Those damned San Francisco for Macworld Expo Tourists. They march seven abreast down the sidewalks like arterial plaque, marveling at and photographing each and every manhole cover and streetlamp base just because while perfectly ordinary in most respects, they’re slightly different from the ones they’ve got back home… all the while oblivious to the fact that you, a seasoned traveller, are hoping for an earth fissure to open underneath them so that finally you can get to the post office at something greater than the basic speed of continental drift. But for all of this marveling at the uniqueness of the alternate-side parking signs, all these Skoal-munching disposable-camera operating Co-Ed Naked Sports t-shirt wearing zeroes want to do while in The City is shop at The Sharper Image and the Virgin Megastore and see if the Big Macs taste any different over here.
God! We are so much better than those people!
When we come to San Francisco, we eschew the pathetic lure of the Tourist Containment And Processing Facilities. We know enough about this place to have all kinds of San Francisco-ey sort of fun in places off the tour given in those fake trolleys that are actually diesel buses — I mean, sweet baby Jesus, here they are in the one town famous for having actual, bona-fide operating cable trolleys, but noooo… they’d rather board one of the fake knockoffs found in such exotic locales as Dover, Delaware. Seriously, these people, let me tell you…
Let’s Talk Eats
If you’re reading this, then chances are you’re a Mac person, which would mean that you’ve got enough baseline intelligence to make a cartoon-like, hysterical dash away from the prospect of actually lunching on the grub you’ll find at a convention center. Even after you’d recovered from the ensuing days of lower GI tract dysfunction, you’d kick yourself anew upon hearing that a nifty restaurant like Yank Sing (49 Stevenson Street, near 1st Street; 415/541-4949) was just a short walk from Moscone. If you’ve never experienced the fundamental rightness of Chinese deem sum dining, this is the place to become a devoted convert. It’s all so very Macintosh: instead of reading a menu filled with technical terms, you merely point and click (so to speak) what you want from a series of theme-related carts that constantly circle the dining room. When you’re finished dining, you’re charged for the number of times a server has stamped your check. Simple. Elegant. Filling. Makes you feel as though you’ve really accomplished something, as opposed to grabbing a $4.75 microwaved pizza slice.
Alas, the carts return to their parking spaces at 3 PM, so Yank Sing is only suitable for lunching. At dinner time, head to the Tonga Room at the Hotel Fairmont, way the hell up there on Nob Hill. It’s your basic vague-Asian restaurant, and not a terribly cheap one; this I’ll admit. But what makes the Tonga experience noteworthy is the fact that the restaurant is built over the remains of the hotel’s old pool. This relic was seized upon by a hotel manager of vision, who saw not a cement-lined divot that would have to be ripped out, but a Polynesian lagoon. And he saw a boat with a bandstand on it, and he saw this boat pulling into the lagoon every hour on the hour from 8 PM onward. He saw the boat’s arrival accompanied by a simulated tropical storm, complete with water and light effects. Finally, he saw an excuse to kite up the menu prices and add a cover charge — but what does it matter? You’re spending a week in Chairman Steve’s reality-distortion field; how better than to cap it off with an evening in the one generated by that hotel manager?
For more authentic Asian cuisine, I’ve been told to take BART to Oakland, get off at 12th street, and walk two blocks to Oakland’s Chinatown. Whereas the San Francisco version has been thoroughly subdued by the tourist set, Oakland remains untainted by tour buses and is a place where you can watch your food killed in front of you by a waiter who has never found a need to learn English.
Breakfast? After three or four days of eating hotel room-service eggs and bacon you’re not interested in getting a real breakfast? Then you don’t deserve to learn about Sears Fine Foods (439 Powell Street, near Union Square; 415/986-1160), one of those “fundamental needs” restaurants that seems to stumble through the decades without becoming tainted by updating of decor or menu. This is the place to get big food, cheap, served by a waitress in a uniform. The star attraction, though, is breakfast: a mound of Swedish pancakes guaranteed to immobilize for upwards of forty minutes after ingestion. The Sears is one of my favorite ways to kill those embarrassing few hours between being kicked out of your hotel and the time you need to head for the airport.
