Archive for the ‘Local’ Category

The return of Fairyland for Grownups

August 3rd, 2022
Children's Fairyland Children's Fairyland Children's Fairyland Children's Fairyland Children's Fairyland

 

It’s been a while since there was a 21 and over night at Children’s Fairyland in Oakland, but Fairyland for Grownups returned on July 29th, 2022. Obviously I had to go. Aside from a vaccine check on the way in it felt very similar to the last such event three years ago.

The big change this year was that it was a few weeks earlier which was fine, although in retrospect the weather is usually better in August. The upside to holding it in July is there’s a little more time before the sun goes down.

Everything seemed to be in about the same condition as last time which is to say the paint was recently touched up and the gardens were in good shape, but not all of the story boxes were functioning when activated with a Magic Key.

The line to enter the park was very long and took almost 30 minutes to get through. A number of guests showed up in costume, others in light-up outfits to dance until closing time in the old west area with the DJs.

Not everything at Children’s Fairyland is open during these events, mostly the kiddie rides that wouldn’t fit adult-sized people anyway. One thing I wish they did operate during Fairyland for Grownups is the “zoo” section of the park. This is a very small section that apparently has tame animals like guinea pigs and goats during the day — so why can’t it be open for the adult’s only night? You don’t have to be a kid to appreciate seeing some small animals.

That leads me to another unique aspect of these events: one might worry that a bunch adults with alcohol would be staggering around and causing problems, but that doesn’t really happen. First of all most people only stick to the two drinks included with admission, and second it only goes until 10 PM.

On the subject of the early ending time, I’m surprised there aren’t any public afterparties. There’s already a crowd that’s in a partying mood, why not offer to chauffeur them to a nearby bar or dance venue? Seems like a missed opportunity.

To stay up to date on Fairyland for Grownups events, follow the Oaklandish blog or sign up for their newsletter.

NO cross-country skiing on BART

January 4th, 2022
Unofficial BART rule

 

Last week I got on BART, turned around, and noticed an unfamiliar new rule: “NO cross-country skiing” according to a sticker on the door.

Now at first glance this seems pretty reasonable, but of course it’s one of those rules that should go without saying. For example nobody needs to be told that on BART they shouldn’t practice golfing, perform dentistry, or experiment with nuclear power. Common sense, right?

So then I turned around and noticed the same sticker with its original caption:

 

Official BART rule

 

Oh. Well that makes a little more sense.

Christmas decorations in and around downtown

December 24th, 2021
Christmas at the SF Centre

 

With things slowly (maybe?) opening/reopening this Christmas, I went around downtown San Francisco and the surrounding area to check out the “big name” decorations. Mostly I was curious to see if this year seemed at all normal again.

Obviously normal is relative at this point; I’m well aware of the many downtown retail closures like H&M, Uniqlo, The Gap, etc. But I went in fully expecting those changes.

As usual the new half of the Westfield SF Centre mall has an upside-down Christmas tree shaped decoration hanging under the historic dome.

Sadly, the so-called “Restaurant Collection Under the Dome” on this level is now entirely vacant. Even before the pandemic this concept never seemed successful. The last high profile restaurant to pull out was Martin Yan’s M.Y. China.

 

Christmas at the SF Centre

 

Meanwhile at the 1980’s half of the mall with its twisty escalators, a set of bright white snowflakes dangle down from the top of the Nordstrom level.

Or maybe you don’t think it looks like snow? I grew up with this 1980’s mall aesthetic and that’s my interpretation, make of that what you will.

 

Christmas at Neiman Marcus

 

It wouldn’t be fair to discuss historic glass domes with Christmas decorations without a visit to Neiman Marcus. The hula hoop style tree shaped decor hangs over the cosmetics counter just inside the entrance.

This glass dome dates back to the City of Paris department store which once stood here. Much like the Westfield SF Center, the glass dome is the only element of the original building that remains today.

 

Christmas at Union Square

 

While the City of Paris used to sponsor downtown’s “official” Christmas tree, that burden has now fallen on Macy’s. In addition to the tree on Union Square, the temporary ice skating rink is back as well this year.

One part of Union Square is slowly being unwrapped as though it were a late and very overdue Christmas present: the new entrance to Union Square Station is now visible through the fencing. The latest timeline says this station will open next fall, but this entire subway was originally slated to open in *checks notes* the year 2008 so adjust your expectations accordingly.

