George Costanza Ate Here: How Pop-Culture Sites Become Tourist Traps

Fans make pilgrimages to Tom's Restaurant and the house from Full House. But some places don't embrace the crowds.

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In the upscale San Francisco neighborhood of Pacific Heights, there's a gray, two-story Victorian house nestled on Broderick Street. It's simple. It's pretty. And millions of Americans who watched TV in the '90s have seen it before.

Full House premiered on ABC 25 years ago this month. The show's light humor and happy endings made it a hit for seven seasons—at its peak, Full House had an audience of nearly 16 million viewers. During the opening credits, the theme song "Everywhere You Look" played to sunny, sweeping shots of San Francisco, showing the characters picnicking in Alamo Square and cruising down the Golden Gate Bridge in a red convertible. Episodes usually started with an exterior shot of the house in Pacific Heights, the home of the Tanner family. On Broderick, you'll often find a few diehard fans posing outside the house, taking pictures. They're diehard because tracking down Michelle Tanner and Uncle Jesse's abode requires some sleuthing.

The owners of the house aren't exactly welcoming to visitors, however. They've roped off the front stairs, preventing gawkers from walking up to the front door. A door that's also designed to repel tourists. The iconic red door from the Full House shots was sold to a neighbor a few houses down and replaced with a black one.

This is true of other pop culture landmarks in the city: Go to Haight-Ashbury, the hub of the hippie movement in the '60s, and you'll see the ornate, purple Victorian the Grateful Dead once called home, and you'll find curtains drawn, blinds shut.

Despite owners' attempts to keep visitors out, famous houses are a big tourist draw. Rick Spear, owner of Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel, referred to the Full House house's location on his blog back in 2007."It's my most popular post by a long shot," he says. Spear says his clients ask to see lots of pop culture landmarks in San Francisco: not just Chinatown or Coit Tower, but also the house in Mrs. Doubtfire (also in Pacific Heights), or where the car chase in Bullitt was filmed.

"For a destination, it's a real blessing to have them," says Laurie Armstrong, a director at the San Francisco Travel Association, on visitor-fetching pop culture icons. "Because we can't make that stuff up. We can find it, throw a spotlight on it, and promote it—but we can't make it." That's where the magic of Hollywood comes in. Armstrong says that spots featured in TV and film benefit the city because tourists often use them as launching points to explore surrounding neighborhoods.

San Francisco isn't the only city with places made familiar by TV and movies. The coffee shop in Seinfeld is an actual late-night diner in Manhattan called Tom's Restaurant, and the Bull & Finch Pub in Boston was used as the bar exterior in Cheers. (The Pub, which sells Cheers mugs and shirts and whose menu includes Sam's Starters and Rebecca's Fish and Chips, actually changed its name to Cheers Beacon Hill.) So why are some places so excited to be immortalized by show biz, and why do they fascinate tourists?

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Bryan Lufkin is a writer based in San Francisco. His work has appeared in Wired and Entertainment Weekly.

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