If you’re going to San Francisco…
Be sure to carry a laptop in your Fjallraven Kanken backpack and a shopping tote for purchases. You’re going to meet a lot of tech-savvy environmentalists there. Cafe disposal bins offer a place for compost, recyclables, and landfill items. When shopping, there’s an extra charge if you need your items bagged. Straws at bars and restaurants are sometimes on request, or made of paper. Water is often not refilled without being asked, because of the shortage.
In San Francisco I’m a Tourist
Fisherman’s Wharf, a tourist haven with a festival energy is my favorite part of the city. While there, we (my fiance Chris, one of his sons, and I) ate dinner at Boudin’s Bakery and bought chocolate at The Original Ghiradelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop at Ghiradelli Square. We went back the next day for a World Famous Hot Fudge Sundae. Worth every calorie! We shared. Thank goodness for all of the walking we tend to do when traveling.
On our way to Boudin to watch bread being kneaded, we saw a street former balancing on boards and cups and some sort of ball or wheel. We couldn’t see what he was balancing on through the thickness of the crowd.
After dinner, we walked to Pier 39 to get an Irish Coffee. Pier 39 is filled with shops and restaurants and if you walk along the back of them to the pier itself, you may get to watch sea lions sunbathing.
It’s more than a restaurant town, romantic getaway, and home of the fortune cookie; San Francisco is a city that both reveres and conquers nature. It’s like there’s an awareness of the precariousness of existence in a place that might fall to the ground. Faith in the abilities of engineers is required. How else does one live in a sinking city situated on seven fault zones?
If you’re going to Berkeley…
Try not to be surprised by much of anything. This might be your view as you sip your morning coffee and eat a breakfast sandwich:
Ours was. We had started our morning at a Peet’s Coffee in the 4th Street Shopping District. “Is that a…?” “Yes. Looks like you can build your own vibrator there.”
If you’re going to Muir Woods…
Reserve a parking space. Chris remembered going to Muir Woods National Park 20 years ago. Back then parking reservations were not required. We had planned on walking amongst the redwoods and enjoying time in nature. I have never been to a state or national park that required parking reservations. Muir Woods does. For more information on parking reservations click here.
The park does offer the option of parking at a lot in a nearby city and riding up on a shuttle bus. We considered it for a moment. Chris didn’t like the hassle of the idea. I didn’t like not being able to nag and advise the driver. That’s the trouble with mass transportation for me.
We drove up winding mountain roads to get there and had to drive right back down more twists and turns. The scenery was gorgeous. If I was a less anxious person, I would have loved it. I’m not, so during one of the many switchbacks down I covered my eyes.
My need to advise on speed and navigation triumphed. I decided to brave the beautiful and fear-inducing views, so I uncovered my eyes. “I can’t nag you about slowing down if my eyes are covered.” Priorities.
We travel a lot. Chris is behind the wheel most of the time. I cover my eyes about once a month. Chris teases that a protective force field goes around whatever he’s driving when my hands go over my eyes.
Down the mountain to the Golden Gate Bridge
We passed through the Robin Williams Tunnel and emerged with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Then, we parked in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, so we could walk across the bridge. Not only were the views incredible, it’s such a wonder what humans can create. Also, there’s a certain tourist camaraderie while on the bridge. So many are from somewhere else.
I was carrying the MetroCard tote that I’d bought during one of our trips to Manhattan when we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. In fact, I was in almost the exact same outfit that I wore while crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. One woman stopped me as we crossed to ask if I was from New York. Another, presumably a New Yorker, just said, “New York,” pointed at me and smiled as we passed one another on the Golden Gate Bridge. The world gets a little bit smaller and cozier after every trip we take.
If you visit the Golden Gate Bridge, wear layers. It’s unbelievable how windy it can get while crossing. I had a jacket that I wore across the bridge too. I only took it off for the photo.
If you’re going to Market Street…
Choose your parking spot with care. It’s a busy area. We needed to buy a laptop charger and a curling iron. A quick search on Google for the appropriate charger brought up a store in the Westfield San Francisco Center on Market Street. So, after we’d had our fun at the Golden Gate Bridge, we drove there.
Parking in the busy shopping area isn’t easy to come by. Chris found a spot outside the Warfield Hotel on Turk Street.
“Can’t we look for a better spot, this street seems sketchy,” I said.
“No,” Chris said.
“There’s a sign for a public parking garage up ahead.”
“Parking ramps are more dangerous.”
I don’t know where that data comes from, but I stopped arguing. We got out of the car and walked down Turk Street. Two rough looking men walking in the opposite direction said something. All I caught was the word girl. Chris grabbed my hand and pulled me closer to him. Then, we passed by a police officer and a 60-ish year-old woman arguing about drugs. The scent of marijuana and who knows what else was more pungent on that street than any other I’d been on.