 

Christmas at the Fairmont Hotel

 

I was too cheap to pay for a cable car ride so I hiked all the way up Nob Hill to see the decorations at the original Fairmont Hotel. The lobby was crowded with people taking photos of the tree and the gingerbread house overlay of the restaurant. It was tough to get any clear photos.

It’s never mentioned by name but the Fairmont Hotel appears prominently in Disney/Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. I have to wonder if that’s brought any additional visitors this year, or if I’m the only one who noticed.

 

Christmas at Hyatt Regency Embarcadero

 

On the opposite end of both downtown and the California St. cable car line is the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero.

This lobby has a Christmas tree — one lonely, small Christmas tree. But I think you’d need to chop down a small forest to fill even 10% of the massive atrium.

Honestly I think they’d be better off skipping the tree and filling this enormous indoor cavern with some lights or other effects. Otherwise the mismatch of scale between the tree and the atrium will always look out of balance.

In the end I think it’s safe to say that even if COVID-19 has disrupted another holiday season, at least it’s starting to look normal. I’m not sure that’s all we need right now, but realistically it’s the most we can hope for.

Dusk to Dark: San Francisco as the night falls

December 10th, 2021
Downtown skyline at sunset

 

There’s something about the San Francisco skyline that feels like home whenever it comes into view. It’s tricky to pinpoint why. I’ve spent so much time working near all those big office towers yet the skyline from Dolores Park at sunset (pictured above) actually feels a little new to me. The first time I took a photo from that location was over a decade ago, and many of those towers didn’t exist back then. I guess you could say in the past 18 years I’ve grown up with all those new buildings.

It certainly can’t be the skyline alone that gives San Francisco its allure, but it can’t hurt.

 

Sunset at the Embarcadero waterfront

 

As the sun sets, Coit Tower (above) is lit from below. This changes its appearance from a gray building one’s eyes can easily skip over to a somewhat imposing presence on Telegraph Hill.

It almost looks like someone stuck a giant pin at the top of North Beach to guide people over. North Beach is always worth visiting at night, even if it’s just to check out City Lights Bookstore. You can never go wrong with a visit to City Lights… unless of course you visit the other City Lights — the one that sells lights.

 

Sunset at the Embarcadero waterfront

 

As daylight savings time ends and we go back to standard time, the edge lights on the four Embarcadero Center towers turn on a little too early.

Unfortunately one thing that doesn’t completely turn on are the ye olde fashioned lights at Pier 7. It wasn’t that long ago that these lights all worked. Hopefully they’ll get fixed before the masses start showing up for their wedding photos here once again.

Either way, the silhouette of the Transamerica Pyramid is prominent in the background. It hasn’t been the tallest building in San Francisco for a long time, but it’s still the tallest pyramid in North America. Suck it, Aztecs!

 

Ferry ride back from Alameda

 

The red neon “Port of San Francisco” sign on the Ferry Building feels like a homing beacon of sorts. I don’t ride the ferries often — let alone after dark — but there’s something about this vantage point that feels welcoming in a way arriving any other way can’t even compare.

Don’t get me wrong, most of the time when I return to San Francisco it’s on BART. Nothing against BART, but it’s pretty boring compared to arriving at the Ferry Building. The funny thing is that even though it’s an iconic view, it’s not one you tend to see in movies or on postcards. It’s almost like a secret hidden in plain sight.

There is now official BART merchandise, for some reason

November 28th, 2021

 

Although BART ridership decreased significantly due to the pandemic, at some point in 2020 official BART merchandise became available.

Online store Rail Goods launched sometime last year with a wide selection of official BART merchandise as well as a somewhat smaller selection of official Capitol Corridor merch. 

Now don’t get me wrong. The BART “Brio-style” trains look fun enough, and some of the more stylized t-shirt designs wouldn’t look out of place at Oaklandish.

The problem is this: I wouldn’t want to wear a shirt, hat, etc. with a BART logo on it, because it would be a terrible idea to wear that while riding BART. Or even around a BART station. Why would I want anyone to mistake me for a BART employee?

This goes beyond the annoyance of people coming up to you and asking for directions. People will obviously assume you work for BART, and some of them will get indignant when you say you don’t. There’s an entire subreddit called I Don’t Work Here Lady where this type of interaction happens on a very regular basis.

If you think about it, wearing a BART shirt or hat on BART without being an employee would be a slightly worse social faux pas than accidentally wearing a blue polo shirt to Best Buy. It’s just asking for trouble.

