Posts Tagged ‘history’

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LA’s Union Station

October 25th, 2019
LA Union Station

 

It’s been almost two years since my last visit to Los Angeles, a trip I accidentally over-planned to the point where I had three times as much stuff to do as I did time to do it. So today I’ve returned for a few nights in an attempt to cross a few more of those items off the list.

But my first stop was actually a new item for me: Union Station. I’d become interested in the grand train stations of yesteryear during my Ameritrip2019 excursion on Amtrak. Many of these classic stations are named “Union Station” since they served a group — or union — of different passenger train services, like the one in LA still does today.

As it happens Union Station was the closest stop to my Airbnb on the LAX Flyaway “express” bus — which in reality has to share the same clogged freeways with everyone else.

The bus stops at a bus area behind the station. A short walk down a ramp leads into the newer half of the station, with the LA Metro’s subway downstairs, and both the regional Metrolink as well as Amtrak and Amtrak California on the outdoor upstairs level.

 

LA Union Station LA Union Station LA Union Station

 

The main passageway continues straight into the old part of Union Station. Unsurprisingly it’s the most interesting part of the complex, the uniquely beautiful interior in particular.

The building was completed in 1939, combining the Mission Revival style with Art Deco — a combination that sounds objectively terrible on paper, but the designers somehow fit it together perfectly. It’s worth noting the LA City Hall was designed by the same team.

Today the old half of the station is mostly waiting areas with shops, cafes, and a pair of outdoor courtyards. Still, my favorite feature in today’s 98F weather was a little more modern — the air conditioning.

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Gaslamp Walking Tour

December 28th, 2018

Gaslamp Quarter
Gaslamp Quarter Horton Grand Hotel
 

During my first visit to San Diego I remember walking across a busy street and set of train tracks from the Convention Center to the Gaslamp Quarter (or Gaslamp District, depending who you ask.) According to the big sign crossing Fifth Avenue the Gaslamp is the self-proclaimed “Historic Heart of San Diego.”

The neighborhood’s promotional pamphlets had already turned me off somewhat, and on seeing this stretch of the Gaslamp my tourist trap sensor went off — all the restaurants on the block had barkers out front.

Today that particular stretch of the Gaslamp is even more tourist trap-y with the addition of a Hard Rock Cafe. You can poke around on Google Street View here to see for yourself.

So I was a little apprehensive about signing up for a walking tour of a neighborhood that seemed so touristy. But the organization behind the tour appeared legitimate and I’m always down for an interesting walking tour.
 

This Gaslamp walking tour is specifically the Gaslamp Foundation Thursday Walking Tour although from what I understand you can book the same tour on Saturdays.

The tour meets at the Davis-Horton House Museum, which is operated by the same organization behind the tour.

Early on, the tour throws some shade on that big Gaslamp Quarter sign’s claim to be the “historic heart” of San Diego. The original inhabitants of San Diego were Native Americans, a claim easily verified by anyone familiar with California’s Spanish history — the first Mission was built in San Diego in 1769 to convert the natives to Catholicism — and it’s pretty far away from the Gaslamp.

Second the Gaslamp was originally known as New Town, promoted as the new downtown San Diego, much closer to the port (now where the Convention Center is located) than Old Town further up north. Old Town is still preserved in some capacity and is another tourist attraction. So there’s that.

But by far the biggest blow to the image promoted to tourists about the Gaslamp are the “gas lamps” themselves. Those ye olde fashioned (electric) light posts lining the streets were installed in the 1980’s when city planners became interested in preserving the area, and rebranded it as the “Gaslamp Quarter.” Although gas lamps were installed inside buildings back in the day, the streets themselves never actually had gas lamps illuminating them at night.

Before the Gaslamp rebranding, New Town was known locally as the Stingaree. Nobody calls it that anymore. Marketing is a powerful force.

