Posts Tagged ‘photos’

San Diego’s Balboa Park

December 29th, 2018

Balboa Park
 

I suspected one of the places I had to see in San Diego was Balboa Park, but I also knew very little about it. Where to start? So I signed up for a 90 minute morning walking tour through Airbnb, Tour & Hidden Secrets of Balboa Park. The tour was a great intro to the park, going over its history, plants, architecture, and pointing out a few hidden spots most visitors probably miss.

The main area of the park includes a lot to see: a number of museums, a botanical garden, a Spanish Village-themed art gallery, the Shakespeare-inspired Old Globe Theater, a couple of restaurants, an outdoor auditorium for organist performances, various gardens, and probably many other things I missed.

Point is you could easily spend a day or two here if you wanted to see everything. And that’s only one small section of the park: there are also hiking trails, the San Diego Zoo (but not the Safari Zoo), and even a hospital.

 
Balboa Park Balboa Park Balboa Park Balboa Park
 

Many of the buildings in the main stretch of the park today were built for two expositions, the first of which coincided with the opening of the Panama Canal. Those buildings have either been restored or replaced since exposition buildings are typically meant to be temporary.

The reflecting pool in the last photo in the above gallery sits in front of the botanical garden. For whatever reason so many people have abandoned unwanted exotic pets there the park had to put up a sign telling people not to abandon animals in the pool.

This immediately reminded me of a story I heard on the Gaslamp tour where a bar owner kept exotic animals including a bear. His animal collection was tolerated until the bear bit a police officer’s nose, and so the barkeeper was ordered to remove the animals from his bar. The barkeeper’s solution? He just abandoned them all outside of town. If this is how San Diegans have treated their animals over the years, it certainly puts SeaWorld in context.

 
Balboa Park
 

My favorite part of the botanical garden was this tiny sign in a small garden devoted to carnivorous plants, although the touch-and-sniff herb garden was a close second.

Speaking of funny and unexpected signs…

 
Balboa Park
 

As the tour ended a fleet of food trucks were setting up shop. Due to a scheduling problem — for once not my fault — I thought I only had a few hours to spare after the tour. So I grabbed a quick lunch at a food truck and ate it at a sunken garden that at one point in time was apparently a nudist colony.

On one hand it’s hard to imagine paying to watch naked people go about their day at a park, on the other hand they didn’t exactly have YouTube back then. And hey, you’re reading about my travels so who are you to judge how other spend their free time?

Before jumping on a bus out of Balboa Park for the day, there was one quick stop I knew I had to make.

 
Timken Museum of Art Timken Museum of Art
 

The Timken Museum of Art is a tiny museum with free admission in Balboa Park. It’s a quirky little museum featuring mostly European paintings from the 16th through the 18th centuries, give or take.

Overall it’s a tasteful collection and it’s hard to argue with the price of entry. The museum guards kept having to shoo away toddlers and small children from the priceless paintings — a thankless job to be sure.

 
Timken Museum of Art
 

A few minutes before I left the above painting caught my eye. At first I thought I must have seen the painting before, then I realized no, it only looked familiar because I’ve been there. I forgot to write down the year or artist behind this painting but suffice it to say Saint Mark’s Square in Venice is well preserved.

How strange is it that a trip to San Diego made me reminisce about my trip to Italy?

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?

San Diego Central Library

December 28th, 2018

San Diego city skyline
 

From certain angles the San Diego downtown skyline has a strange feature; an egg-shaped dome. Even from a distance the dome doesn’t appear solid but more like the skeleton of a dome. Perhaps someone’s building a government capitol or a large church?

Wrong on all counts — not only is the dome complete, it’s part of San Diego’s Central Library. The dome sits over the top couple of floors of the building’s “front” side, letting natural light in for reading.

The building is open to the public with the exception of a school that takes up a couple floors.

 
San Diego Central Library San Diego Central Library
 

Walking in from the street there’s a three-story tall atrium in the checkout area, along with a giant chess set. This made me laugh not because giant chess sets are particularly funny, but at the thought of the library instead having a giant Jenga set in the lobby with librarians rushing over to shush the loser each time a giant Jenga tower came crashing down on the tile floor.

Now, why would a tourist like me visit a library? It’s a nine story tall building and I wanted to see the view from the balcony at the top.