Personally I think it’s fine for BART to offer merchandise, my only quibble is with the available selection. More toys and stylized t-shirts, ditch the official looking clothes and hats. It’s best for everyone.

USS Hornet Museum

November 14th, 2021
USS Hornet Museum USS Hornet Museum USS Hornet Museum

 

On Friday I not only had the chance to visit the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda, but also to take the engineering tour which descends deep into the ship’s underbelly with one of the tour guides.

Oh and the best part? This was all for a work event so I was technically getting paid to be there.

What is it?

For those unfamiliar, the USS Hornet (CV-12) is a World War 2 era aircraft carrier that was mothballed in the 1970’s and was opened as a museum in 1998. In a lot of ways it’s similar to the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, another mothballed WWII aircraft carrier.

If you’ve been to the Midway, the Hornet is a little underwhelming — particularly the flight deck which currently only has two aircraft. That said it is worth climbing up to the flight deck for the great view of the San Francisco skyline and the Bay Bridge, weather permitting.

The main exhibits in the Hornet are largely based around various airplanes, helicopters, and NASA projects the ship was tasked with, from fighting Japan in WWII all the way up to picking up Neil Armstrong and his fellow astronauts.

What was the Hornet crew tasked with for the astronauts? They have that in their collection — the first moon astronauts were placed in quarantine in a modified Airstream trailer parked inside the Hornet. At the time there was a concern they might have picked up “moon germs” and started a pandemic. As ridiculous as moon germs may sound today, when it comes to pandemics I’m totally on board with a better safe than sorry approach.

 

USS Hornet Museum USS Hornet Museum USS Hornet Museum

 

The Engineering Tour

As a heads up all of the ship tours require an able body. I was a little apprehensive about some of the extremely steep stairs (they’re almost ladders) and low ceilings. The thing is the tour guides all served on either the Hornet or one of its sister ships and most are old enough to be my grandfather, and they’re all still nimble enough to go up and down the steep steps. So I had to figure if they can do it, so can I — even though I had to admit they’re faster at it than I am.

The engineering tour takes you down below water level to explore the ship’s massive steam engines. Some of the tour highlights include:

  • Daily life on the ship, from the mess hall to the Marines running security to the limited fresh water available.
  • The hydraulic mechanism that yanked the giant cables to “slingshot” airplanes off the flight deck.
  • The absolutely massive steam engines and the primary control interface deep in the belly of the ship.

Our guide was great, happy to answer questions and even extended the tour a little when asked about the section where he worked.

Getting there

The ferry is by far the easiest way to get to the USS Hornet Museum from San Francisco. SF Bay Ferry takes you from The Ferry Building to within a ten minute walk of the museum.

After exiting the ferry, turn right as soon as you hit the sidewalk and follow the signs. Not that you’ll need them, it’s pretty hard to miss a giant aircraft carrier.

There are plenty of dining and drinking options nearby. Although Alameda isn’t very pedestrian friendly it’s also almost entirely flat and the car traffic is light.

My recommendation: Anyone interested in US military history and NASA history will be interested in the main exhibits. You must be able to climb stairs to visit at all. Tours and the flight deck both require climbing extremely steep stairs.

Review: Nocturne X

November 2nd, 2021
Nocturne X Nocturne X Nocturne X

 

Okay so before I review this one, let me just say this isn’t worth checking out. This is bad, I’d even go so far to say it’s an embarrassment.

The story, such as there is one, starts out when you check in and they hand you a pamphlet. Strike one. A second barrage of text strikes as you enter the main stage. Strike two.

Strike three is uncovering the main story in the “hidden” backstage area where a series of letters are inexplicably glued to poorly lit walls. 

For better or worse San Francisco is forever linked to immersive storytelling but that doesn’t mean everything that comes along is interesting. This is nothing more than a homework assignment with tacky decor.

My recommendation: Hard pass.

teamLab: Continuity at the Asian Art Museum

October 4th, 2021
 

Recently I went to see teamLab: Continuity, the new special exhibit at the Asian Art Museum.

The basics

Haven’t been to the Asian Art Museum before? It’s a museum across from City Hall filled with ancient art and artifacts from Eastern religions. Also some stuff from the Middle East, which is only “Asian” if we largely ignore religion.

The collection isn’t the biggest but tickets are relatively cheap and you can easily spend an hour or so there if you do the audio tours — which are free if you download the app and bring your own headphones.

