If there ever was a homer newspaper columnists it was the late Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle. Caen loved his city its grandeur, its people and its unique way of life. He called San Francisco "Baghdad by The Bay", the reference being to the Baghdad of long ago, a wondrous cosmopolitan paradise.
After a recent trip to San Francisco, it is clear The City (as Caen also called it) remains a special place. Special its proximity to so much natural beauty within and so close to heart of the city.
Nowhere is that more evident at the Crissy Field. Butting up against the Marina Green to the east and Fort Point under the Golden Gate Bridge to the west, this old World War II Naval Air Base has been converted into a parkland.
Gone is the airstrip I recall from my childhood. In its place is a combination of wetland and open space laced with trails. In short, a spectacular new natural resource.
One well used by throngs of cyclists, runners, moms with strollers, walkers, dog walkers and more making their way along the waterfront as ships go in and out of the Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge.
As part of the complete revision of the landscape, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy has turned the old airplane hangars and headquarters buildings into museum, office and recreation space. For example one old hangar is now a spacious climbing gym; another is an indoor sports complex.
Directly across the Bay on the Marin County side, another form of incredible restoration of a World War II site has taken place. The site is Cavallo Point, the former officers housing and parade ground on a point of land jutting out into the Bay less than a quarter of a mile below the northern terminus of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Like so many old military enclaves around Bay Area, the old houses and headquarters buildings at Cavallo Point saw little or no use for decades. Now, they have become a spectacular new resort complex with all the old buildings renovated with a new ones (a spa for example) in a space that is remarkable for its tranquility and spectacular views.
A short drive from Cavallo Point on the Marin Headlands hundreds of people were gathered at Hawk Hill as part of the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory's (www.ggro.org) annual raptor count.
There were more expensive telescopes, spotting scopes, binoculars and camera lenses on Hawk Hill than I've ever seen in one place. Those manning the expensive glass would yell out things like, "Juve Kes at four o'clock," and a recorder would note down the sighting of a juvenile Kestrel.
While all this was going the view from Hawk Hill towards San Francisco was stunning on a crystal clear day with the fog lazily rolling through the Golden Gate.
A bit further north of the Golden Gate is a natural wonder of a different sort. It's called Cornerstone and is noted for its gardens. Twenty gardens to be exact that have been turned over to landscape artists and designers from around the world to create a garden of their choice.
The gardens are remarkably different in theme and design from a maze with a reflecting pool to one that starts with a lush thicket of trees that leads to a culvert that ends in the nearby vineyards.
Along with the gardens, CornerStone has a series of hip boutiques including a salvage store that specializes in large-scale pieces from old estates and buildings.
Being that this is California, the food at the small CornerStone café is exceptional in that it looks as good as it tastes.
CornerStone is free to the public as are all the wineries on the property and the hundreds along route 121 heading up the Sonoma Valley.
Judging by the crowds everywhere during or trip all seems healthy economy wise in the greater Bay Area, "We've gone from no business to being booked solid, "say a stonemason from Oakland I met on Hawk Hill.
And while there is a glimmer of recovery hope, like so much of California these days, especially at the parks and places like CornerStone, much of the economic oomph is coming from tourists. The Europeans, especially, are coming in droves due to the Dollar/Euro imbalance.
Along the trails at Crissy Field you could hear French, German, Dutch, Flemish, Catalan, Finnish, Farsi, Swedish-you name it was being spoken. A Belgian couple took our pictures near Fort Point. Dozens of college-aged Brits sped by on bikes. The scene was an amazing mix of peoples. For a final stop, we headed to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art crowded on a Monday afternoon. Again, people from all over the world were wandering the exhibits with a polyglot of languages were being spoken.
Herb Caen used to call San Francisco, "The City That Knows How." It certainly does and it hasn't lost its allure.
"Travel," noted Mark Twain, "is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.'