Landing at night in San Francisco was like opening a pop-up book. Lights from all the buildings and houses on hills twinkled, giving me a sense of calm after a hectic day of work and travel.
Our big trip to San Francisco and Yosemite National Park has finally come to a close. I would describe it as pretty well organized, but we went on little more than a long list of intriguing places and restaurants. With only a few activities booked in advance, most days were planned over breakfast or the evening before.
Surprisingly, we were able to get through most of that list, aided by walking, Uber, coffee, and perfect weather all week long. Here’s Part 1 of how we spent a week out West.
We stayed at the Wyndham Canterbury in Nob Hill, a neighborhood located on and around one of San Francisco’s original “Seven Hills.” It’s a central location that allows you to walk most places, if you have the time and endurance. The only places we did not reach on foot were the Mission District to the south and Golden Gate Park/The Haight to the west.
Nob Hill is also a diner lover’s dream! There were diners on every block, most of which had pretty standard menus and 1950s vibes (Lori’s, Mel’s, Pinecrest). Our first breakfast was at Lori’s Diner, a 24-hour, 1950s-themed diner, complete with checkered flooring, Marilyn Monroe portraits, and requisite life-sized Elvis statue. The food was okay, but pricy for eggs and potatoes. I also made the mistake of ordering a biscuit instead of sourdough toast, only to be reminded that I’m not in the South anymore.
After breakfast, we headed to the Hayes Valley neighborhood, in search of good coffee. We found the nearest Blue Bottle Coffee, on Linden St., which turned out to be nothing more than a coffee stand in a quiet alleyway. I had a cappuccino, Mike had black coffee, and we split a date bar. Their other pastries looked good, too, including hand-held Belgian-style waffles, called Leige waffles. We ended up going to three different Blue Bottle Coffee locations during the week.
There is also excellent shopping in this area, including brands without brick and mortar locations near us at home, like Timbuk2 and Warby Parker. Next we made the short, but uphill, trek to the Painted Ladies. To be considered a “Painted Lady,” these Victorian-style houses must have at least four different paint colors. The park, Alamo Square, was under construction, but the city views were still spectacular. This site was one of the most anticipated destinations to me, for Full House reasons.
From the Painted Ladies, we Ubered to the Mission District, to La Taqueria. This is one of the more popular mission burrito places, judging by the line, but they do make a fine burrito. We had the carne asada supreme with chips, guac, and salsa.
Golden Gate Park
We headed northwest (Uber again) to Golden Gate Park. This park is 1,017 acres (over 3 miles) of public land, featuring museums, a Japanese tea garden, botanical gardens, sports/recreation fields, trails, and lakes. The Japanese tea garden was nice, but Golden Gate Park as a whole is also pretty great, so I wouldn’t pay the $8 per person for the tea gardens, next time.
My favorite part of Golden Gate Park was finding our way all the way up Strawberry Hill and taking in views of the city and wafting pot smell.
After Golden Gate Park, we called another Uber to take us back toward Nob Hill, to Hopwater Distribution. This beer bar had a great selection of local beer and a really tempting food menu. We had salads from here the following night but would have liked to try even more.
We had our hearts set on China Town for dinner, which was within walking distance from our hotel and Hopwater. We walked past tons of shops, mostly filled with trinkets targeted at tourists, which is not something we particularly value. Based on a recommendation from Mike’s friend, we ate at Z + Y and had beef pancakes (so good!), cooked cabbage, and “Chicken with Exposive Chilli(sic) Pepper.” The main dish was simple and lacked veggies, but the slight numbing effect from the Szechuan peppercorns was an interesting sensation.
This was our Alcatraz and Craft Beer Tour day. We set out on foot toward Pier 33 for our 9:00 AM boat ride to Alcatraz, the historic and infamous penitentiary located on its own island. We had breakfast at the Alcatraz cafe on the pier side, which wasn’t too bad. At Alcatraz I would recommend the 45 minute award-winning audio tour, which was like listening to an interesting history podcast. We were surprised by all of the beautiful gardens, some built inside rubbled houses.
After returning to the pier, we took an Uber to The Haight, where our beer tour was starting in a few hours. We ate a tasty lunch at Rosamunde Sausage Grill on Haight St., where I ordered the knockwurst and Mike had the Merguez (lamb), both with hot giardiniera. This really hit the sausage spot for the trip. After that we went to a busy brunch cafe called The Grind Cafe to get coffees to go. We stumbled upon Duboce Park, a lovely green-space with an open dog park. I kept having to don and doff my jacket because of the sunny, yet cool weather. It’s the kind of park where you can lay in the grass and fall asleep, or watch the dogs play while you miss your own. I can truly say this was a relaxing time for us, finally.
The beer tour was through SF on Tap Tours. Adam took us through the Haight-Ashbury district, hitting up historic landmarks in the neighborhood (Haight-Ashbury sign, Jerry Garcia’s house, Hell’s Angels house) and three local breweries: Barrel Head Brewing (down-home neighborhood pub), Magnolia Brewing Co. (an “English Pub” feel), and Black Sands Beer (inventive brewpub). We’ve been on beer tours before, but we drank a lot of beer on this one! I think we figured out it was the equivalent of 5-6 beers each, whereas we usually have between one and two in a sitting. It really sneaks up on you, as you are only drinking 5oz at a time. In my last entry, I made reference to our “peemergency” but didn’t mention the terrible hangovers that also result from this beer tour. I guess we got our money’s worth! I would still recommend this tour, if you can handle it or have more self-control than we do. I’m blaming beer for the quality of the Haight-Ashbury picture below.
Stay tuned for Part 2: the majestic Yosemite National Park.