Posts Tagged ‘waterfront’

Vaillancourt Fountain

June 9th, 2019

Vaillancourt Fountain
Vaillancourt Fountain Vaillancourt Fountain

Of all the controversial elements of San Francisco, Vaillancourt Fountain easily evokes the strongest love-it-or-hate-it response of any water feature. Sitting in the corner of Embarcadero Plaza (formerly Justin Herman Plaza) it looks like a large knot of rectangular pipes spewing water in various directions — when it’s on, that is.

Over the past couple decades the fountain hasn’t always been running, but was turned back on three years ago and has mostly been running since then.

Many critics today point out that the fountain fit the area better when it was in the shadow of the similarly Brutalist architecture of the Embarcadero Freeway. They have a point. Aside from the visual style, the fountain’s pump moves water at a blistering pace, creating a loud soundscape of splashing water that could easily down out the sound of the freeway that once stood behind it.

Vaillancourt Fountain

Unusually for a fountain there’s a walkway through it on a number of concrete slabs. This seems to be a major attraction for kids, but be warned it’s always slippery and you’ll likely get wet walking through it. Also note there’s no handrails so be careful down there.

It’s certainly worth taking a chance on the walkway if you’re up for it, the view from there is completely unique.

Vaillancourt Fountain

At some point in recent years the back of the fountain was fenced off. This is unfortunate; two staircases behind the fountain lead to overlook points facing toward the Embarcadero Center (and away from the former Embarcadero Freeway) which was a nice spot to take photos if nothing else. Perhaps there’s a safety concern, but then again these stairs and overlooks always seemed safer to me than walking through the fountain down below.

For some reason the fountain is operated by the city’s Recreation & Parks Department despite being located on private property — it’s part of the Embarcadero Center office/retail complex. This arrangement gives the fountain some protection against critics who want to see it demolished.

I will say this: critics of the fountain only seem to crop up when it’s not running. There’s a lesson here about public art. If it’s going to be successful in the long run it needs a maintenance budget. Pretty much everyone appreciates the idea of public art, but when it’s sitting there broken it’s not going to win over any new fans.

A walk along San Diego’s Embarcadero

December 31st, 2018

Sailboat at sunset

Walking along San Diego’s Embarcadero brought back a lot of unexpected memories. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

Far too late in my trip I thought it’d be great to book a sunset cruise on San Diego’s bay. By the time I thought of this there were no available cruises. If you think of this obvious activity in advance it can be booked everywhere from Hornblower to Viator to Airbnb.

So I settled for taking a nice walk along the Embarcadero waterfront as the sun slowly set over the horizon.

Heading south from the USS Midway Museum I found myself at a small waterfront shopping center. From there the busy footpath hits two parks bordering a private marina.

Kites at Embarcadero Marina Park

At the north end of the park people were stacking rocks, flying kites, and making large soap bubbles. It was touristy but also very low-key, as far as I could tell the kite flyers in particular weren’t asking for tips.

The north and south ends of the park aren’t connected. They only exist to protect the Mariott’s private marina from waves.

Mariott marina

It’s a long walk between the two parks, but I felt compelled to continue. In between is the marina with boats that must cost a fortune. On the opposite side is the convention center. They were hosting a car show with test drives for new cars out back on the waterfront side.

When I finally reached the south side of the park, a group of tourists zipped up on electric scooters and asked me to take a photo of them against the sunset.

This was maybe the fourth group who asked me to take a photo, but I happily obliged. One woman in the group wanted to line up the shot before I hit the button on her iPhone as though she was a director of photography.


At some point while walking around — I’m not sure quite when — I recalled having visited this part of the bay’s shore last time. The convention I attended back in 2007 had an after party here at the park.

Suddenly it all came flooding back. At the party I met a young woman about my age and we got to chatting. We both felt kind of intimidated among the larger group of professors and intellectuals. It wasn’t anything romantic as neither of us were single, but a mutual feeling of being lost in an academic and professional world neither of us truly understood as students. We hung out at the party for hours, young and confused by those around us.

I don’t recall her name or even what she looked like, and I’m pretty sure we never exchanged contact info. But our chance encounter was all I could think about sitting around that funny little park behind the Convention Center as the sun set on San Diego Bay.