A few highlights of the tour:

  • Many of the Victorian buildings were renovated to “modernize” or strip them of the Victorian elements after World War 2. Some of them were recently renovated back to appear Victorian again based on photos or even molds of other buildings. To me the ways we “preserve” history say more about the prevailing fashions at the time than anything meaningful about history.
  • San Diego’s Chinatown (or Asiatown, really) once included part of today’s Gaslamp. It’s all but forgotten unless you know where to look. Even then there’s little left to see.
  • Several buildings were moved one way or another, including the Davis-Horton House as well as the nearby Horton Grand Hotel. The Horton Grand Hotel was originally two hotels, ripped down, put into storage, and eventually rebuilt as a single hotel in a different location. This explains why one side has trapezoidal bay windows and the other features rectangular bay windows.
  • Buildings near a port often served as brothels because, you know, sailors. The photo of the ornate Victorian above is a semi-recreation of a building that once housed a particularly well known brothel. The madam sold color-coded marbles, with each color corresponding to a painted door leading to a sex worker in the building. Authorities cracking down on brothels in the area — and there were many brothels — couldn’t touch this simple marble saleswoman. As if that’s not enough supposedly Wyatt Earp frequented the place, but supposedly only the restaurant on the bottom floor.

There’s much more to the tour than this, and my tour guide pointed out that you can wander around and read the historical plaques tacked on to the sides of many historic buildings in the area. That said the early history of the area is often more colorful and complex than the plaques would have you believe.

Our tour entered several buildings to point out historical details not visible from the outside, but officially this walking tour only includes the interior of the Davis-Horton House. That said many of the older buildings in the Gaslamp Quarter are open to the public to some extent (stores, restaurants, etc.) so you can take a peek inside on your own to get a feel for 19th century San Diego.
 

My recommendation: If you’re interested in the history and architecture of the west coast, go for it. For that matter the tour’s worth checking out if you’re curious about the ways history is preserved, or even what’s considered to be historic. Turns out there’s far more to San Diego’s history than navy operations and beaches. Who knew?

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Paris of the Pacific tour

February 26th, 2018


Photo of ships in San Francisco’s harbor circa 1850 from Wikipedia. Used under public domain.
 

Yesterday afternoon I took a San Francisco City Guides tour I’d never heard of before titled 1850’s San Francisco: Paris of the Pacific. This relatively new tour meets at the same place as the Gold Rush City tour, and compliments it in an unexpected way. Like all City Guides tours it’s 100% free and led by volunteer guides.

Whereas the Gold Rush City tour largely focuses on the crowd of Americans coming west in search of gold, the Paris of the Pacific tour highlights a parallel story. When a French spy in Monterey got wind of the discovery of gold in California he tipped off folks in his home country.

Why was there a French spy in Monterey? Turns out New Spain/Mexico’s weak grip on California was an open secret, and France had an interest in colonizing the territory. While French troops never invaded, French citizens invaded with the most American pastime of them all: business.

Thanks to the tenuous political situation in France at the time with Napoleon III as well as food shortages all over Europe, a number of wealthy French aristocrats and savvy business types chartered a ship and sailed to San Francisco. Unlike their peers from the US, the French immigrants to California weren’t interested in seeking out gold directly. Instead they operated businesses catering to gold seekers including bars, casinos, and brothels.

If you’d arrived via ship in San Francisco in the 1850’s you probably would have disembarked at or near the Commercial Street pier, which led directly to San Francisco’s French Quarter, meeting French-speaking people and their businesses in the area.

While little remains of the French Quarter, the direct French influence in San Francisco continues to this day. Isidore Boudin started his Boudin Bakery during the Gold Rush. The Notre Dame Des Victoires church near Chinatown began shortly after the Gold Rush as well.

But the influence of those early French settlers in San Francisco goes deeper. Importers bought in goods from France including clothing and alcohol, and the first restaurants in the area were operated by French chefs. To this day if you want to dine out lavishly in San Francisco there’s a good chance you’ll visit a French restaurant, if not a French-inspired one.

Department stores selling imported French goods lasted from the mid 19th century up until the mid to late 20th century in San Francisco. Some relics of these stores still exist if you know where to look. And where would those be? You’ll have to take the tour yourself to find out.

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City Guides tour of Lands End: Sutro Heights

September 6th, 2016

I’m no good at planning, so it comes as no surprise that I’d neglected to make plans for Labor Day and had to find something interesting to do at the last minute. I figured I’d go on another City Guides tour — I’ve been on dozens of these — and somehow managed to pick one of the most interesting tours with spectacular views on a day that was shockingly not foggy. I’d highly recommend this particular tour.

