Joe and I headed out to San Francisco as an early 10th Anniversary celebration trip and to attend his cousin Dave's college graduation the second week in June. After a typical fog related flight delay, we hit the air Saturday afternoon, and arrived in San Francisco by two, and after our brief brush with celebrity, we grabbed a cab and relaxed back at our little hotel for an hour or so. Joe got familiar with the public transportation map and downloaded a couple of MUNI apps, we changed into cool weather clothes, since it was a glorious sixty degrees, and headed out to Cow Hollow for a street festival and people watching.
We hopped one of the many Chinatown buses and stood out as tourists amongst the elderly Chinese grandmothers with their house slippers and plastic grocery sacks, but we weren't quite as bad as the German tourists at the front of the bus with six pieces of luggage each, blocking all traffic on or off the very busy bus.
Cow Hollow was entertaining and the street festival was wrapping up by the time we got there, so we walked the long length of booths and tents, watched all the 20 somethings flirt and drink and browsed through the wares that were for sale, sampled some organic treats (yes, this is San Francisco, everything is touted as all natural, local, organic, and superior, which it probably is) and by this point, after a day of travel, we were hungry. We grabbed a bus over to Fisherman's Wharf, walked around a bit, took in the view, consulted one of our travel books, and our growling stomachs bypassed the very popular Wharf restaurants that were all surprisingly empty for 6pm on a Saturday, and came around a deserted corner to find the classic seafood establishment, Scoma's. There was a long wait, lots of locals, always a good sign, so we perched ourselves on a parking space wheel stop, looked off into the bay and anticipated one of the best seafood meals of our trip.
I had the seafood cioppino that was so savory, enormous and chocked full of seafood delights, that I dream about it still. Joe had fresh local salmon with a creamy sauce over lobster ravioli. Yeah, it was to die for. Even better, the interior of the restaurant probably hasn't been updated since it opened in 1965, it's rundown but not dingy, just feels lived in and classic, lots of dark wood and big booths. Our waiter was a pro. Life long resident of San Francisco, Tony was full of jokes, recommendations, and stories, that classic professional waiter bravado that I hope isn't dying out, but seems to be. He was charming and fun and made our meal more entertaining because of it.
After dinner we made a drug store stop to buy snacks and drinks for our room, and then stood in line to catch the trolley back to our hotel. This was the most crowded trolley/bus/train I've ever been on. Crammed to the brim, we had strangers all up in our business. A rather large man in his early 20's with a very high pitched voice leaned over Joe repeatedly and announced in his incongrous voice, each upcoming stop, and hollered out the window to those people waiting to board, that "We're all full, Sorry, next stop!" There were teenage ravers decked out in homemade plastic beaded wrist and upper arm jewelry, plus tiny braids bedazzled in beads and rhinestones, and a handmade plastic beaded skirts. It finally thinned out and we grabbed seats and some breathing room, but I don't remember the last time I was forced to stand that close to strangers, probably somewhere in Europe or in my nightmares.
We got back to the hotel and crashed, curling up in our fluffy king size bed, falling fast asleep and resting up for our four hour historical San Francisco walking tour the next morning.
Let me just say this up front, if you ever visit San Francisco, take an Urban Trek USA tour with Anton. We took Tour #4, the historic San Francisco tour, but I'm sure any of the four would be delightful. Anton is charming, funny, knows the city like he was born here and talks just enough to keep you engaged but not so much to kill the vibe of the city or take away from the view.
We met our small group of three more tourists and Anton in Union Square. Then walked to Maiden Lane, a street that used to be filled with all of the houses of ill repute in the city, now ironically home to all of the fanciest boutique shops. We wandered around Chinatown for a couple of hours, soaking up the history of the area with little stops on corners and quick restaurant recommendations, visited Portsmouth Square, and then walked to the Transamerica building.
Anton talked about the history of the area and clued us in that during an earthquake you don't want to be on any of the flat areas of San Francisco, since these areas are probably reclaimed lands that used to be wetlands and are not particularly stable in earthquakes. The photo below shows, with the wavy stone line, the old shore line, now in the middle of part of downtown.
