A Taste of San Francisco

This past weekend we traveled down to San Francisco. I was invited down for a work function on Thursday and we decided to stay for a long weekend and hang out with friends and family.

I’ve actually been to the bay area many times for various reasons: cousins, my best friend from high school went to Berkeley, interviews for work, an ex, weddings, and the latest, a dragon boat race. I even debated on moving there after college, but magically Portland was my last interview location and I was instantly a convert. I also was coming from complicated relationships (you know how dramatic your younger years can be), and a new, stress-free place sounded invigorating.

Still, I find SF very hard to summarize, let alone describe. My coworker, who had never been, asked when we landed, “What do they call themselves?” San Franciscoans sounds 1) odd and 2) inaccurate. You need to distinguish between East Bay, South Bay, SOMA, Berkeley, Presidio… The list of neighborhoods goes on, and I’m not even venturing down into Silicon Valley.

In our four days there, though we seemed to cover a lot of ground, here’s only a taste of this big city.

Fisherman’s Wharf

This iconic touristy spot did not fail me and my coworkers. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl, the long line to get a (so-so) Ghiradelli milkshake, imagining the swim to Alcatraz and quoting The Rock, and my favorite, hanging out at the pier with the sea lions. Watching those blubbery and floppy mammals amidst the fresh ocean breeze just can’t be beat.

Us and Alcatraz

What we didn’t expect were the dangers of screaming tourist. We got attacked, not by people, but by the seagulls! First, one of our group got shat on and we laughed — but that was just the teaser, a warning. Then I got lunch — fried prawns and chips — from one of the “local” vendors. As I went to cross the street to find a bench, I expected the mass of birds to move out of my way. Instead, one came from behind and hit me in the back of my head while another swooped down and knocked my food out of my basket, and the rest enjoyed yet another well-executed meal. Like something out of  Hitchcock, right? Unbelievable! The rest of my lunch was spent sneaking a prawn or fry one at a time, all too aware of the 30 aggressive birds preying at my feet.

SOMA

St. Regis

Work put us up in the fancy St. Regis. The picture of the room should suffice, but just for emphasis, the bathtub/spa add-ons started at $500. So we decided to pass on the champagne and caviar. Located near Union Square, it’s a no brainer that the business district is not my favorite. There’s too much traffic (it took us 10 minutes to go one block) and tall buildings; I want to see the steep hills and old houses. At least the cable car is inexplicably irresistible. The work party (I’ll blog about this later, as it was a pretty cool honor to be there and meet our CEO) was held at the Asian Art Museum, grandiose and impressive but a tad sterile for my taste.

Golden Gate Park

We stayed with our good friends Greg and Elizabeth who, as former PDXers, know how we roll. Greg took us to the Golden Gate Park for a fantastic run in the middle of a Friday afternoon. I love vacation! Normally I have little patience with Ben when he turns our runs into exploratory ones, where we go in circles or suddenly change direction to, hey, that trail! Adding on at the end is a big no-no. But then we wouldn’t have stumbled across the pagoda or the Chinese bridge or all the cool water features hidden in the park. We did eventually stay course (with Greg’s trusty compass) and looked out at the Pacific Ocean. And the final panorama view of the city from the De Young tower was worth the extra half mile.

Japantown

Friday evening I met up with my high school and college friend Jen, who is incredibly sweet and wonderful to hang out with. She took us out to Japantown for delicious ramen; I got the spicy tofu and pork and Ben indulged on the fried chicken. The Japanese seriously know how to fry things and Portland could use some authentic ramen noodle houses.

We were learning quickly that no matter where you live, there were two things in common: 1) No one cooks in San Francisco. It might be because of all the options, or that driving is such a pain that you end up spending a lot on groceries at your local store, or it’s the big city lifestyle. 2) Traffic is guaranteed. Yet everyone still drives: my friend commutes almost 3 hrs a day! I was understanding why Elizabeth was so proud of her transit skills.

Berkeley

This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. Our other good friends Andy and Reb came from Truckee to join us, so on Saturday, we finally got to meet their baby Huck. Look at those wide eyes — he is permanently curious and cute!

Meet Huck!

Greg and Huck

Andy had done some research and took us up to Berkeley for some city bouldering at Indian Rock. We honestly were not expecting much, like traverses or not very high rock with one or two moves, but there were indeed gigantic boulders, smack in the middle of houses and with quality climbing. Random yet booyah!

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Ben on the cheese grater

Andy tops out

We spent almost three hours climbing, making friends with the locals (and bumming off their crashpads since I was not interested in the permanent couch cushions). Greg, Elizabeth, and Huck all patiently waited and claimed to have a good time (well, Huck didn’t cry so we think he did). Finally when we could no longer hold on to anything, our stomachs were growling from having skipped lunch (thankfully Reb was prepared for snacking), and we were still planning to run, we drove up the hill to Tilden Park.

Thanks to the logistics major Elizabeth, everyone squeezed in a run while Huck enjoyed a nap and a walk. After that, it didn’t require much planning to decide to eat, and to eat stat. Berkeley clearly has a huge variety of ethnic food and very soon our bellies were pleasantly filled with Nepalese food and buttery naan.

It was the perfect day spent outdoors with great friends. I’ve always enjoyed the Berkeley area, probably because it’s a lot like Portland, and now I know there’s climbing! A heads up to our DB friends who just moved there this week: we’re definitely coming to visit!

Mission St.

The next day it was pouring. While the rest of us bailed on our plans to run north of the Golden Gate Bridge, hard core Elizabeth still met up with her cousin to pace her for the San Francisco half. Mad props to Elizabeth and her cousin for reaching her goal!

Greg and Elizabeth live near Mission St. so everyone joined us for pizza in this quirky area. I just found it kind of random, what with the Victorian architecture lined with block-sized murals, fine dining mixed in with authentic Mexican food, clubs (I think, couldn’t tell during the day), and shopping, that is for rip-off shoes or Mexican wrestling masks.

Crissy Fields

Sunday afternoon my cousin and her family drove up from Sunnyvale. Her eldest daughter, TN, was our flower girl and has grown into a really energetic and sharp kid (except the I Spy game was pretty easy for me). The younger daughter, TM, is even more hyper and a riot. At four years old, she speaks three languages (French and Vietnamese) and you better speak all three too if you want to understand. They took us for a walk up north at Chrissy Fields, a popular spot for bikers, runners, and fishermen. The girls had no problem with the 3 mile walk (playing tag and I spy helped 🙂 ) and it was nice to chat with my cousin, who used to take care of us when we were little.

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We had a wonderful time in San Francisco. Thanks to everyone for the hospitality! We will be back for sure since clearly there’s still so much to do and see. More pictures on FlickR.

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