Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Seeing Sideways

Ever travel with a friend who claims they know the place you’re traveling to only to find out they didn’t have a clue? Well, six years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful city of San Francisco with a former roommate who proudly informed me that she was from the Bay Area. I was quite surprised to find out that not only did she not know the hot places to go, but she didn’t have a clue on what this fabulous city is all about.

(image:  View from the Cliff House Restaurant)

But alas, this time around, I was blessed to visit with my friend Tom who is very familiar with the area. He has friends that were wonderful hosts. So to spare you the loss of a miserable trip, here are a few places we ventured and my take on one of the most beautiful places America has to offer.


Landed at 1:00 p.m., grabbed a taxi to the Galleria Park Hotel; a retro boutique hotel on Sutter Street (at Kearny Street). The staff was very helpful and courteous and the beds were very comfortable. Although still in renovation, the plan is to be completely done by March 2007. I really liked the decor of my room and even inquired about purchasing the really nice terry cloth shower curtains.

After checking in, we jumped on the cable car on Powell Street and rode down to the fisherman’s wharf. We experienced some breathtaking views at short stops on the car and were warned that while hanging on the rails and passing another car, be careful not to hang out too far. Although they slow to a crawl, there is not much room between the tracks for the cars. The ride was like a slow roller coaster as it climbed the steep streets of the city.

When we reached Mason Street, we paid $5.00 each and casually walked past street venders who sold seafood from carts. We optioned to eat at Scoma’s; an Italian traditional seafood restaurant where we dined heartily on Dungeness crab in is first day of season and sourdough bread that originated with the gold miners of the area.

To top that off, we visited the Buena Vista for Irish coffee, where I unknowingly ordered Bailey’s coffee, which is not the same. That’s the first thing I learned. Irish coffee is a combination of coffee, two sugar cubes, a generous pour of Irish whisky topped with fresh whipped cream. Just a note, American whiskey has an “e”. Just so you know the difference and don’t insult a true Irishman.

Sharing that intersection is the end of the line for the cable car, where we were thoroughly entertained by an electric guitar player and Escape Man, who within two minutes freed himself from chains and a straight jacket, while telling jokes. They had a captivated audience, since the guitar player played the theme song for those who waited for the cable cars to leave; Walk not Run, was on point with the wait, because there was no need to hurry.

(image:  View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Presidio)
We rode over to Union Square and visited Tiffany’s and William Sonoma; one for my love of diamonds and the other due to my love of cooking. Nordstrom’s Mall was next on the list, where we found Lucky jeans and I found extra long, low cut jeans; another of my loves. I can wear jeans everyday.

Upon returning to our room, we were invited to a free happy hour where they served wine. A perfect send off to our evening’s entertainment. We schlepped up hill through Chinatown to the North Beach area. We met Peter, our long time friend who lives in the city at Club Fugazi (678 Green Street) where he treated us to Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon production. What a topically timely and hilarious musical. The costumes were nothing less than spectacular for size and impressions. The actors/singers, were absolutely talented and the musicians had to have played cuts from fifty songs and a dozen complete numbers.

We laughed all the way to the restaurant for a late dinner. Rose Pistola 532 Columbus Avenue (North Beach) is a boisterous and fun place with great food. Our group grew with the addition of my friend Robert, so this locale was perfect for a group of folk who laughed heartily and spent hours playing catch up on each other’s lives.

Peter, a very lovable guy, ran into an old acquaintance. A colorful native who shared her views of growing up in the sixties and clairvoyance abilities. Her sidekick, (or shall I say “yes” woman) played along for our nightcap, before dragging us along to Tasco’s for Irish coffee. The night ended at quarter to one.

Day two:

Rising fully rested, but a little hung over, we trotted up the street to Powell, again. This time we ate breakfast at Sear’s Fine Foods at 439 Powell. They’re known for their sand dollar pancakes. Sue, our waitperson is from Melbourne, Australia and was quite interesting to talk with. You see, Sue is quite the traveler. She shared with us that she has backpacked/traveled to over forty three countries. Without neglecting the other diners in her section, to our delight she entertained us with some of her adventures.

I worked from my room while Tom went on an appointment and when he returned, we took a taxi over to Peter’s for a ride up to the wine country. What a beautiful unseasonably warm day. Leaving his home, we drove through The Presidio, which is a military base that has been transformed into a beautiful national park, complete with trails and a golf course. Located right at the entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge, The Presidio is a gorgeous piece of land that is now home to several retired Generals and new home of Lucas Films.

The temperature got up to 67º, so we had the top down and drove along the countryside taking in the scenic marina of Sausalito and the view Mount Tamalpais on the road to Napa.

Picking season has passed still the landscape was head turning. Peter enlightened us along the way as we neared the valley and passed several wineries. Lunch reservations were set for 1:00. We ate on the patio at Cindie’s. After still more Dungeness crab, a delicious glazed beef tenderloin and Rombaugher Chardonnay, we finished off with a dessert the waitperson referred to as “s’mores on steroids”. Man, what a delicious high.

To ward off the desire for a nap, we walked the shops in St. Helena. Bellezza’s, a lingerie shop located at 1228 Main, we met two ladies who were simply refreshing. Besides having something for everyone, the shop mirrored their energy which was contagious. We strolled over to the Martini House at 1245 Spring Street; a split level house renovated into a restaurant with bars on both levels and nice ambiance.

We purchased a couple bottles of wine from a local wine shop before jumping back in the car for Sonoma. Peter took the scenic route on a winding road which took us over the mountains and into Sonoma’s square. We stretched our legs and toured the shops and hotels as well as checked out the real estate details to quench our curiosity.

Another quick stop inbound, led us to Sushi Ran in Sausalito for a quick snack. I ventured to try their Saki Mohito while the guys told stories over Sapporo Japanese beer. Peter noted that women seem to frequent Sushi Ran due to the comfort level of eating at the bar paired with great service and a delicious menu.

Day Three:

For our last day, we joined Peter and Alan, his friend and neighbor, for coffee at Peet’s Coffee at the Ferry House. Although Peter doesn’t own this joint, he was aware that once a guy went in and showed his driver’s license to reveal his name was Pete Coffee.

Since the shops were closed on Sundays, Peter decided to show us another great place. With Tom and Alan following in another car, Peter took me through the area were the Geddes lives and Robin Williams resides. We passed the golf course were he assists with the junior league tournaments and moved on to breakfast and Bloody Marys at the Cliff House ( After more crab and rounds of Eggs Benedict we watched the surfer’s ride the cold waves.

We snapped a few shots of the beautiful Ocean Beach view and hiked back up the hill to the car before Peter took the scenic route through the Marina which was devastated during the earthquake and now is a thriving area for the younger singles of the city.

Then unfortunately, our trip had come to its final hour. Peter deposited us in front our hotel and we sulked up to our room, dreading our departure. But I think the city enjoyed us and did want us to leave, for we were delayed leaving by an hour due to weather. So we met Robert at Kuleto’s bar (221 Powell – Union Square) for a final drink and left for the airport. Even the view from the plane left me in awe.