Don’t you hate those hipster doofuses who are so paranoid about looking like a tourist that they all but carry around a neon sign telling all the locals “I Am A Tourist”? If they’ve heard of an attraction, then that must mean it’s too touristy to merit their time. To their way of thinking, the best way to while away an evening while in an exciting new city is to streak through a high-crime district or to sit at the little desk in the hotel room yellow-markering obscure items they find in the free arts weekly.
Pathetic. They haven’t learned one of the Prime Directives of travel: “I’d rather have a good time than my dignity.” Yes, there are bound to be some attractions that are plastered in every tourist guide, things that get put on postcards and sealed inside snow globes. That doesn’t mean they’re beneath your notice. Some of the best attractions in San Francisco — as in any city — are tourist attractions.
At the top of the list are the cable cars. Tourists and locals alike admire them from afar but refuse to board them for fear of looking like a hick! Well, none of that, my lad. The cable cars are a true joy. You can hang off the side just like in the Rice-A-Roni commercials and listen to the jangling of the bell. I recommend the Powell-Hyde run. It’s a wonderful street-level look at some of San Francisco’s prettiest scenery, including a neat run-by of Coit Tower. The topper is when the car crests its highest hill and you’re rewarded with a spectacular vista of the whole bay, from the Golden Gate to Alcatraz and everywhere else.
Speaking of the Golden Gate Bridge, how many of you have been coming to San Francisco every year for years and have yet to step foot on the thing? Me, too. But it’s still high on my list. Bundling up warm is a must, as those winds off the water are a gold-plated bastard, but according to locals whose opinion I value, the 1.25-mile walk across, starting from Fort Point, is a valuable investment of anyone’s time.
Then there’s Golden Gate Park, which, frustratingly, does not connect to the Bridge and that’s about all it lacks. It’s really well laid out. It’s large enough to effectively get lost in, but a random walk through will take you past scads of unexpected discoveries. And not merely of the Oh, Wow, Another Soccer Field variety. The eastern end of the park is studded with unassuming attractions, from a nicely-restored carousel to the just-when-you-need-a-rest Shakespeare Garden, which leads you to the California Academy of Sciences (and the Steinhart Aquarium next door). Right across the street is one of the world’s top museums of Asian art and a meticulously maintained Japanese garden of such grace and dignity that it seems wrong that this thing be in the same city as a computer show, even a Macintosh one. Golden Gate Park rewards the wanderer and lavishly rewards the wanderer who brings a map but doesn’t get all compulsive about consulting it.
For a more compressed pastoral experience you should head for the Palace of Fine Arts. It’s like stepping from the tense world of trade shows and business straight into a Maxfield Parrish painting. The parkside is dominated with architecture designed to evoke Roman ruins, and it’s impossible to laze on the grass nearby without being consumed by a pleasant feeling of whatnot and such. The Palace is also near the Exploratorium , a pioneering hands-on science museum. Due to its nature, it tends to be overrun by rugrats from time to time, but nonetheless it’s a good excuse to stretch a two-hour side-trip to a full afternoon.
OK, I hate myself for bringing up Pier 39. Every major city has a tourist attraction that the locals wouldn’t be caught dead in, and for most San Franciscans, this out-of-towner containment facility is it. It’s a concoction, precision-engineered by German scientists smuggled into the States during the closing chords of the War, with the unvarnished purpose of attracting tourists and then separating them from their money. So you’ll find mall-type national chain shops, and you’ll find street performers, and tee shirt emporiums. But you’ll also find hordes of seals to feed, and places to get fresh (as in “wriggling a moment ago”) seafood. On that last basis, fine, I’ll mention Pier 39. Though most of the locals, looking out for your interests, will try to steer you instead toward a walk along the Embarcadero, the revamped waterfront that was finally pulled out of the shadows of massive overpasses as part of the cleanup that followed the ’89 quake.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Sony Metreon , which we old hands have observed being constructed right next to the Moscone Convention Center (home of Macworld Expo) at a steady but slow pace over the past few years, is finally in operation. It’s one of them high-tech super-entertainment destination points you’ve seen written up in Business Week and elsewhere. It’s got video games, movies, and IMAX features which you could see elsewhere, but look, I’ll admit it: sometimes your friends crap out on you and your plans for the evening fall through. And if that happens to me during Expo week, I’m determined to spend the evening checking out the Moebius-themed entertainment area instead of watching “Kindergarten Cop” again on the hotel cable system.
You are a slave to Sanrio. Because you probably have nieces or daughters, and if you don’t, you probably have people in your life who are susceptible to the siren call of Hello Kitty. Which is why you will probably find time to hit the Sanrio Store right across the street from the Market Street Virgin Megastore. Therein you’ll find two entire floors of inexpensive little plastic characters which will bring home to you the fact that however much time, money, and national pride which the United States invested in the Apollo moon landings, the Japanese have doubled that investment in their mastery of every form of the technology behind making cute little doo-dads. I guarantee that no matter how badly you messed up before leaving for Expo, all will be cheerfully and enthusiastically forgiven if you present the offended party with a little Badtz-Maru key chain or Keroppi pencil sharpener upon your return.
ANDY IHNATKO is a beloved Mac columnist. He once inhabited the back pages of MacUser , and now writes for MacCentral and Macworld.Go to: Macworld Expo Central