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Urban hiking in San Francisco's Marina district.

Like some shimmering apparition, an instant city sprang into being within the city of San Francisco in 1915. The occasion was the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and the location the present-day Marina district, where 635 acres of swampy tideland were suddenly filled to carry the jeweled towers and travertine domes of a fair that would show the world San Francisco had risen, Phoenix-like, from the 1906 disaster.

When the exposition was over and the crowds had gone, it all came down again, leaving only one magnificent remnant: Bay Area architect Bernard Maybeck's Palace of Fine Arts, a large exhibition space crowned with a big orange-rose dome and backed by a curving sweep of monumental columns, each capped with a weeping maiden. In later decades, the palace was restored and equipped for other uses. Today, it houses a 1,000-seat theater and a first-class science museum, the Exploratorium.

Developed shortly after the exposition, the landfill surrounding the palace became an instant neighborhood, the Marina--with Chestnut Street, formerly the southern border of the fairgrounds, as its main commercial axis. Built just as the art deco movement began to claim Main Street, U.S.A., as its own territory, Chestnut's low-rise emporiums, though gradually converting to boutiquedom, still wear their 1920s crests of colorful tilework or incised stucco very proudly. Strolling for art deco, shopping, food

The area is now a lively shopping district, with more than its share of interesting restaurants to try. A walk here reveals a street developed, all at once, in the abstract ornamental style of art deco. Along the way, you'll discover the temptations today's Marina merchants have in store.

Two new parking facilities (see our map on page 14) make it easier to come by car, though the meters give you only 2 hours at a time. The persistent may find unmetered parking along side streets.

To show you the Marina's commercial strip, to give window-shoppers some range, and to locate picnic supplies or a good meal indoors, we suggest a walk along Chestnut between Fillmore and Divisadero Streets. (In spring, the Art Deco Society of California offers guided walking tours of the Marina; call 415/552-3326.)

Then amble toward the waterfront, passing numerous city-scaled, Mediterranean-revival apartment palazzos. Even the street names are bathed in Mediterranean exoticism: Prado, Cervantes, Toledo, Alhambra. The residential Marina has an architectural idiom quite its own, mainly in pastry-tube stucco, with no decorative effort spared, no matter what the provenance of the original motif. Beneath the dark red of the tile roofs, it has its own palette of colors, too: pale, ice cream shades that bring the blue of the bay to brilliant life.

Your stroll should certainly take you by the Palace of Fine Arts for a look at the exposition's great relic. Waterfowl on the Palace's curved reflecting pond will welcome any crusts from your picnic. Inside the Exploratorium is a model of the 1915 fair (photographs are also on view at the Wells Fargo branch at 2166 Chestnut). Exploratorium hours are 10 to 5 weekends; adults pay $3, and those 17 and under enter free.

The Marina Green is also, in good weather, an irresistible destination--perhaps by way of the little public beach just west of the St. Francis Yacht Club (go to the foot of Baker Street, then pick up Yacht Road across Marina Boulevard).

Stretching from Fort Mason at the east to the yacht club at the west, Marina Green is perhaps the most popular segment of urban waterfront within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Its grassy expanse boasts a 28-station fitness course, a year-round complement of joggers, and a skyful of kites when the wind is right. Fringed by boat berths, it also gives you close-ups of ocean-going mansions at tether on the bay.

You can walk west along the shore to the Golden Gate. East is Fort Mason with its classes, galleries, theater, the superb vegetarian restaurant Greens (try Saturday lunch), and Greens' bakery, Tassajara. Chestnut highlights

As you pass the crested groceries and tilefronted pharmacies of Chestnut Street, you'll notice a curious dichotomy: the solidly traditional Mediterranean havens for flower lovers and vegetable pinchers now face a subtle invasion by trendy young professionals, with their nail-care centers and upscale (if somewhat antiseptic) shopping spots. Stores come and go, so don't be surprised if some we've mentioned disappear before you visit. You're sure to make your own discoveries, too.

Moving west from Fillmore, here are a few block-by-block highlights.

Fillmore to Mallorca. Notice the surface decoration (especially the bear frieze) of Marina Middle School. You pass Original Joe's (short-order) and O Sole Mio (Italian dishes), also the shamelessly tasteless House of Magic (tricks, awful gags).

Mallorca to Steiner. La Pergola is a fine, higher-class Italian restaurant. Stella Volo sells smart, well-selected separates.

Steiner to Pierce. Notice Lucca's (Italian deli), Kichihei (Japanese food), The Bookplate (eat and read in a deco dining spot or outdoors in a rear garden with trompe-l'oeil murals). Detour up Steiner for The Stuffed Bagel, Polly Parrot (a quietly bandboxy ice cream parlor), A Fork in the Road (more pasta, veal), Cocolat (chocolate specialties), La Baguette (French breads), Uno (deep-dish pizza), and the sight of hotdoggers doing wheelies outside the Marina Cyclery.

Pierce to Avila. The Chestnut Street Grill has a garden and serves "buffalo wings," Gelato offers Italian ice cream, Three French Hens sells cards and gifts, Espresso Yourself makes "creative sandwiches." South on Pierce, you'll find a vest-pocket nursery, a game shop, and a wine shop.

Avila to Scott. Judy's offers impeccably fresh food in a tiny calico dining room. Caravansary's a good picnic outfitter.

Scott to Divisadero. Bechelli's attracts a faithful following for breakfast. Saisons (continental restaurant) seems an island of calm. Eppler's Bakery is an old-fashioned place for coffee and pie. On Scott, there's Rama Thai (restaurant critic R.B. Read called it a "living, loving bargain"), and Scott's for seafood.
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Date:Feb 1, 1985
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