If you’ve never been on a City Guides tour, here’s the briefing: they have many 100% free walking tours in San Francisco led by volunteers every day. The program is run by SF Public Library and paid for through the hotel tax and donations by people like you and me. At the end of each tour they pass around envelopes and you can put in a few bucks if you like, but there’s no obligation. The tour groups range in size greatly depending on a number of factors; sometimes there’s only a couple people, other times — like today’s tour — there’s over forty.

As the title suggests I went on the Lands End: Sutro Heights tour. I’m writing this to entice you to go on it yourself so I’m keeping the “spoilers” to a minimum. But I’m going to bait you with some photos of the views and a few neat tidbits you probably haven’t heard about.

The tour starts at the Sutro Heights park, which is just up the hill from Sutro Baths and across the street at 48th Ave; look for the big lion head statues.

Like many things in San Francisco, Sutro Heights is named after a certain local businessman and former mayor Adolph Sutro. The area is now a park, but was originally where his own home once stood. Sutro made the area into a garden with flowers and statues, but the flowers died out long ago and most of the statues mysteriously disappeared. Someone even removed the antlers on this remaining deer statue; now people occasionally replace what’s left of the antlers with tree branches.

 
Sutro Heights
 

Back in Sutro’s day there were a number of observation decks open to the public with a spectacular view of Ocean Beach. The only remaining one was built in stone, and once had an area (now sealed off) that acted as the wine cellar for Sutro’s home.

Not pictured, but just to the right and below is the Cliff House, which Sutro bought and turned it into a restaurant; one factoid the City Guides tour mentions but is strangely absent from most tourist literature is what the Cliff House was used for before it was a restaurant. (Hint: it involved sex.) After Sutro bought the place it was infamously blown up by accident, rebuilt, burned down, then rebuilt as a small cement building that still stands to this very day.

As with other photos in this post, click on the panorama below for a larger version.

 
Sutro Heights
 

Another interesting story is Sutro’s long, expensive battle against Southern Pacific Railway, which he felt was gouging travelers coming to spend money at his attractions. After all, how can you squeeze money out of someone when their pockets are empty? But that’s a story too long for this post, so either go on the tour yourself or read about it online or in a history book.

Which takes us to Sutro’s other attraction, Sutro Baths. Before people had showers and bathtubs in their homes, your average Joes would head over to a public bathhouse to clean themselves. Without getting into how fucking gross this is, the project was a severe miscalculation by ol’ Adolph; by the time he’d built the thing it was already obsolete as most homes in the area had modern bathrooms. Whoops.

The building stood there until the mid 1960’s when it was burned down, probably on purpose. Now it’s this strange modern ruin that attracts tourists for some weird reason that I’m not sure I fully understand.

 
Sutro Baths
 

The City Guides tour itself ended before we walked down to the baths, presumably for liability reasons. But I headed down anyway and have a couple more photos to share.

First, here’s the ruins of Sutro Baths from the walking path just above it:

 
Sutro Baths
 

Next up: until this afternoon I’d somehow never walked through the cave next to Sutro Baths. I couldn’t get any great photos because a) it’s way too dark and b) it was filled with people. Also I was too busy trying not to trip on the rocks inside the cave to get my phone out.

The cave is completely terrifying — you can hear the echo of waves crashing against the rocks and the entire thing feels like it’s going to probably collapse at any second, and one day it inevitably will. Until then, you can see the ocean waves in a couple of spots where it’s already eroded a hole away. Incidentally, these waves were also what fed into the Sutro Baths. The ocean water went through a natural aquifer, then into a steam-powered heater.

 
Sutro Baths
 

On my walk home I decided to head past the beach and through Golden Gate Park, so here’s one final shot of Ocean Beach. It was such a sunny day there were nine (nine!) beach volleyball games going on at once, and that’s only at this end of the beach.

If you look carefully at the photo you can see both of the windmills in Golden Gate Park. But did you know? Those windmills both served an important function in the park back in the day, and there was once a third windmill in Sutro Heights. What where they used for and why? You’ll have to go take the tour yourself to find out.

