My Favorite Flings

Choosing one destination—and forsaking all others—is harder than it seems

The Back Page

Credit: Designed by Jessie Despard

There's a big wing chair in my living room, right in front of the fireplace. It's not particularly good looking, but it's comfortable. I sit there on Sunday mornings, reading the paper and drinking coffee, saying to myself, "This is good."

When my editor asked me to write about My Favorite Place, I thought of that chair right away. Then I decided that I really ought to describe somewhere a bit farther afield, so I gave the subject some serious thought. And now I'm admitting defeat. 

I don't have a favorite place.

In one of those intimidating magazines about out-of-reach lifestyles, I once read a paragraph so stunning that I had to copy it down: "Each home you own serves a different purpose in your life. When you need a jolt of energy, you tap into the pulse of the city. To unwind, you drive to your beach house down the coast. In your more expansive moods, you head for your country house to entertain. And when you crave some nighttime stargazing, you fly to your mountain lodge."

Yeah, right. I don't have a collection of homes for stargazing or urban pulse-taking or whatever—but I do have lots of favorite places, and each appeals to me in a different way.

It takes time and repeated visits for a merely great place to rise to the level of genuine chart-topper, and not every location makes it. There are those I've loved at first sight—Queretaro in Mexico and Koblenz in Germany, for instance—but I won't know if they're bona fide favorites until I've seen them a few more times. Too often, a place enjoyed in the company of friends loses its magic when the friends aren't around. And certain spots are lit by the glow of an experience that simply can't be recaptured: It was snowing when I first saw Moscow's Red Square, the air filled with flakes so enormous that I swear I heard each one hit the ground with a thud. It was so ethereally beautiful that subsequent visits have been a letdown.

A favorite place takes up permanent residence in your head and heart and soul. One of mine is in San Francisco—but it isn't a place, really, it's a walk. When I lived in San Francisco, I took the walk once a week, and I try to do it every time I'm back in town. It never gets old.

It begins at the Palace of Fine Arts, Bernard Maybeck's melancholy evocation of classical grandeur, and winds through the Marina neighborhood to the yacht club. From there, the route turns westward, following a path favored by dog walkers and bike riders, providing an unobstructed view of a bay dotted with windsurfers. You pass a little Coast Guard station, with a cheery house I'd love to move into, and soon you're standing at the entry to Fort Point, a massive polygonal fortification at the southern shore of the Golden Gate. You cross the courtyard, tiers of brick arcades rising all around, and climb the stairs to the very top. Emerging into the light and wind, you're greeted by an amazing view: white-capped water and tawny hills, the city skyline glinting in the distance—and looming directly overhead, blocking out half of the sky, the Golden Gate Bridge.

History and scenery and a big orange bridge—what's not to love? Sometimes a ship sails past on its way out of the bay, and I'm reminded of all the unexplored destinations out there, but most of the time I'm sublimely aware that I'd rather be right here, in this moment, than anywhere else. I lean back, take in the view, feel the wind funneling through the gap in the headlands, listen to the soundtrack of gull cry and wave crash—and I tell you, that hard brick parapet feels as comfortable as my living-room chair. 

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