San Francisco – The Birkenstock Tour!

By Mike (Roadie) Marino

San Francisco has been a magnet for the curious and restless since The Bay Area was first spotted by Spanish explorers. In their wake came pirates intent on plunder and The ’49er’s came to sift and pan financial nirvana from the regions riverbeds. In the semi-faboulous Fifites, “the beats” came to be “down”, and the youth culture of the ’60’s came to get “high”. The City by the Bay has attracted the cool and the uncool, the sinner and the saint, as well as the gentle and the downright scary!!

Today, the new adventurer’s come from around the planet, armed not with musket and gold pan, but video recorder and travellers checks. They speak a multitude of dialects from Mandarin to Minnesotan and from Bavarian to Bronxian, as they scour the city for palate pleasing restuarants…credit-card-to-the-max shop until you drop sprees in Union Square and of course, to hit the high tourist spots of Fishermans Wharf and the multitude of culturally rich neighborhoods. On this Roadhead Tour du Jour, we’ll leave the trolley car’s and souvenir shops far behind and discover the “green” riches of The Bay Area from The Golden Golden Gate Bridge to Golden Gate Park. Your Birkenstock’s will walk quietly on silent paths in Muir Woods, and you’ll stand in stoney silence as you gaze down through the fog at the City by the Bay from the awe inspiring heights of Mt. Tamalpais. Now, grab that cheap bottle of port and let’s hit the road!

The Gold and the Gray

The undisputed signature structure of San Francisco is the Golden Gate Bridge. It labors day in and day out, handling the chaotic volumn of commuter traffic that pours into the city on a daily basis, but on a more serene note, you can also walk the expanse and marvel at the sights and sounds that surround the senses. As structures go, The Golden Gate Bridge is stately, sophisticated and shrouded in a mysterious fog is truly the Katherine Hepburn of bridges. That being the perception, The Bay Bridge, by contrast, is the undisputed heavy metal monster of machismo!! Grey and steely, it not only spans the gap between Oakland and San Francisco, but has an interesting side journey if you exit about midway to Treasure Island!!

Named for Robert Louis Stevenson’s famed novel, the island was part of the San Francisco Exposition in the 1930’s, and ultimately a port for Yankee Clipper’s plying the Pacific in the spirit of Bogartian mystery and suspense. Today there is a museum on the grounds, and is the site of the yearly Polynesian Festival, complete with flowered drinks and Hula dancers. It also offers one of the most spectacular dead-on, head-on sea otter views of San Francisco from sea level, and by driving around the back of the former naval base, you’ll find Nash Bridge’s floating office made famous by Don Johnson and Cheech Marin..sorry..couldn’t find the ‘Cuda!!!

Golden Gate Park

In “the City” itself you’ll want to take in the “green space” of all “green spaces” on the West Coast by making trackstracks to Golden Gate Park. As America’s pastoral past gave way to industrialization, a zombie like mechanization gained a strangle hold on urban society and a need for “green” was realized. San Francisco was in the forefront of this movement and a thrifty green thumbed Scotsman, named John McClaren, had by 1890 transformed enough of the area’s sand dunes into a West Coast Garden of Eden, minus the serpent and the apple, and it was the birth of Golden Gate Park.

Today Golden Gate Park is home to a plethora of activities and attractions from bocce, baseball and basketball to arboreteums, art and aquatic wonders.THE CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES is home to THE MORRISON PLANETARIUM with it’s one of a kind projector system that brings the heaven’s up close and personal, to it’s Ozzy Osbourne super sized, mindblowing 12 speaker sound system. THE MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY is pure Jurassic complete with dino displays, bones, and a giant bang-a-gong T-Rex! THE AFRICAN HALL will transport you to the savannah’s a continent away, and WILD CALIFORNIA is a flora and fauna romp through California’s natural history past. If your in your Capn’ Ahab mode, leave your harpoon at the door, because you won’t find the Great White Whale at the STEINHART AQUARIUM, but you can mix and mingle with 165 tanks containing an aquatically astounding array of 600 species of fish, reptiles and amphibians…alligators, pythons and sharks…oh my!

If your taste runs to the artsy versus the aquatic, then get in with the art crowd at the M. H. de YOUNG MUSEUM. Built in 1919, it’s a repository of Tiffany glass, El Greco and the famed Laurence Rockefeller Collection. If your aesthetic engine starts redlining on all this art and culture, and the need to touch base with your innner self is overwhelming, take a kharmic cappacino break at The Pool of Enchantment…it’s mocha, meditation and mantra, Starbucks style!

Gardens not only bloom, but abound throughout the park. Irony can be found in the Japanese Tea Garden, downright Asian, it was designed by a Down Under Aussie in 1894. Paths, ponds and a teahouse accent this foral palette of Asian plants. In 1895 a Japanese gardner, named Makato Hagiwara and family took over the gardens, and somewhere between bonsai’s and haiku’s invented the fortune cookie!! Thespians with a floral bent will marvel at the roar of the crowd and the smell of the greasepaint at the Lair of the Bard….THE GARDEN OF SHAKESPEARE. It is here that Bill’s fans try to “name the work” by identifying 150 plus species of plants and flowers mentioned in his works. If you have trouble identifying them, alas, Poor Yorick knows them well!