 
Ocean Beach

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Eight things they don’t tell you about living in a “charming” historic building

May 25th, 2016

Fuses

I moved to San Francisco thirteen years ago, and about half that time I’ve lived in an apartment that was built in the early 1940’s. While it’s not as historic as other buildings in the area, it’s hardly the pinnacle of modern living either. Here’s a list of the things nobody — present company excluded — tells you about life in a charming old building before you move in.

  1. Toxic building materials
    If you’re old enough to read this and you have the slightest amount of common sense, lead and asbestos aren’t much of a threat to your health. But if you’re raising kids (or even have kids over) that’s a different story. Sometimes I wonder if I should be calling Child Protective Services when I see my neighbors carrying their baby around the place.

    Verdict: If you’re planning on breeding, consider a newer home.

  2. Mold
    Don’t sign any leases until you know for certain that you don’t have a mold allergy. And no you can’t just scrape mold off, it will come right back. Besides, that might cause lead paint to chip off.
    Verdict: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  3. Fuses
    You know how if your electricity is out, the first thing you do is go outside and see if you need to flip a switch? That’s called a circuit breaker. Before those came along, they had large fuses (pictured above) that screw into the wall. Each fuse has a different amp rating, and if the current going through the fuse exceeds the maximum amps, a little wire inside the fuse burns out. At that point you have to unscrew it (being careful not to stick your fingers in the socket while doing so) and screw in a new one. In fact, the first thing you should do when moving into an older building is see what fuses your unit has and go buy a bunch of replacements. Otherwise you’ll have to call an electrician to come out and install new ones for you if it’s the middle of the night and the local hardware store is closed. As I found out the hard way, that can set you back a couple hundred bucks. My unit only has two circuits, so if my fridge kicks on at the same time I turn on my computer, that could burn out a fuse.
    Verdict: Electrocution and/or fire, costly maintenance
  4. That lovely natural gas smell
    This one’s kind of specific, but in my building the stoves don’t have an electric ignition system. Instead they rely on pilot lights. The day I moved in the entire building smelled like natural gas, and I quickly discovered why: only one of the two pilot lights in my stove was lit. The other ways just leaking natural gas everywhere! Not having a lighter or matches, I rolled up a piece of paper, caught it on fire with the flame from the functional pilot light, used the rapidly burning paper to ignite the second pilot light, then quickly threw the paper in the sink before the fire reached my hand. I’m not entirely certain how I knew to do this, I certainly never read a manual or anything. It was only later that I discovered the manual for the oven/stove was taped to the back of it. Which, clearly, is the safest place to put a bunch of paper.
    Verdict: Okay, I probably should have reported this one to the fire department.
  5. Ventilation
    You might think with a stove and an oven, you’d need a ventilation system so the fire alarm didn’t go off when you cook, right? Hah! The thing about ventilation ducts is that they eventually get clogged up with grease, and someone has to clean those out because it’s a fire hazard. So your landlord — or some previous owner of the building — had those all sealed off. Ideally they cleaned them out before doing so, but let’s be realistic here; they didn’t.
    Verdict: Another reason to get fire insurance.
  6. Ancient heating technology
    Before fancy things like thermostats and forced-air heating were commonplace, people came up with a variety of strange old methods to heat the interiors of their homes. In my case, we have a steam heater. The way this works is a giant boiler on the bottom floor clicks on twice a day for a couple hours, once in the morning and once in the evening. The steam produced by this boiler is forced into pipes to radiators throughout the building. There’s no way to control how much heat this produces, since steam is pretty damn hot. So while it could be freezing outside, in an apartment with steam heat it could easily be 80 degrees F. If you’ve ever wandered around and seen a building where all the windows were open on a cold day, odds are that the occupants of the building are trying to ward off the artificial heat wave inside.
    Verdict: Hope you like tropical weather!
  7. Rats
    Oh, you know who else likes warm weather when it’s cold and rainy out? Yup, rats. They’re pretty good about finding hiding spots, and you may never even see them except for brief glimpses out of the corner of your eye. But their signature trails of shit across your counters are a dead giveaway. Once a rat managed to get trapped in my bathroom somehow, and it escaped by clawing a hole in the wood window frame. I emailed the landlord about this and they said they’d get back to me. That was five years ago, maybe? Haven’t heard from them since.
    Verdict: Keep paper products, food, and compost in hard to reach areas and the rats might stay in your neighbor’s unit instead.
  8. Washing dishes
    Unless the kitchen was updated in the last 50 years (yeah right) you’re not going to have a dishwasher. That said, you don’t have to laboriously wash your dishes by hand: portable dishwashers are a thing that exist. They’re just like a regular dishwasher, except they’re in a big metal box with a wooden top (read: extra counter space) and they have wheels so you can move them around. Instead of plumbing them in directly, they come with a special gizmo that latches on to your sink. Sure, about a third of the time it will fly off and water will spray everywhere, but that’s still better than the arduous task of cleaning dishes by hand like it’s the fucking dark ages.
    Verdict: Your dignity is worth more than $600

