Posts Tagged ‘photos’

Old Market District Walking Food Tour

April 21st, 2019

Old Market District Walking Food Tour
Cannoli for breakfast
 

The Old Market District Walking Food Tour focuses entirely on foodie favorite spots in Omaha’s Old Market District. This part of Omaha dates back to the 19th century and is mainly built out of brick. Even the streets are paved with brick. Originally it was a warehouse and light industry district serving the nearby train lines, recently it’s been reborn as a place to meet friends for food, coffee, and drinks.

In the morning our tour group of a dozen or so had the entire place to ourselves. (To be fair not all the businesses were officially open yet.) This gave us time not only to sample the food, but meet some of the owners and managers — a nice touch for a food tour.

The tour starts, oddly enough, at a dessert shop. We all sampled classic Italian-style cannoli filled with ricotta cheese. It was rich enough I was glad I’d skipped breakfast.

Aside from food one stop includes a small sample of beer, another a small sample of coffee. Both were excellent. The cafe handed out extremely soft, melt-in-your-mouth pretzels. These didn’t go with the coffee at all but I’ve never had a pretzel like that so it’s hard to complain.

 
Old Market Passageway
 

Another highlight of this tour was learning about the Old Market District’s history. One of the more unusual aspects was the addition of the “Passageway” seen in the above photo. This simple alley between two buildings was enclosed in glass and given a lush garden makeover.

In the Passageway today you can find restaurants, art galleries, etc. My favorite business in there was a tiny bookstore that’s also home to a small dog.

Hours after the tour I wandered back to the Old Market District at around 6 PM to see if it was any busier — and to find dinner. Sure enough the streets were significantly more crowded and the restaurants had opened. Still, all of the restaurants I peeked into had at least a couple empty tables.
 

My recommendation: Going in I had low expectations for a food tour in a small town like Omaha. But in all honesty the food was on par with what I’d expect to find in much larger cities. You can book this tour or any of the other Omaha Culinary Tours here.

Chicago wrap up and stray observations

April 20th, 2019

Chicago Theater sign
 

Last night I arrived in Omaha for the weekend, but before delving into that here’s a few parts of the Chicago trip that didn’t fit anywhere else.

Yes, the Chicago Theater sign above is a landmark, and no I wasn’t the only person taking photos of it. The best place to get a clear shot of the sign is unfortunately from a narrow staircase leading up to the State and Lake “L” stop.

 
Expansion joint in street
 

The biggest criticism I’ve heard of Chicago style pizza is that it’s more of a casserole than a pizza. It’s fitting then that the entire downtown area in Chicago is built like a casserole: on the bottom there’s a solid layer to insulate from the marsh the city’s built on; on the layer over that you have train and pedestrian subways and basements; next you have street level, and then finally you have buildings and the elevated “L” lines on top.

All of this is pretty obvious from certain locations along the Chicago river, but you also see expansion joints like in the photo above on what otherwise appear to be ground level streets. It seems odd until you realize you’re actually on a well hidden bridge.

 
No guns sign
 

In a lot of places in the world you’ll see “no smoking” signs on buildings; in Chicago, you see “no guns” signs instead.

I was especially surprised to see one of these signs on a Whole Foods. Who the hell brings a gun to a Whole Foods? Are they afraid of getting attacked by a bag of organic potatoes?

 
Unusual Metra entrance
 

For the most part Chicago’s Metra stations appear unremarkable, but there’s exactly one station entrance that seems… out of place? In fact it was a gift from one of Chicago’s sister cities: Paris. It’s a careful reproduction of the classic Paris Metro station entrances.

 
Secret Agent Supply Co.
 

I completely blew my cover by visiting the Secret Agent Supply Co. store. This is run by 826, the youth writing workshop founded by Dave Eggers, which is also behind the Pirate Store in San Francisco and the Time Travel Mart in Los Angeles.

They sell a variety of disguises and books, including books on writing and books from new Chicago authors. It’s a little out of the way and a very low key operation.

