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Walking and Drinking Our Way Through San Francisco

“San Francisco …
Bridges, fog, food …
It’s crunchy granola, but it’s also double martinis and thick slabs of beef.
A city of towns, neighbourhoods …
A tough town for a stick shift.” — Anthony Bourdain

So. What to do when you don’t know what to say about a new-to-you city?

Me? I turn to Anthony Bourdain. And as I did so, I had to laugh.

I laughed because he seemed particularly fixated on martinis while he was filming his San Francisco episode.

And I laughed because as my friend and I spent our week climbing the hills of San Francisco (hence, “a tough town for a stick shift”), we finished each day with an adult beverage. Or two.

Double martinis indeed.

This was my first one, which I sipped as we listened to jazz in a bar that time forgot at Haight and Ashbury.

Haight and Ashbury, of course, was the epicentre for the Summer of Love. With a little imagination, it seems like the entire strip is one that time forgot.

See what I mean?

We spent a morning strolling through Chinatown — one of the largest in North America, and certainly the oldest.

Then we hit the Castro, San Francisco’s gay village.

We finished our day in the Mission, enjoying cold beers in another bar that time forgot.

The Mission got its name from Mission San Francisco de Asis, one of the 21 Catholic missions established in California to convert Indigenous peoples. From Dolores Park, in the heart of the Mission, you have a great view of the entire city.

We also spent time in the Embarcadero, which is where my home exchange condo was located.

We bought fresh produce at the Ferry Building Farmers Market. (Being a ferry building, this is also where you catch any one of several ferries to get across the bay.)

And we ate sushi overlooking Alcatraz in the middle of San Francisco Bay.

We finished up our last day in North Beach, the Little Italy of San Francisco and home to the Beat Movement. We rested our aching feet at Francis Ford Coppola’s bar in the Sentinel Building (the green building) …

… and imbibed in yet another late afternoon cocktail.

San Francisco is known to be a foodie town (be sure to try the tacos), but during our short week, it was definitely the adult beverages that sustained us.

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City by the Bay

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my visit to San Francisco last summer, intending that post to be an introduction to a handful of posts about my summer vacation. And … a month later, here I am.

Huh.

Part of my delay in writing about San Francisco has been, well, the things that keep me hopping from day to day and week to week. Like other trips. Also, work. Spending time with family and friends. Chores.

You know, the usual.

A more truthful reason, though, might be that I just don’t know what I think of San Francisco.

One thing I did figure out while I was there is that when I travel I much prefer to spend a much longer period of time in a place. Long stays in a city, like my winter in Paris or my summer in Amsterdam, let you really dig into the rhythm of a place and figure out what makes it tick.

Not so easy in a week.

At any rate, I’m going to do my best to share a few posts with you about this City by the Bay.

This photo was the view we had from our too-cold-to-sit-out-for-long balcony on the night of our arrival. It would prove to be the most spectacular night of our stay — every night afterwards, the fog rolled in.

But at least we had this.

San Francisco in July

It’s the last day of February and Canadians are getting a little cranky.

Winter is going on … and on … and on.

Those of us who can have fled south to warmer climes like Arizona and Hawaii. Or Florida.

Sigh.

And people like me — who have little to complain about with respect to cold and snow and ice — tend to just wait it out.

I went south last July instead. Which, I learned, was a mistake.

San Francisco in July, it turns out, is much cooler than Vancouver in July. In fact, I have since learned that it’s entirely possible for San Francisco to remain enshrouded in fog for the entire summer. They call it June Gloom, No Sky July, and Fogust.

When I was there, we saw lots of the sun, but without fail the fog rolled in every evening. Despite my lovely home exchange condo with a lovely view over the Bay, it was far too chilly for this Canadian to sit outside on the balcony for any length of time to enjoy that lovely view.

So. Lesson learned. Go to San Francisco in the spring or fall. Or here’s an idea … in the middle of a Canadian winter!

Here’s a photo of the iconic bridge that San Francisco is known for: the Golden Gate Bridge. This is the best view I had of it the entire week.

Because fog.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

The first time I saw the Golden Gate Bridge, I was in a plane. Only its two towers were visible; the rest of the bridge was hidden in the fog. I found out later that fog is a common weather phenomenon in San Francisco and the two towers of the Golden Gate Bridge are often as much as you ever see of it from an airplane.

I didn’t get any closer to the bridge that time ― or see anything of the city ― as I was merely on a stop-over on my way to somewhere else.

The second time I saw the Golden Gate Bridge, I was in a car driving over it. I’d been visiting a friend in the Sonoma Valley and, after a couple days of touring wineries and wine-tasting, we decided we should spend a day in San Francisco. When you drive from the Sonoma Valley to San Francisco, you enter the city by crossing over the Golden Gate Bridge.

I couldn’t stop marvelling at the bridge; I may even have giggled. My first thought was probably, “Wow!” I know for sure my second thought was, “The Lions Gate Bridge is just a toy compared to this one!”

The Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1936, and I like to think of it as the Lions Gate’s older, more grown-up sister. At six lanes, it’s twice as wide as the Lions Gate and it’s a kilometre longer. Those three additional lanes are what impressed me ― it feels more like an expressway in the sky than a bridge.

It I don’t know if the Golden Gate Bridge would have impressed me as much had I not been so familiar with driving over the Lion’s Gate Bridge. But I do remember I asked my friend to drive over it again, just for the thrill of it.