So what’s up with this special exhibit at the Asian Art Museum? Why is this here? The studio behind this exhibit, teamLab, is based in Tokyo. So in the most basic sense of the word it is “Asian art.” But it’s Asian Art in the contemporary sense, which isn’t the same definition as the rest of the museum. It’s an awkward fit but this is typical of special exhibits in smaller museums.

The exhibit

Let’s get into what Continuity actually is. At this point you’ve almost certainly watched the above video but let me put it into words.

Continuity is a series of rooms with a series of bright and pulsating organic computer generated scenery projected all over the walls and floor. A continuous soundtrack accompanies the visuals. Once in a while the scenes respond to visitors touching the wall.

The overall effect of the moving images and the high-end projection system creates an impression somewhere between dizzying and hypnotic. At times it was difficult to judge spatial distance. To some extent other people help because the size of other people is easy to intuit, but the fact that everyone is covered in projection effects can at times effectively camouflage them.

Allegedly there’s an element of scents involved but I don’t know, maybe it’s the mask requirement but I didn’t notice this at all.

The most intense room in the exhibit — and the one I spent the most time in — is located in the back. This room is by far the most dizzying with effects spinning all around you, especially when you first walk in. No worries though, there’s a staff member at the entrance who acts as a spotter for those having trouble.

After sitting down on the carpet for a while and laying against a slanted wall, I not only gained my bearings but realized I enjoyed feeling wrapped in this light show and the score that went along with it. As I started tuning in more to the music than the visuals the experience went from overwhelming to calming in the span of a few minutes. 

That’s the key duality to Continuity: a funny line between relaxing and unnerving. The artists behind this exhibit describe the visual effects as “Ultrasubjective Space,” an intentional blending of two dimensional and three dimensional planes. I think they’ve largely succeeded; at times the illusion is enough to make you feel like you’re in an otherworldly place despite the largely typical interior structure.

The only thing that worried me about this exhibit was a couple of children running around. While I think some of this falls on the parents there are also measures the museum could take like more active security or family hours. I’m definitely not saying kids should be banned, I probably would have loved it as a kid. But I also don’t want to accidentally trip (or trip over) anyone.

So… what is it?

Personally I think Continuity is primarily a light and sound show. I’ve never seen anything quite like it; teamLab has similar types of installations at other museums but I haven’t been to any of them.

One word I see getting tossed around to describe Continuity and similar exhibits is “immersive.” I don’t think that applies here for one simple reason: there’s no story. Nothing to really hook you in and make you want to uncover more.

While I don’t mean to gatekeep what the word immersive means when it comes to art, I think it’s important for terminology to have consistent meanings. Imagine a tour guide at a museum pointing at a Van Gogh and claiming it’s a classic example of Cubism. If that misuse of terms doesn’t make you frustrated, it should.

I also don’t want to use any terms that might back memories of planetarium laser shows with hippie music synced to boring visuals. For those too young to remember those, let me tell you a secret: you didn’t miss anything.

teamLab themselves describe their works as “digital art,” which is both technically true and kind of meaningless. But at least it’s good to know that even the creators can’t easily categorize their own works.

Maybe I’m asking the wrong question. I clearly don’t have a concise description, but if I had to come up with one it would be “an in person walkthrough audio/video experience.” Did I mention I don’t work in marketing?

In conclusion

In my opinion teamLab has kicked the… “digital art” (?) genre up a notch here. The original music and wild visuals with interactive elements, the incredible projection system that somehow prevents large shadows, and that room so dizzying they need a spotter to keep it safe are all elements I was on board with.

I know teamLab has many other installations and I’m curious as to how they compare. It’s probably not something I’d go far out of my way to see but I’d definitely check them out if I were in the area.

My recommendation: If you’re in San Francisco and this sounds interesting to you, the adult tickets fluctuate in price but I think are about $20 on average and the special exhibit tickets include general admission to the museum. It’s a totally reasonable price, particularly if you’ve never visited the Asian Art Museum before and need an excuse to go.

826 Valencia’s Pirate Supply Store

August 16th, 2021
Pirate Supply Store

 

The other day I was walking down the 800 block of Valencia Street and something clicked — while on vacation I’d written on this very blog about the Time Travel Mart in Los Angeles and the Secret Agent Supply Co. in Chicago, but I’d never written anything about this nonprofit group’s original location: 826 Valencia here in San Francisco.