 
Riverwalk
 

Parts of the Chicago River have a pedestrian walkway known as the Riverwalk. There’s a few restaurants and bars down there, and it’s a nice place to walk without ever having to encounter automobile traffic.

The Riverwalk isn’t complete yet though, some parts don’t connect and others are still under construction. It should be a lovely spot to take a walk or jog when it’s done but even the currently open segments are worth checking out.

 
The 606
 

The 606 is a pedestrian and bike path that’s partially elevated, built on a defunct rail line. I discovered this one completely by accident. It’s by far the most bicycle-friendly part of Chicago.

There is an irony of the 606 though: the defunct rail line used to serve the Schwinn Bicycle Company back when they still made bikes in Chicago.

 
Intelligentsia Coffee
 

Before heading to Union Station on my last day in Chicago I knew I had to try the espresso at Intelligentsia Coffee. I kept putting it off because the lines were intimidatingly long, but I’m happy to report it was worth the wait.

That’s it for Chicago! Next time I’ll have a post or two about my 48 hours in Omaha.

The Art Institute of Chicago

April 20th, 2019

Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago Art Institute of Chicago Art Institute of Chicago Art Institute of Chicago Art Institute of Chicago Art Institute of Chicago
 

One block south of Millennium Park is a stately looking building housing the Art Institute of Chicago, an art museum with a vast collection of pieces from all over the world. From the street you might think it’s a small museum, but you’d be wrong. The building visible from the street is largely a facade; the majority of the galleries are in a sprawling complex of wings on the other side of the train tracks behind the entry building.

Broadly the museum is broken down into Asian, classic (Greek and Roman), European, American, and contemporary. That’s not a comprehensive list but it gives you an idea of the scope. I have to admit that due to the convoluted layout of the place I’m not sure exactly how much I was able to see.

The sheer size of the museum is both a blessing and a curse, like an enormous yard sale where there’s some rare book on a table surrounded by broken Cuisinarts.

For example one room had a bunch of paintings by Monet that for some reason devoted an entire wall to paintings of haystacks. Then I turned a corner and found myself face to face with a small yet beautiful self portrait of Van Gogh.

The biggest strength of the museum is how it can expose you to styles of art you’re unlikely to have ever seen before. On the flip side its biggest weakness is displays of art from the Art Institute’s associated school. Don’t get me wrong, they have some fantastic staff and alumni — just their collection of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings alone would be considered a special exhibit at any other museum — but overall the selection of works from their own school seemed sloppy and haphazard. This part of the museum would benefit from a neutral third party curator much in the same way doctors aren’t supposed to treat themselves.

The audio guide tour can be rented or like many museums these days you can also get it for free simply by downloading the Art Institute’s app on your phone and bringing your own headphones. Only one or two works in each gallery have an audio guide component and those that do are always the highlights.
 

My recommendation: If you’re in Chicago and you’re at all into art, there’s almost certainly something you’ll enjoy at this museum. Perfect indoor activity for a day with uncooperative weather.

Driehaus Museum

April 19th, 2019

Driehaus Museum
 

Originally built as a second home for the wealthy east coast Nickerson family, today the Driehaus Museum focuses on home life in the Gilded Age of America. I realize that’s a lot of description crammed into one sentence so let’s break it down.

Sam Nickerson and his wife built their Chicago mansion about a decade after the Great Chicago Fire. As such it’s built with solid brick walls. The interior is lined with pretty much every material you can think of; many types of wood, tile, fabric, and even a precursor to linoleum.

When the Nickersons decided to move away, they sold their home at a steep discount to a friend. It eventually was converted into offices, and was most recently purchased by a different wealthy Chicago man, investor Richard Driehaus. Hence the name of the museum.

 
Driehaus Museum Driehaus Museum
Driehaus Museum Driehaus Museum
Driehaus Museum Driehaus Museum
 

In the early 2000′s Driehaus had the property restored as much as possible to its original glory, with a mix of original furniture and period-appropriate furnishings from his own collection. Throughout the home you’ll find everything from Tiffany lamps to (seemingly decorative) office supplies.

