If You're Going to San Francisco...
October 20, 2016 to October 24, 2016
Contrary to the existence of this blog, normally large amounts of attention make me uncomfortable. Birthdays are usually the worst, too. Don't get me wrong, I love celebrating me, but I don't need an excuse to do it. So by the time October rolled around, I had a plane ticket in hand, and a flower tucked behind my ear.
San Francisco is kaleidoscopic. The past eras are preserved, leaving reminders peppered throughout the city. In one jaunt, I could walk through the 30s to the 2000s. And although the tech culture is the new darling, each area echoes its eclectic past. San Franciscans embody their history, too. I met people very much in the "now," who had the talent of holding conversations without even attempting eye contact. I felt those individuals were desperately clinging to their uniqueness, which came across as smug. Yet, I met others who were modern reminders of the free-loving age of the Sixties. San Francisco is one of the most well-rounded cities I have been to in the U.S., and I feel their dynamism will continue to support the vivacious culture.
I normally take my first day of travel to walk, get a feel of the city. So I started from my Airbnb in the Mission District, and strolled myself to an early breakfast. I'd been to SF previously, and told I had to try Plow. Unfortunately, the wait was 3+ hours, which apparently isn't rare. But this time I knew to get there early, and it was worth it. Plow makes a seemingly standard breakfast, but they do simplicity well.
Afterward I was off to the Embarcadero. My starting point was slightly premature, as noted by the increase in crowds the closer I came to the Giant's Stadium. Aside from the lovely view, and a few photo opportunities, the Embarcadero is simply pleasant. And even more so once I came upon the Ferry Building Marketplace. It's one of those historical markers that calls back to the history of SF. In the 1930s, the Ferry Building was the first thing visitors saw, landmarked by the huge clock tower that's now a synonymous image of the waterfront. The recently renovated Marketplace boasts the city's culinary taste. There are fresh pastas and breads, a farmer's market, a tea shop, and plenty of wine options. I'd say the best part of the Marketplace are the tables alongside the water. And I'd recommend grabbing a quick snack, and taking in the view from the pier.
I continued along to Fisherman's Wharf, but more because it was described as a must see. To be honest, I probably spent more time walking my way out of there than actually perusing. I just can't get behind super touristy crowds and areas. I do admit that I found my way into the Musée Mécanique just tucked beside the big Fisherman's Wharf sign. What an incredibly odd place. The arcade is privately owned, and has been since 1933. It's a collection of over 200 hand-cranked instruments and games. There are penny arcade machines that help pinpoint kissing expertise, nudey flip-books, as well as air hockey tables. If you find yourself stuck at Fisherman's Wharf, it's a welcome reprieve from the crowd and overwhelming smell wafting from the largest Joe's Crab Shack I have ever seen.
To round out the walk, I made my way to the Exploratorium's Wave Organ. On the way, I glanced at the famous Lombard Street. The tales don't lie, it was crooked and a street, but I was on a mission to listen to the waves. The Wave Organ was opened in May 1986 by the encouragement of The Exploratorium's Founding Director, Frank Oppenheimer. Sadly, he died a few months before its completion, but the piece was dedicated in his memory. The Organ was constructed on a jetty in the Bay, the organ pipes themselves are made out of PVC and concrete. The idea is to have the waves hit the pipes allowing visitors to hear music from the environment. But to be honest, I wasn't feeling it. It's a really cool concept and beautiful view, I just wouldn't stay for the "music."
Friday night was my birthday dinner, and it didn't disappoint. Lazy Bear is a contradiction. It’s exclusive, yet inviting, it’s raucous, and intimate. It’s a dinner party restaurant with about 50 other ticket-holding friends. We began upstairs in the loft that was outfitted with quirky Moonrise Kingdom-esque decorations, and a tastefully framed portrait of their patron saint, Magnum P.I. Once cocktail hour was over, two huge, communal wood tables invited me to enjoy a 12-course meal. To add to the ease of the night, each plate is described by the chef who created it: Grandma’s pillowy dinner rolls with a slab of stand-alone delicious butter, Red Kuri Squash, Wagyu Ribeye Cap, and the “basic as fuck” Pumpkin Spice Latte, were all delicious. The pretentious feel usually accompanied by tasting menus was diminished by the informality meticulously created by the atmosphere and the chefs. I have to say the now two Michelin Star-studded restaurant absolutely deserves it.
A special thanks to my dear friends for tickets to Lazy Bear. It truly put me over the moon.
I befriended a group of chefs at Lazy Bear. They swore by Nopa's brunch, and suggested a day meandering Golden Gate Park. The Chefs said I just had to try the Custard French Toast. And as good as it was, I don't even think it was the best thing. The Oven Baked Egg was fabulous, it's a staple of their menu, but Nopa has variations determined by seasonal ingredients. I unabashedly scraped the bowl for that one. I'd make a reservation though. My luck struck, and I happened to get there just as someone cancelled their table. Otherwise, I'd have been on an hours-plus waiting list.
Once stuffed, I waddled my way to Golden Gate Park. I was incredibly intent on finding the Bison Paddock, but first I needed a warm place to placate my ebbing food coma. I soundly slept on Hippie Hollow, then awoke only at the promise of bison. I found them, and as glorious as it was, I wanted to see more. There were only about 7 fenced in a ring of the Park. Aside from the bison, I think the Park is deserving of at least a half day. It has a Japanese Tea Garden, SF's Arboretum, and an Arts Center that has a 360 view at the top. If anything, it would be a lovely place to take a nice picnic and make some friends.
From the Park, it's a relatively quick walk to the Cliff House and Sutro Baths, The latter being my favorite experience of the trip (aside from Lazy Bear). The Cliff House provides a nice intermission before exploring the Sutro Baths. However, I spent less than an hour there. I grabbed a quick glass of wine and shrimp cocktail, then hauled down to the ruins.
The Sutro Baths were opened by the mayor at the time, Adolph Sutro in 1896, and cost roughly $1 million. However, in 1966 the Baths burned down, leaving behind a stone skeleton. Not much is left by way of the buildings structure, but the guidelines of once-present stone walls still erect from the beach. As a visitor, you're encouraged to climb, walk, or jump to and from past-walls, but play at your own risk. There are signs warning of deaths and drownings around the cliffs. But I can't say that stopped me from abandoning my shoes and hopping dangerously close to the crashing, incoming waves.
Afterwards, I made my way back to the Airbnb for a break. Embarrassingly, I fell asleep. And I woke only 40 minutes before I needed to be at a show – but I was starving. With a quick Google I found Kasa Indian Eatery, a place that boasted the best chai tea in SF. I ordered a Naan Kati Roll with Chicken Tikka Masala, not expecting much. However, I ate my words. It was delicious, and the cheapest thing I had the entire trip, but the jury is still out for the best chai.
Kati Roll in tow, I high-tailed it to the Audium: a "sound-sculptured space." I know, I know. What does that even mean? And after going to it, I'm just as confused. The "sound-sculptured space" is run by Stan and his wife. Stan designed the space and sound experience with the hopes to encourage individuals to hear surroundings in a new way. His brain-child was created in the 1970s, meaning I think I was too sober to experience the show as intended. There's a Vice article, The Audium in San Francisco is Acid for Your Ears, that describes the experience perfectly. If you'd like to know more about it, or understand my confusion, I recommend a read.
Bleary-eyed and slightly disoriented, I walked out of the Audium in need of a pick-me-up. One of my friends from San Francisco highly recommended Smitten Ice Cream, and there happened to be one just blocks away. Smitten is churned-to-order. They have a handful of choices each day, made by pouring small batches of cream, sugar, and the chosen flavors, to create a few scoops of ice cream. I picked crème fraîche, then smashed my face against the protective glass to watch milk churn into ice cream. And once handed my delightful little cup, I took a long walk down Valencia Street, but called it an early night.
I was selfish Sunday morning and went to Tartine Bakery. It holds a special place in my gut. I'd never been to the bakery, but from the cookbook, aptly named Tartine, I first learned to bake. The Devil's Food Cake with Caramel was my first multi-tiered cake. Yet, my version was a poor excuse for a confectionery, and it kicked my Type A personality into gear; I owe my baking skills to Tartine. It was a stomach-fueled pilgrimage, and a shameless guilty pleasure at that.
With about $50 of treats in backpack, I walked from Tartine to the Exploratorium, where I had tickets for the Tactile Dome. I didn't know much, but from the website the Dome seemed to be for any age. I began waiting in line moments before my reservation, but was stampeded by a crowd of people half my size. A bit confused, I kept looking for someone old enough to drive, but I was by far the oldest person by over a decade. And it sincerely didn't matter. The Tactile Dome brought out the child in me. You simply feel your way along a pitch-black pathway. Passing metal gears, and spoons, a hall of bungie cords, and down slides. And if you can get over your pride for just an hour or so, it's silly, but unexpected.
I read and played through the Exploratorium for a few hours, and only left when they began closing. But I couldn't pass up going through the Ferry Building one more time to get some Humphry Slocombe ice cream. It was strongly suggested that I try the Secret Breakfast with Bourbon Sauce. But of the two, my choice would be Smitten for the better ice cream.
I couldn't leave SF without visiting Haight Ashbury or the Golden Gate Bridge. They were the two things that I just kept putting off, but decided to squeeze them in just before my flight. So I found a breakfast place near Haight Ashbury, and decided to Uber over to the Golden Gate Bridge afterward. I Yelped and Googled around to find Zazie for a later breakfast.
I just don't quite know what to think about Zazie. I fit myself onto a table just before the morning rush, but didn't think the food warranted the crowd. The breakfast was fine, however it struck me as a place banking on their atmosphere. Also, I'd avoid the Zazie Signature Tea. It tasted like a seasoning pouch I'd put in a savory stew. And unless it's your jam to drink something akin to bouillon, order at your own risk.
Haight Ashbury had its eclectic bits of street art and an overall artistic flare. Perhaps I should have lent it more time, but it gave the impression that it was a place to really dig into in order to find the hidden gems. Otherwise, it touts remnants of the famed Summer of Love, and plays heavy on tie-dye shirts, fringe jackets, and the smell of weed permeates every corner. But I needed to keep my day moving, and with only three hours to spare before my flight, I left for the Golden Gate Bridge.
It's impressive. Colossal, and a beautiful testament to engineering. The idea for a bridge like it first popped up in 1872, but it flipped through multiple iterations. The bridge we know today wasn't completed until May 1927. Annually, 10 million individuals cross the bridge, and I became one of those in the knick of time.
And after spending four days there, I've picked up a few things, chiefly to not make eye contact when speaking to anyone. But in all sincerity, San Francisco is a fun, albeit pretentious, city. And it seems to be a place brimming with the constant promise of new adventures.
All The Food
What We Ate: Pumpkin Steusel Cake, Soft Scrambled Eggs, The Plow
What We Drank: Equator Coffee
What We Ate: Huckleberry Biscuit with Black Pepper Fromage Blanc, Wine Poached Quince & Pear, Oven Baked Egg, Custard French Toast
What We Drank: Counter Culture Coffee, Oolong Tea
What We Ate: Frangipane Croissant, Pain au Jambon, Morning Bun, Gougére, Muesli, Ginger Torte, Gingerbread Cookie
What We Drank: Gibralter
What We Ate: Avignon Scramble with Wheat Toast & Salad, Two Eggs Scrambled
What We Drank: Cappuccino, Zazie Signature Tea