 
San Diego Central Library
 

Unfortunately it’s… well… not a very interesting view up there. In the background you can see the insanely tall San Diego–Coronado Bridge. On the left there’s a huge parking lot, in the middle there’s trolley tracks leading to the 12th & Imperial Transit Center, and on the right you can see the dome from the inside and some buildings down below. That’s about it.

There are tables on the balcony for outdoor reading, or if you prefer quiet and less wind you can walk through a set of doors and down a flight of stairs to the reading room. The view’s just as good from in there with floor to ceiling windows.

Spruce Street Suspension Bridge at night

December 27th, 2018

Spruce Street Suspension Bridge after dark
Spruce Street Suspension Bridge after dark Spruce Street Suspension Bridge after dark

 

Every old city has its unique elements, but San Diego’s Spruce Street Suspension Bridge is a particularly peculiar element of its early 20th century heritage. This pedestrian-only bridge crosses a ravine between two residential areas with a shaky, unstable footpath.

Before modern times most city bridges were built with rigidity in mind. The first suspension bridges however were constructed more like early rope bridges, where a little swaying was tolerated.

Here in modern day San Diego the Spruce Street Suspension pedestrian bridge is still there, it’s weird by modern standards, and it’s even more unsettling after sunset. So that’s when I went.

In the dark of night I could feel the bridge sway under my feet yet I couldn’t tell how high up I was due to the darkness beneath the bridge. With the uneven planks there was no telling if the bridge was structurally sound at all.

As I timidly crossed back and forth to snap photos, a local resident walked his dog across the bridge while chatting on the phone. To him this seemed perfectly mundane. The two of us walking without coordination caused the bridge to rock gently back and forth.

On one side the outline of downtown San Diego was visible in the distance. Due to the darkness and the motion of the bridge, I couldn’t get a photo that was in focus.

While walking back to the bus stop, I couldn’t help but to think of San Diego’s reputation for ghost stories. I’d pegged it as the superstitions of a military town, but after crossing this gently moving bridge in the dark I could see why this otherwise picturesque city could have a creepy vibe.

San Diego first impressions… again

December 27th, 2018

It’s been over a decade since my last visit to San Diego — and that was for a conference so it doesn’t count. (Especially if I leave out the part where I spent time at the beach and visited the zoo.)

 
First impressions of San Diego
 

Today I arrived in San Diego for a little post-Christmas vacation. Stepping off the bus from the airport, the very first thing I saw: someone had flipped a Bird (of the scooter variety) next to a fire hydrant. Does that count as two parking violations in one?

Turns out electric kick scooters now dominate the sidewalks of San Diego. It’s a little hard to blame the scooter riders for hogging sidewalks as bike lanes still aren’t a thing in Southern California, despite the bike-friendly weather year round.

 
One aspect that feels all too familiar from back home in San Francisco is the obvious inequality spilling out onto into the physical landscape. On the one hand you have new buildings springing up everywhere, an indicator of a healthy economy; but on the other there’s a noticeable homeless population, many of which clearly aren’t getting the help they need.

It’s strange to me as a lifetime Californian that we keep ignoring homelessness. I can’t think of a major city in the state where it’s not a serious issue. I know it’s complicated, but statewide problems need statewide responses.

 
There is an aspect of visiting San Diego I found pleasantly surprising. Just like in Los Angeles, the public transit exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations. I’d intentionally booked myself an Airbnb near a light rail station.

Yet at the airport when I went to buy a light rail pass I was immediately confused by the ticket machine. So I turned around and asked a woman at the information booth about the machine, and she was just as confused as I was! Not a good first impression to say the least.

After figuring out together how to buy a Compass Card and load a multi-day pass on to it, I noticed the machine is identical to the ones we have at San Francisco Muni stations. Sure enough it’s also from Cubic Transportation Systems. Ugh.

Once I’d purchased a multi-day pass I found San Diego’s transit network shockingly nice. Adult day passes are only $5 currently, and multi-day prices are available for much less. The transit times predicted by Google Maps are often much more pessimistic than warranted. Wait times aren’t bad and there’s usually more than enough empty seats on the buses and trains.

I’ll have to see if this trend continues, but so far I’m impressed with San Diego’s pubic transit network. It’s worth noting they have a light rail station right at the border of Mexico for tourists planning on heading south of the border — or the opposite. Most of the on board announcements are in both English and Spanish.

