine D. Randall Museum
You may have heard of the museums in Golden Gate Park, or the new Museum of Modern Art, but you'd be missing out if you didn't check out the Josephine D. Randall Museum. Seated high above the Castro district, this museum features a petting zoo, an incredible model railroad layout (it belongs to the club that meets there), and nature and dramatic presentations in the newly renovated theatre. The museum also offers classes in woodworking, papermaking, ceramics, and other arts and crafts. A great place to take the kids, pack a lunch and have a picnic at the top of the hill directly behind the museum with fantastic views of downtown and the bay for dessert!

AAA Ceiling
Too many people never bother to look up. In San Francisco, however, you'd definitely miss out if you didn't. If you stop by the AAA office on Van Ness Avenue, (near the Opera House, Davies Symphony Hall, and City Hall,) be sure and check out the ceiling. It harkens back to a time when craftsmen took pride in every aspect of their work, rather than being content just to stamp out identical styrofoam ceiling tiles.

The Young People's Teen Musical Theatre Company
A lot of people come to San Francisco to see the many Broadway shows that play here. But why pay big bucks when you can see a production just as good for under $10? The Young People's Teen Musical Theatre Company has been putting on professional quality broadway shows and musicals for over 10 years. This group of hardworking, talented teenagers is definitely ready for the big time, except for their ages!

Sydney G. Walton Park
If you're here on business, you'll probably end up downtown at some point. If you do, and you find yourself with some free time, head north to the other side of the Embarcadero center to Sydney G. Walton Square. This park is a favorite lunch spot for bike messengers and ad execs alike. My favorite part, however, is the statues on display. In fact, one of my very favorite outdoor works of art is located here. (It's the silvery kinetic sculpture in the northwest corner of the park.) You can also spot a Bufano just across the street from the southeast corner. Bring a lunch, or pick something up at the (thinly disguised) Safeway nearby. If you're on an expense account, definitely give MacArthur Park a try.

Levi Plaza
After visiting Walton Square, wander north along Front Street to Levi Plaza. The home of the world famous jeans maker is situated at the foot of Coit Tower (which you can read about in your guide book), and incorporates a rolling park, fountains, and a stream into a publicly accessible park area. Another favorite lunch spot, the Fog City Diner and Il Fornaio are nearby. Fog City Diner, of course, is the inspiration for the "Fog City Dumpster" the favorite eating spot of the transplanted bears in the local comic strip "Farley".

Redwood Park
And if that's not enough parks downtown for you, head over to the Transamerica Pyramid (Don't believe what the guidebooks say about the restaurant at the top -- it's well worth the price) and look next door. Here you'll find a lovely park populated with the Redwoods that are perhaps California's most well known tree.

Doggie Diner
Alas, Doggie Diner is no more. But, lucky for you, one of the famous Dachshunds on a stick is still on display on a renamed diner across from the Zoo. Once, these lovable pups were found all over The City, but now, only this one remains on display to the public. Certainly, it is well worth supporting this establishment to help fund the preservation of the dog, but for a true San Francisco wonder, head across the street to Leon's for some of the best BBQ ribs in the state, if not the country.

Mitchell Brothers' O'Farrell Theatre
Not everyone is interested in adult entertainment (i.e., sex shows), but the Mitchell Brothers' O'Farrell Theatre on the corner of O'Farrell and Polk streets is definitely worth checking out. I have no idea of the quality of the indoor entertainment, but the exterior is a San Francisco favorite. For as long as I can remember, the side of the building facing Polk street featured a gigantic mural of a blue whale in its undersea world. Recently, however, this mural was moved to the rear of the building and a jungle scene, featuring a Lion and other animal and plant life, was added. Whether or not you condone the sex industry, I'm sure you'll enjoy these murals.

Edinburgh Castle
Near the Mitchell Brothers theatre is the Edinburgh Castle, on Geary Blvd near Polk. This Scottish pub used to be in cahoots with the fish and chips shop around the corner. But when it closed its doors, the Fish and Chips owners bought it and opened it back up, hiring all the same people who gave it the atmosphere that made it so popular. Check out the collection of Toby mugs, or play a round of darts, whatever you do, be sure enjoy a pint of britain's best.

Tommy's Joynt and the Jack Tar
One of the only Hof Braus left in San Francisco is Tommy's Joynt. Located on the corner of Van Ness and Geary, this brighty painted restaurant is a classic, and an old favorite of San Franciscans. The food is good, and cheap, too, but it's the decor, inside and out, that has made this place famous.

Across the street is the Jack Tar hotel, unique in appearance, if not exactly pleasing to the eye. The new owners would have you call it the Cathedral Hill Hotel, or some such nonsense, but natives know it only as the Jack Tar.

Mary B. Connolly Children's Playground
Notable for being the first public children's playground in the United States, (dating back to 1897,) this playground is no ordinary slide and sandbox. It features Slide Mountain with 8 slides, including two giant cement slides (reminiscent of the old Playland at the Beach slide), two wooden play structures (one for bigger kids and one for the wee kids), gymnastic bars and rings, multiple sets of swings, including the unique circle swings, and best of all, an real, live carousel!

Located across the street from the famous Kezar Stadium (which you won't recognize from the Dirty Harry movie) and next to Sharon Meadow, it's nestled in the east end of Golden Gate park, sheltered from the winds than can chill the west end. It's also quite near John F. Kennedy Drive a haven for rollerskaters, skateboarders, and bicyclists every Sunday, when the road is closed to automobile traffic.

Bison Paddock and Spreckles Lake
Out near the west end of Golden Gate park you'll find the Bison paddock, home to a herd of beautiful bison. These magnificent animals seem to thrive here, ignoring the constant attention of tourists and natives alike.

Just to the east, across from the Golden Gate Park Stables (and the Police horse stables,) is Spreckles Lake. Any weekend day you can find the young and old, sailing incredibly detailed model boats and ships. There are ducks to be fed as well, and the stables across the street offers both riding lessons and trail rides in the park.

Liberty Bell Slot Machines
When downtown, stop by the corner of Battery and Market Streets. On the NorthEast corner, you'll find a stone cairn marking the location of the Liberty Bell Slot Machine Company, where the Liberty Bell three reel slot machine was invented. This machine, so popular during the Barbary Coast days, was the precursor to many of the slot machines still in use today.

Across the street to the east, you'll find a plaque set in the sidewalk near the statue that marks the location of the shoreline of the bay at the time Gold was discovered near Sacrmento. Look east to the Ferry building, at the current shoreline, and imagine just how many ships were abandoned by gold-fevered sailors to fill in that much of the bay!

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