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ROMP: Museum Row, the Metreon & the Mall

Downtown Attractions

If you can find parking, read those little red and white signs carefully. Museum Row and the entire Yerba Buena neighborhood is tricky, and they tow very efficiently. The 6th & Mission garage is an aboveground, clean, efficient parking structure, though not cheap. Again, public transportation is the way to go.

The Museum of Modern Art (SF MOMA) is pretty much the reigning queen of museums in this neighborhood, and always impresses with its fabulous architecture. But it’s massive, and art can be so darned contemplative. If you want just a little sip of art culture, MoMA’s gift shop is really cool.

Just around the corner is a newcomer to the neighborhood: the Museum of the African Diaspora. The word “Diaspora” means dispersion. This museum chronicles the blending of traditional African culture with the other cultures as the African people were dispersed throughout the world.

Next, for a total change of pace, visit the Cartoon Art Museum ( The Cartoon Art Museum is the only museum in the United States dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of cartoon art in all its forms. This unique institution houses approximately 6,000 original pieces in its permanent collection; a complete volume research/library facility is located on the museum's premises. The bookstore alone is so cool that you will most definitely end up getting something to read while you’re on the bus to the wine country. If you want a titillating peek at San Francisco politics, I recommend Phil Frank’s Farley books, the most politically relevant being “Don’t Reign on My Parade,” which features the antics of Gavin Newsom’s predecessor, Mayor Willie Brown.

Upstairs from the Cartoon Art Museum is the GLBT Historical Society’s digs. Modest, in comparison to the other museums in the neighborhood, on the third floor of 657 Mission Street, the GLBT Museum and Archives is nonetheless, fascinating. There is always a current exhibition, but a request to glance into the archives is what you want to do. When you see all the historical stuff they have, you will understand why they are so justified in their quest for a larger permanent home. The best day to visit the GLBT Historical Society’s Museum and Archives is on Friday afternoon between 1pm -5pm when Bill Lipsky is the docent. Bill just finished a book called Gay & Lesbian San Francisco, so his knowledge of the archives is very fresh.

With your appetite for local history wetted by the GLBT Museum, cross the street and visit the California Historical Society’s bookstore and exhibitions. The bookstores and retail goods in these museums is obviously a weakness for me. This is because you can get such a great smattering of local history just by browsing the titles and covers of the featured books.

Once you have made your purchases, sit down at A.G. Ferrari to grab a tasty Italian nosh and read a little. This romp is what I would call “footwear intensive” so it’s nice to get off your dogs, if they are barking. Another place, a bit more exotic, is the Samovar Tea Lounge ( on the upper terrace of Yerba Buena Gardens. They feature tea culture from around the world, paired with menu items that match the culture. Indian, Japanese, English, Russian…great concept dining.

After lunch, you can go see a movie at the Metreon, but reports have it that this is no longer considered one of San Francisco’s top attractions. If you have kids, maybe it’s worth shuffling around, but the IMAX Theater is the main focus.

Personally, I would head up to the new Westfield Center and shop around a bit. Westfield Center is like one of those dreams you have where you are in your old house, but there appear to be more rooms that you remember, but never seemed to realize the layout was so big. For those just coming for the first time, the sense of overwhelm might be great. Take a look, though, at how many old friends you recognize: Abercrombie & Fitch, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Nordy’s, Bloomie’s, Brookstone, The Gap… the list goes on and on. Great features of this mall are the Dome Lounge and the third floor women’s lounge in Nordstrom, hallowed to be the best restroom in the country; it's definitely bigger than most locals’ apartments, and better furnished. The Westfield even has a brand spanking new movie theater - the Century Cinemas.

When you leave Westfield Center, you are very near the center of the city. My suggestion is to cross over to the Powell Street Cable Car Turnaround and skip down the stairs to the Visitors Center in Hallidie Plaza. The Visitors Center is stuffed full of brochures for highlighting everything to do in Northern California, and they have concierges behind the counter to speak with. This is the nexus of knowledge for your visit to San Francisco.

Happy trails!