09 September 2010

Nob Hill

It's no wonder that the historic Nob Hill district of San Francisco has earned the nickname "Snob Hill." Its former residents, current demographics, outstanding views, and reputation as one of the most affluent areas in this already-expensive city have helped it on its way. All kidding aside, the origin of the name "Nob Hill" still remains a mystery. Some believe the hill's knob shape inspired the name. While others claim similarity to the words "nabob" (18th century slang term for wealthy) or "nobility." Regardless of namesake, one thing is for sure. The rich and famous arrived, and stayed.

Locally know as the Big Four, the Central Pacific Railroad executives built their homes on Nob Hill once they built their fortunes. Mansions taking up city blocks; imported and rare building materials; castle-like architecture with spires and gables. Those were the 19th century homes of Stanford (as in the university), Huntington, Hopkins, and Crocker. Other former residents include the silver tycoons Flood, O'Brien, Fair, and Mackay. While the San Francisco fire of 1906 destroyed the mansions of times past, affluent visitors and residents continue to flock to reputable Nob Hill and its high-end hotels named for the city's founders (Fairmont, Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, Stanford Court, and Huntington hotels). 

But it's not just the neighborhood nor its residences, current and former, that exude the "Snob Hill" nickname.  Even its cathedral is a bit over the top. Grace Cathedral welcomes its visitors with one of the few replicas of the Gates of Paradise. Often thought to mark the beginning of the Renaissance, these doors moved away from the flatness of religious art and brought perspective into play. The cathedral itself is a monolithic stone building reminiscent of European religious grandeur. In addition to elaborate stained glass depicting more than just bible scenes (look for the spaceship in the window closest to the entrance), a large section of redwood was chosen for the altar table top. This single section is so large it could only come from a tree that was alive during the time of Christ.

While the people now living on Nob Hill belie their neighborhood's nickname, it is clear that this historic neighborhood (and its historic affluence) still thrives.

05 September 2010

Sausalito and its Surroundings

An easy jaunt from San Francisco lies one the best places for skyline vistas: Sausalito. Situated on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge from the city, Sausalito attracts thousands of visitors each year for its boutique shopping, good dining, and of course the view.

The southern end of the city is the main draw.  Walking southward, the main strip leads you to the bayside walkway where hundreds gather to capture on film (er, memory card) the grandeur that is San Francisco.  The Transco Tower and the rest of the financial district; the Bay Bridge and the bay itself; and the city's northside locales of Marina, Presidio, and Fisherman's Whorf; all are right there in panoramic prominence.

With a view like that, be ready to drop a pretty penny. The food is fresh, the atmosphere is upscale, and clientelle ranges from locals to the rich and famous (we saw a 10.5 million dollar boat in the bay...apparently an affluent Russian businessman came for lunch). Scoma's restaurant sits on stilts in the bay and offers local fish and of course Dungess crab. For something a bit more casual, Fish restaurant is a popular choice for sailors and yachters due to its location on the harbor. BBQ oysters are a specialty of the house.

For those who pass up views and fine dining for intellectual stimulation, visit the Bay Model Visitor Center. In an area the size of 1.5 football fields lies a to-scale replica of the bay and all its waterways. From viewing platforms and walkways, visitors can watch a sped-up version of the tide cycle. One day passes every 13 minutes and you can see the tides going in an out every 3.

More of a day-trip destination than a weekend getaway, Sausalito is still a no-miss.

02 September 2010

Bay Area Hiking: Redwood Regional

Tucked between Oakland, Moraga, and Lake Chabot, and a short drive for East Bay residents, lies an oft-forgotten getaway - Redwood Regional Park.  While it lacks the immediate gratification of Muir Woods (redwoods are the first thing you see there), the hike to the canyon bottom as well as the drive to the park are an experience all their own.

To get a true sense for the lay of the land  and the beauty of the park's surroundings, enter Redwood Regional from Grizzly Peak/Skyline Blvd. Though winding and a bit less direct, this drive puts even Highway 1 to shame. Multi-million dollar homes, which get progressively bigger as the elevation increases, are tucked neatly into the roadside hills. Picture windows front nearly every house and soon you know why...like the homes, the views are million-dollar, too. On a clear day, you can look down on Oakland, across at San Francisco, and get full views of the Bay and Golden Gate bridges. All this mere miles from a redwood sanctuary.

The park itself is different things to different people. The well-travelled East and West Ridge trails invite hikers, bikers, and runners. With fairly even terrain and wide trails you'll see many close-by residents out for their daily excercise of choice. Others bring their dogs out for some wilderness fun without the restrictions required of neighborhoods and communities (leashes are optional).  Still others are looking for peace and tranquility (we ran into one group on a spiritual hike). For us, the redwood trees were the draw.

Once off the beaten path, the Tres Sendas and Stream trails take you down to the canyon bed where redwoods find their home. Growing in tight huddles, as is typical of redwoods, the trees here reach over 100 feet tall. At one time, prior to the influx of loggers, this park's trees were landmarks for boats entering the San Francisco Bay...16 miles away!

In true redwood fashion, tthe trees at Redwood Regional dwarf the visitors, provide respite from the sun, and offer an awe-inspiring ambiance to all those who visit.