Of all the treasures in San Francisco, there are, perhaps, none as plentiful as the number of hearts left here by visiting owners. Two such hearts belonged to New York songwriting duo George Cory and Douglas Cross, a couple who were so impressed by the city's relatively welcoming attitude toward gay relationships during their 1954 visit to the City by the Bay that they composed the perennially popular tune, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."

The song, which has since been sung by such greats as Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra and designated the city's official tune, may be the most famous example of San Francisco's romantic undercurrents, but it is hardly the only one.

After all, what could be more romantic than poetry, a discipline associated with the city since the Beats spun their literary magic in the smoky cafes of North Beach?

And who can forget the Summer of Love and its legacy? Thousands of idealistic, counterculture-obsessed youths descended on Haight Ashbury during the summer of 1967 to celebrate love, freedom and peace.

Decades later, the City once again found itself in the national spotlight with matters of the heart when Mayor Gavin Newsom legalized same-sex marriage on Valentine's Day 2004.

And every year, millions of visitors come to San Francisco and fall in love with its unbelievable vistas, charisma and bountiful activities.


Advertisement

Along with its many historic associations with love, San Francisco is home to a deeply romantic landscape perfect for kindling passion this Valentine's Day (or any day of the year).

For a city that owes much of its close association with love to a song, it seems only appropriate that one of its most romantic destinations should produce music. The Wave Organ, an unusual stone structure located down an unmarked trail behind the San Francisco Yacht Club, uses a series of metal tubes and stone from old Victorian tombs to make music. The gurgling enclave was built in 1986 by a stonemason and an artist in residence at the Exploratorium. As waves push air into one end of each tube, sound emerges from the other end at different intensities depending on the weather and tide. The result is a series of ghostly sounds set against a backdrop that includes unobstructed views of Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Depending on the time of day, the site is frequented by families, curious tourists, small groups of cigarette-smoking teens and cooing couples.

While the Wave Organ may prove hard to find, several of the city's most romantic destinations are impossible to miss. For visitors to San Francisco, there is, perhaps, nothing as breathtaking as the Golden Gate Bridge. Seen from afar, the striking orangey red bridge connecting San Francisco to the Marin Headlands is postcard-worthy scene recognized around the world since its official opening in May 1937. But up close, with the bridge's twin towers rising high above, the dark waters of the Bay churning far below and blustery winds whipping through the guard rails, this famous structure becomes a place of mythic beauty and danger, a stark reminder of our small stature in this great world of ours. If you can block out the 6,000 other pedestrians and cyclists, on average, who traverse the 1.7-mile bridge each day, the romance of walking the bridge's length arm-in-arm is difficult to beat.

A second spot for high romance sits perched atop Telegraph Hill, the 212-foot Coit Tower draws locals and tourists in droves with its historic murals and unparalleled views. The tower was a gift from a colorful San Franciscan named Lillie Hitchcock Coit, who developed a strong bond with the local fire department as a teenager during the 1850s. While neither the tower's architects nor historical fact support the rumors, much has been made of the tower's resemblance to a fire hose nozzle. As a result, many visitors giggle about Lillie Coit, a woman who loved firemen so much that she had a rather suggestive looking tower erected in their honor.

If you love the idea of viewing the city from high above, the de Young Museum's Observation Tower is the newest place to soak in expansive city views. Opened along with the completely revamped museum in October 2005, the 144-foot twisting tower is free to visitors. Also in Golden Gate Park, the Japanese Tea Garden is a haven of calm worthy of a romantic afternoon stroll or a quiet conversation over steaming cups of tea. The garden, which grew out of an 1894 World's Fair Exhibit called the Japanese Village, spans five acres dotted with indigenous Chinese and Japanese plants, pathways, wooden bridges and sculptures. This famous garden is both a place of private contemplation and a bustling attraction for families and tourists.

