My parents met in San Francisco. Mom was working as a legal secretary in the days when you wouldn’t dare wear white shoes downtown after May. She also tap danced for the USO and knew how to work a ballroom floor at the Officers Club in the Presidio. Dad was from modest stock after growing up in Arkansas and Arizona before joining the war effort. He made it to Great Britain in time to train as a paratrooper but didn’t see actual duty. They met cute through friends and I was born in the Bay area a few years after.
So I return to San Francisco as often as I can but it’s been less frequently over the years. There was no question that I’d go to the Women’s Travel Fest when it was held there this year and that I’d spend time with my sister who lives in the area.
As part of this short trip Julie and I decided to share a clear, warmish day exploring the western side of the city. I’d been staying downtown and navigating the Union Square demolitions and my parking garage through the edge of the Tenderloin. I was more than ready for a little nature, a bit of balance after the intensity of the inner city.
First stops were in the Presidio, which is a former military base, thick with Eucalyptus and stark buildings that once housed the ‘brass’ and today lend themselves to arts organizations, restaurants and foundations. Who knew that the Walt Disney Family Museum was there? It was founded by his daughter and features exhibits about his life and inspirations. Turns out that the Walt Disney Foundation acquired Industrial Light and Magic which is also housed in the Presidio. I had no idea that the San Francisco Film Society calls the Presidio home either or that you can actually stay in the park at the Inn of the Presidio.
I did know that mom and a few of her sisters had dined at the Officers Club in their day. Today it’s called Arguello and features Mexican inspired cuisine. Arguello is also the street that I once lived on across from Golden Gate Park at the tender age of 18 and just a block from where mom and dad lived when he was in law school and mom jockeyed raising 3 kids with her legal secretary duties.
The ripples of recognition kept coming as Julie and I ventured into the park. She told me that the environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy had 3 big pieces in the Presidio and we determined to see them. The Presidio Trust calls his work “Ephemeral, organic, thoughtful.” I’d seen a documentary about his work once and there’s a piece of his, more solid than ephemeral, in front of the La Jolla Museum of Modern Art, in my current back yard. So Julie and I hunted out the three in the Presidio.
First was ‘Spire‘ created of mature trees tied together and reaching over 90 feet. You had to park and walk to get close. It was different than much of his work, and forced me to look at the forest surrounding it in new ways. Turns out that most of the historical wood in the area is past its prime and in need of constant replanting. Kudos to Goldsworthy for making us notice.
Second was a bit harder to find. It’s his first piece exhibited indoors. “Tree Fall… is comprised of a tree trunk removed as part of the Presidio Parkway project, suspended inside a building that was used to store blank munition used for the 5pm gun salute.’ The trunk and domed ceiling are covered in cracked clay, also from the area. It was shadowy and odd. I like his outdoor pieces better but applaud this effort to cross the natural world and a dominating military philosophy.
My favorite was Woodline, created on a ‘lovers lane’ footpath. A serpentine line of fallen tree trunks wind downhill between historic Eucalyptus groves. Goldsworthy says that it “draws the place.” I say it’s lovely, mysterious and draws you in certainly, elegantly and powerfully.
We concluded a bit further west for lunch at the bustling Burma Superstar on Clement Street – sipping tea, gulping down the award-winning Tea Salad and delighting in having time for a little adventure together.
When was the last time you spent a day exploring a new area with a sibling or close friend?
If you go exploring the San Francisco Presidio:
- Visit all three of the pieces by Andy Goldsworthy
- Stay at the Inn at the Presidio
- Bike or hike on more than 24 miles of trails throughout the Presidio.
- Find out more about art installations at the Presidio Trust
- Peruse the Walt Disney Family Museum
- Eat at Burma Superstar on Clement Street – Prepare to wait for seating!
- Find the right hotel for your visit and stay close to the Presidio too.
- Look here for more things to do in San Francisco
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