The quick version of the story behind why there’s a store for pirates at 826 Valencia Street is this: author Dave Eggers opened a youth writing workshop in the space, but to comply with zoning regulations they were required to have a retail storefront. So a very small part of the footprint of the building is dedicated to a whimsical gift shop.

While all of 826’s other writing workshops follow this same model, they all have different themes for the storefronts. But I think it’s safe to say the original has the most work put into the theme.

The Pirate Supply store sells everything a pirate could need: wooden legs, eye patches, even treasure! And something called “Unicorn Horn Polish.” Of course you’ll also find books, this is a writing workshop after all.

There’s no sales pressure whatsoever and I doubt they make many sales. But then again they’re very open about the fact that this store is a front for something else.

 

Pirate Supply Store Pirate Supply Store

 

The store’s theme doesn’t end with the merchandise. One example is a wall with cabinets and drawers you can open up. Many of them have cryptic labels like “repairs” on them, and inside you’ll find it’s items to repair clothing like buttons and buckles.

Unfortunately some of the drawers are stuck. Pirates have better things to do than repairing furniture.

 

Pirate Supply Store

 

Various information is framed on the walls, including the above and one labeled “USES FOR LARD (partial list).” My only question here is what kind of pirate has access to a printing press?

The dry sense of humor on display both here and in some of the mini-books sold in the store should seem familiar to readers of McSweeney’s, which is edited by Eggers.

 

Pirate Supply Store

 

In one corner of the store there’s a periscope, which is strange because I don’t recall going below deck…

The Pirate Supply Store at 826 Valencia is only open on weekends. If you’re interested in visiting, here are some questions I’ll leave you with:

  • What do you see when you look into that periscope?
  • There’s a place in the store where you can dig for treasure. What can you find?
  • Next to the cash register there’s a curtain with some theater seats behind it. What’s playing on the screen?

If you do visit the Pirate Supply Store I’d also recommend checking out their next door neighbor, upscale curiosity shop Paxton Gate for all your crystal, succulent, and taxidermy needs.

The many resurrections of Valencia Street’s restaurants

June 21st, 2021
Freekeh (Pork Store Cafe) on 16th Street

 

As documented on this very blog many businesses in San Francisco were boarded up during the beginning of the pandemic, with many if not most gradually returning. But what’s more surprising are the places that officially went out of business only to reopen — some of which closed long before the pandemic. Here are the restaurants along the Valencia Street corridor that went through this unlikely chain of events.

 

Pica Pica

The original and last location of the Pica Pica chain known for its Venezuelan food closed its doors for good in August 2020, only to quietly return in March with new investors.

The closure of Pica Pica felt like a blow simply because Venezuelan restaurants are hard to come by in the Bay Area. However it turned out to be a sign of things to come when they reopened their doors.

 

Valencia Pizza & Pasta

Despite closing forever at the start of 2020, Valencia Pizza & Pasta returned with a fresh coat of paint and a renovated interior.

Of all the restaurants on this small list, this one has to be the most surprising as it was a fairly unassuming restaurant that certainly never made anyone’s top ten lists. Though there is something to be said for reasonably priced wine and carbs.

 

Pork Store Cafe’s Mediterranean offshoot

Those with longer memories might remember the 2009-era “Morak Lounge,” the hookah bar on 16th Street just off Valencia which was the nighttime moniker of Pork Store Cafe. To sell the vibe customers would enter Pork Store through a Moroccan-themed side entrance, which later became Stanza Coffee.

Despite being an American style diner, Pork Store never completely abandoned Mediterranean cuisine (though they did drop the hookahs.) However as seen in the image at the top of the post, Pork Store’s side hustle as a full on Mediterranean restaurant is back, now under the name “Freekeh.” It remains to be seen if Stanza Coffee fully reopens.

 

Luna (Park)

The team behind Wayfare Tavern have been quietly working to reboot Luna Park as just “Luna,” and while it’s not open just yet they’ve renovated the interior of the place and put “now hiring” signs in the window.

This effort is seemingly unrelated to several previous efforts to reopen Luna Park, including one from the owner of Mission Beach Cafe which crashed and burned long before Mission Beach itself went under, and by governor Gavin Newsom’s Plumpjack Group. Indeed, the efforts to bring back Luna Park are more storied at this point than the original restaurant. Fingers crossed, this time is the charm.

 

Update: Luna has now opened.