Additionally you’ll see special exhibits, which currently include a small exhibit about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and a much larger exhibit throughout the museum by British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare which broadly reinterprets elements of the era ranging from colonialism to Oscar Wilde. These will change in the future so check the museum’s website for up to date information on current exhibits.
 

My recommendation: Such an eclectic museum seems like it should be an off the beaten path find, and yet it’s located on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. If it sounds interesting I’d start by booking the hour long guided highlights tour and going from there — the tour includes general admission. Coat and bag check is free.

Guided tours of Chicago

April 19th, 2019

In Chicago I took a few tours that were highly recommended online. There’s something said for the wisdom of the crowds, these are all solid tours I enjoyed and would recommend as well if the subject matter interests you.

 
Lou Malnati's deep dish pizza
 

Second City Classic Food Tour from Chicago Food Planet

My first tour in Chicago was this “classic” food tour which focuses on various cuisines you can readily find in Chicago. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that yes, Chicago deep dish pizza is included — and it’s the first stop.

I’ve had deep dish pizza before (I mean, who hasn’t?) but this one was above and beyond anything I’d ever tried. As the only non-meat eater in the group I got a small pizza all to myself instead of “just” a big slice with sausage. Even though I arrived hungry I couldn’t finish the entire thing, it was too big and too rich. The most amazing part wasn’t the crust or the cheese — it was the crushed sweet tomatoes on top instead of a traditional sauce. Everyone had the same tomato topping.

The other stops on the tour included a mix of local and international food, beverages, ingredients, and a classic local bar and BBQ joint. Since I don’t eat meat I can only vouch for the homemade BBQ sauce.

The architectural component of the tour was cut short because, well, it was snowing. On the bright side we also had a more intimate experience due to several last minute cancellations.

Book this tour on their website.

 
Chicago "Corncobs"
 

Chicago Architecture Cruise from Chicago Line Cruises

With many architecture cruises and walks to choose from, I went with this one not only because of recommendations, but because it’s the most comprehensive.

The tricky part is figuring out where this tour starts; you’ll probably pass by similar tours on the way there. Just keep an eye out for the cruise company logo and take your phone’s directions with a grain of salt — location services can be a little wonky with tall steel structures around you.

The tour guide lectures at a fast pace on the architecture along the Chicago river. You’ll learn how architects think about integrating buildings into their surrounding environment as well as how they work around the unique challenges of building on the river, and in some cases the existing rail infrastructure underneath the new structures.

Another common theme is how modern developers adapt and reuse existing buildings that were originally built for, say, a Montgomery Ward order fulfillment warehouse.

Complimentary soft beverages, coffee, and snacks are available on the lower deck. Beer and wine are available for an extra charge.

Dress warm for this one, the Chicago river is significantly cooler than the city above.

Book this cruise on their website.

 
Congress Hotel
 

Gangsters and Ghosts Tour

If you keep up with the news at all it’s no secret that Chicago has a problem with violent crime. (Side note: crime isn’t a major concern for most tourists.) This walking tour focuses on Chicago’s dark past as well as places that are allegedly still haunted by it.

Without spoiling anything major, here are a few key points of the tour:

  • The life and death of notorious mob boss Al Capone
  • A mass tragedy that led to certain modern day fire codes
  • How the mafia used Chicago’s infrastructure to hide the sound of gunshots
  • The story of America’s first serial killer

It’s a fairly long tour; about two hours with a lot of walking and some stairs. There’s a bathroom break partway through so I’d recommend bringing water. The guide didn’t pull out any gory photos or anything though the descriptions were graphic enough that the younger or more squeamish guests might want to steer clear.

Book this one through their official website or on Airbnb Experiences — the price is the same either way.

 
Pedway tour
 

Discover Chicago’s underground city

Did you know Chicago has series of ad-hoc underground public walkways known as the “pedway”? This hour long tour takes you through a few of them, connecting government buildings, malls, three train stations, and more.