The Eco-Junkie will get their eco-ecstacy fix by visiting THE CONSERVATORY OF FLOWERS and STRYBING ARBORETEUM. The Conservatory is the architectural twin of London’s Kew Gardens and one of the primo examples of pure Victorian architecture in all of Ess Eff. It’s soaring dome is a hot house home to palm trees, orchids and an assortment of micro-climates from around the world. Strybing Arboreteum began in 1937 as a WPA project and today is 70 acres of 6,000 plant species including cacti and succulents. You can also treat your sense of smell at The Garden of Fragrance where great smelling plants just make good scents!

Wanna feel like Ernie Hemmingway? STOW LAKE in the park is a fly fisherman’s paradiso sharing it’s pristine water’s with the placid paddle boat and row boat enthusiasts, and you can enjoy an eco-friendly hike 428 feet up to the summit of STRAWBERRY HILL located on an island in the lake that affords a panoramic view of the park, lake and foliage surrounding the area. You’ll also treat the senses to the natural sounds of water cascading from a quite un-natural artificial waterfall on the Hill.
Flashback to the Sixties when you enter THE PANHANDLE. Located at the eastern end of Golden Gate Park and forming somewhat of a northern border to the Haight Ashbury district, this green ribbon was the tie-dyed hangout for free feeds of beans and rice during the Summer of Love. Flatbed trucks would act as portable stages and you could wolf down your styrofoam feast while listening to the music of such notables as the Quicksilver Messenger Service.

After you’ve been “peaced” and “loved” to a grateful death by the locals, head on over to THE POLO GROUNDS site of the 1967 spaced out Human Be-In. This cosmic gathering of the spaceship earth featured a high decibel vortex of music, supplied and amplified by The Grateful Dead and The Jefferson Airplane, all punctuated by readings by literate luminaries and other icon’s such as Jerry Rubin, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and the Captain Kirk of the altered states spaceship, Timothy Leary. Beam us up, Scottie!!!

Peaceful calm in San Francisco was shattered in 1906 when a high scale Richter rock and roller of an earthquake shattered buildings, lives and dreams. The terror, noise and screams of the living drowned out by the overwhelming silence of the dead. The city lay in ruins, but not her soul or her spirit. Today, the only official memorial to that historic day of “When Faultlines Attack” is in Golden Gate Park at Lloyd Lake between JFK Drive and Crossover Drive. It’s called THE PORTALS OF THE PAST, but don’t expect too much…it’s a front porch standing alone without a house attached to it!!

The park also has a Buffalo Paddock, that is the lone survivor of what was a turn of the century free ranging zoo and there’s also a Don Quioxte like windmill if you feel like doing “the Impossible”!!

The San Francisco Zoo

According to Simon and Garfunkle, “it’s all happening at the zoo”, and in San Francisco that’s certainly the case. Zoo’s began as an offshoot of the traveling circus that amazed and delighted Victorian and Edwardian audiences alike. The parasol and carriage crowd “ooohed” and “aahhed” at the sight of elephants and the roar of not so cowardly lions. Soon the big top would pack it up and move on to, say, Peoria and it would be a year until they returned once again. Eventually someone came up the idea of a permanent setting in the urban environs where these exotic creature’s could be on display year round and be viewed in a somewhat natural setting. San Francisco, opened it’s zoo’s gates with it’s star resident named “Monarch”, a rather imposing grizzly bear. Today, it is one of the most “animal friendly” examples of zoo’s in the world with over 250 species roaming in simulated wild environments and is also Northern California’s largest zoological park and conservation center
Along with the usual zoo “in crowd” of lions, giraffe’s, elephant’s and chimp’s, you can be dumbstruck with awe at the antics at the new Lipman Lemur Forest and the newly expanded childrens zoo. Scheduled to open in 2004 is the African Savannah Exhibit where animals indigineous to that region will mix, mingle and network like a group of stockbrokers at happy hour at the local pub. The zoo also has an elephantine sized souvenir shop to load up on zoological oriented goodies.

Eco-mania and animalia can be pretty heady stuff, so when you want a break, you can contemplate the chimpanzee’s with a cup of cappacino at The Leaping Lemur Cafe. San Francisco, being as culturally aware as few other places on earth, has found a way to combine monkey’s and Monet with a full fledged art display at the zoo as well as the beautifully restored Dentzel Carousel, a work of art in it’s own right. The zoo itself and it’s close proximity to the magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean make this one of the definite “must see” place in Ess Eff..and to think it all started with a grizzly bear named Monarch!!