Last Stop / First Stop

November 11th, 2018

Last Stop/First Stop
 

While hanging out at Ocean Beach and the west end of Golden Gate Park today I happened to notice something new; the funny little building at the N-Judah turnaround received an updated design recently. If you never noticed this small building before it’s located directly across Judah Street from Java Beach Cafe.

The new design features the words “Last Stop / First Stop” written in large capital letters painted at an angle. A quick Google search revealed this to be the work of local designer Jeff Canham. Canham’s designs can be spotted all around the city, including Mollusk Surf Shop a couple blocks away from the N-Judah turnaround.

Sandbox VR

October 25th, 2018

Sandbox VR Sandbox VR
 

This week I got to try Sandbox VR, a shared virtual reality experience for a group of people in the same room.

Currently Sandbox VR has only two locations in the United States, a local one in “San Francisco” (actually at the Hillsdale Mall in San Mateo) and the other in Los Angeles. All their VR content is created by the company in Hong Kong so you won’t find it elsewhere.

My team wasn’t totally on board with their horror game option “Deadwood Mansion,” so we went with the zombie pirate themed “The Curse of Davy Jones” instead. The suit up process took about 20 minutes for our group of six. Everyone wears a motion tracker on each wrist and ankle, a haptic feedback vest, a PC backpack, and an Vive Pro virtual reality headset. The room is painted green with tracking cameras on the ceiling as well as fans to simulate wind effects.

Once they switched it on we could see each other in VR as glowing blue apparitions, able to wave to one another and dance around a little. A brief tutorial focuses on the gameplay area, shown in a red outline on the floor, which is important since you can’t actually see the walls of the room with the headsets obstructing your view. If you get too close to a wall, a red grid will appear in front of it.

After selecting our characters and weapons the game started. I don’t want to spoil too much here but it’s mostly a combination of shooting and/or dodging monsters. Due to the limited field of view the dodging part felt more challenging to me than the shooting aspect.

When you “die” in the game your field of view becomes black and white and everyone else sees you in red. There’s of course nothing to stop you from moving when you’re dead, which is a little counterintuitive if you’re used to multiplayer games. Dead players can be revived by a living player touching their shoulder for a second or two.

I wouldn’t describe the gameplay as particularly deep, it’s like cooperative laser tag basically. But it was great trying out a multiplayer VR game in realtime with everyone in the same room, able to walk around freely.

That said it does have a few limitations, both in the bedroom-sized gameplay area and the capability of the motion tracking. We definitely bumped into one another a few times since the character models in the screen can’t accurately represent where everyone’s body parts are really located with the current technology.

From a technical perspective I have a couple minor gripes. The haptic feedback vest felt barely noticable and didn’t offer enough motion tracking to give me a sense of where a monster who snuck up on me was actually attacking from. I also wasn’t too impressed by the way the microphones on the headsets were used. There was no feedback of how loud I was speaking, and if someone spoke loud enough I didn’t really need to hear their voice through my headset anyway.

In the future like to see more gameplay types offered — stealth, puzzle, and adventure games jump to mind. Sandbox VR says they’re working on new games as well as other types of VR experiences. In the near future I could see shared virtual and/or augmented reality experiences taking over large retail spaces recently vacated by Toys ‘R’ Us, Sears, and K-Mart. For now limited gameplay styles in a small room in a mall will have to suffice.

 
My recommendation: At around $40 per person it’s a solid half hour of fun with high end VR gear. To me it makes more sense than buying your own VR rig at home — it’s like paying to go on a ride at an amusement park with your friends vs. building a roller coaster in your backyard. If you’re interested and know a few others who may be as well, give it a shot.

Magritte exhibit at SFMOMA

October 12th, 2018

SFMOMA & Magritte
 

The Rene Magritte exhibit at SFMOMA, “The Fifth Season,” wraps up at the end of October. If you haven’t seen it yet now is the time. This isn’t the largest exhibit with only around 70 works, but what’s there is impressive.

I finally went to see it last weekend and strongly recommend it, with some minor caveats.

Not familiar with Magritte? You’ve seen his work before but may not know his name. He’s the artist behind “Son of Man,” aka the guy with the bowler hat and the apple floating in front of his face (see above) as well as other paintings including “The Treachery of Images,” aka “C’est ne pas une pipe.”

