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Things I’ve Learned About San Francisco: SoMA

South of MarketSouth or Market or South of the Slot as it used to be known is an interesting part of San Francisco historically. It was the first area of major development in San Francisco which the 1906 earthquake pretty much flattened leaving South Park as the only remaining houses to this day.

What was quickly replaced with industrial warehousing after the quake now has been converted largely to condos in the area North of 4th street with the condos starting to change more to newer apartments to the south. This part of  San Francisco is where a lot of the people older San Franciscans consider techies live, yes they are in Mission to a large degree, but the big money techies live here.

You have to have big money to afford the condos here. The condos here are all very new, very pretty and there’s no rent control because pretty much everything was built after 1979 if you’re living here. The condos are also very small, but are made up for by the amenities each complex offers. Most of the people I’ve met who live here are different techies than those who live in the Mission. They aren’t sharing the condos with four to five other roommates and in many cases they aren’t renting, but have bought the condos. As you move farther South in SoMA that starts to change as you get less condos and more housing. Many of these condos come with private, enclosed parking, shared grills, tennis courts in some cases as concierge services as well. It kind of feels like Manhattan a little bit without being quite so tall.

Many of the people who live here chose the areas because they love the views and the short trip to work. The price is pretty high for these spots and as I said, they’re also pretty small, but most of the people here are new to the City and haven’t much of an idea as to what things really cost in the City. I picked up a couple of guys here once who kept talking about how much they spent on the previous Saturday night going out and apparently around $500 is where it started to hurt. I suppose if blowing $400 on a Saturday night wouldn’t sting that’s a good indication that they’re making a lot more money than I am. Since these are relatively new places to live they aren’t pushing anyone out so the gentrification everyone talks about in San Francisco is really just moving out a lot of barely used industrial space. My personal experience has been that many of the people here thought really don’t know that they could get the same thing cheaper in other parts of the City so they’re creating a bit of a wave of upscale that’s spreading out through the City.

I used to work down in this area and always found it surprisingly quiet in the mornings. I might see the odd person jogging, but they usually stuck to the Embarcadero area for that, which I would too if I actually decided to jog anywhere. South Park is the last hip spot in the whole area that’s a little oval spot that feels like a part of the Mission was picked up and plopped down here. Note if you’re here around lunch time there’s a huge line outside Mexico Au Parc which lends a bit of hipster cred to the area along with the lines. It feels just like the Mission, except that while it’s noted as $ on most review sites I can get a burrito just as big and better for about half the price elsewhere in the City. I have yet to see anyone who lives in the houses in South Park, but I do know that at least a few of them have been converted to hipster workplaces which is really kind of out of place for the whole neighborhood. Calling it a neighborhood is kind of a stretch really since there is still lots of building and re-building going on and it’s very rare to find someone  that’s lived here for more than five years.

Walking around in the area you can find little parks stuck in any space that there wasn’t enough room to build a workspace with South Park really being the largest area. For me it was always a pleasant, but odd space to walk around because when you find greenery it is often surrounded by lots of noise from the traffic that is constantly afoot. It’s a nice place to visit for a short time, but aside from eating at one of the expensive places usually located on 2nd Street there isn’t much else to do. Once you pass 6th Street the condos mix in with newer apartment buildings and things become smaller and cramped. Food also gets a little bit cheaper but I think that’s in part to the area starting to mix in with the expanding Mission District which I’ll be writing about next.

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Cabrillo Playground

Cabrillo PlaygroundFinding a nice playground for your kids is a bit more difficult today. Kids need more today than the swings and slide that I used to get on what was called a playground. Thankfully there are a few new playgrounds popping up that keep this in mind and today we got to visit the newly renovated Cabrillo Playground.

The main thing with playgrounds is that they have to be fun. That’s pretty much all the kids are interested in while the parents are hoping it will be so much fun that the kids will tire themselves out so they won’t tear up the house when they get home. Well I have to say that our playground tester Rebecca didn’t hesitate when she saw the playground. Autistic children can sometimes have something that sets them off by new places, but there was no problem here.

The second she got inside she was running for the play structures and jumping and sliding around on everything. The biggest thing we noticed was that she was interested in trying everything here. Usually she just focuses on one part of a structure or finds one slide, but here it was everything she had to try out. Granted it was a weekday so it wasn’t super crowded, but there were lots of kids and all of them seemed to understand that running around and crashing into other kids wasn’t what you do in a playground. This was a good thing.

It was fun for Wife and I as well as we got some exercise chasing Rebecca around and the place overall is very nice and kept clean. I’ve often wondered about what thought people put into building playgrounds. Sand just gets everywhere and it seems like other than the occasional boy the sandbox areas are ignored by the kids [I won’t ask how the local feral cats like the sandboxes, but that’s probably part of the reason why you do see many anymore.] Then you have playgrounds shaded by trees. While that’s nice on a hot summer day for some reason they only seem to make playgrounds like that in parts of the City that are normally foggy and cold which causes a large collection of leaves and bark from the tree which break down under foot and create a nice healthy mulch. Well, it would be nice and healthy if anything was supposed to grow there, but it’s a playground, not a forest.