The computer store didn’t have the right charger. I didn’t see a curling iron in the one store near the computer store that I thought might have one. Before we left Westfield Centre, I started to take off my engagement ring. I wanted to hide it in my purse. Chris insisted that I was safer walking back to our car with it on, so I did. We returned to our car via Eddy street instead of Turk to ease my mind some.
After we were safe in our car and driving down the road, Chris shared that we’d been in the Tenderloin District. He’d noticed a sign when we were walking down the scary street and had figured it out from our surroundings as we walked. I’d never heard of it. The story goes that police officers working the area could afford tenderloin steaks for dinner thanks to the bribes they took. If getting mugged is your thing, it’s the best part of town to visit according to the research I’ve done since returning.
Back in Berkeley
We went to Walgreens, so I could get a curling iron and a Diet Coke. On the way we passed by a small tent town – some homeless dwellings that seemed to be on the edge of the city. Capitalism’s casualties playing fort and making up ways to get through the day. Chris and his son waited in the vehicle while I quick went in. As I was checking out, a homeless man I’d noticed outside came in. He looked at me, nodded his head, and walked out.
When I left the store, I couldn’t remember where we had parked. I walked in the wrong direction. Then, went back into the store figuring it was safer to sort things out while in it. I rummaged through my purse for my cell phone to call Chris and ask him to pick me up at the door. It wasn’t there. I’d left it in the car. I took a deep breath, went out to the parking lot, and found the car.
After explaining how nervous I’d been, I opened the Diet Coke and it burst on me. Chris’s son said, “Your Diet Coke must be frazzled too.” Apparently.
Back at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Berkeley Marina.
I listened to Joan Didion’s The White Album essay to soothe my nerves while doing my hair and makeup. It’s one of my favorites.
She’d been on my mind since we’d walked the UC Berkeley campus. I saw a picture of her hanging from a lamp post, nerded out, and took a picture of her picture.
In The White Album Didion writes, “I began to doubt the premise of all the stories I had ever told myself, a common condition but one I found troubling.” And, “By way of comment I offer only that an attack of vertigo and nausea does not now seem to me an inappropriate response to the summer of 1968.”
My imagination’s San Francisco was populated by kind people, passionate about social causes. It was peace, love, and intellectual meandering. The beat and hippie countercultures felt at home in its embrace. That’s the story books and music had rendered to me. Scoffing at middle class norms was also part of the story I knew. Like in Kerouac’s Dharma Bums:
…the middle-class non-identity which usually finds its perfect expression on the outskirts of the campus in rows of well-to-do houses with lawns and television sets in each living room with everybody looking at the same thing and thinking the same thing at the same time while the Japhies of the world go prowling in the wilderness to hear the voice crying in the wilderness, to find the ecstacy of the stars, to find the dark mysterious secret of the origin of faceless wonderless crapulous civilization.
Reality was not corroborating. San Francisco was billboards and concrete pillars, creativity and industry, embracing and conquering. The non-strivers, the American dream dropouts did not appear to be finding the ecstacy of the stars. Maybe they were and my middle class comfort craving soul had closed off that possibility.
I wasn’t feeling vertigo as I curled my hair, but I was feeling a bit rocked.
Alice Waters created a refuge with Chez Panisse back in 1971 along with a handful of friends. NPR, The New York Times, Vogue, Bon Appetit, and countless other publications recognize Waters as a major contributor to a food revolution – one that focuses on feeding guests sustainably sourced, organic, in season food.
In her most recent book, Coming to My Senses, Alice Waters writes, “Americans have been told that cooking is a drudgery. We were sold the idea and therefore bought the products that promised to make it easier.”
We drank and dined at Chez Panisse Cafe that night. It’s just upstairs from the main restaurant. The arts and crafts aesthetic embraced us with its warmth. The Maitre D’ made us feel like important guests. So did our server.
There are no televisions in the restaurant. Both the website and the menu request that guests refrain from using cell phones and laptops while at the table. We were able to enjoy one another’s company without distraction. It saddens me to share this, but rare is the meal I enjoy without something or someone on the cell phone seeming to take greater priority. Perhaps I will need to kindly remind myself and others before meals…
I had Sheep’s milk ricotta ravioli with sweet peas, gremolata, and Parmesan ($23). It was delicious. By meal’s end, I felt restored and relaxed.
If you’re going to the San Francisco Airport…
Be sure to check out the yoga room. I did 15 minutes of yoga before boarding our plane to Atlanta and it made my joints and muscles feel much better throughout our flight. I’m a tense flier and often try to do some yoga before leaving the hotel. Being able to do it at the airport is much better though. I wish every airport had a yoga room.
I hummed and thought of this song often during our time in San Francisco, often with a little sadness.