It’s the perfect indoor walking tour for a day when the weather’s not so great. The tunnels aren’t at a consistent level and some are better cared for than others. Weirder yet, not all of them even appear on any (semi) official map.

It’d be super easy for us tourists to get lost down there without a guided tour. Fortunately the tour guide, Margaret, is an incredibly warm and passionate person who knows her way around and loves sharing her knowledge.

This one an only be booked only through Airbnb Experiences.

The street art of Logan Square

April 18th, 2019

Logan Square Street Art
The most famous street art mural in Logan Square, if not all of Chicago
 

I almost skipped making a visit to Logan Square; it looked so far away on a map. Turns out it’s a fast, if somewhat cramped ride on the “L” from where I’m staying, and there were a few other places I had in mind to visit in the area. So off I went.

And I’m glad I did. It’s a relatively small neighborhood in comparison to much of Chicago with a lot of local businesses, upscale cafes, and small restaurants. Walking through the area there’s a lot of people jogging, walking their dogs, or riding bikes. And yet if you wander off to a side street you’ll find dirt roads and auto shops. Perhaps it’s a neighborhood where people of all social classes live and work together, perhaps it’s a nightmare of gentrification — most likely it’s a little of both, but what do I know? I was just passing through.

What was clear about Logan Square is it’s got the most street art of any part of Chicago I’ve seen. Most notably, the much-photographed “Greetings From Chicago” mural seen above is located in the neighborhood. It’s only a couple blocks from the California stop on the Blue Line.

Here’s a handful of other street art I got a kick out of in the area:

 
Logan Square Street Art Logan Square Street Art
Logan Square Street Art Logan Square Street Art
Logan Square Street Art Logan Square Street Art
 

Last but definitely not least is this enormous mural of the late Robin Williams and one of his most iconic characters, the genie from Aladdin:

 
Logan Square Street Art

The Bean and Chicago’s Millennium Park

April 18th, 2019

The Bean at Millennium Park
 

Chicago’s enormous public downtown park on Lake Michigan is technically a collection of public parks. The newest one is Millennium Park which opened in the early 2000′s in order to cover up a sunken Metra train station.

Millennium Park features various modern tourist magnets, the most famous of which is colloquially known as “The Bean.” Technically it’s called “Cloud Gate,” but locals don’t call it that because, well, it looks like a big shiny bean. Let’s be honest here; the locals are right.

Many tourist guide books will point out that “The Bean” reflects the Chicago skyline. That’s true from a certain angle — but if you approach on foot you’ll quickly see that it’s like a big warped fun house mirror which reflects anything, including one’s own reflection.

If you want you can even walk directly under The Bean, and you’ll be in good company. This big weird sculpture is a popular selfie spot for the tourist crowd, intentional or not.

It’s a fun and free place to snap a photo and if we’re being honest it looks nothing like a cloud at all from any angle. Walking around the nearby just north of The Loop I happened to find the “real” cloud gate sculpture:

 
The "real" cloud gate
 

Okay, so that’s just a patch of snow that hadn’t melted yet. But you have to admit it looks much more like a cloud than The Bean does.

There’s also a big outdoor concert venue space in Millennium Park, an ice skating rink for winter months, as well as an art installation called Crown Fountain. You may have seen photos or videos of Crown Fountain which features two video screens facing one another displaying photos of faces that occasionally “spit” water at you. Unfortunately Crown Fountain was turned off during my visit.

On the east side of the park, a wavy bridge designed by Frank Gehry takes you over a highway to the kid-friendly Maggie Daley Park.

With millions of tourists flocking to see Millennium Park each year, every hip fast casual chain you can think of has an outpost nearby: Shake Shake, Protein Bar, Sweetgreen, Five Guys, etc. With Chicago’s combined ~10% sales tax combined with the fact that everything in Millennium Park has a corporate sponsor, this free attraction must be a gold mine for state and local governments.
 

My recommendation: It’s free, very easy to get to, and there’s a good chance you’ll be in the area while visiting Chicago. Why not stop by and take a selfie with The Bean? Everyone else is doing it.

