There’s a 1979 song by the English art-punk band Gang of Four entitled, “At Home He’s a Tourist.” I frequently feel that way, regardless of what city might be home at any given moment.
When it comes to world-renowned destinations, both San Francisco and Los Angeles are high on any tourist’s list. And just because I live and work in one or the other (or both) doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy the magic inherent in each locale — experiencing that rush of discovery and delight as if encountering something from the guidebooks for the first time.
GLORY BY THE BAY
I always get a jolt from a swing by San Francisco’s landmark Coit Tower, where I can appreciate the inspiring WPA murals and savor an amazing 360-degree view of the city, the bay, and the glory of the Golden Gate Bridge. Every San Franciscan needs to walk the span to the Marin Headlands and back now and then. The bridge hasn’t fared too well in a host of recent disaster movies, so it might be wise to catch it before monsters or earthquakes do it in.
I’m usually up for a stroll through the Ferry Building to sample and purchase the gourmet edibles and watch the boats sail by. An afternoon spent ambling around the Palace of Fine Arts and lounging on the grass at nearby Crissy Field is a no-brainer. Navigating the crookedest part of Lombard Street isn’t just a thrill for visitors; it’s something I regularly do when going to and from Russian Hill and North Beach.
Speaking of North Beach, what tourist doesn’t want to eat at a family-style Italian eatery or sip a robust espresso at a sidewalk cafe among colorful Bohemian types? Or find a bargain-priced, late-night Chinese restaurant in still-exotic Chinatown? Or shop for poetry at the Beat Generation shrine City Lights Books? Or gaze upon the Condor Club, the historic burlesque joint with its gigantic sign depicting an exotic dancer with light bulb nipples?
Tours through the Haight, once the psychedelic nexus of hippie-dom, may appeal to some seeking counter-culture detritus, although I’m fairly certain that a tour through the Mission by night to spot the herds of tech workers at play would be about as worthwhile. I’d rather spend part of my afternoon at Golden Gate Park’s Japanese Tea Garden and get all Zen.
CITY OF ANGELS AND LEGENDS
Los Angeles, the show business mecca, can be as much of a touristic funfest as its northern sister. I tread upon stars that have been imbedded into the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street and emblazoned with the names of the world’s foremost entertainers, evoking a multitude of memories with each step. Fittingly, the stars dot the promenade in front of the ornate Chinese Theater with its numerous premieres and its plaza paved by concrete slabs bearing the handprints and autographs of film industry legends — all next door to the Dolby Theater, home to the Academy
I marvel at the cylindrical Capitol Records building, housing a studio where Sinatra; the Beach Boys; Beatles Paul and Ringo; Beck; Streisand; Willie Nelson; Judy Garland; Rod Stewart; Nat King Cole; Green Day; Crosby, Stills & Nash, and many more significant artists recorded their music. I drive past the Whiskey a Go-Go and other legendary rock clubs on the Sunset Strip and muse on the giants of the Los Angeles rock scene that commanded their stages. I look up into the hills, where the famous, unmistakable Hollywood sign looms over all.
It’s not the same as taking official studio tours of the Sony, Warner Brothers, or Disney lots, but I find myself on those hallowed grounds for business. And I will admit to superstitiously touching random soundstage plaques that bear the names of beloved movies or TV shows made on the premises.
I happily laze about the lawn by Griffith Park Observatory, which also offers a panoramic vista of the Los Angeles skyline on a clear day. At dusk, I motor out to the Santa Monica Pier and make my way past the illuminated Ferris wheel to the tip of the pier, perched over the incoming waves of the Pacific, and peer north to the lights of Malibu.
No, I won’t be stopping by the illustrious Los Angeles tourist trap and remnant of prehistoric times, the La Brea Tar Pits, with its model of a struggling wooly mammoth that’s visible from the street. I guess I just feel bad for the guy, and as a tourist, I just want to feel good.