Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Playing tourist in San Francisco means leaving a little heart there

 Cookie and Nora sit by Tony Bennett's vibrant heart
which is on display in San Francisco's Union Square.
The famed jazz singer is also an accomplished painter,
best known vocally for his tribute to San Francisco.



IF YOU'RE strolling downtown San Francisco, you can't miss Union Square, that unique, bustling center of the city.
Tourists relax and listen to the buskers. In our several-day visit, we enjoyed a student choral group from Oregon, a local bagpiper, a jazz guitarist, an aging but capable operatic soprano, and a young flutist playing Mozart.
Pretty eateries and bistros welcome tourists and native sons to enjoy a snack or beverage in the spring sun, to read a good book, or just meditate and savor.
Well behaved dogs are welcome and Nick and Nora relished the attention they received from passers-by.
FRAMING the historic square are four artful hearts beckoning visitors to come in, relax, enjoy, leave a bit of their own hearts. That's easy!
The hearts are installed as tribute to San Francisco's magical effect on folks. They permanently surround the square, each heart artfully rendered by a well established artist.
This dapper elder enjoys his book in Union Square
complete with gloves and hat.
One of the heart creators is singer and accomplished painter Tony Bennett.  The delight of discovering Bennett's very own painted heart was the first of many surprises on our return trip to a favorite place.
Bennett left his art heart on the Northwest corner of Union Square. The famed crooner, also a noted painter, crafted the vibrant red heart to symbolize his love of the town that helped cement his fame and icon status. Bennett's piece features the Golden Gate Bridge and hills of Marin County, symbolizing his abiding affection for the city which inspired his most famous song: "I Left my Heart in San Francisco.''
BENNETT'S heart art is one of San Francisco's many attractions in this beloved and beautiful town, one of America's great cities. San Francisco embodies the elements of a great city: food, fun, history, ethnic mix, landscape, architecture, global connection, performing arts and, the shining star, the sea!
Among the myriad other surprises and delights sampled on a recent trip:
The Hornblower dinner cruise offers a relaxing diversion and gorgeous sights.
*A Hornblower cruise on the waters of the city by the bay. Hornblower has never failed us in cruises in San Diego, New York City, Long Beach and Old Sacramento.  The leisurely three-hour dinner cruise was a romantic celebration for us, since Keller lived in San Francisco for two years and I've spent dozens of weekends there through the years. We hit all the high spots as the sun set -- views of both the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate, the city's remarkable skyline and dance music by a delightful duo who played everything from swing to jazz and Latin. The food, particularly the scallop appetizer, was quality and we enjoyed the strolls on deck during the leisurely sight-see.
San Francisco is one of the world'great "foodie" towns.
*Delightful meals in the ethnic medley that composes San Francisco's food-loving character.  Among new discoveries is Colibri, a Mexican and Latin bistro, which we discovered on a quiet Monday night, looking for something near our base, the Diva Hotel. It's right  next door on 438 Geary, and the tasty churros and delightful house margarita will make it a regular stop-off for us. We happened upon this sophisticated eatery by chance on Monday, when fabulous live Latin music caught our ear. You can take out, too. www.colibrimexicanbistro. We also sipped a half-dozen cups of perfect cappuccino in San Francisco, where the drink is an art form.
*We loved climbing up a "hidden stairway" to the top of the hill on which Coit Tower sits. Thanks to
 If you've never hiked up the hill to Coit Tower, give it a try!
a thoughtful trolley driver, who gave us instructions, we strolled from the ferry building and found a little sign, then continued up more than a mile past peoples' back yards and through thickets of trees. Wow. Gorgeous view when we finally made it. Then we continued on our journey, determined to walk "home" to the Diva.
*Our four-day gambol took us from downtown and the Diva, to the lovely Grace Cathedral, to Fisherman's Wharf for fish and chips, to Ghiradelli Square for chocolate, through the bustling Financial District, to Union Street for shopping and dining, to the Palace of Fine Arts and Alamo Square. We walked, took the bus, a couple taxis and the cable cars. We love the clang of the car bells -- rides are $6.50 now. Although we were tired one afternoon, we  took
Coffee is an art form in San Francisco.
 a walk through Chinatown for green tea, herbs and vitamins.  On our last day, it was back to the ferry building and port, the hike to Coit Tower, a stop at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins and Nob Hill, and back to the Diva (thankfully downhill the last few blocks.) We even hit AT&T Park, home of the famous Giants!
*We played tourist one afternoon on Big Bus Tours, choosing it from the competition because it is dog friendly.  This was another pleasant surprise.  With Nick and Nora in tow, we took the top deck on the "just like London" double-decker buses, traversed the town from the Embarcadero and Fisherman's Wharf to Symphony Hall and the Opera House and nearby Fulton Street, past the government buildings to the "painted lady"
Colorful homes of San Francisco attract attention from the bus!
Victorians, through the Haight and Ashbury area with the nightclubs that featured young Jimmy Hendricks and Janis Joplin, through Golden Gate Park and past the lovely Japanese Tea Gardens and DeYoung Museum, and on out across the Golden Gate Bridge to savor its vistas.  Crossing Golden Gate in the wind of the double decker was a breezy trip! Our guide, Morgan, and driver, Joann, were knowledgeable, amiable and accommodating.  Morgan knows and loves San Francisco and his commentary brimmed with anecdotes and recommendations.  Both were apologetic when our bus broke down four stops from the end of the circle and they promised another tour if we returned!   www.opentopsightseeingsf
A happy Keller bids farewell to San Francisco by the Bay Bridge.
*Our home away from home, though, was Hotel Diva, with nearby Union Square our daily foray. We strolled to and through the square every day of our four-day downtown visit, admiring the art hearts and the many people of diverse cultures, backgrounds and ages, all enjoying the beauty and spirit of this magnificent, friendly city.

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