W.F.T (San Francisco)

March 14th, 2019

W.F.T (San Francisco)
W.F.T (San Francisco) W.F.T (San Francisco)
 

This evening I decided to take a walk by the Civic Center area to check out a brand new art installation: W.F.T (San Francisco) from artist Joseph Kosuth. W.F.T. — or “Word Family Tree” — is a neon light piece that wraps around the Polk St. side of the Bill Graham Civic, lighting up an otherwise boring brick wall with bricked-up windows.

I was held up too late at work to make it to the lighting ceremony though by the time I arrived there were still a few people lingering around taking photos. From the street level it’s easy to miss; the neon lights seemed dimmer than I’d expected, and are high enough from the ground level that the best view is from across the street.

The neon lights form trees breaking down the etymologies of the words “Civic” and “Auditorium.” It almost looks like notes taken by a college student in a linguistics course, except if those notes were inexplicably turned into light and attached to the wall of a four story building.

While I admire the unusual decision to put a brainstorm cloud of words in neon on the side of the building, the unfortunately ugly fire escapes get in the way, literally blocking your view depending on where you stand. It’s hardly the fault of the piece though.

My only critique is the use of the word “auditorium.” To most of us locals the building is called “Bill Graham Civic.” Honestly I’d forgotten the full is name of the place is “Bill Graham Civic Auditorium” until today. It’s not ear splitting like when an out-of-towner says “The BART,” but if someone told me to meet them at “the auditorium,” I wouldn’t know what they were talking about.

The building itself dates back to 1915 when it opened as part of the Panama Pacific Exhibition. Since then it’s served various purposes, including a basketball arena for the Warriors, an opera house for San Francisco Opera, and an exhibit hall where a very early prototype of what we now think of as a computer was first demonstrated.

Also, I saw The Smashing Pumpkins play there once back in ’98. Cool show, man.

These days it’s primary a concert venue. The name was changed by the city in the early 90′s to honor legendary local concert promoter Bill Graham after he died in a helicopter crash.

If you’re in the area when it’s dark enough — whether for a concert or just getting off work — you’d might as well wander by the Polk St. side of the building and take a look at W.F.T. for yourself. Until now you probably haven’t seen neon signs written in Greek and Latin, let alone many of them stuck all over the side of a building. There’s plenty of time to check it out in person as it’s considered a permanent installation. Of course even in the best conditions neon lights don’t last forever; better to check it out sooner than later if you’re interested.

A visit to the Oakland Museum of California

February 10th, 2019

Oakland Museum of California
 

With so many museums in the Bay Area to choose from, I’d never gotten around to visiting the Oakland Museum of California until yesterday. It’s not that it wasn’t on my radar, I just wasn’t sure what it was aside from a funny looking building I occasionally pass by while walking from the Lake Merritt BART station to Lake Merritt itself.

The reason I finally decided to visit was the Eames special exhibit (more on that below.) A while back they had a special exhibit on Pixar and I’ve been kicking myself for missing it ever since; the Eames exhibit ends on February 18th and I was determined not to make the same mistake twice.

Before going any further, what is the Oakland Museum of California? The name tells you where it is, but not what kind of museum. Is it an art museum? Science? History? Who’s the target audience? There’s no definitive answer but I’ll provide the best one I can at the end.

I bought tickets at the museum rather than online. In the morning this wasn’t an issue, but in the afternoon the lines grew significantly longer. If you buy a “print at home” ticket you only have to wait in a short line to exchange your printouts for a sticker. As far as I know you can’t present tickets on your phone.

For backpacks and jackets they have a number of free lockers available. These work like hotel lockers where you punch in your own PIN. Be sure to test these before you leave your stuff here, I tried two lockers before I found one where the lock worked correctly.
 

Special Exhibit: The World of Charles and Ray Eames
 

Oakland Museum of California
Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California

If you’re at all familiar with mid-century American furniture you’ve probably heard of Eames. Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell you’d probably recognize many of their iconic designs from shows like Mad Men or even cheap knockoffs sold at chain furniture stores.

