When you were little, did you used to go through catalogs and circle the things you want for Christmas? Let me re-phrase. Were you born in the 80’s or before? Then, yes. Your answer is yes. Circling toys in the Toys R US catalog or the “Laminated Book of Dreams” (AKA, the Argos catalog) was inspiring. I don’t thing I ever even actually ended up receiving any of the things I circled, Santa must not have gotten my note, but I was always left my catalog circling session feeling inspired. There was so many opportunities to play in the world.
Now, take the scenario above, make me an adult, and exchange the word toy catalog for travel company tour itineraries. There is one company in particular that I work with, and I like to flip through their catalog when I am dreaming of future plans. Again, I leave my catalog circling session feeling inspired and eager for future adventures.
But there is one problem with this catalog activity, and I fully realized it when I decided to see what tours they offered in my home: California. Their main California itinerary included one day in San Francisco. Activities included Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Chinatown, Lombard Street, Alcatraz, and a Cable Car Ride. That is the end of their San Francisco experience.
There are benefits and drawbacks to group travel programs. One major drawback is that most of the time, there is no venturing away from tourism. And when one doesn’t venture away from tourism one misses the beautiful little golden nuggets that really make the city beautiful. Most of the things that make me fall in love with a city aren’t tourist destinations. It’s much more likely to be the things that take awhile to find- the things that one stumbles upon accidentally or hears about through a friend.
Things like Clarion Alley.
Clarion Alley is a an alley full of street art in the Mission District. Despite the fact that there is a 20 minute BART that connects the Embarcadero (plenty of tourists there!) to the 16th Street Mission Station, there were very few noticeable tourists. After a short walk and a brief encounter with a very high man who was trying to sell me a giant joint, I was in Clarion Alley.
CAMP (The Clarion Alley Mural Project) started to take shape in 1992. It was inspired by Balmy Alley- a nearby alley full of art that started in the 70’s and focused on human rights, social, and political issues in Central America. Clarion Alley does not have a specific focus, but there have been something like 700 mural painted on its walls since it’s inception. Check out the CAMP website to see photos of the alley through out it’s 15 years- it’s pretty cool!
Of course, I spent well over an hour slowly soaking up the beauty of this one block long alley.
There were clearly people living and working in the houses and businesses that backed up onto Clarion Alley. One man was simply sitting on a chair, hanging out. This was his back yard. Another pair of men emerged from a door- I think they were a car repair shop because I could see a car they were working on inside. They sat for a cigarette and a break before returning to work.
The art in Clarion Alley changes regularly, so be sure to visit this golden bit of San Francisco every time you visit.