15 Hidden Gems in San Francisco

istock
istock

Anyone can find the Golden Gate Bridge or Alcatraz, but if you’re willing to embrace the unknown, you’ll find that San Francisco is full of hidden gems.

1. Cayuga Park

Thanks to one dedicated city gardener, what was once a somewhat seedy park was turned into a creative, art-filled haven. The 11-acre park is packed with wooden sculptures, totems, and hand-carved signs with uplifting messages like “All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today.”

2. Sutro Baths Ruins and Cave

In 1894, self-made millionaire Adolph Sutro designed what was then the world’s largest indoor swimming pool. During the high tide, the Pacific Ocean could fill the pools with 1.7 million gallons of water in just an hour. His family maintained the Sutro Baths for a few decades, but the pools closed down during the Great Depression. The remaining structure still exists as stunning architectural ruins in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

3. The Parrots of Telegraph Hill

No one knows for sure how the feral parrots of Telegraph Hill came to be, but the most common theory is that the original two were simply domestic escapees. If that’s the case, they quickly expanded their flock. In 1989 there were just four birds, and by 1999 there were 50. They number about 100 these days, and can be found pretty easily perched in trees or flying overhead.

4. Camera Obscura

Originally built as part of a theme park, this giant camera obscura is one of just 20 in the world. Its location on the cliffs above Ocean Beach gives viewers unparalleled views of the ocean, Seal Rock, and the cliffs.

5. The Vulcan Stairway

Though many scenic stairways are tucked among the streets of San Francisco, locals often recommend this one. Spanning nearly two blocks, the steps offer a glimpse of gorgeous Victorian homes and carefully tended gardens accessible only by foot.

6. Labyrinth at Lands End

An artist took one look at the scenery at Lands End Park’s Eagle Point and decided it would be the perfect spot for meditating. He created a labyrinth out of rocks to help people get their serenity on in the private setting.

7. Tank Hill

Tank Hill itself may not be as pretty as destinations like Twin Peaks, but locals love it for its spectacular panoramic views of the city. Bonus: It’s not packed with tourists like other popular parks.

8. Yerba Buena Gardens Sculptures

Though Yerba Buena Gardens is teeming with thought-provoking artwork, there’s definitely one that stands out—or up, as it were. Near the children’s museum is a kinetic sculpture of a humanoid figure standing on top of a steel globe. When visitors sit on the bench that faces it, the figure sits too. When the person rises up from the bench, the figure also gets to its feet. Watching people try it is almost as fascinating as the art itself.

9. The Golden Fire Hydrant

When is a fire hydrant more than just a fire hydrant? When it saves an entire city from burning to ash, of course. The Golden Fire Hydrant at Church and 20th Streets is said to have been the only functioning hydrant during the fires after the 1906 earthquake, saving Noe Valley and the Mission District from the mass destruction the rest of the city experienced. The hydrant receives a fresh coat of gold paint every April 18 to honor its great service.

10. Seward Street Slides

In the 1960s, a 14-year-old girl submitted her idea to a “Design the Park” contest being held in her neighborhood. Decades later, kids and adults alike are still enjoying her winning idea - a pair of concrete slides. Visitors use flattened cardboard boxes to fly down the unique chutes.

11. Urbano Sundial

When it was first built in 1913, this 26-foot sundial at Ingleside Terrace was just a gimmick intended to entice people into buying homes in a new housing development. At the time, it was the largest sundial in the world. It’s not even the largest sundial in San Francisco these days, but it’s definitely the one with the most history.

12. Shakespeare Garden at Golden Gate Park

Ever wish you could transport yourself to some of the lush settings described by Shakespeare? At Golden Gate Park, you can. The expansive public garden showcases many of the flora Shakespeare rhapsodized about. Stone tablets engraved with quotations from his plays are mixed in with the plants to really put you in the mood.

13. Balmy Alley

If you want to see a lot of public art but don’t have a ton of time, head to the Mission District’s Balmy Alley. Since the 1980s the alley has been home to a rotating collection of murals, and today it’s the most concentrated collection of murals in San Francisco. With new murals going up all the time, it’s always worth a visit.

14. Lunchtime Concerts

San Francisco has offers up a unique lunch break: lunchtime classical, chamber, and international music concerts. If you’re in the mood for a little music after your sandwich, just do some scouting—Yerba Buena Gardens offers concerts at 12:30p.m. on Thursdays.

15. 16th Avenue Tiled Steps

Thanks to a mighty neighborhood effort, the stairway at 16th Ave. and Moraga has been transformed from boring gray concrete to a magical, colorful work of art. The risers of each of the 163 steps are adorned with tiles handmade by residents. The overall effect is a bright mosaic that epitomizes the creative, collaborative spirit of San Francisco.

And to see how Heineken is encouraging San Franciscans to embrace the unknown, check out “The Payphone,” featuring Portlandia’s Fred Armisen.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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10 Facts About Real Genius On Its 35th Anniversary

Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an era where nerd is a nickname given by and to people who have pretty much any passing interest in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine the way old-school nerds—people with serious and socially-debilitating obsessions—were once ostracized. Computers, progressive rock, and role-playing games (among a handful of other 1970s- early '80s developments) created a path from which far too many of the lonely, awkward, and conventionally undateable would never return. But in the 1980s, movies transformed these oddballs into underdogs and antiheroes, pitting them against attractive, moneyed, successful adversaries for the fate of handsome boys and pretty girls, cushy jobs, and first-place trophies.

The 1985 film Real Genius ranked first among equals from that decade for its stellar cast, sensitive direction, and genuine nerd bona fides. Perhaps fittingly, it sometimes feels overshadowed, and even forgotten, next to broader, bawdier (and certainly now, more problematic) films from the era like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. But director Martha Coolidge delivered a classic slobs-versus-snobs adventure that manages to view the academically gifted and socially maladjusted with a greater degree of understanding and compassion while still delivering plenty of good-natured humor.

As the movie commemorates its 35th anniversary, we're looking back at the little details and painstaking efforts that make it such an enduring portrait not just of ‘80s comedy, but of nerdom itself.

1. Producer Brian Grazer wanted Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge to direct Real Genius. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Following the commercial success of 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, there was an influx of bawdy scripts that played upon the same idea, and Real Genius was one of them. In 2011, Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School that the original script for Real Genius "had a lot of penis and scatological jokes," and she wasn't interested in directing a raunchy Nerds knock-off. So producer Brian Grazer enlisted PJ Torokvei (SCTV) and writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Splash, City Slickers) to refine the original screenplay, and then gave Coolidge herself an opportunity to polish it before production started. “Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes," Coolidge said. "It was ahead of its time."

2. Martha Coolidge’s priority was getting the science in Real Genius right—or at least as right as possible.

In the film, ambitious professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) recruits high-achieving students at the fictional Pacific Technical University (inspired by Caltech) to design and build a laser capable of hitting a human-sized target from space. Coolidge researched the subject thoroughly, working with academic, scientific, and military technicians to ensure that as many of the script and story's elements were correct. Moreover, she ensured that the dialogue would hold up to some scrutiny, even if building a laser of the film’s dimensions wasn’t realistic (and still isn’t today).

3. One element of Real Genius that Martha Coolidge didn’t base on real events turned out to be truer than expected.

From the beginning, the idea that students were actively being exploited by their teacher to develop government technology was always fictional. But Coolidge learned that art and life share more in common than she knew at the time. “I have had so many letters since I made Real Genius from people who said, 'Yes, I was involved in a program and I didn’t realize I was developing weapons,'" she told Uproxx in 2015. “So it was a good guess and turned out to be quite accurate.”

4. Val Kilmer walked into his Real Genius audition already in character—and it nearly cost him the role.

After playing the lead in Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was firmly on Hollywood’s radar. But when he met Grazer at his audition for Real Genius, Kilmer decided to have some fun at the expense of the guy who would decide whether or not he’d get the part. "The character wasn't polite," Kilmer recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 1995. "So when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"

5. The filmmakers briefly considered using an actual “real genius” to star in Real Genius.

Among the performers considered to play Mitch, the wunderkind student who sets the movie’s story in motion, was a true genius who graduated college at 14 and was starting law school. Late in the casting process, they found their Mitch in Gabriel Jarrett, who becomes the third generation of overachievers (after Kilmer’s Chris and Jon Gries’s Lazlo Hollyfeld) whose talent Hathaway uses to further his own professional goals.

6. Real Genius's female lead inadvertently created a legacy for her character that would continue in animated form.

Michelle Meyrink, Gabriel Jarret, Val Kilmer, and Mark Kamiyama in Real Genius (1985).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Michelle Meyrink was a staple of a number of ‘80s comedies, including Revenge of the Nerds. Playing Jordan in Real Genius, she claims to “never sleep” and offers a delightful portrait of high-functioning attention-deficit disorder with a chipper, erratic personality. Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers co-creator Tad Stones has confirmed that her character went on to inspire the character of Gadget Hackwrench.

7. A Real Genius subplot, where a computer programmer is gaming a Frito-Lay contest, was based on real events.

In the film, Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Lazlo Hollyfeld, a reclusive genius from before Chris and Mitch’s time who lives in a bunker beneath their dorm creating entries to a contest with no restrictions where he eventually wins more than 30 percent of the prizes. In 1969, students from Caltech tried a similar tactic with Frito-Lay to game the odds. But in 1975, three computer programmers used an IBM to generate 1.2 million entries in a contest for McDonald’s, where they received 20 percent of the prizes (and a lot of complaints from customers) for their effort.

8. One of Real Genius's cast members went on to write another tribute to nerds a decade later.

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate and Independence Day with Roland Emmerich, plays Milton, another student at Pacific Tech who experiences a memorable meltdown in the rush up to finals.

9. The popcorn gag that ends Real Genius isn’t really possible, but they used real popcorn to simulate it.

At the end of the film, Chris and Mitch build a giant Jiffy Pop pack that the laser unleashes after they redirect its targeting system. The resulting popcorn fills Professor Hathaway’s house as an act of revenge. MythBusters took pains to recreate this gag in a number of ways, but quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work; even at scale, the popcorn just burns in the heat of a laser.

To pull off the scene in the film, Coolidge said that the production had people popping corn for six weeks of filming in order to get enough for the finale. After that, they had to build a house that they could manipulate with hydraulics so that the popcorn would “explode” out of every doorway and window.

10. Real Genius was the first movie to be promoted on the internet.

A week before Real Genius opened, promoters set up a press conference at a computer store in Westwood, California. Coolidge and members of the cast appeared to field questions from press from across the country—connected via CompuServe. Though the experience was evidently marred by technical problems (this was the mid-1980s, after all), the event marked the debut of what became the online roundtable junket.