Instead of focusing on his life as an artist overall the exhibit focuses on a few key later points in Magritte’s life. This approach has its strengths and weaknesses, in particular it focuses on Magritte’s most well known periods while leaving out how he got his start.

 
SFMOMA & Magritte SFMOMA & Magritte
 

Magritte’s works tend to look simple at first glance, but on closer examination contain surprising visual contradictions. His paintings have themes between them, but the themes aren’t always clear unless they’re pointed out. Thankfully the exhibit’s arrangements and audio guide do an excellent job of explaining this.

The audio guides for the Magritte exhibit are worth checking out, available as a mobile app (bring earbuds and your phone.) There’s about half an hour of audio content including interviews with an artist who lived in Magritte’s attic.

Ultimately I would have stayed much longer listening to more tales of Magritte’s life and works if they’d been available. For an artist who has so many well known paintings, he also went through periods of different styles, particularly during World War II, that are difficult to contextualize against his most familiar style.

The trivia I found most interesting was how Magritte titled his paintings, or more accurately how he didn’t. He tended to bring out his latest works to friends over dinner and wine and let them come up with appropriate titles.

The entrance to the exhibit features floor to ceiling curtains, echoing many of Magritte’s works. Some reviewers felt this to be a little too on the nose but I thought it was amusing. The exit was more startling. By standing in certain places one could insert themselves into digital versions of Magritte’s works. To me these felt like they belonged at the Exploratorium, or worse at some Instagram-friendly “museum.”

And of course you have to exit the exhibit through a gift shop, with special Magritte-focused merchandise.
 

You have until October 28th to check out the Magritte Exhibit at SFMOMA. Tickets cost as much as $35 and include access to the entire museum. I highly recommend the SFMOMA app both for this exhibit and SFMOMA in general.

This cat is fine

September 26th, 2018

This cat is fine
Spotted at 2nd and Howard
 

A flyer for an open source account breach alert service from Mozilla parodies a typical “lost pet” flyer you’d expect to see taped to a utility pole like this.

You can sign up for Firefox Monitor here, and they’ll let you know if your email address appears in any new breaches reported in the Have I Been Pwned database. There’s no guarantee that every breach will show up in their database of course.

So while I can’t vouch for the Firefox Monitor service being perfect I can say that the flyer was capturing people’s attention. In the 30 seconds or so I waited for the stoplight to turn green, at least two other people went up and snapped a photo of it.

Tenderloin National Forest

September 24th, 2018

Tenderloin National Forest
Tenderloin National Forest Tenderloin National Forest
Tenderloin National Forest Tenderloin National Forest
 

Next door to 509 Ellis Street in the Tenderloin are a big pair of gates with a peaceful little garden behind them. This garden is known as the Tenderloin National Forest. A non-profit art gallery next door called Luggage Store Gallery operates this particular “National Forest.”

As with any volunteer driven art project it’s open when it’s open, so don’t believe anything you read on the internet about operating hours. Sometimes it’s open for special events, but most of the time it seems to be open on certain weekday afternoons.

That said it’s reliably open to visitors during Sunday Streets in the Tenderloin — like earlier today.

To understand the space you have to look back almost 30 years ago.

The story of the “Forest” starts in 1989 when it was Cohen Alley, a short but especially filthy little dead end alley in the Tenderloin that housed a dumpster. When the neighboring gallery wanted to hold outdoor events they started using and maintaining the alley.

In 2000 the city let the nonprofit lease Cohen Alley for one dollar a year. A local artist built and installed the big metal gates. Over time volunteers planted numerous trees and shrubs, installed a cobblestone walkway, painted murals, and built a small pizza oven. Needless to say it no longer resembles any other alley in the Tenderloin.

A few years later a local student dreamt up the moniker “Tenderloin National Forest.”

Today I couldn’t help but to notice the plants and trees have grown significantly since my last visit a year or two ago. Especially on a sunny day, the foliage does give the place a little bit of a sense of a forest. It’s easy to see why the name stuck.

If nothing else the place is a respite from the Tenderloin’s gritty streets. On that note, today a tourist handed me her iPhone and asked me to take her photo as she stood in front of one of the murals. It’s difficult to imagine that interaction taking place in other outdoor Tenderloin locations, even during a relatively welcoming event like Sunday Streets.
 

For more on the Tenderloin National Forest: