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Monday, February 8, 2016

The Magnolias Are Blooming at the Botanical Garden!

Posted By on Mon, Feb 8, 2016 at 6:00 PM

  • Far Out Flora

With the caveat that 72-degrees-and-sunny is hardly what a stil-parched California needs in early February, it sure is nice! If you were expecting endless storms off the Pacific this month, you should press your luck and check out San Francisco Botanical Garden in the very near future, because the magnolias are in bloom.

The garden maintains more than 100 of them, making it the biggest collection of any conservation outside of their native China. With 44 species, 42 cultivars and 16 hybrids or varieties, the sweet, Mississippian perfume of their large flowers — almost the same color as the pear blossoms, which are also in bloom around the city — fills this section of Golden Gate Park. The flowers are large, of course, and doubly notable because they open long before any leaves appear (and they won't last through March).

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Two New Apps Redefine San Francisco Audio Tours

Posted By on Wed, Apr 8, 2015 at 8:00 AM

  • Courtesy Jake Stimpson, Flickr Creative Commons

Walking the streets of San Francisco with headphones in your ears may seem like the perfect way to shut out your surroundings – but two new audio tour apps would have you do just the opposite. Guidekick and Detour, both only a few months old, are pushing the boundaries of what it means to take a stroll through the city. The former uses audio content and 3-D maps to bring San Francisco’s historic sites to life, while the latter guides listeners through neighborhoods via elegantly produced podcasts. According to the creatives behind the two apps, an audio tour revolution is on the horizon – and San Francisco is the testing ground.

For Mark Paddon, Guidekick’s CEO, it all started thousands of miles from home. On a trip to Machu Picchu, the Pacifica native and his friends realized that their exploration of the ruins lacked historical accompaniment. They wanted to be “teleported back in time,” Paddon says, in order to better understand the site's history. There could be an app for that, they decided – and they could create it.

So they returned to their Bay Area base and began an experiment in teleportation. “We want to recreate how San Francisco’s historic sites were in their golden age,” says Paddon. His vision comes across most clearly in Guidekick’s tour of the Sutro Baths, where a combination of storytelling, music, and 3-D maps transforms the weathered stones and stagnant pools into the crowded 19th-century bathhouse. Paddon is working on tours of Union Square, the Ferry Building, and Fisherman’s Wharf – tourist attractions, to be sure, but he sees Guidekick as more than just fanny pack entertainment. “The most rewarding thing is when locals who have been to these places before experience it in a new and transformative way,” he says. “We have plans to expand, but we definitely want to nail it here in San Francisco.”

Ben Adair, Detour’s Head of Content, is similarly convinced of San Francisco’s auditory promise: “It’s a walking city, and it’s small enough not to be completely overwhelming,” he says. Detour also produces audio stories, but in place of 3-D maps, Detour’s visual component is the listener’s surroundings – the stories reference specific buildings and shops at the precise time a pedestrian encounters them. While Guidekick explores San Francisco’s historic sites, Detour has listeners wandering all over the city, with tours centered around themes (trash, architecture), neighborhoods (the Tenderloin), and epochs (The Beat Generation). Veteran audio-journalists from shows like This American Life and Planet Money produce Detour's content, which aims to take podcasting to another level. “Podcasts do a really good job of explaining,” Adair says. “Our storytelling adds another dimension, which is exploration. We consider this a new medium for storytelling.”

Does this mean future urban wanderers will spend their time hunched over their phones? No, says Adair. Like Guidekick's Paddon, he hopes the audio stories will provide a new way for San Franciscans to experience their city.

“The goal isn’t just entertainment," Adair says. "It’s understanding.”
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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Video of the Day: Dia de los Muertos Parade and Art Show

Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 8:30 AM

  • Marigold Project

The Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos is something of a cross-cultural collaboration. While the Aztecs used their summer month of Miccailhuitontli to celebrate dead children, fallen warriors, and other ancestors, the Spaniards brought the Roman Catholic All Soul's Day with them in the 16th century.

Eventually the two holidays merged -- the Spanish influence pushed the celebration into the fall, but it retained the rituals of the indigenous tradition. Here in San Francisco, our own Day of the Dead festivities draw from two distinct cultures as well. Each year, the city's artistic types come out in style alongside the Mission District's Latino community to celebrate those that have passed from this world.

See also:

Tacos, LSD, and Jesus: The Stranger vs. The Believer Storytelling

Books for Surviving the Impending Apocalypse

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Downtown San Francisco's Top 10 Secret Spaces and Hidden Oases

Posted By on Tue, Oct 30, 2012 at 7:30 AM


We've heard lore of bamboo forests and sun decks in the otherwise inhospitable downtown San Francisco, but when we endeavor to visit such mythical places, it always ends the same way: we can't find the exact location, or a menacing security guard prompts us to quickly turn away. Surely all the good worker bees should just continue hunching in front of the computer during lunch because that's the only option, right?

