Publication Date

December 1, 1993

Perspectives Section

AHA Annual Meeting

San Francisco’s residents experience January as an interlude, a quiet time after the conclusion of December’s spruced-up festivals and before acacia blooms announce the early arrival of spring. Most of us welcome this month, and we hope that you will too, as you find your way outside hotel conference rooms and wander the city’s neighborhoods and streets.

Here, January’s average temperature is barely nine degrees Fahrenheit below August’s. This may be cold comfort to you who have spent a summer in San Francisco, thoroughly chilled by ocean winds and fog, but 56 degrees in January is pleasant enough, if you have the right attire. Because of the myriad microclimates, layers of clothing work best—raincoats, scarves, sweaters, and jackets—that can be taken off or put on as you find or leave sun and shelter. The sunlight is pale; evenings, early and long; rain, the only uncertainty. According to local statistics, January is the rainiest month, averaging 4.5 inches. Whether you see some, all, or none of this rain, no one can safely predict. If you decide not to bring an umbrella, don’t worry. Cheap ones are ubiquitous. And they are probably best, especially if you are inexperienced, for the winds will dispose of your umbrella before you leave.

Where should you go and what should you do in San Francisco during January?

On foot you can accomplish much. A few blocks east of the Hilton begins one of this country’s largest, most compact, varied, and extravagant shopping districts, centered upon Union Square. To its south and south of Market Street is a brand new civic complex, Yerba Buena Gardens. This art and theater center, dedicated to the multi-cultures of San Francisco, will certainly interest you. Further east, at the end of Market Street, is a new esplanade liberated from the shadows of the oppressive Embarcadero Freeway by the 1989 earthquake. Even in an unfinished state, it offers splendid views of the Bay and the hill beyond. To the north of Union Square are the hotels of Nob Hill, the restaurants and shops of Chinatown, the antiques dealers of Jackson Square, and the coffee houses of North Beach. You can spend a fortune or nothing at all—well, hardly anything, at least.

During the day, by public transportation you can easily visit most neighborhoods ($1 per ride; $2.50 for a day-pass): Fort Mason and the Marina have unchallenged vistas of the North Bay and the Golden Gate. Russian Hill and Pacific and Presidio Heights display every style of this century’s domestic architecture while Alamo Square’s Historic District does its best to preserve the last century’s. The Castro, the Mission, Noe Valley—all have something to offer visitors.

By night, if you are travelling more than a mile from the hotel, consider calling for a cab. Not all bus and streetcar lines operate frequently after six or seven p.m. Check with your hotel concierge for specific advice.

Though the opera season is over at Civic Center and the ballet has not yet begun, the symphony will be performing Mozart, and the Museum of Modern Art will have special exhibits of contemporary photography and architecture, as well as its own twentieth-century prints, drawings, and paintings. In Golden Gate Park, in addition to wonderful lawns, lakes, and groves of trees, you’ll find a magnificent collection of Asian art. While much of the American collection is under wraps as the DeYoung Museum undergoes seismic upgrading, some important pieces will be on display. Our major repertory theatre, ACT, will present Moliere, and may smaller companies will have their own productions. And, if all else fails, you can join the seven hundred thousand San Franciscans who enjoy eating out. For most of these activities you need not make long-range plans; reservations one or two days in advance should be adequate.

San Francisco has a reputation for hospitality. We on the Local Arrangements Committee hope that you will find it to be deserved.

William N. Bonds is professor of history at San Francisco State University and chair of the 1994 Local Arrangements Committee.