Marina District’s best
Originally dunes and marshes, most of the Marina was developed in the 1920s. Now this popular area is centered around Chestnut Street and its side streets, where restaurants, bars, and trendy shops abound. But not too far away, the north end of this district fronts the bay holds and offers some spectacular scenery.
Location: Between Fillmore Street & Divisadero Street.
Getting here by public transportation: From Union Square area, the Muni 30 bus line travels to Chinatown and then to Chestnut Street, but it can be extremely crowded and slow.
Parking is particularly difficult. Rates at the Lombard Street Garage at 2055 Lombard Street are reasonable.
attractions by the bay
Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture
Laguna St./Marina Blvd. Free.
In addition to housing the park headquarters for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, this complex of buildings is home to theaters, art galleries, museums, and myriad other facilities. Highlights include:
●annual event/Guardsmen Tree Lot
December. Free entry.
Claiming to have the largest enclosed Christmas tree lot in Northern California, the Guardsmen sell more than 5,000 trees each year. This sale is famous for having the best selection of noble firs but also stocks a variety of other trees, including Douglas fir, Frazer fir, and Scotch pine. Just visiting the lot is a thrill–it resembles a small forest–and is particularly nice on a rainy day. Trees range from tabletop size to 14 feet. Garlands, wreaths, holly, mistletoe, and ornaments are also on sale. Proceeds fund educational programs for disadvantaged Bay Area children.
With high ceilings, large windows framing the Golden Gate Bridge, and colorful modern art hanging on the walls, this trendy, all-vegetarian restaurant packs ‘em in. Starters on the ever-changing menu might include a fragrant and flavorful black bean chili or a delicate watercress salad with pears and walnuts. Entrees include pastas and sandwiches. Desserts are uncomplicated but delicious–perhaps a pear-almond upside down cake or a fabulous apricot tart with pistachio nuts and toasted almond ice cream. On Saturday nights, a fixed-price four-course dinner is the only menu option. Greens is run by the San Francisco Zen Center, and many of the fresh herbs and vegetables are grown at the center’s West Marin farm.
Greens To Go operates off the entry and packs up many menu items as well as the delicious house breads, pastries, and desserts.
Founded in 1967 at the legendary, long-gone Steppenwolf bar in Berkeley, this is the only major Bay Area theatre company dedicated solely to producing new plays. It has presented more than 250 premieres by some of the greatest writers of our time, including the 2001 world premiere of Sam Shepard’s The Late Henry Moss–starring Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson, and Cheech Marin–and the 2004 world premiere of David Mamet’s Dr. Faustus. There are two theater spaces.
●Museo Italo Americano
Bldg. C, Free.
This small museum is dedicated to displaying the works of Italian and Italian-American artists.
Thousands of bargain books, records, and tapes are on sale here, and a gigantic book sale is held in November. Proceeds benefit the San Francisco Public Library.
●Young Performers Theatre
This group is based on the model of an adult professional repertory company, except they turn it around and all shows are performed entirely by children ages 9 through 18. This company uses imaginative stage settings and costumes, and the fast-moving productions are usually short as well, making them a good introduction to theatre for children ages 3 through 10. Past productions have included Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Wind in the Willows, and The Secret Garden.
Along Marina Green Dr. Dogs ok. Free.
When you take a nice walk beside the bay here, your view includes the yacht harbor, Alcatraz, and peeks of the Golden Gate Bridge. The huge expanse of grass that is the green is perfect for a picnic, flying a kite, and throwing a Frisbee.
Palace of Fine Arts
3301 Lyon St./Bay St.
This cavernous building was designed by architect Bernard Maybeck in 1915 as part of the Panama-Pacific Exposition (an early World’s Fair celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal) and is said to be the world’s largest artificial ruin. No longer home to the Exploratorium, which moved in 2013, it now is open only for special events that are scheduled regularly in its theater. A paved path leads around the lagoon and makes a lovely walk. On my stroll, I saw an impressive range of wildlife that included the expected ducks, swans, and seagulls, but also turtles, large catfish, white egrets, and giant blue herons doing a mating dance in their tree nest. Grassy areas and plentiful benches provide the perfect spot for a picnic.
1 Yacht Rd./off Marina Blvd. Free.
Located at the eastern tip of the breakwater forming the Marina Yacht Harbor, this unusual musical instrument is reached by a road that runs behind the Golden Gate Yacht Club. And though it is directly across from the Marina Green, a water channel requires that you park near the club and then walk back along the breakwater path. Designed by Exploratorium artist Peter Richards in collaboration with stonemason George Gonzales, this tiny park consists of more than twenty pipes extended down through the breakwater into the bay and provides a constant symphony of natural music. You can relax in a small granite-and-marble amphitheater and listen while viewing the San Francisco skyline. The organ plays most effectively at high tide. (On my most recent visit I heard nothing.) It’s the perfect spot for a picnic or a frolic in the shallow waters of an inviting sandy beach with a straight-on view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Marina District attractions
on Chestnut Street
Chestnut Street is lined with trendy boutiques that provide enjoyable browsing and shopping.
2323 Chestnut St.
This is the perfect place to pick up supplies before you head home–or for a picnic.
2340 Chestnut St./Scott St.
Built in 1937, this historic theater now has four screens and shows first-run movies.
Marina District restaurants
on Chestnut Street
Chestnut Street is loaded with bustling restaurants catering to young professionals. Just take a stroll and pop in where the atmosphere calls to you.
2120 Chestnut St./Steiner St.
Owned by the same family since 1929, this deli prices its made-to-order sandwiches by weight. Housemade salads, handmade bread sticks, and a large selection of Italian wines are also available.
(www.berkeleyandbeyond2.com; copyright Carole Terwilliger Meyers)