Alcatraz and Ai Weiwei

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The first time I went to Alcatraz was during my first visit to San Francisco. The second time was after I moved here and played tour guide. And the third was a few weekends ago, on a date, to see the Ai Weiwei installation.

I admit, I didn’t know much about this internationally-renowned artist/activist beforehand, but had heard a lot of buzz about the show, called @Large. Plus it was an excuse to play tourist in my own town for the day.

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The show was included in the ticket price, and intertwined within the prison walls. What’s really interesting is that Ai Weiwei created these seven site-specific installations—without ever leaving China. Briefly imprisoned himself, Weiwei is still not allowed to leave his own country.

Some pieces were so subtle, mainly using sound, I initially didn’t even realize they were part of the exhibit. But once we walked to the New Industries building, where the large, splashy sculptures were located, it became pretty obvious. This dragon kite, called With Wind, greeted us at the door.

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Those portraits on the floor are made of legos! You can read more about that here.

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The show also extended through the dining hall and hospital areas of the main prison, where porcelain flowers filled the sinks, tubs and toilets. And it was very (creepy) cool walking through the asylum and seeing those old beds. This would make a great night tour. Maybe on trip #4.

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If that doesn’t impress you, check out this amazing view on the way back. And just like Alcatraz, it never gets old. The Ai Weiwei show runs through April 26.

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Easy Hikes For Tourists

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Some of the best things about San Francisco are the beautiful views. So when friends and family come to visit, the first thing I want to do is take them on a hike: it’s the best way to show off the Bay Area. Unfortunately, most people don’t want to pack sturdy sneakers, let along hiking shoes! So if sightseeing from the car (or double-decker bus) isn’t your thing, there are still some great trails you can hit that don’t require much technical gear.

The first is Lands End: an easy car (or bus) ride away. Just head west along Geary Blvd. towards the ocean, about as far as you can go and you’ll see the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center. Park here and find the trail above Sutro Baths. This is one of the most scenic hikes you’ll ever do—you’ll almost forget you’re still in the city. And aside from some sand, you won’t ruin your city shoes.

P.S.: Don’t miss the hidden trail which brings you to the labyrinth!

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Another great place is the top of Mt. Tam, just over the Golden Gate Bridge. You’ll need to drive (or bike if you’re hard-core) up 101 north. Follow the signs to the mountain and keep going UP until you can’t go any further (you’ll know it when you reach the parking lot). Surprisingly, there is a very short and easy trail to get you to the very top of the mountain. It can be a bit rocky, but I did it in a pair of Tom’s and my boyfriend’s niece in a skirt and oxford sandals. Not ideal, but better than not doing it at all. And with amazing 360 degree views of the entire Bay Area (including San francsico) you’ll be happy you got out of the car.

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Finding A Workout Outdoors

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I’ve been going to the gym regularly for 20 years now. And when I say regularly, I mean 5-7x/week, every week. But this year something strange happened: I burned out. Even a different routine or class hasn’t been motivating. I think part of it is freelancing from home and not being on a schedule, and another part is that I’d just rather be outside. Which brings me to hiking. It has been a really good way to stay in shape, since I stopped running, and see some beautiful scenery at the same time. And it definitely makes me sweat! While it’s not always practical to hit the trail on a weekday, I was surprised to look back over the past 3 months and see how many hikes I’d fit in on the weekends (two of them even out of town). These pics represent most of them, and below are some descriptions of my local favorites.

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My Top 5 go-to Bay Area hikes (as of today):

1. Tennessee Valley: This is the area I go to most often because it’s very close to the city and you get amazing views of the ocean. I’ve been hiking here in every type of weather, including light rain and heavy fog, but I prefer the sunny days because of the views. You can walk straight to the beach from the parking and it’ll be a little over 3.5 miles round trip. But I prefer to veer off on Fox Trail to the Coastal Trail for a few extra miles, and a killer hill (which, of course, brings you to the killer views). There are a ton of trails you can take from this area so I never get bored with it.

2. Crissy Field: Probably my most favorite place in the whole world. This is not so much a hike as it is a walk on the beach, but it can be a long one (especially if you walk round trip from your apt in Pacific Hts, or do the whole thing on the sand). From the Yacht Club to Fort Point (at the base of the Golden gate Bridge) and back is about 3.5 miles alone. There is also a set of stairs near the Warming Hut—that’ll get your heart racing, and takes you up into the Presidio, which is an urban forest filled with all sorts of hiking, biking and running trails.

3. Marin Headlands: The trek from Fort Cronkite over the ridge to Tennessee Valley and back gets me in instant shape. It’s about 6.5 miles or so, and full of hills that’ll kick your butt. Breathtaking views, rehabilitating seals, vintage missile launchpads, miles and miles of trails, ocean cliffs, beach … need I say more?

4. Tilden Park: This is a recent favorite, and I hike here mainly because I spend so much time in the East Bay now. Sometimes I get a little frustrated that the trails aren’t marked as well as they could be in the East Bay, and this has sent me walking, and driving, in circles at times. But I’ve settled on the Seaview Trail (pick it up at the parking lot near the Steam Trains) as it’s easy to find, and once again brings some spectacular views of the East Bay.

5. Urban hikes: I love playing tourist in my own city. I think walking through all the different neighborhoods, and exploring on foot, is the best way to get through town. And because San Francisco is so hilly, you cannot avoid a workout, even just running an errand. Ditto for the Berkeley hills. My boyfriend and I often walk from his house in North Berkeley up Marin Avenue (or one of the parallel streets) which rivals any hill I’ve come across in the Headlands! Plus, people’s yards are so over-filled with greenery it almost feels like you’re back in the woods.

Hope this inspires you to mix up your routine, or find a nearby trail in your own neighborhood, for a change of pace.

Fireworks Over The Bay

I hope everybody had a fun 4th. For the first time in 12 years I went down to Aquatic Park, near Ghirardelli Square, to watch the fireworks. If you know San Francisco, it’s not a surprise to hear that it’s usually so cold and foggy on the 4th that seeing the fireworks display is sometimes a futile effort. In fact, the first time I ever visited SF it was over a July 4th weekend and my friend and I took a nighttime cruise to watch the display on the Bay. Such tourists: we froze, and saw nothing! But since we’ve been having such amazing weather this week, and the sky has been so clear, I was optimistic. And I’m so glad I rallied: it was amazing! With twin sets going off over the Bay, Alcatraz as the backdrop, and the Marin fireworks going off in the distance, it was something I had to share. If you missed your own fireworks, hope this video fills the void til next year.

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