Eames wasn’t some big faceless furniture company — it was the name of a Los Angeles design firm headed by husband and wife designers Charles and Ray Eames. While they both passed away a few decades ago, many of their iconic furniture designs are still manufactured today. In fact I’m even writing this from the comfort of an Eames Aluminum Group Management Chair.

Despite the Eames name being most closely associated with furniture it’s hardly the only type of design work they produced. The exhibit doesn’t go too deep into how Charles and Ray got their interest in design, instead delving into World War II as the couple experimented with molded plywood to develop leg splints and stretchers for wounded soldiers. When this didn’t pan out they turned their focus to home and office furniture after the war, partnering with Herman Miller for manufacturing and sales.
 

Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California

This is where the exhibit took an unexpected (to me, at least) twist into film. After working on a few very short films Eames was hired by IBM to create a film for an exhibition. The film was displayed on several screens and explained in simple terms how to break down a problem into a model so a computer could help solve it. One such example involved predicting the weather, using the weather data to predict attendance at a baseball game, which the stadium would use to know how many hot dogs to order. Like most old educational films it’s a little hard to judge this one by modern standards. For one thing I doubt most people need to be sold on the concept of computers anymore.

Another Eames film in a similar multi-screen format was originally shown in the Soviet Union as part of a cross-cultural program. The description said this was intended to highlight advantages of American capitalism. This film didn’t age well; the dated images of Americans driving to shopping centers came across less like a promotion of capitalism and more like a parody of suburban banality. Between the dimly lit room, slow pacing, and the Eames Lounge Chair I was relaxing in, it felt like time for a nap. Each mini-theater at the exhibit featured Eames chairs to sit in but this one felt like a particularly poor choice.

 

The last film in the exhibit surprised me the most because I’ve seen it several times but had no idea it was created by Eames: Powers of Ten. The exhibit includes three versions of the film, starting with a glorified storyboard and ending up with the final 1977 version above.

Each version begins with a guy sleeping after a picnic in a park, then zooming out exponentially in powers of ten until ending up at the limit of the observable universe. The final version also zips back in the opposite direction into the nucleus of an atom inside the picnicker’s hand. I think the film still holds up even if the graphics look a little dated. Spend the next ten nine minutes watching the video above for yourself if you’ve never seen it.
 

Gallery of California History
 

Oakland Museum of California
Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California

After grabbing lunch at the museum’s cafe I headed back across from the special exhibit hall to see one of the three permanent exhibits: the Gallery of California History. Those of us who grew up in California probably won’t get much out of this one, but for kids there’s a lot of objects you’re free to touch or little doors and boxes to open.

The exhibit starts with the lives of California’s first human inhabitants, the native Ohlone people. From there time skips ahead with the arrival of the Spanish, followed by the takeover by America and the Gold Rush. Here the exhibit takes a bold yet straightforward stance: it refers to American settlers slaughtering California’s Native Americans as genocide.

This dichotomy of high and low moments continues throughout the decades as the exhibit goes on. Chinese laborers build the transcontinental railroad, only to return home to California facing racism and violence. Hollywood movie studios sprang up, but all the good roles went to white actors. The 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed most of San Francisco leaving hundreds of thousands of people scrambling to find new lives, if not outright inventing new ones due the destruction of their paper documentation. Japanese internment camps stripped over one hundred thousand people of their rights during World War II.

Black Californians began protesting for equal rights in the 1960′s and 70′s, and at this point the exhibit’s timeline starts to seem more familiar. News footage, statistics, and a list of demands from the Black Power movement still seem relevant today.

 
Oakland Museum of California

The final section of the California History gallery wasn’t 100% operational during my visit, but what was open felt both interesting yet incomplete. It focused on the achievements of Silicon Valley with Hewlett Packard and Apple starting out of their founders’ garages. Yesterday’s computers were behind glass, including an early Mac and a Palm Pilot. I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt old seeing these “ancient” relics in a history exhibit.

