San Francisco: perfect for any Pow Wow

The Spirit of 2011: exploring San Francisco during this year's International Pow Wow.

International Pow Wow festivities open up with a song at San Francico's Ferry Building.

Washington State tourism office closed the door as tourist season opened this summer. California, however, took the opposite approach to hard times. Not only did the state climb on board when San Francisco hosted 2011 International Pow Wow in May, Los Angeles will host the 1,000-plus booth mega 2012 US Travel Association media and trade show next April.

With typical glitz and pizzazz, San Francisco Pow Wow 2011 kicked off with everything from reptiles on display to vodka for breakfast in the Ferry Building, a city landmark with an eclectic history dating back to 1898. Handlers from the California Academy of Sciences strictly supervised the reptile contingent. Wineries and an endless array of Bay area delicacies kept the humans happy. Live jazz, and a rousing rendition of California Here I Come, courtesy of a stunning apparition in pink flanked by dignitaries, left no doubt that ‘Frisco meant business.

Moscone Convention Centre, a 30-minute walk from my Union Square Grand Hyatt accommodation, easily handled the three-day trade show housing 5,000 delegates, representatives of every major U.S. city, state, and attraction, plus a full international media centre. Tweeting, blogging, Facebook-ing and filing articles easily kept California’s travel investment airborne.

Whether by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), cable car, or on foot, this city is easily one of America’s most tourist-friendly meccas.

While Alcatraz, Pier 29, Fisherman’s Wharf, and other well-known guidebook highlights are obvious stops for first-time tourists, this was my first chance to wander through the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. It was worth it. If you go, take the kids.

Housing an aquarium, planetarium, and a natural history museum, the 412,000-square-foot structure lives up to its ‘green’ claim to fame. Sporting a 2.5 acre Living Roof and water reclamation system, even the walls are insulated with recycled blue jeans.

Strolling along a glass tunnel, assorted sea life swam or floated leisurely around and above me. Well informed volunteers and staff offered natural history information. Hands-on marine experiences with small sea life were also encouraged. Gingerly I stroked the golden armoured exterior of a sturdy starfish in a shallow touch pool. “They like it,” I was told. I still have no idea how to tell if a starfish ‘likes’ me. Subliminal perhaps.

Across town the following day, I joined Vikki Garrod and Dianne Admire, co-owners of Carried Away, for a vintage trolley tour. These city-savvy gals custom design unconventional local adventures. History, hideaways, scintillating shopping sprees or whatever carries you away is their forte. Dogpatch and Jackson Square were our destinations.

Rooted in the late 1800’s, both neighbourhoods fell victim to changing times.

Today, entrepreneurs like young culinary professionals Ian Flores and Anabelle Topacio, owners of Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous, are dedicated to establishing unique businesses to revive old neighbourhoods.

In addition to other treats, the couple is noted for crafting 150 blends of organic ice cream. Due to the Giants’ opening day at nearby AT&T Park, Ballpark ice cream crafted with Anchor Beer, peanuts and chocolate pretzels hit home with me.

3 Fish Studios was, however, where I wanted to stay and play. Painters and print makers Annie Galvin and Eric Rewitzer work and teach from a sprawling industrial Dogpatch loft. Excellent natural light shows off 3 Fish work by students and the relaxed owners. Artists appear to be at play here – relaxing, creating and communicating.

Clearly, tough times won’t turn San Francisco tourism off. The gold rush pioneering spirit appears to be opening doors rather than closing them.

Ursula Maxwell is the former editor of the Cloverdale Reporter. She now wanders, wonders, and writes.