After Jackson Square and Transamerica, we headed over to North Beach: the Italian, beatnik, smutty, charming, and tasty section of the city. Filled with shops and restaurants, strip clubs and movie studio offices. (That's Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope Studio building above in green.) We had a sweet, moist Sacrepantina cake and coffee break at the Stella Bakery, we walked past nudie bars, and classic book stores like City Lights, garlic themed restaurants and tiny bars that have been around since the 1880's. After our break and a light rain, we kept walking around and caught a bus up to Coit Tower.
The view from Telegraph Hill, at the base of Coit Tower is gorgeous, even before you ascend the actual tower. All lush flowers and foliage and a clear view from bridge to bridge. Joe took 500 pictures and then we got in line to take the elevator up the tower. Waiting in line we checked out the murals by students of Diego Rivera filling the lobby of the tower. Gorgeous, strong and powerfully muscular, it was a great way to kill some time and chat with our fellow trekkers while we waited.
Can you beat those views? Spectacular and totally worth the ticket price. It was cool and breezy at the top and I could have stayed up there for two hours. But there were people waiting on us, so we headed back down after twenty minutes, and we meandered down the amazing Filbert Steps.
The Filbert Steps are the only way to access the houses that are scattered along Telegraph Hill. There are not streets, only step after step after step. The hills are covered with lush, tropical plants, wild parrots, and quaint older houses. It's a quiet peaceful place. Though I can't imagine what a pain in the ass grocery shopping would be, or moving, wow, moving in and out would be incredibly expensive and difficult. But probably absolutely worth it.
After our tropical descent of the steps, we popped into the Levi's building and took a little historical tour of the history of jeans. I love jeans. I would wear dark, boot cut jeans everyday if I could. So this was a little trip to heaven. Plus a nice sit down after miles of walking.
Our tour came to an end just across the street from Levi's at the Ferry Building. We bade farewell to Anton, thanked him profusely, wished our fellow trekkers good bye, and went on to our next adventure. A silver car turned up the street to pick us up and we were whisked off to spend the rest of the day with Joe's high school girlfriend Chealsea and her partner Deborah. We had an afternoon of feasting and shopping and wandering the Mission. But first Yank Sing.
Oh, Yank Sing. Why are you so tempting and scrumptious? Dim Sum from Yank Sing is quite possibly the best Asian food I've ever had. Cart after cart rolls past the table with friendly Chinese women offering new delicacies: turnip cake, soup filled dumplings, savory hot and sour soup, thin sliced BBQ pork so sweet and juicy I could have eaten a whole plate by myself, tender steamed pork buns, shrimp toasts, sesame balls, Shanghai dumplings, I could go on. We ate and talked and caught up and ate some more. And then continued to exclaim about how each new small plate was bearing a more delicious mouthwatering temptation. We were stuffed, it was nearly two and half hours later, so it was time to do some walking.
We headed over to the Mission district to visit some of the eclectic and quirky shops. We visited Therapy, and some antique furniture stores, we stopped by Good Vibrations, because come on, it's San Francisco. I bought a scarf covered in umbrellas and some huge hoop earrings. But the best part was getting to spend such a lovely chunk of time with friends that we rarely get to see, since we live across the country from each other. Deborah and Chealsea were welcoming hostesses and charming conversationalists and made our first full day in San Francisco just about damn near perfect. But what would push damn near perfect into perfectly perfect, how about some PIE!
We hit Mission Pie and it was good. It was so good. Like your grandmother's best day in the kitchen, pie cooling in the window sill, flaky crust, tangy lemon or creamy banana filling, or 10 other fresh choices. Oh, that pie was good. And the chai was too. It was great to sit in the cozy cafe, watch kids play with puzzles at the table next to us, talk with good friends and close out a very full, very memorable Sunday.
So thanks again, ladies! The lovely Chealsea and Deborah, enjoying a little banana cream.
So that wraps up our first two days in San Francisco. I think the trip could have ended here and Joe and I would have both been satisfied, but it didn't, no it didn't. We still have Alcatraz, SFMOMA, male prostitutes hanging around on Skid Row, Monterey Bay, new internet friends, tide pools, the Castro, and much more. So stay tuned! Joe still has another 2,000 photos to share. Seriously.