The absence of any deeper insight of this part of the gallery was surprising. Perhaps it’s too soon to say who benefited or lost due to Silicon Valley’s rapid rise? It hardly fit the rest of the exhibit’s analysis of California’s history.
 

Gallery of California Natural Sciences

 
Oakland Museum of California

Just under the history gallery is the first floor exhibit on nature in California.

I hate to say it but this exhibit doesn’t have much going for it. The environmental info was hardly new or surprising, and the taxidermied animals felt a little creepy. Not sure who it was intended for as this exhibit was nearly deserted during my visit with maybe five or six others.

I quickly bailed on this gallery, but not after snapping the above photo of Oakland’s tree logo built out of pipes.
 

Gallery of California Art

 
Oakland Museum of California
Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California

The art gallery includes many styles and forms of art from or relating to California, arranged chronologically. The first part of the gallery largely focuses on 19th century oil paintings, mostly landscapes. Yosemite Valley is a recurring theme here as well as Gold Rush era San Francisco.

Gold Rush era photographs are displayed in a small side room, which I almost missed. That would have been a mistake — although the photos are very small, they’re also quite detailed and provide a glimpse into the past most of us rarely get a chance to see.

Walking away from the entrance is like a trip forward in time, with figure paintings, photographs, Impressionism, dioramas, modern art, and lastly a few contemporary special exhibits. It’s undoubtedly a solid collection though I wasn’t clear how some of the pieces connected to California, even after reading all the descriptions.

Unlike the rest of the museum there’s not much for younger children to do in the art gallery.

Before moving on here’s a couple paintings early on in this gallery I found interesting.

Oakland Museum of California

This piece by George Henry Burgess captures an unfamiliar landscape… or does it? The painting shows Gold Rush era San Francisco featuring Telegraph Hill in the center, with what I believe is Montgomery Street (or perhaps a parallel street west of Montgomery) leading up to the hill.

If you look closely a the edge of the bay there’s a pier under construction. All the ships are much further out in the bay, since the water was far too shallow near the eastern edge of San Francisco to bring ships closer in. What’s now Embarcadero and the Ferry Building would have been underwater.

Oakland Museum of California

The above painting by Albert Bierstadt sits at the end of a hallway. At first I didn’t think much of it — it’s clearly Yosemite Valley, perhaps on a hazy morning — but the background is so overdone it looks almost cartoonish.

But in front of the painting there’s a few seats with headphones. I sat down, put on a pair of headphones and hit the play button. An unnamed narrator (who sounds suspiciously like Oakland-based podcaster Avery Trufelman) walks the viewer through a short meditation-like exercise of essentially imaging oneself in the painting.

I came away enjoying the piece more after this exercise, and wondered why museums with audio guides don’t have similar features to help guide viewers in appreciating a piece rather than simply discussing facts about it.
 

Garden

 
Oakland Museum of California
Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California

A network of terrace gardens, stairways, and patios extends across and above the museum, with a grassy field at the bottom. There’s a number of outdoor sculptures to see. During my visit some of the walkways were covered in large puddles due to the rain earlier in the day.

On the field down below a Chinese New Year celebration was taking place. Not many people had turned up, probably due to the weather.

I’m not sure if you need museum admission to enter the garden. I put on a sweatshirt that completely covered my museum admission sticker and nobody stopped me or said anything.
 

So, what is the Oakland Museum of California?

With the three galleries covering different topics and exhibits for both children and adults, this museum wants to be all things to all people. Without any clear focus it’s a hit-or-miss affair, never quite going into the depth I’d expect for a museum of this size.

To me it seemed almost like three museums glued together. So it was no surprise to read this about the museum on Wikipedia: “It was created in the mid-1960s out of the merger of three separate museums dating from the early 20th century…”

There’s something else going on here too: according to the education section of the museum’s website students can “[e]xplore art, history, and natural science under one roof…” The website also includes curriculum for teachers. During weekdays the museum must act as a magnet for school field trips.

 
My recommendation: I don’t think I’d visit the Oakland Museum of California just for the permanent collection. That said if there’s a special exhibit that sounds interesting it’s worth checking out the rest of the museum too while visiting, or at least the top two floors (history and art galleries.) The cafe’s fine, though you could probably find better options nearby.

