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Secret Places to Go in San Francisco

by Liz Einbinder

City Guides know that San Francisco holds a plethora of delightful surprises beyond the cable cars and Fisherman’s Wharf. But could there be some FREE hidden gems you haven’t discovered yet? With map in hand and a bit of Internet route pre-planning, I recently set off to see some of San Francisco’s non-traditional sights.

First stop was the City College campus on Ocean Avenue to view Diego Rivera’s Pan American Unity mural, painted in 1940 for the Golden Gate International Exposition. Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo lived in San Francisco while he created this stunning work combining the art, culture, history, politics, religion, and technology of the Americas. City Guides will offer a tour of the mural on Saturday, May 21, at 11 am. If you visit at another time, you can refer to the handy reference guide hanging on the opposite wall of the Diego Rivera Theater to better understand the immense mural and the people depicted. (See www.riveramural.com for hours.)

A second Rivera mural, The Making of a Fresco, The Building of a City, is on public display on Russian Hill at the San Francisco Art Institute (at 800 Chestnut Street). Painted in 1931, this mural pales in size compared to the City College one, but the lighting in the building is fantastic and the mural is petite enough for up-close viewing and a good look at the finer details of his work. Don’t miss Rivera in the middle of the picture, painting the mural. While at the Art Institute, take a few minutes to stroll around the campus and visit the rooftop patios where picnic tables and panoramic views of Alcatraz, Coit Tower, downtown, and the bay make this a great spot for a brown bag lunch.

Located just below the Golden Gate Bridge approach in the Presidio, the Presidio Pet Cemetery is a fun way to pass time reading epithets and tombstones. Not only does the cemetery offer unique and humorous gravesites, but it also offers bay and Golden Gate Bridge views. In a city that has few cemeteries within its city limits, it was a delight to stroll through this bit of military and family history. Buried among the gravesites are dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, rabbits, lizards, mice, and goldfish. Some of these animals traveled from faraway places like Australia, China, England, and Germany with their military owners, only to find their final resting places in San Francisco.

Continuing with the cemetery theme, I headed to Buena Vista Park in the Haight Ashbury area to view headstones taken from the Lone Mountain Cemetery when its residents moved to Colma. The WPA administration put all good materials to use and recycled these headstones from the defunct cemetery to pave a drainage gutter in the park. Look closely as you stroll the pathway to read still-visible inscriptions and dates on many of the fragments. (You can view the path on the City Guides Haight Ashbury tour.)

The next stop, and one of my personal favorites, was the slides in Eureka Valley’s Seward mini-park. These slides were designed with the adult in mind and are long, winding, and fun! The park is a gem hidden amongst dense neighborhood housing and is a pleasant way to pass an afternoon. Not only were the slides great, but the gardens and vistas were beautiful as well. There are two adult-size slides that parallel one another and make for good slide races with your favorite sliding buddy. Hint: if you are racing a friend, the right slide is faster than the left one.

If you still have some energy left, swing on by the free golf ball driving cages and practice your swing at Moscone Field in the Marina neighborhood. Made up of old fire hoses, four driving cages are available free of charge for duffers wanting to practice their swings. A nicely maintained putting green adjoins the cages – and remember, it’s BYOG (bring your own golf balls).

Finally, what better way to end the day than sipping free beer at Anchor Brewing Company, headquarters for Anchor Steam beer. Nothing beats the interesting tour of this historic brewery and the generous time they allow for you to sample free beer in the tasting room at 1705 Mariposa Street. (Call 415-863-8350 in advance for required reservations.) I raised my glass to toast a perfect ending to a fascinating day of exploring hidden SF gems. I hope you’ll check out some of my hidden gems – and maybe even find some of your own.

Photos courtesy of Liz Einbinder.

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