Any others I forgot to add? You can always reach me with ideas for a follow up article, my e-mail address is in the sidebar.

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Dolores Park: What’s in a name?

June 16th, 2015

Dolores Park
Photo copyright Todd Lappin. Used under a Creative Commons license.
 

The freshly renovated section of Dolores Park opens later this week. If you’re like most people, the name “Dolores Park” conjures up images in your mind of a never ending Pabst-soaked frat party. But why is it called Dolores Park? Who — or what — is it named after?

Let’s start at the beginning. Originally, the park was a cemetery. The city bought the land to turn it into a park and starting coming up with designs in 1905. Those designs were put on hold as the land was used as a refugee camp for people who were freshly homeless thanks to the 1906 earthquake and fire.

According to the Priceonomics blog, the original park construction took place from 1908 to around 1910. Various improvements, including the removal of a wading pool, were made in the 20’s and 30’s.

Take a look at a map from the early 1930’s and you’ll find Dolores Park originally had a different name: Mission Park.

Clearly at some point after this map was made the name of the park was changed. I’m not sure exactly when that happened, because that bit of history doesn’t seem to be available on the internets. (Believe me, I checked them all.)

At least at first, it seems like a safe assumption that the park was renamed in honor of the nearby Mission San Francisco de Asis, aka Mission Dolores. After all, that building is the namesake of the city and the neighborhood, not to mention a street that takes you to Dolores Park.

But since the park was already named after Mission Dolores in the first place, it seems like an unnecessary name change. Given the lack of available historical records, and given what they say about assumptions, I felt more research into this topic was needed before I could be certain.
 

Now I know what you’re thinking — let’s check Wikipedia! Well I hate to tell you this, but that’s when this entire endeavor slid into a serious rathole.

To quote the Wikipedia page for Dolores Park:

Dolores Park is named for Miguel Hidalgo (El Grito de Dolores), the father of Mexican independence, and the town of Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, Mexico. As a priest in Dolores, it was Hidalgo’s ringing of the town’s church bell and public cry for freedom that sparked the Mexican revolution. A statue of Hidalgo and replica of the church bell at Dolores Hidalgo were erected in the park to honor the father of the Mexican independence movement, and the town where it all began. In recent years, the park has been frequently and incorrectly referred to as “Mission Dolores Park”. The confusion probably stems from the assumptions of many romanticists, that based upon its former and current names of “Mission” and “Dolores” suggests it must’ve been named after Mission Dolores two blocks to the north. Logic, however, dictates that such monuments to the most pivotal moments in Mexican history would not sit in a public space bearing the name of an institution seen by many as a symbol of Spanish colonialism and oppression.

(Emphasis mine)

Huh. That does explain why Dolores Park contains the Mexican liberty bell replica and the statue of Miguel Hidalgo. Those features of the park were installed in the 60’s, and it’s plausible that Mission Park was renamed Dolores Park at that time.

Now here’s the problem — that entire section on Wikipedia has no citations, and is largely the work of a single anonymous user who goes by the name DoloresParkLover. Previously, the page attributed the park’s name to Mission Dolores, but that version was also citation-free.

Still, I have to admit that the park’s decorations feel very out of place without this context. But if what it says on Wikipedia is true, that’s one hell of a naming coincidence.
 

