My exploration of the city includes walking some longer streets in their entirety. A couple of years ago I posted a report from my epic walk of 17th Street from east to west. Today we look at my walk of Taylor Street from south to north through the city.
In the map, Taylor Street is a deceptively straight road heading from Market Street downtown to Fisherman’s Wharf. But as with many of the older streets in San Francisco, the simplicity of the straight line belies the complexity of the terrain it follows and diversity of neighborhoods, people and architecture along the way.
Taylor Street begins at a five-way intersection with Market Street that also includes Golden Gate Avenue and 6th Street. The Luggage Store Gallery is close to the intersection, as was the temporary space for the Outsound series where Pitta of the Mind performed in February. It also one of grittiest and grungiest sections of the city. It has cleaned up significantly even since the time I moved here almost eight years ago. And while some of that is welcome, I do worry that the area is ripe to be turned into something more bland and vapid, akin to the newer Mission Bay developments, even if some of the building facades are preserved. That would be a tragedy. Walking up the first few blocks of Taylor into the Tenderloin district, one sees a cross section of grit and grunge and stylish old buildings, and a wide range of people that make up the life of a city.
There are many alleys and side streets throughout this part of the city. Here we see Adelaide Street, which was renamed for Isadora Duncan, the pioneer of modern dance. Her family lived in a house nearby on Taylor street.
As we approach Nob Hill, the street takes a steep turn upward. The roadway narrows, parking becomes perpendicular, and the sidewalks have embedded staircases on this block.
The architecture and character of the neighborhood is changing as well. We are entering one of the older affluent neighborhoods of the city. There are many of the classic bay-windowed buildings that continue up from the base of the hill, but also some larger mid-century apartments as well.
At the crest of the hill, Taylor Street crosses California Street with its cable car lines.
On one corner is Grace Cathedral, while on the other side are this large classic 1960s-style apartment buildings that remind me of New York. The park across from the cathedral is very stylized and manicured, more a turn-of-the-20th-century garden than a contemporary urban park. If I want some exercise and nice outdoor spot for lunch, I should come up here.
Continuing north, he street veers downward, but then after a dip it turns upward again as it ascends the even steeper Russian Hill.
As we ascend the hill, we pass over the Broadway Tunnel, which carries the main Broadway as a limited access road underneath the hill to Van Ness Avenue. A side street continues up the hill to meet Taylor on top of the tunnel, providing spectral views of North Beach, Chinatown and the Financial District.
Readers may recognize this view from the more stylized version in a recent Wordless Wednesday photo.
Up the steep hill, one sees more of the modern tall apartment buildings. Again these remind me of some of the apartments on the steep hillsides in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.
As we descend the north side of the hill into North Beach, the buildings become more of the classic San Francisco style, but a bit more pitched and in brighter colors than they were further south.
Along this incline, I discovered another interesting alley.
The sign marking Redfield Alley is one of the older embossed models that one rarely sees any longer. It uses similar type and the same color scheme as the contemporary signs, so it is probably from the 1950s or 1960s. The alley itself narrow opening to a green space. It feels more like a European city than the typical American city, but of course San Francisco is not typical of cities in this country.
At the base of the hill, Taylor crosses Columbus Avenue. The Powell and Mason cable car line turns onto Taylor, ending at cul-de-sac about a block away.
But this is not the end of Taylor Street. It’s just an interruption for the terminus of the cable-car line (why that line ends so abruptly is a story for another time). The street actually resumes, now in Fisherman’s Wharf. It is flat here, lined entirely with chintzy shops and choked with tourists. I see a couple of office buildings around here, and find myself curious what it would be like to have a normal office job in the middle of such a neighborhood.
Taylor Street continues across the large sprawling plaza at the north end of Fisherman’s Wharf, amidst the crowds of meandering tourists, and finally ends at an intersection with the Embarcedero along the waterfront.
I’m rarely ever up here, so it’s a bit of a novelty. But the disorganized slow-moving crowds of people are not very comforting, so I catch a vehicle back home. It certainly an interesting walk to see all the changes in space and time along this street. And there will be more such excursions to talk about.
This morning, I find myself in the Castro – or is it the Mission District, it is increasingly ambiguous where one ends and the other begins. Some thoughtful person took it upon himself to suggest that I would go blind using my laptop. He of course said this while puffing away on a cigarette. I ask you who is taking the bigger health risk here?
One activity that almost no one disputes as being healthy is walking. And San Francisco is a great walking city. For one, it is quite small, and the areas of the city one would actually want to visit are even smaller. So instead of presenting another highway article this weekend, we at CatSynth will share a little walking tour of our new hometown, weaving in other articles from the past month. The approximate path is indicated in the map below:
Heading north from CatSynth HQ through the South of Market neighborhood, we quickly arrive at Yerba Buena Gardens, next to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which I wrote about a few weeks ago. It still amazes me how close this is to home now, just a short walk if one knows the short cuts underneath the highway. I continue to enjoy the gritty industrial nature of the area as typified in these photos from Gabriele Basilico.
After crossing the welcome greenery Yerba Buena Gardens, one is only a block from Market Street, San Francisco's main commercial thoroughfare through downtown and the Financial District The main activity on Market Street is attempting to cross it. Though it is also home to the Luggage Store, where I performed in February and will play again in May.
The side streets of the Financial District are strangely quiet on the weekend as one continues north, towards the Jackson Square neighborhood This is the oldest part of the city, with old three-story iron and brick buildings crowding narrow alleyways that typify nineteenth century urban areas. Some of the buildings here do in fact date back to the nineteenth century, having survived the 1906 earthquake and fire. However, right around the neighborhood park are a bunch of low-rise residences that look more like the 1970s than the 1870s, and a bit surreal given the surroundings. Nestled in the old (and not-so-old) buildings and alleyways are furniture and interior-design stores that are a bit on the expensive side, as well some restaurants and watering holes, art galleries, and the hair salon at which I had an appointment.
North and west of Jackson Square, one weaves in and out of Chinatown, which is hard to miss, on the way to North Beach. This is a typical place to end up for food and drink, and I was headed to a pub on Washington Square park that was recommended to me. They had an unusual selection of beers, including a chipotle ale. I cannot eat or drink and do nothing else, and having not brought my computer or a book on this trip, I did something I normally wouldn't do and got something to read from City Lights Bookstore: a small book of surrealist games from the 1920s. This might actually be useful, but in any case it seemed to go well with chipotle ale.
If one plans to do any walking in San Francisco, one has to be prepared for hills, either scaling them or taking extra-long routes around them. North Beach in particular is surrounded by hills, and from the Washington Square, one can head east on Union Street towards Telegraph Hill (which is featured in many a film, including the recent Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill) and then down to the bay. Or one can head south along Powell Street to Nob Hill. As you climb Powell, you can watch tourists waiting at cable car stops.
This is not a short walking trip, a few hours in all (including stops). One can try to catch a bus or a streetcar, but my experience has been that one can walk several blocks in the time it takes to wait for a bus, so unless it is one that is frequent and reliable, might as well try and walk. Of course, if one is headed to one of the districts further away, the calculation changes. But we will save those for future articles.
This article is featured in the March 26 edition of the Carnival of Cities, hosted by Family Travel.