THERE REALLY IS NO OTHER WAY TO START THIS PARTICULAR ARTICLE BESIDES THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER: I GET IT, PLENTY OF PEOPLE IN SF LOVE TO HATE THE MARINA.
Marina-ites are stereotyped as a bunch of shallow postcollegiate Caucasian transplants spending trust funds on their Jäger addictions and Cosmo subscriptions, while employed in roles that could never be described as “creative.” The neighborhood is indicative of the dreaded “new” San Francisco, a city that is in the process of losing its soul and replacing it with an IPO-funded wasteland of delayed-onset adulthood. I’m usually presented with this trite diatribe when I respond to “Where do you live?” and cannot answer with Dogpatch, the Mission, Lower Haight, or Oakland, among other approved neighborhoods. So yes, once more, I get it … you don’t like the Marina and must make sure everyone knows it. Duly noted.
Aside from the derision I endure, I enjoy calling the Marina home, and I’m not the only person in our fair city who feels that way. I’m not going to bother trying to convince you that my judgment on this matter is sound or unbiased, because it isn’t my judgment that matters. Instead, let me provide a few brief aspects of the Marina that I believe contribute to making San Francisco the wonderful place that it is. I hope people can at least appreciate that there are multiple perspectives on this much maligned ’hood.
FORT MASON ISN'T JUST THE FRATTY DOLORES PARK
If you were to visit Fort Mason on a sunny Saturday you’d encounter several hundred people enjoying adult beverages, listening to music, and cavorting around with a few outdoor toys. Sound familiar? While it is certainly different than its cousin Dolores (Bud Light instead of nanobrew, a lack of walk-up truffle delivery, and football instead of hula hoops), it provides similar enjoyment for its patrons with a spectacular bridge view to boot.The core of Fort Mason, however, is in all that surrounds the park. Down in the parking lot there’s Off the Grid, which now includes a Marina-approved prix-fixe component from vendors including the delectable Azalina’s Malaysian Cuisine (started by a La Cocina grad). Staying with the food theme for a minute, there is Greens Restaurant perched out on the pier, which has been serving up local vegetarian fare since well before it was a dietary requirement in the 415 (founded and hand-constructed with reclaimed or recycled woods by the San Francisco Zen Center in 1979). There is also one of the largest community gardens in the city, where a thriving assembly of green-thumbed locavores grow an organic bounty (Hayes Valley Farm refugees welcome!).
The buildings at Fort Mason are also home to just under 15 arts and culture organizations that serve the city at large. The list of tenants includes the Long Now Museum and Store, Magic Theatre, CCSF Fort Mason Art Campus, and Friends of the SF Public Library Readers Bookstore. The huge festival pavilions also play host to a number of popular events, such as the Renegade Craft Fair and artMRKT, or more stereotypically, the recent Budweiser Made in SF concert.
THERE'S MORE THAN THE TRIANGLE AND BAR NONE
I will readily admit that the restaurants, bars,
and shops in the Marina
are not nearly as daring and critically acclaimed as those in other parts
of the city (Circa anyone?). But that doesn’t mean there is nothing but
beer pong, burgers, and bar fights. Yes, the neighborhood is home to
some infamous establishments like Bar None and the Balboa Cafe, but
there are some hidden and not-so-hidden gems as well. There is the
classic unmarked steakhouse that serves late into the night with an
unpretentious vibe (the Brazen Head). There is the world’s supposedly
smallest pub, serving beers out of a bathtub with a daily poetry
identification contest (Black Horse London Deli). Delarosa, A16, Tacolicious,
and Mamacita all have similar sister establishments in the trendier
neighborhoods around the Bay, so they must be doing something right.
As for quick bites, the Lucca Delicatessen has been making one of the best
old-school sandwiches in the city since 1929, and doesn’t charge $13 for
them or make you wait in line all afternoon. As corner stores go, the
Marina Safeway isn’t the worst place to pick up a fine box of Merlot, and
is more likely to help you land a date than OkCupid.
But what about the critical coffee element, you ask?
On this point,
I can concede that there is no company-owned outpost of Sightglass,
Ritual, Four Barrel, or Blue Bottle within the confines of the Marina.
But there is one coffee bar that at least the cyclist community must
acknowledge isn’t detestable, as Rapha established its first permanent
cycle club on Fillmore … with a very cool parklet…
serving excellent Four Barrel.
CRISSY FIELD IS MORE THAN A JOGGING PATH
If you can survive the headwind pushing you backwards and dodge the freezing tourists on tandem bikes, the bridge views along Crissy Field’s jogging routes are the best around. Beyond jogging, though, there’s kiteboarding, trampoline dodgeball, rock climbing, Civil War fort touring, and freezing your bum at the beach, a set of activities not often found within yards of each other.
Oh, and there is art too! SFMOMA has installed its first On The Go exhibit here while the SOMA museum is being renovated. The eight massive Mark di Suvero sculptures that have been dropped at the foot of the bridge bring world-class art to the public and you just might recognize their International Orange hue.
It's a Multi-Generational Neighborhood
There are unlimited flavors of urban and semi-urban
in San Francisco based on microclimate, density, cultural diversity,
and amenities, among others. For me, the Marina checked off most
of the boxes for the characteristics that mattered to me, most notably
easy living. I enjoy riding my bike or walking on flat, wide, and clean
sidewalks with quick access to the natural world. I like no longer
facing the aggressive individuals who previously harassed me or left
their human waste on my doorstep. I love being able to lounge next to
swans, while behind me someone is taking wedding photos by the
Palace of Fine Arts lagoon. I like my odds of seeing the sun on an
average day, having the fog stay away just long enough to enjoy the
sun’s warm embrace. I relish gazing at sailboats and cargo ships as
they navigate the Bay and hearing the foghorns sound as I fall asleep
at night. I appreciate the variety of local businesses such as movie
theaters, flower shops, butchers, and hardware stores, many with long
tenures in the area. I adore my neighbors of all ages, the majority of
whom are longtime San Francisco residents with multigenerational
roots here. I like my apartment, because it was constructed on wider
frontage than the typical San Francisco abode and is therefore not
entirely hallways. Finally, I absolutely love that my neighborhood is in
San Francisco, a place that inspires me every day (or on weekends at least).
WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?
The Marina is not for everyone, but it has been perfectly good to me. It has its problems, such as a striking lack of cultural or economic diversity, an often unfortunate population of nonresident drinkers on weekends, and the distinct likelihood of liquefaction in an earthquake. But nearly everything has imperfections, flaws, and scars, and my neighborhood and your neighborhood are no different in that way.
All I ask of you, kind San Franciscan, is this: evaluate the Marina on its merits, its flaws, and most importantly its reality, rather than its stereotype. I know that folks in the Haight, Mission, Sunset, Castro, and Bernal Heights love their ’hoods just as much and bristle just as heartily when each neighborhood’s unfair stereotype is referenced (anyone heard the term “hipster” lately?). The fact is that we are all San Franciscans, all residents of this wondrous place called the Bay Area, and all incredibly lucky to call each other neighbor. There is enough division in our country to fill 1,000 24-hour cable news networks; do we really need so much neighborhood division here at home?
Finally, if the Marina must go on as the butt of your jokes and the exemplar of SF’s downfall, so be it, but at least now you’ve heard a bit of our side of the story.
The Bold Italic is celebrating the Marina on Thursday, Oct. 24 from 6-8 p.m. with a free Yacht Block Microhood. Join us, won't you?