Equally as bustling, the Ferry Building Marketplace and its weekend Farmer's Market offer plentiful opportunities for romantic diversions. Easily accessible by ferry transportation - a boon for anyone wishing to avoid Bay Bridge traffic - this downtown destination pits high-end shops selling everything from kitchen tools to caviar against Bay Views, fresh air and an infectious urban setting. On weekends, the Farmer's Market is an excellent family or casual date destination. Head there in the late morning for coffee and salmon omelets made fresh at one of the vendor's tables. Then stroll through the stalls to pick out organic veggies, crusty loaves of bread and handmade pasta for a candlelit evening meal back home.

As romantic as Coit Tower, de Young Museum's Observation Tower, the Japanese Tea Garden and the Ferry Plaza may be, they are hardly the deserted sorts of destinations many lovers crave. For a truly clandestine experience, try coaxing your beloved behind the 22-foot high, 50-foot wide waterfall at Yerba Buena Gardens. Behind the cascading water, glass panels feature quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King's writings and speeches.

If natural surroundings are more your style, the Presidio's Inspiration Point is perhaps the most aptly named destination for celebrating Valentine's Day. Located inside the park's Argeullo Boulevard Gate, the scenic spot overlooks the thick Presidio forest and offers views across the Bay to Angel Island and Alcatraz. After a visit here, access the mile-long Lover's Lane trail by the Presidio Gate or Visitor's Center for a stroll down a historic path once frequented by American soldiers sneaking visits with their sweethearts.

It's enough to make you leave your heart in San Francisco, too.

Did you know:
The De Young Museum's exterior consists of over 160,000 square feet of copper siding. The 7,200 textured copper panels used to construct the main building's outside walls contain over 1.7 million tiny dimples, and no two copper panels are exactly alike. While the building may look windowless from the outside, windows are actually hidden behind sheer panels in the building's exterior. The museum's unconventional look, designed by Swiss architectural team Herzog & de Meuron, has drawn as much criticism as it has praise. Some have hailed the new building as the greatest architectural feat to arrive in the Bay Area since Frank Lloyd Wright's Marin Civic Center, while others dismiss it as a monstrosity in metal. As the museum's exterior ages, the copper will develop a green-gray crust that naturally forms on copper exposed to air for long periods of time.

Handy ideas to make your day:
While most picnic kits come in totes, REI's (840 Brannan St, SF, 415-934-1938 and www.rei.com) Picnic at Ascot Super Deluxe Backpack ($76) for two is a hiker-friendly solution for a romantic outdoor meal or wine tasting session. The 5 lb canvas backpack's front section holds place settings, two acrylic wine glasses, napkins, salt and pepper shakers, a wooden cutting board, tablecloth and a corkscrew/bottle opener. A separate insulated compartment keeps food fresh and protected, while an external wine bottle pouch detaches for easy pouring. http://www.rei.com/product/47594466.htm

Score a bottle of wine or bubbly for your picnic at one of the city's two Plumpjack wine shops (3201 Fillmore St., SF 415-346-9870 and 4011 24th St., SF 415-282-3841 and www.plumpjack.com). The Noe Valley shop prides itself on its collection of 40 great wines under $10, as well as a large selection of Belgian Ales and over 80 single malt Scotches.

A visit to Coit Tower will be even more rewarding after reading Mark Bittner's best-selling memoir the The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill ($21.14), available at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books (Opera Plaza, 601 Van Ness Ave., SF 415-931-9096 and www.bookstore.com), or viewing the documentary, available on DVD and VHS through www.pelicanmedia.org.

After you emerge from behind the waterfall at Yerba Buena Gardens, stop by the Zeum (221 4th St., SF 415-820-3320 and www.zeum.org) store for the Airbrush Pen Stationary Studio ($15.95). Yes, it's for children, but that shouldn't stop you from having fun making personalized Valentine's Day cards or stationary. The whole family can get involved.

In search of more romantic vistas? Stop by Get Lost Travel Books (1825 Market St, SF, 415-437-0529 and http://getlostbooks.com) and pick up a copy of Adah Bakalinsky's "Stairway Walks in San Francisco" ($14.95). The guidebook features 23 walks on the city's 350 outdoor staircases and includes architectural, historical and horticultural facts for each. "Stairway Walks in San Francisco": http://getlostbooks.com/p_books-san-francisco.html