Wrong. Since 1985, this fine city has required developers to provide one square foot of public space for every 50 square feet of office space, known as POPOS or privately owned public spaces. How do you find POPOS? Developers aren't keen on making it easy. Bad signage or front desk inquiries are de rigueur, the nonprofit urban think tank SPUR noted in their 2009 report, but they've been on the case ever since,  and this month they've released a new app which promises to radically alter your lunch hour. S.F.'s Secret Spaces and Hidden Oases identifies over 50 POPOS on a map, as well as hours of operations and tricks to getting to where you want to go, whether it is a five-story atrium or a sculpture garden.

We combed the app to bring you the top 10 gems hidden in plain sight in downtown S.F.

See also:

San Francisco's Top 10 Offbeat Museums

The Haas-Lilienthal House Declared a National Treasure

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Show Your Love for the City's Art with this Photo Contest

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2012 at 10:01 AM


Calling all Instagram lovers, which judging from my Facebook feed, is everyone and their mom's dog.

Show off your badass tilt and shift skills with this contest that also celebrates local artists and studios. Part of the month-long SF Open Studios event, the San Francisco Travel Association (our official tourism org. Did you know we had one?) wants to encourage your support of the arts through self-guided tours and Instagram photos. Here's the skinny:

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Friday, July 20, 2012

What to Do this Weekend -- SOMA Walking Tour and Live Mural Painting

Posted By on Fri, Jul 20, 2012 at 9:00 AM


We're big proponents of non-corporate, revelatory tourism -- the kind that's interesting to both outsiders and locals who've lived in San Francisco for years. Many of S.F.'s secrets lie in the changing landscape it was built on, the patterns of which are still evident in the city's physical shape. As part of the "Performing Community" project this month, SOMArts and SF Camerawork put together Dunes, Trains, and Beer: The Buried History of SoMa, a neighborhood walking tour that explores its buried history.

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Monday, July 2, 2012

Bored in Chinatown? Go on a Cat or Ghost Tour

Posted By on Mon, Jul 2, 2012 at 7:30 AM

The day of Beckoning (cat) is at hand!
  • The day of Beckoning (cat) is at hand!

We've all seen the (Japanese) "Beckoning Cat" Maneki-neko that has a popular presence in Chinese businesses, but have you also noticed the prevalence of real cats straight chillin' at every dim sum joint and non-touristy dive bar in Chinatown? The last time I met one of these elusive kitties, I asked the owner if she was his, only to find out that most of these eerily all-knowing felines are neighborhood pets and strays that restaurant owners don't mind keeping around. But everyone loves kitties, don't they? I'm certainly not the only one who's friends with C.A.A. (Cat Addicts Anony-mouse) on Facebook. And yet no other neighborhood consistently offers me the company of a cat. Why are the alleyways and bun bakeries in Chinatown so willing to let our furry friends hang around?

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Interview: Submerged Queer Spaces filmmaker, Jack Dubowsky

Posted By on Wed, Jun 13, 2012 at 9:30 AM

  • Benjamin Coopersmith

Composer, writer, and filmmaker Jack Curtis Dubowsky has scored five feature films, and directed several shorts. But now he's ventured into feature-length territory with his first  documentary film, Submerged Queer Spaces, a study of San Francisco's queer history through architecture and urban archaeology, which premieres at this year's LGBT Film Festival, Frameline36. Dubowsky will be a big presence at the festival, with a walking tour of spaces highlighted in the film and and his choral work, Harvey Milk: A Cantata, featuring unpublished texts by Milk.

Dubowsky told us about finding interview subjects who were going out in San Francisco in the '40s, the effect architecture has on our lives, and the importance of getting out in the world and talking to people.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Audio Tour to Find "Everywhere Man" Unfolds as Narrative Rather Than Sight-Seeing Trip

Posted By on Fri, Oct 14, 2011 at 11:00 AM


Tourists in San Francisco surely have taken, collectively, tens of millions of photos of the city -- especially its most tourist-laden areas such as the cable cars and Fisherman's Wharf. And in the background of many of these photos exists the Everywhere Man, a man of mystery whose face is always obscured but whose presence -- once noticed -- is everywhere.

Once you've discovered he's out there, the search for his identity begins. Here to guide you rookie detectives through the process are the folks at Invisible City Audio Tours, who -- as part of Litquake 2011 -- and their third self-guided audio tour, Everywhere Man.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

John Boehner Street Art Is Part Hairspray, Part Silence of the Lambs

Posted By on Wed, Aug 3, 2011 at 10:07 AM

Last night at 18th and Valencia streets we spotted this thoughtful critique of House Speaker John Boehner.


His dialogue comes from the Buffalo Bill character in Silence of the Lambs. It's fun to work out what exactly that might mean: Perhaps the artist intends Boehner as Bill, the American public as the girl in the pit, and the truth as the penis he hides between his legs?

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  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"