The FoodBuzz Blogger Festival had given everyone fair warning: Book hotels early! Housing would be tight, because a number of big events were scheduled in San Francisco that same weekend in late October.
So I didn’t even bother with downtown San Francisco. I hoped to find something near the Academy of Sciences, site of the Evening Gala, in Golden Gate Park.
The Ocean Park Motel turned out to be the best option. The oldest motel in San Francisco, according to their website. Good reviews in the online travel sites. Vintage. Art Deco. Rough around the edges, I suspected. It was a block from the ocean, in the Sunset District, a part of the city where my husband and I hadn’t spent much time.
It was also quite a long haul without a car. It was south and west of the Convention Center, at the last stop on one of the Muni lines. Right by the zoo. A good forty-five minutes, we figured. Of course, we hadn’t counted on having to get off the bus, for reasons that were never explained, to wait for another bus. So we did the last mile on foot.
The Ocean Park Motel turned out to be the kind of funky, off beat place we have always loved. A retro-looking sign out front, with a vaguely nautical motif. A very helpful man who checked us in and offered us maps, information packets, and later on some much-needed guidance about how to negotiate the next step in our evening.
We had a suite, all that was available by the time I’d made reservations. It turned out to be two medium-sized bedrooms with a queen-sized bed in each one, plus a small bathroom. There was a tiny fridge and microwave tucked away in a walk-in closet, along with the coffeemaker. Not fancy, but spacious enough, and pleasantly furnished in Art Deco style.
We figured we had time for a short walk around the neighborhood, before we changed into more formal dress and headed north to join my fellow food bloggers for the Evening Gala at the Academy of Sciences.
The immediate neighborhood had a sparse, end-of-the-line feeling that reminded me of the turnaround for the St. Charles streetcar line in New Orleans. Stucco houses in pastel colors, probably put up at around the same time. A big nursery. A couple of windblown cafes. The entrance to the zoo. A small grocery store, where we picked up some beverages.
And then a surprise: right around the corner, the Irish Cultural Center, including a restaurant-bar. It offered live music on Saturday nights and an Irish brunch on Sunday. We were supposed to meet my brother, who lives in the city, for brunch the next day. I made a quick call to tell him I’d found the perfect place.
We were in the Outer Sunset, once known as the Outside Lands. It has an intriguing history.
According to a 1987 San Francisco Chronicle profile that was included in the information packet, the Ocean Park Motel was built in 1936-7. At that time, the middle of the Depression, the surrounding area was still mostly sand dunes. The location was remote but promising, with the SF Zoo, the beach, the famed Sutro Baths, and an amusement park close by. A few months later, the Golden Gate Bridge was completed and the streetcar line was extended. From then on, things picked up, although in the early years the motel had a slightly risqué “hot pillow joint” reputation.
For the evening gala, we would be heading north, to the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. This was the challenging part of the trip. Shuttle buses were running between the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, the festival headquarters, and the Academy of Sciences, but that wasn’t much help to us. Public transportation would require a couple of transfers, a bus and a train, and the better part of an hour. The late night return to the motel would mean a cab ride.
The trip to the Academy of Sciences was uneventful, if long. We arrived shortly before seven and joined a small crowd of people waiting outside the locked doors at the glassy museum entrance. We had all arrived ahead of the shuttle buses.
Inside, we could see a phalanx of uniformed servers. They were poised to greet us with trays of delicate fluted glasses. Champagne, I figured. Very elegant.
In the meantime, we waited, like eager children with our noses pressed up against a window. Locked out, eager to get in.
The first shuttle bus pulled up.
Finally, at some invisible signal, the doors opened and we entered.
(To be continued.)
Causes Blair Kilpatrick Supports
Louisiana Folk Roots, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Habitat for Humanity/Musician's Village New Orleans, Doctors Without Borders