Wednesday, February 22, 2012

TRAVEL : Hayes Valley and Me

Hayes Valley Shot

Katie Helete

Exploring San Francisco by Neighborhood:  Hayes Valley....

For many students at UC Berkeley, San Francisco remains something of an abstract concept – a distant, mysterious place that you hope to eventually explore when the insatiable flood of exams dries up. The phrase, “so close yet so far away” seems appropriate. While many of us imagined being able to visit the city regularly, few of us have gone beyond the tourist attractions of Ghirardelli Square at Fisherman’s Warf or Union Square’s Westfield shopping mall. While the names of certain neighborhoods – Nob Hill! Pacific Heights! The Mission! – all sound vaguely familiar, it is rare to find a student intimately acquainted with the neighborhood treasures these places have to offer. As students, our time is limited; when we do have the freedom to make a trip across the bay, it is often easier to choose the familiar over navigating the unknown.

With Google Maps and a few suggestions, however, this could easily change. Next time you get the chance to visit San Francisco, try getting off at the Civic Center/UN Plaza BART stop, taking the fifteen-minute walk to Hayes Valley, an upscale, charming neighborhood with a distinctly European feel. While today the streets are peppered with cafés and boutiques, just twenty years ago Hayes Valley was an illustration of some of San Francisco’s seediest homeless and narcotics problems (Goldman par. 1). The area’s first claim to fame was in Erich von Stroheim’s 1924 film Greed, in which Stroheim showcased the corner of Hayes and Laguna. The film also included numerous shots of Hayes Valley from the top floor of a 19th-century Victorian, built by Colonel Michael Hayes, propelling the area into public consciousness (par. 3).

The catalyst behind the neighborhood’s gentrification was in part the destruction of the Central Freeway during the 1989 earthquake. The freeway had been considered an aesthetic blemish by many, also resulting in noise pollution that prevented commerce and pedestrians from advancing into the area. Following the destruction of part of the freeway, the neighborhood began to grow and the beginnings of businesses evident today trickled in (par. 4).

One of the hallmarks of the Hayes Valley area is its palpable sense of community, despite its affluent price tags (par. 5). The streets buzz with the activity of produce shoppers during the weekly farmers market. Families spend their weekend mornings grabbing breakfast at one of Hayes’ many endearing cafés, and groups of students and yuppies catch up over lunch and shopping along the tree-lined streets. 

Blue Bottle Cafe 

What is there to do? Let me tell you! Take a walk along Octavia Boulevard and Hayes Green and stop at any number of shopping spots, eateries and art galleries. The Hayes Valley Art Coalition-sponsored public art installation at the intersection of Hayes and Octavia makes a welcome outdoor space to chat with friends or eat lunch from a nearby café on the grass. La Boulange de Hayes, a café and bakery, makes a great candidate for such a meal, with reasonably priced freshly baked bread and pastries and lattes served in soup bowls. Grab a New Orleans style iced coffee at the cult-classic Blue Bottle Coffee, or a macaroon at Miette, a pastel-colored bakery/candy shop. If you are looking for shopping, try Ver Unica, one of the many vintage clothing stores in Hayes Valley, or Bibliohead, a small used bookstore with shelves of books and literary paraphernalia covering every inch of its walls. If you’re looking for travel gear, check out Flight 001, a sleekly modern luggage and travel store with a variety of clever gadgets to spice up your travels, from collapsible lunch boxes to neon-colored universal adapters for overseas trips.

While a trip to Hayes Valley can certainly cost a pretty penny if you plan to make many purchases, just browsing to see what the area has to offer can be a worthwhile experience in itself. Its extraordinary combination of neighborhood coziness and sophisticated art culture makes sharing the experience with friends a reward in itself. The rich local history also offers insight into the nature of transformation and lessons in the power of city planning. Who would have predicted that the destruction of an earthquake would have been the impetus for the rebirth of one of San Francisco’s most vibrant areas? I invite you to visit this favorite area of mine. Join Hayes Valley and me. 

Statue in Hayes Valley

Works Cited
Goldman, Marlene. “San Francisco:  Hayes Valley.” Hayes Valley – San Francisco Neighborhoods – Travel – SF Gate. July 2004. Web. 18 Feb. 2012. <>.

The Woman Behind the Travel Section:

Katie Helete is a cultured old soul with a kind of energy that would entice you to travel with her anywhere. Attending UC Berkeley as an undergraduate, she is majoring in Political Economy. Explore the world, bucket list by bucket list with the brilliant and bold Katie.

No comments: