The Ferry Building & Bay Bridge
as seen from the Hyatt Regency.
"If you're alive, you can't be bored in San Francisco," William Saroyan once said. "If you're not alive, San Francisco will bring you to life."
It's still true today — "The City" perennially ranks among the favored towns in the world. If anything, the enticements have multiplied. Precincts once shunned — the seedy old Embarcadero is a prime example — find themselves reborn as magnets for entertainment, shopping and tourism.
I recently spent a spring weekend on the Embarcadero, where the new era was delightfully confirmed. Nowadays wharf side at the foot of Market Street is a far cry from the nether region I recall when, having arrived in town broke and bent on going to sea, I was directed to a seedy flop under the Bay Bridge. But that was 1961.
Today a number of spiffy hostelries have sprung up along the Embarcadero. Tiara among them is the Hyatt Regency, where I was able to obtain a room with sweeping views across the Bay toward Oakland. Since my last visit they've completed renovation of the top two floors, which has included turning the former revolving restaurant with its panoramic views into a new Regency Club featuring hemispheres for dining, business, entertainment and relaxation.
A luxury suite at the Hyatt Regency.
The famed Hyatt Regency Atrium,
designed by John Portman.
Notable for its John Portman design with soaring atrium, the Hyatt Regency has been geared to a business/convention clientele. Although the nearby financial district continues to dictate commercial appeal, there is new emphasis on leisure travel.
Why not? Surface rail, subway and ferry are literally on the doorstep. The F-line street car, Fisherman's Wharf, the entertainment complex at Pier 39 and Giants baseball at AT&T Park are minutes away. Ditto China Town and Nob Hill via the California Street cable car. Trendy restaurants and jazz clubs have sprung up, morphing film noir nighttime streets into a colorful bazaar.
For Hyatt weekenders a stroll over to the refurbished Ferry Building is a kick. Of course you can still catch ferries there, but the Saturday Farmers Market draws the big crowds. Growers from as far away as Sacramento and Fresno truck in fruit, preserves and veggies; regional wineries, cheese makers and bakers display their wares on the plaza. In just a few years this market has become the largest of its kind in California, while the shops and restaurants inside the Ferry Building do a brisk business as well.
Open markets offer fresh produce.
A primal force generating the makeover of wharf side San Francisco has been the soaring Embarcadero Center — a complex of six towers 20-45 stories each given over to nearly five million sq.ft. of office space, two hotels (including the Hyatt), and over 100 retailers, including restaurants, cinema, galleries, and parks. Controversial enough while it was being built — the modernistic grey phalanx took nearly 20 years to complete during the '70s and '80s — the Center is now a characteristic part of the downtown skyline. Meanwhile a key element of de-construction was elimination of the Bayside Expressway, thus opening up the waterfront to easy pedestrian access.