Thankfully, Cabrillo was well thought out since it’s in the middle of a residential block without looking like the old Russian industrial playgrounds as I used to call them. The playgrounds used to have just a depressing look about them and Cabrillo’s redo doesn’t have any of that. There are tennis courts and basketball courts that are separate from the play area along with the brilliant idea of using pavers to form hopscotch areas off to the side. I’m not sure if anyone even plays hopscotch anymore, but it just seemed like an easy addition that might make a retro comeback in the future. There’s also a concrete ping pong table that has very modern look [as opposed to Russian industrial] that I’m surprised no one ever thought of before. The net is made of punctured metal which would let you use it as a table if you were having a party there and afterwards you would just need to hose it off if you spilled anything on it. This would explain the drain holes in the ground around it. Whoever designed this did their thinking.

Around the outside of the playground which is fenced in with about a 20′ high fence are planted areas with lots of annual flowers mixed with a few perennials. It adds a nice touch and is done in such a way that kids would have to work hard to get at them. Inside planting are made up of succulents and other hard to kill plants which also just makes sense in a high traffic area.

If you have a kid, you’ll want to check this place out. The best thing is that it’s free and it’s clean. There’s nice drinking fountains and bathrooms here as well as cans out in front for people walking their dogs to deposit the waste. It’s a big plus for the neighborhood  and if you don’t mind driving to the outer Richmond it’s worth the time. Just be sure to bring some coffee and snacks as you’ll be there for awhile and you’ll have a few blocks walk to get to food and drink. You can see more in the gallery below.

Urban Wildlife: It’s More Than Rats and Roaches

A lot of people don’t realize that just because we live in a city that there isn’t some real wildlife you can find here. Sure, we’ve got raccoons and skunks and the occasional possum or opossum where the “O” is silent, but we also have a few other beasts that make our way into San Francisco.

Well, there are feral cats, tons of them. No matter where you go you well see stray cats running around, but we also have some nice pristine areas that urban dwellers haven’t taken over that have become home to some even more wildlife. In the East Bay a few years ago there was a jogger who was attacked by a mountain lion. San Francisco, luckily free of mountain lions does have its share of coyotes now. You usually see them in the Richmond district making their way through the park to Sunset Boulevard in the Sunset district. The biologists in the know say they are coming from Marin and are actually crossing the Golden Gate Bridge at night to venture into better feeding grounds in the Presidio.

I read a story yesterday though that shows that apparently our coyote population isn’t just made up of immigrants from Marin. There are several coyotes living in Glen Park Canyon and people who have been watching them have noticed that one of the cubs, term used loosely because he/she is a couple of years old, has moved on to greener pastures. I used to live near the canyon and if I was a wild animal living in an urban area I’m not sure where I would go. They could go up the hill from Glen Park, but that would be navigating along asphalt walkways until you get to the top and hit the mini-mall like shopping area and juvenile hall. Not sure how long a coyote would last in juvenile hall, but I wouldn’t want to test the theory.

If the coyote went east you’d be smack in the middle of the Mission District 94112, again, not a nice place to be a wild animal with the 14 Mission buses to avoid along with all the people cruising down Mission street. The Norteño/Sureño gang’s aren’t as big there anymore so you wouldn’t have to worry about being shot, but Jeez, it’s kind of tough to be a wild animal in an urban setting when the people are more wild than you are.

I will give you a word of advice though. If you do run into a coyote in San Francisco keep in mind that they aren’t dogs. They’re a little more confusing than the foxes that you rarely see anymore except by the beach, but coyotes can be easily mistaken for dogs so don’t walk up and put your hand out for it to sniff or you might be making a quick trip to the hospital to have your hand put back together. While they don’t bite with as much force as a wolf or a pit bull their faces are built to tear flesh and as someone who once went through the wind shield of Caddy from the outside in, having your flesh torn from your body is not a fun thing to have happen.

I had one walk by my car when I was driving through the Presidio and I stopped thinking it might be a lost dog. Luckily I realized when it was a couple feet from my window that it wasn’t a dog. We stopped and looked at it safely from inside the car until it got bored with us and started to walk away. Coyotes are seen by the Native Americans as tricksters and I wanted him to leave first. If I decided to drive he might have done something stupid like jump in front of my car since they’re fast and having to explain to my friends in SF that I hit a coyote with my car in San Francisco is just something that might be a little difficult for some people to understand.

Coyotes, they’re here and they’re not going away. Just keep that in mind.

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