Several months ago Kay and I enjoyed several days in Haight-Ashbury – prior to my fortuitous discovery of nearby Cole Valley.
We had been kicking back at the no-frills, creaky Red Victorian Hotel on bustling Haight Street, hoping to soak up some Boomer vibes. Our pilgrimage hoped to combine the “tried-and-true” with something “strange.” Conventionally enough, we started out by sightseeing the Haight murals and stately Victorians … later, we ambled over to the incomparable museums at nearby Golden Gate Park. (Walking shoes are de rigeur in the Haight.)
Then one fine morning – following a “far-reaching” night listening to the moaning from our hotel's plumbing – and trying to decipher the curses drifting in from the street – I took myself out for an early morning stroll. At Cole Street I took a left, hoping to check out the Charles Manson home.
Within minutes, however, I felt as though I had been channeled through a wormhole. Gone were the questing Haight hordes, the colorful punks and tacky retro stores. I was now truckin' down a tree-lined village thick with youthful dot-comers, merchants, joggers, and bearded cafe-klatch types.
I had been beamed up like a Trekkie to the computer era – and had discovered Cole Valley.
Back at the Red Vic, I told Kay about my walk. Contrarily, she had been busy with plans to visit relatives across the Bay... “I'll catch up with you in several days,” she finally concluded. “You OK with that?”
That very evening my iPad and I booked a small pad at the “boutique” Carl Hotel, in Cole Valley.
My new digs were just minutes away from the valley's “hub” at Carl and Cole. Unlike life at the ol' Red Vic, I now had a TV, a small fridge, a microwave, reliable WiFi … all for just $87 a night! And should I feel tempted to go downtown to pricey Union Square – and my old haunts – I could always jump on the famed “N Judah” light rail/streetcar. (This charming hybrid noisily discharged its passengers right outside my window.)
During my first breakfast at the hub's Crepes on Cole I learned that Robin Williams, ages ago, had cut his teeth doing standup on their second floor. I then perused the incomparable Cole Hardware, across the street and one of the city's best relics. I then had to recross the street to get an Anchor Steam (or two) at Finnegan's Wake, a local watering hole and sports bar. This unusual dive is nestled in tight with several noted restaurants: Bambino's, Padrecito's, Kamekyo's and the famed Zazie's.
On my second day at Cole Valley I planned to scale the valley's Kilimanjaro: the 600-foot-high Tank Hill. I first stopped off at the hub's Boulange de Cole, hoping for a kick-start cup of French coffee and a flaky croissant. My coffee soon arrived in a soup-bowl big enough to swim in, and the plain croissant jogged up memories of Montparnasse.
Gamely, I asked my young waitress how I was supposed to drink the coffee. “Simple,” she chided. “Use both hands.” Zut alors. Eventually, I asked her if she knew that Charlie Manson had once hung out several blocks down the street. She looked puzzled. “Charlie who?”
It took me a good 40 minutes to get to the top of Tank Hill, but I was slowed down by checking out the spectacular homes en route. The top was redolent with the cloying smell of eucalyptus. (These trees were planted to camouflage the summit's water tank built during WW2.) Thrilled, I finally plunked myself down on a solitary bench and absorbed the vast panorama of San Francisco.
I was quite alone.
During my descent it started to drizzle, and I was caught short without an umbrella. But if I didn't hurry I would miss the Flower Power tour, which was starting up in minutes.
Soaked through, I soon joined up with my small tour outside the Stanford Hotel, which overlooks Golden Gate Park. Our diminutive tour guide, Izu, eventually showed up … in full sixties regalia and with a small dachshund in tow.
A young Swede offered to share her umbrella with me and we were on our way.