Muir Woods

Muir Woods stands as the undisputed coniferous crown jewel of the Redwood Empire. Magnificent and majestic, these towering giants dwarf miniscule mankind in their mystical shadow. Their leafy crowns and canopies seem to penetrate the heavens as they stand erect and proud as rulers of their particular realm. The Miwok Indians who originally dwelled in these forests must have marveled much as we do today at the sheer size of these botanical creations.

Miwoks, Spanish explorers and 49’s….there goes the neighborhood!! Combine all that growth with the advent of the automobile and by 1908, an already crowded region would be visited by the first mortorized tourista!! The forest itself was not restricted in those days and the auto’s raced through the tree’s with abandon resembling a miniature go kart track. Much damage was being done and finally in 1924 the infernal internal combustion engine was banned from the forest free for all, along with picnicing, rock and plant collecting.

Today Muir Woods has ample parking for the throngs of tree-curious who visit from around the globe. The cacaphony of accents blending melodiously with the symphony of the stellar jays and warblers that inhabit this serene setting straight from “Lord of the Rings”. Asphalt pathways meander through the forest cathedral of giants, crossing streams, cool and clear, where at any moment you could stand face to face with one of the many black tail deer that inhabit the woodland. The redwood eco-system also gives nourishment and shelter to a variety of owls, bats and reptilia and amphibia.

Bootjack Trail is off the beaten path and is an opportunity to leave the tourist far behind as you ascend the pathway along crystaline waterfalls and make your way on foot towards Mt. Tamalpais. Muir Woods is more than a golden grove of giant growth…it’s a fitting monument and tribute to the father of modern conservation, John Muir.

In Marin County, eco-tourism is a true double feature. After looking up to the lofty crowns of giant redwoods, you can look down for a spectacular view of Ess Eff from the 2,571 foot summit of Mt. Tamalpais. On a clear day even the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada’s can be seen from this ring side seat to the heavens. San Francisco grew in size following the Gold Rush. As overcrowding became unbearable residents of the Bay Area sought escape by getting away from it all on Mt. Tam. Wagons breaking down on the way up was the norm and it was not a pleasant journey on the whole. Eventually, a small scale railway was built to carry the locals to the top of Tam, and in time became known as the “crookedest railroad in the world”. It earned the name from the twisting, serpentine route it took to reach the summit and not from any underhanded financial dealings of it’s Chief Operating Officer! The railway was abondoned after a devastating fire in 1930.

Today it’s a low gear cruise to the top and Mt. Tam is a fave of the multi-gear mountain bike crowd, as they ascend and descend the mountain with the fervor and excitement of sailors rounding Cape Horn for the first time. Hikers will find a 6,300 acre walkers paradise with over 50 miles of trails..each with a view!! Hang gliders soar silently enjoying their eagles view of the Bay Area .. urban architecture and Pacific fog covering the the canvas to create a one of a kind work of art. The park also has a picnic area for the less rustically minded and you’ll find the Visitor Center at the East Summit.

The Birkenstock Kingdom has it’s fair share of hiking and hangliding opportunities as well as mountain biking and rollerblading. Vista’s and views dot the landscape from Coit Tower to Twin Peaks and nothing can match the ambiance of sitting silently on the wind kissed cliffs and watching the sun set and the fog roll in like soft silk. Birkenstock warriors will find that the Golden Gate is pretty green after all.

Editor’s note: This article is not sponsored by Birkenstock. The author is merely suggesting that the famously unsexy but extremely comfortable footwear would be the perfect choice for such a tour.

This Dharmabum Roadhead writer’s work has been described as DELIGHTFULLY WIERD and WICKEDLY WONDERFUL!! Mike (Roadie) Marino is a publisher of an on line magazine called ROAD TRIPPIN’ USA. It’s an asphalt kickin’ journey of Roadside Nostalgia and American Pop/Car Culture for the Chrome-Magnon in all of us. The style is lock n load and deals with the realm of where Pop Culture and Chrome meet Asphalt and Art!!

Mike also writes a monthly feature column under the banner THE ROADHEAD for the award winning Offbeat Travel zine. His column deals with bizzare ashpalt and roadside oddities and locales from mechanical museums to Cadillac Ranch. Mike is also a freelance writer of travel and history pieces that have been published in magazines and ezines in the US and Europe.

Most current project includes toiling endlessly on his first book about Pop and Car Culture in America of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Although born in the rustbelt of industrial Detroit, he’s also been the definitive son-of-a-beach and has lived in a treehouse in Honolulu, the tie dyed spare change neighborhood of Haight Ashbury in San Francisco, as well as the North Beach district..where the Beat Goes On!!

Today Mike (Roadie) Marino lives in Missouri near the banks of the Missouri River with his word processor. In addition, to writing and backpacking, Mike has a penchant for Hawaiian shirts, Jimmy Buffett albums and Corona Beer. If you would like to use any of Mike’s articles some of which are included here, contact him at the email address below or at He also accepts contract work and what the hell, a good agent wouldn’t hurt either. So contact him for rates and information. Now…Have Fun Reading…Grab A Cold Corona..And Kick Asphalt!

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