As a floater, consider finding a little time to wander into the Sheraton Palace hotel. The Palace is the Liza Minelli of SF hotels, having survived quakes back to the Great one, and as a result it offers the chance to eat in a magnificent hundred-year-old garden covered with a fine glass roof and then walk through a great marble hall to a seventy year-old bar, paneled with oak and decorated with a large mural painted there by Maxfield Parrish himself.
Cult-chah? Oh, in San Francisco they’ve got boatloads of the stuff just lying around everywhere. Three really neat museums are within walking distance of Moscone. The San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art (151 Third Street; 415/357-4000), home of this year’s Macworld Eddy Awards, is the distinctly modern-art-museum-ish looking building you keep passing by on the way to the convention hall. It’s got exactly that quality I look for in modern art museums, for I go to these places precisely to re-enact the scene in the first “Batman” movie in which Jack Nicholson (as the Joker) makes his way through a Gotham museum, regarding the artwork therein: “Crap… crap… crap… crrrrap… now this I like… crap…” That is to say, SFMOMA gives you ample opportunity to feel superior to anyone who thinks that items A, C, D, and E are art, while surprising yourself at how strongly you’re drawn to pieces B and F.
Still within a few minutes’ walk of Moscone is the Cartoon Art Museum (814 Mission Street; 415/CARTOON). As the name implies, this is a place to observe firsthand the art of getting little animals to hit each other with anvils and giant wooden mallets, while still telling the more persnickity parts of your brain that you’re not just goofing off.
Then there’s the Ansel Adams Center for Photography (250 Fourth Street; 415/495-7000). If landscape photography by the undisputed master of the art form is a draw for you, well, here’s your chance. It’s the biggest collection of original Ansel Adams prints on public display anywhere, and these images truly have to be seen to be appreciated. If there’s a reason why people no longer question photography as a legitimate art form, it’s here. Somehow, when Ansel Adams took his view cameras out of the Grand Canyon, he took out far more than was merely there and added even more in his darkroom.
It’s entirely possible that you’ll be tempted to walk around a bit and take home some stories about The Real San Francisco Hippie Experience to share with your chums at the Elks Lodge back home. Well, if you must, give Haight Street a miss. It seems like two of the great forces of evil in the world — drug abuse and the corporate tendency to tear something down and replace it with a more marketable version of the exact same thing — have chosen this stretch of street to have their great final battle. As recent as few years ago, there was a jolly little stalemate in place: there was commerce, but the presence of the druggies kept things at a reasonable level. All I know is that for a few years, I could go to the Haight and spend a couple of hours shopping in secondhand bookstores before choosing a nice little place for lunch. But now it’s just a little too scary for this little country mouse (and many of the locals; it’s no Tenderloin, but definitely not a place you’d choose to spend some of your few precious hours of free time).
So instead, fit in a trip to Berkeley. BART will take you off the San Francisco peninsula and into Berkeley in about a half an hour and will let you off in a jolly nice spot to spend a Saturday afternoon. Walk uphill to the University of California campus, where you’ll find the start of Telegraph Avenue. This street is lined with activity on weekends. Plenty of those bookshops that all right-thinking people know and love, plenty of spots for cheap eats, too, and the sidewalks are lined with craftspeople. And best of all, the druggies are all pot smokers, which results in a lack of motivation that makes those people Colorful as opposed to Scary or Dangerous.
Finally, if after four or five days you just need to get away and clear your head, go to the ferry terminal at Pier 43 at Fisherman’s Wharf and take a trip to Angel Island. Dress warmly, but when you arrive you’ll be presented with scenic vistas, inspiring smells, charming little restaurants that take MasterCard, etc.
ANDY IHNATKO is a beloved Mac columnist. He once inhabited the back pages of MacUser , and now writes for MacCentral and Macworld.