Ever met anyone who’s been to San Francisco and not absolutely bloody loved it? This is a city where even the bad weather is revered, Julie Christie waxing lyrical about the ‘muted fogs’ while Tony Bennett called the loveliness of Paris ‘sadly gray’ in comparison. So did we leave our hearts in San Francisco? Well… it was okay. I don’t think either of us really warmed to the city until we took a stroll along the waterfront on the second day; shabby chic downtown and the Shoreditch-esque Mission district were underwhelming and don’t get Pete started on the overpriced wine. But then we don’t much like Paris either, so what do we know?
We arrived late Saturday afternoon, looking forward to showering off the jet lag and heading out for drinks and dinner. And, most of all, to meeting up with the lovely SJ, one of my best friends who now lives in Portland and was designated our expert guide for the weekend. Our hotel, The Marker, was cosy (read: tiny room) but slick; anywhere with Jonathan Adler toiletries and a free wine hour gets a thumbs up from me! The hotel is downtown near Union Square, so nicely located to get to most places. Still, some parts nearby are pretty dodgy so I’d advise planning your route before wandering out; we immediately took a misguided shortcut down the roughest street ever, an authentic San Francisco experience I could’ve done without…
We met SJ at chilled wine bar 20 Spot for a few large glasses of rosé and an overdue catch-up before heading into the Mission proper for food. I’d very recently made the leap from vegetarian to vegan and quickly realised that California is a dream destination for plant-based dining… case in point was the amazing tapas we had at Al’s Place, run by vegetable-obsessed chef Aaron London. If you can get past the wankiness of calling snacks ‘Snackles’ *shivers* (you should, it’s worth it), this is seriously good food; the brine-pickled French fries with smoked apple sauce were heaven on a plate, and the Vadouvan almonds: omfg!
After a digestif at a dive bar across the road, the jet lag really set in, so we had one for the road at a crazy bar nearby (pictured above: if anyone knows where this is, message me!) and stumbled back to our hotel to crash out.
Our Sunday itinerary was essentially ‘all of San Francisco in one day’ which meant fueling up with a solid brunch: my first of many avocado on toasts of the holiday, this time with refried beans and buckets of coffee at The Grove on Fillmore Street. Given that this was an accidental detour after we failed to get a table at vegan hotspot Jane it was pretty decent.
From here we hopped in an Uber to the coast and the famous Golden Gate Bridge. This is where I really started to get SF: it’s my dream to live on the coast but giving up city life has always seemed too big a sacrifice. Here you get both the sea and a huge buzzing city in one place, no compromise required. Also, dogs. SO MANY DOGS. I was in my happy place!
Also, the bridge itself is very nice.
Pete had booked a boat trip out to Alcatraz at 1pm (this is a Boy Thing) so we spent the afternoon doing the audio tour of the prison. I was initially skeptical but actually I’d recommend this trip if only for the incredible view of the city back from the island (you won’t get to experience Pete’s Nicolas Cage impressions, but not everybody can be as lucky as me).
We headed back to the hotel via Lombard Street, virtuously forgoing a street car in favour of a hike up the hill, which I immediately regretted. We happened to be visiting on the same day as the San Francisco half marathon and after a 30 minute walk in the city I have so much respect for those poor runners!
Lombard Street itself is worth trekking/tramming up to, again for the bird’s eye view over the city. Lots of people go out of their way to voluntarily drive down this mental road (unfathomable to a girl who can barely pull into her own driveway).
We finished the day by stuffing our faces at Thai Idea Vegetarian, which made up for a slight lack in atmosphere with the quality of the food i.e., millions of vegan options and very hearty portions. As expressed by Pete below! After that we sheltered from a sudden rain storm in Tender, a cosy little downtown wine bar.
So that was San Francisco: a packed 24 hours and a pretty spectacular gateway to the rest of the trip. I hope I haven’t been too down on it; it’s a cool city but I’m spoiled for those downtown hipster vibes in London and was hankering for serious palm trees and clear blue skies. Which meant foggy San Francisco was never the part of the holiday I was going to be most excited about.
Tomorrow we would pick up our car and chase the sun down the coast, which was when the fun really began for me. Posts on our Carmel, Santa Barbara and LA adventures to follow!