Golden Gate Park Dahlia Garden—In Full Bloom

Taking advantage of the warm weather we had in San Francisco this weekend, I went for a stroll through the Botanical Gardens and around Stow Lake out in Golden Gate Park. The slow and steady beats of reggae music from the Power to the Peaceful event—a truly San Francisco experience—echoed under the canopy of trees. In search of something more peaceful, I made my way, against the stream of revelers, to the Dahlia Garden, hoping the plants would still be in bloom.

The Dahlia Garden is a tear-drop shaped flower bed just east of the Conservatory of Flowers. Each year, a group of dedicated volunteers spend their precious free time pinching, snipping, and watering around 500 clumps of dahlia plants.

If you’ve never seen a dahlia, you’re possibly missing out on one of the natural wonders of the world. These blooms come in myriad sizes, from 1 inch across to as large as a foot across, and their colors span the spectrum, from bright pink and yellow to dark burgundy and purple. But it’s their shapes that are most amazing, clusters of complex petals; some explode from the stem like a starburst, others form tight geometric patterns like honeycombs. No matter their size, shape, or color, they all create a dramatic presence, demanding your attention.

The first time I visited the Dahlia Garden, the plants were nothing more than green clumps of weeds in a bed of dirt. Uninspiring to say the least. A few seasons later, I made it by the garden when a few plants were in bloom. Just enough to whet my appetite.

So as I approached the garden this time, I had no idea what to expect. I wasn’t even sure they’d still be in bloom. As I crossed the front of the Conservatory of Flowers, my pace quickened. I looked for signs of disappointment on the faces of people coming from the direction of the flower bed. And when I rounded the east end of the building, my heart skipped a couple beats. I had found the end of the rainbow; the dahlia garden my pot of gold. All 500 or so plants were in full bloom. I nearly tripped over my own feet to get closer. The hairs on my arms stood on end. I finally saw them in all their splendor.

If you haven’t already, you really should set aside some time in the next few weeks to swing by the Dahlia Garden. I don’t know how much longer the blooms will last, but I certainly plan to make it by at least once more. So maybe I’ll see you there.

5 Hot Spots to Soak Up the Sun

Spring has finally sprung. The sun is out and it’s going be a hot one!  This heat wave got me thinking about places to sit outside and soak up some sun.  So if you can, play hooky, grab a blanket and a good book (in whatever form you read them), and head outside while it lasts.  Here are just a few ideas of some places to go:

Washington Square Park

In the heart of North Beach, Washington Square Park is a great spot to catch some sun.  There’s plenty of people watching — hot Italian guys kicking around  soccer balls, eccentric locals chatting on the benches. So, grab a sandwich and a beer from one of the nearby Italian delis and stake your claim on a blanket in this sunny spot.

Rooftop Gardens

For those of you who can’t phone it into the office, there are several Rooftop Gardens downtown: 343 Sansome offers incredible views from its 15th floor rooftop terrace; 100 First Street is a great sunny spot in SoMa with tiered planters and cafe-style tables and chairs; and the Crocker Galleria Rooftop Terrace offers comfortable wood benches to stretch out on.

S.F. Botanical Garden

Though the Parks Department started charging for tourists, the Botanical Garden is still free for San Francisco residents, with proof of address.  A large open meadow stretches through the center of the Botanical Gardens, with a network of trails weaving through a tour of the world’s flora.

Yerba Buena Gardens

Another great spot South of Market, Yerba Buena Gardens catches the sun nearly all day long.  From a spot on the lawn, you have a great view of the ever-changing SoMa skyline, including SFMOMA. You can grab a bite to go from the food court inside the Metreon and cob a squat on the lawn.

Corona Heights

Not only does Corona Heights get sun most of the day on warm days like these, but this peak in the center of the city affords visitors with incredible views of the eastern half of San Francisco and across the Bay to Oakland and Berkeley.

Western Addition/Fillmore Sunday Streets

Looks like a comfortable way to enjoy Sunday Streets. The Western Addition/Fillmore Sunday Streets was held on Sunday, September 11, 2011 and is part of an ongoing series of monthly Sunday Streets events that take place throughout San Francisco. The next Sunday Streets event will take place in the Mission, on Oct. 23rd.

Writer’s With Drinks–March Edition

This month’s Writer’s With Drinks includes the creator of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, wherein participants are challenged to complete at least 50,000 words of a novel. The event has grown to over 60,000 blurry-eyed writers, with 10,000 actually meeting their goal.

Other writers participating in this evening’s line-up of talent include Deborah Santana, founder of Do A Little, a non-profit serving women and girls in health, education, and happiness. Her memoir, Space Between the Stars: My Journey to an Open Heart, was published in 2005.

Also reading is award-winning poet, Melissa Stein whose poems have appeared in many journals, including Harvard Review and the North American Review and were chosen for the Best New Poets 2009 collection.

About Writers With Drinks:

Writers With Drinks has won “Best Literary Night” from the SF Bay Guardian readers’ poll six years in a row and was named “Best Literary Drinking” by the SF Weekly. The spoken word “variety show” mixes genres to raise money for local worthy causes. The award-winning show includes poetry, stand-up comedy, science fiction, fantasy, romance, mystery, literary fiction, erotica, memoir, zines and blogs in a freewheeling format.

