Wednesday, February 23, 2011

San Francisco's (Snow-Covered?) Hills

Strange as it may seem (particularly to those who live in cold weather climates), everyone seems to be talking excitedly about the possibility of snow this week in San Francisco.
It was even mentioned on the NBC Today show this morning: Snow may fall in the city -- for the first time in 30 years -- Friday night or Saturday, particularly in spots 500 feet above sea level.
San Francisco's elevation is generally listed at around 63 feet, but its many hills actually range in elevation from 100 to 928 feet, according to the San Francisco Visitors' Planning Guide, which I picked up today the San Francisco Travel Association.
(The association, the city's tourism promotion agency, was known for decades as the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau. It changed its name a few weeks ago, dropping "bureau," which sounded, well, bureaucratic, executives there said).
One fascinating page in the guide is devoted to "San Francisco's Steepest Streets." Here are a few tidbits to keep in mind as we look upward in the coming days for signs of flurries:
*The actual number of hills in the city is highly contested, but counts range from 42 to 74, depending on who is doing the counting.
*San Francisco was originally built on seven hills, just like Rome. They are Telegraph Hill, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Rincon Hill, Mount Sutro, Twin Peaks and Mount Davidson.
*Some of the city's hills are so steep that roads can't be built on them. More than 300 stairways provide access for residents.
*San Francisco's steepest streets are Filbert between Leavenworth and Hyde and 22nd Street between Church and Vicksburg. Both have a 31.5% grade.
Let it snow!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

News from Three Northern California Getaways

Every year, new attractions and places to explore seem to open up in northern California, and this year is no different. I met with a few destination marketers this week at a California tourism promotion event in San Francisco and picked up some newsy tidbits for northern California weekend getaways.

***In Calaveras County, two new tour companies are taking visitors into the area's many vineyards in different ways: by bike and horseback. A company called Horse and Barrel saddles up in the cute-as-a-button Gold Country town of Murphys -- home of 16 tasting rooms on Main Street -- and leads riders through local vineyards. Wine tasting comes after the horses are back in the barn. A similar concept is behind Get On Your Mark, a Calaveras County outfit founded by a USA certified cycling coach. These "wine" bike adventures feature bike rides through the rural Calaveras countryside and vineyards, lunch and, after the ride, wine tasting to cap it off.

***Up in El Dorado County, home of Coloma, the gold discovery site, tourism promoters are cheering the recent acquisition by the American River Conservancy of the 272-acre Gold Hill Ranch. This is a little-known historic site, just a mile south of Coloma and the Marshall Gold State Historic Park (about 40 miles north of Sacramento).

The ranch was first settled by Japanese from Aizu Wakamatsu, a region of Japan, in 1869. It is the birthplace of the first naturalized Japanese-American and the only community established by samurai outside of Japan. The Japanese who lived here started silk worm farming and cultivated tea, rice, citrus, peaches and other stone fruit. The National Park Service recently placed the site -- called Wakamatsu Colony -- on the National Register of Historic Places at a level of "national significance." Plans are in the works to open 19th century farmhouses and acres of beautiful hilly and oak-dotted land to the public.

***In Santa Cruz, two landmarks are celebrating milestones in 2011. The Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse opened 25 years ago to commemorate a young surfer who lost his life to the sport. The small red-brick building, perched on the cliffs overlooking the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean, is home to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. Several of the original long-board surfboards (some made from redwood planks) from the early days of surfing hang from the walls. Other exhibits include surfing industry legend and pioneer Jack O'Neill's prototype wetsuits.

A few minutes' walk away at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the beautiful old carousel turns 100 this year.  One of the few remaining carousels in the U.S. with an actual brass ring, riders of one of 72 hand-carved horses and colorful chariots can try to reach it as they pass. The other boardwalk historic landmark -- the thundering Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster -- has a few years to go before its centennial. It opened in 1924.