I built the San Francisco LEGO kit

January 25th, 2019

LEGO Architect San Francisco
 

Today after coming back from lunch the office manager stopped me to say “Hey, I got something for you. It’s on your desk.” When I saw what she’d left me I couldn’t help but to laugh.

A few months ago I spotted a rumor in the SF Examiner about a supposedly upcoming San Francisco LEGO kit. I half-jokingly posted to a company Slack channel that we should get one for our San Francisco office.

Turns out it became a real product, and I now had one! After powering through a long day of work I got to my second job: building San Francisco.

 
LEGO Architect San Francisco
 

Unlike the kid-friendly LEGO kits this one doesn’t come with an easy to assemble base. Building the base part felt tedious due to all the flat and tiny pieces.

You might notice some extra pieces in the corner of the photo. I think it’s normal for LEGO to include a handful of extra pieces, so good news if you tend to lose small objects between sofa cushions.

 
LEGO Architect San Francisco
 

Following the instructions the first building to go up is Salesforce Tower. Clearly they weren’t going for chronological order.

The most interesting part is the way the pieces fit together with some bricks fitting in the typical top-to-bottom fashion, while others hang on to the sides. Other buildings and the Golden Gate Bridge towers used similar techniques.

 
LEGO Architect San Francisco
 

Here’s the downtown skyline wrapped up. From left to right: Bank of America building (aka 555 California), Transamerica Pyramid, Salesforce Tower.

Two co-workers who wandered over while I worked on this important project didn’t recognize the Bank of America building — not because I screwed up or LEGO’s design was way off, but they weren’t familiar with it in the first place.

I think the slanted road at the bottom with the blue and red boxes is supposed to depict cable cars, maybe? Not sure.

 
LEGO Architect San Francisco
 

Alcatraz goes over the black “offset” pieces in the base. The tower on the left looks to be the island’s water tower, and on the right its light house.

For the record the red piece sticking out on the right is not part of the island, that’s a tower mount for the Golden Gate Bridge. It doesn’t actually touch Alcatraz.

 
LEGO Architect San Francisco
 

Next up: The Painted Ladies at Alamo Square. Perhaps not the best LEGO depiction of Victorian architecture, though at this scale you have to temper your expectations.

 
LEGO Architect San Francisco
 

The second to last step is Coit Tower, which looks kind of pointless without Telegraph Hill lifting it up to the skies. I wouldn’t have even guessed it was supposed to be Coit Tower without the instructions.

 
LEGO Architect San Francisco
 

Finally, the Golden Gate Bridge! To build this I assembled the two towers, then the roadway between them, and then gently bent the three included plastic “straws” in place between the towers and ends of the bridge.

As I fitted the straws in place I snickered at the result — rather than holding up the bridge, it caused the towers to bend away as the straws attempted to straighten out. Look I’m no civil engineer but that’s really the opposite of what you want from your cables in a solid suspension bridge design.

 
Many have criticized this LEGO kit for failing to include their favorite parts of San Francisco, like the Ferry Building or Chinatown. One coworker jokingly suggested the Millennium Tower.

My criticism is the depiction of the city’s geometry. I realize the kit is a diorama and that’s fine, but from what possible perspective could you see the Transamerica Pyramid between the Bank of America building and Salesforce Tower? Since the set places Alcatraz in front of the Golden Gate Bridge and Fort Point on the left that means we’re looking at San Francisco from the East Bay, so the skyscrapers should be ordered Salesforce, Bank of America, then Transamerica in left-to-right ordering. Coit Tower is roughly in the right position, but the cable cars should be behind the skyscrapers and the Painted Ladies would be facing in the opposite direction.

Still it’s somehow recognizable as San Francisco. Not sure it’s worth the $50 price tag though if you ever get a chance to build this kit for free while sipping complimentary LaCroix from an office fridge, it’s a solid 90 minutes or so of frustrating yet fun entertainment.