San Francisco is a city built on hills, and one of the most prominent hills in the city is Twin Peaks. No, it has nothing to do with that quirky 80’s TV show. Rather, it’s a pair of mountain peaks at the southwestern end of Market Street. (Market Street is one of the city’s primary roads, cutting a diagonal swath through downtown.)
A lot of tourists end up at the top of Twin Peaks, but it’s mainly because bus tours take them there. For the average, do-it-yourself tourist, Twin Peaks is somewhat of a hidden attraction. I never read about it in any guidebook, rather, a friend and former SF resident recommended it. He also helped me find my way (by cell phone, from 3,000 miles away) when I got turned around on my way to the top. You see, there are no signs pointing the way to the city’s best observation point–you must figure it out for yourself.
And that’s exactly what I tried to do. At first, I thought I’d found it… but instead, I was in Buena Vista Park, which offers some reasonably good vistas, but nothing like its neighbor. Note that at Buena Vista Park, you’re fairly near to Sutro Tower (the city’s mostly hated broadcast monstrosity), but Twin Peaks is much closer.
When you get out of your car and step to the edge of the viewing area, you’re bound to say “wow!”. The entire city spreads out before you.
Directly ahead is downtown, with Market Street cutting a path through the middle of the buildings.
Look to the right, and in the far distance, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, to the left, the Bay Bridge.
You’ll probably want to take a few minutes, just to take this all in.
On a hill directly across from Twin Peaks is Mount Sutro, and the aforementioned Sutro Tower.
Once you’re done admiring the view, drive back downhill for an experience that’s uniquely San Francisco: a short walk through the Haight/Ashbury district.
The corner of Haight St. and Ashbury Street was the nexus of the counter-culture movement in the 1960’s. Many young people and drug users moved to the area because the rent was cheap–many of the old buildings had been abandoned in the previous decades, as families escaped the crowded parts of San Francisco and moved to the outlying areas. Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead lived here, among the hippies.
Nowadays, it’s still pretty obvious that life along Haight Street is a little different than anywhere else in the country.
There are some bizarre stores along this stretch of road, most notably, the Piedmont Boutique, which has a pair of fishnet-clad legs hanging over the sidewalk. But, for every genuinely weird and bizarre establishment, there are at least two tacky gift shops, hoping to sell anything tie-died to tourists.
My friend and San Francisco expert recommended I have lunch at one of his all-time favorite restaurants, ASQEW Grill on Haight St., just one block west of Ashbury. The restaurant serves chicken, beef, lamb, prawns, bass, tuna–you name it– on grilled skewers. You pick the meat, the sauce, and the side dishes, and create your own meal. It was very good, and the staff was much friendlier than you’d expect to find in a big city!
Note: This trip was first published in 2007.