San Francisco Visitors Guide: A Walk around South of Market (SOMA)
Many visitors to Napa Valley combine their trip with a stay in San Francisco. To help you in planning your visit, we have included this San Francisco Visitors Guide. After several days of visiting San Francisco, Golden Haven Hot Spring will be your perfect base for exploring the Napa Valley Wine Country.
Once a grubby warehouse district, SOMA is a flourishing model of urban revitalization. The acronym, SOMA, comes from an old nickname, “South of the Slot,” referring to the "wrong side" of the Market Street cable car track when Gold Rush-era immigrants worked in the factories here.
Today, a four-block square area surrounding the Moscone Convention Center is chock-a-block with major art and history museums, high-rise hotels, trendy galleries and shops, cafes and nightspots. On this self-guided walk you will encounter photography- and book stores, vestiges of the city’s rip-roaring past, and dazzling 21st century architecture, a grassy park and trendy cafés. Food and drink here tends to be lower than around Union Square and on the waterfront, although, in the glitzy hotels––W, the St. Regis and the Marriott––expect to pay $5 for a cup of coffee.
History and Fun
Begin at St. Patrick’s Church (Mission Street between 3rd and 4th), a soaring brick landmark built in 1851. Notice the green open space of Yerba Buena Gardens across the street, and the fascinating variety of vintage and contemporary buildings that characterize this diverse district.
Walk a block to the California Historical Society at 678 Mission where the colorful history of the Golden State is showcased through photography and art. Remember to return to browse the store and delve into manuscripts in the library, and to sign up for narrated history walks. Step into the Cartoon Art Museum 655 Mission to see comic book super-heroes, great women cartoonists or the work of Charles Schultz, the Peanuts creator, depending on the revolving exhibits.
Books and Graphic Arts
In the same building, Foto-Graphix Books at 655 Mission offers photography books and graphic art including a stunning collection of works by famed California photographer, Ansel Adams. You can pick up collectible posters of San Francisco, here, too. Also in the SOMA district, photo mavens flock to SF Camerawork, a gallery space and bookstore at 657 Mission Street , and to Adolph Gasser (181 Second Street), a huge emporium selling more camera gadgets than a professional or a point-and-shoot camera clicker could want. Among independent bookstores in the district, Alexander Book Company is an old favorite, unassuming on the outside, with three floors of treasures inside; 50 Second Street.
On Third Street across from Yerba Buena Gardens, the upstanding cylinder of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is one of the architectural wonders of the city. The architect, Mario Botta, described the tilting skylight as "the eye for the city." Shop in the museum store for art books, jewelry and children’s games, and vow to come back for the trove of contemporary art.
On either side of SFMOMA are new skyscraper hotels, the St. Regis Museum Tower, and W San Francisco. At the base of the St. Regis, a turn-of-the-century building houses the new Museum of the African Diaspora, where multimedia displays present such subjects as celebrations, slavery, art and origins. At the sleek W hotel, and take a peek into the “Living Room,” the octagonal, three-story lobby walled with glass and flowing drapes. Feel free to relax with a drink or a coffee and play one of the board games.
In Yerba Buena Gardens, take a stroll beneath the sycamores and around the flower gardens, and walk behind a torrent of water, the Martin Luther King Memorial Waterfall, to read passages from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Nearby, the Alice Street Community Gardens make for another unique urban experience. The proud senior residents and disabled people from the neighborhood who keep the patch abloom will be glad to show you around. A nine-story-tall mural overlooks a riot of roses and lettuce, bok choy and daisies.
Paintings of 19th century Yosemite, the Sierra Nevada and other early landscapes are featured at the Society of California Pioneers museum at 300 Fourth Street, along with Gold Rush artifacts and hundreds of daguerreotypes and photographs. The California Academy of Sciences is also well worth a stop, also, if you are into tropical fish and snapping turtles, penguins, dinosaurs and more exotic creatures; 875 Howard Street. A huge new building in Golden Gate Park is under construction, to house––likely in 2007–– an expanded Academy of Sciences.
Nearing your starting point, at 88 5th Street at Mission, slow down for the “Granite Lady,” the Greek Revival-style Old United States Mint, erected between 1869 and 1874 to make coins from California gold and Nevada silver. Plans are underway to open the City of San Francisco Museum here, in 2006, in time for the 100th anniversary of the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed much of the city. Reward yourself with a cone at Mitchell's Ice Cream where unusual flavors like mango, avocado, purple yam, and old favorites such as mint and praline, are made fresh each day.
Have a light lunch at SFMOMA’s sidewalk Café Museo or a picnic in Yerba Buena Gardens. Get dizzy with a cocktail and the sky-high view from The View bar atop the San Francisco Marriott Hotel, nicknamed “The Jukebox” for its monolithic post-moderne architecture. Hobnob with a hip young crowd at 111 Minna, a bar, nightclub and art gallery in one.
|The article on this page is adapted from guidebooks written by Karen Misuraca, the author of Our San Francisco, Fun With the Family in Northern California, and other travel books. Available for purchase on Amazon.|