160th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival

The 160th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival is expected to attract thousands of Bay Area revelers who will be out in a sea of green, hoping for a bit of the luck of the Irish. This day-long celebration is chock-full of cultural events and Irish history, with live performances, dancing, arts and crafts, and plenty of food and drink. So pull out your favorite green outfit, dust off your Irish dancing shoes, and come out for a grand time.

When: March 12, 2011, 10am to 5pm. Parade begins at 11:30am.

Where: The festival is held at Civic Center Plaza, and the parade begins at 2nd and Market and runs down Market to City Hall.

SF Independent Film Festival Feb 3-17

The San Francisco Independent Film Festival opens tomorrow night at the Roxie Theater, the host theater for all shows. Opening night films include KABOOM, directed by Gregg Araki who will be in attendance, described as a Clueless on acid. The ticket price includes admission to the after party at CellSpace, where live bands perform as the kick-off to the San Francisco Winter Music Fest that runs in conjunction with the film festival.

The festival runs for two weeks with highlights like the 8th Annual Big Lebowski Party, Sat., Feb. 5, and six more nights of musical entertainment. The film festival closes with an action-packed romp into “nunsploitation” with Nude Nuns with Big Guns, directed by Joseph Guzman.

Pier 24–A Museum of Photography

Pier 24 offers 28,000 square feet of gallery space devoted entirely to the medium of photography. Its mission is to “reinvent the ways in which photography and photographic ideas are presented.”

The current exhibit, From the Collection of Randi and Bob Fisher, runs through the end of February and occupies Pier 24′s entire exhibition space. Randi and Bob Fisher–Bob is the son of Gap co-founders, Doris and Donald Fisher–devote themselves to collecting artists in-depth. Artists on display include: Robert Adams, Diane Arbus, extensive collection of Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, Man Ray, Garry Winogrand, among many other American photography icons.

The beauty of Pier 24 is that it is free to the public, by appointment. Only 20 visitors are booked during each two-hour window, granting a quiet and solitary atmosphere in which to study the artwork. A departure from the cramped and rushed experience at other local museums. However, the hours–Monday through Friday, 9 to 5–are such that regular work-a-day folks will have to take some time off. But for an experience like this, it will be well worth it.

Coffee Bar San Francisco

“The Atrani is great if you’re in the mood for something classic,” the Coffee Bar barista said when I asked for her sandwich recommendation.

The last time I stopped by this cafe it was under a different name, hell, it was a different place altogether. The old café occupied a tiny space in a corner of a run-down warehouse at Mariposa and Florida Streets. A row of seats along a coffee bar provided scant indoor seating, but there was an outdoor seating area enclosed by a tall red fence.

So fast forward a few years, and needing to kill some time, I dropped into Coffee Bar for a quick bite. It was a sunny afternoon, so their outdoor seating called to me. Upon entering the front courtyard, I hadn’t noticed anything different. Still the same red fence. Still the same crowded picnic tables. The same rundown warehouse. As soon as I walked through the front door, however, a completely different café opened before me.

The new owner had expanded this Mission café onto a raised concrete platform. A series of three large black and white photos, framed like church windows, hung behind the front counter, depicting the nearby Muni garage—an homage to the industrial history of the neighborhood. After ordering, I climbed the steps to the second level where rows of Macs blended in with the concrete walls. Tell-tale white headphone cords snaked from nearly every patron’s ears. Ambient music pumped from the sound system. I immediately felt out of place, too old-fashioned for that joint, and even more so when I sat at a table and pulled out a pad of paper…to write on. I’m sure it was just my imagination, but I felt a hundred eyes fall on me in abhorrence.

I quietly sipped my smooth and creamy latte made with their Clover machine, trying not to feel self-conscious. When my sandwich arrived, I hurriedly took a bite. It was served cold with a thin layer of salty prosciutto, savory basil, and tart balsamic in a crusty baguette. As simple as it was, it was one of the best sandwiches I’ve had.  And as it turned out, in the midst of this hip and modern San Francisco café, I was in the mood for something classic.

Indoor Snowfall at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco

There’s snow in the forecast…in San Francisco…indoors. Sounds crazy, but the Hyatt Regency San Francisco is starting a new tradition this year. Along with the thousands of lights dangling from balconies in their 17-story lobby like long strands of shimmering diamonds and the 45-foot Christmas tree towering over visitors, this year there will be snow. Three times a day, at 1pm, 6pm, and 8pm, from now through the end of December, snow will fall in the hotel’s lobby. While the lobby restaurant, Eclipse Café, is over-priced and the food mediocre, it might be worth it to suffer through a few cocktails and appetizers just to see the winter wonderland show.

Photo Journal–Dia de Los Muertos

Last night’s Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, celebration was truly incredible to behold.  Hundreds of people, mourning the loss of loved ones, pets, and even a car, marched through the Mission, not only remembering those who have passed, but celebrating life.

A common symbol of the holiday is the calavera (skull) which are typically represented in masks painted on the face.

A group of parade participants built a wagon for collecting the dead that was pulled by a posse of bicyclists.

In keeping with the holiday tradition, Garfield Square, in the Mission, becomes a stage for mourners to construct elaborate altars for friends and family who are deceased.  These altars are typically decorated with the deceased’s favorite food and drink, photos, and candles.

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