At this point I thought maybe looking at newer maps would do the trick to verify the name of the damn park, but it turned out once again I was being naive. Google Maps, Apple Maps, and OpenStreetMap all list the park as “Mission Dolores Park,” whereas Nokia HERE Maps call it “Dolores Park.” Foiled again.

Combing through the current version of the city charter (the only version I could find online) was not helpful either. Dolores Park is only mentioned twice, and both times it’s referred to as “Mission Dolores Park.” Then if you look at the planning maps that go along with the charter, it’s referred to instead as “Dolores Park.” Sigh.

It’s worth noting that SF Park and Rec calls it “Mission Dolores Park,” and their own website says the park was “[n]amed for nearby Mission Dolores,” while SFMTA asserts that the park is named after our old friend Miguel and his freedom cry. As usual, our city’s agencies can’t agree on anything.

I reached out to a Parks and Rec official for comment but haven’t heard back.
 

So after all this I have to admit defeat. I started out with a simple question, but it raised more questions than answers. Hell, I don’t even know what the park is called anymore! Perhaps the only remaining course of action is to give in and call it Brolores Park. Cheers, and happy day drinking.

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Why it’s time to shut up about “wearable tech”

January 14th, 2014

Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin Sports the New Google Glasses at Dinner in the Dark, a Benefit for the Foundation Fighting Blindness -- San Francisco, CA
(Photo by Thomas Hawk. License.)

 

Lately we’ve heard a lot about wearable tech. It’s said to be an exciting new product category that involves smartwatches, Google Glass, and perhaps fitness trackers.

But how many of the people talking about this future of wearable gadgets are wearing wristwatches, glasses, or contact lenses? And how many of them are wearing clothes and shoes made from fabrics that didn’t exist a century ago?

Wearable tech isn’t the future, it’s the present. Just because we don’t always think of elastic underwear or an old-timey wind up watch as “tech” doesn’t mean they aren’t.

So what are we really talking about when we discuss this seemingly inevitable rise of gadgets we strap to ourselves?

Essentially, we’re lumping together products designed to put on our bodies that are futuristic in the sense that they’re not very good yet. They all suffer from one or more of the following flaws:

  1. Uncomfortable
    Is Google Glass really something you’d be able to wear all day? And aren’t your fingers too fat for a smartwatch touch screen?
  2. Doesn’t work well
    Early digital watches required users to press a button to see the time. Existing analog watches didn’t have this problem. Most new products take years to get right.
  3. Not useful enough
    Microsoft launched a smartwatch called SPOT nearly ten years ago. It wasn’t on the market for long. Why? Most people at that time were buying cell phones that offered more features. It’s one thing to have an extra gadget (or ten) around the house that you don’t use, but the bar for usefulness is much higher if you have to put it on when you get up in the morning.
  4. Looks silly
    Would you wear a fake beard made out of colorful beads? While most people would have no problem wearing one on Halloween, on most days wearing something visible and unusual in public has a social stigma.

Point is, we need to stop talking about HUDs and newfangled computer watches as though they belong together. These are very different gadgets with discrete feature sets — and different problems to overcome.

Even as buzzwords go, wearable tech isn’t meaningful: it’s unnecessary, not descriptive, and even if it were it still wouldn’t be a product category in and of itself. It’s time to shut up about wearable tech and let this buzzword die.

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class="post-1416 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-local tag-fortpoint tag-goldengate tag-history tag-photos tag-san-francisco">

Fort Point

July 10th, 2011

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IMG_2595 IMG_2596 IMG_2609 IMG_2617 Bottom of bridge IMG_2597 Bridge through the little window Plaster construction IMG_2638 IMG_2640

Today I visited Fort Point for the first time since I was very little. In fact it was part of a Y-Westerner’s trip. So that means I was maybe in first grade at the time. Something like that.

Anyway, if you’re a local history buff, a Civil War buff, a Golden Gate Bridge buff, or some other kind of buff I haven’t thought of, you should head on over there. There’s a short (but hard to find) walkway that takes you from the Golden Gate Bridge tourist parking lot (and 28 stop) down to the shore.