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San Francisco Trip Report -- Food, Art, Shopping, More Food...!

San Francisco Trip Report -- Food, Art, Shopping, More Food...!

May 4th, 2009, 08:07 AM
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Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 611
San Francisco Trip Report -- Food, Art, Shopping, More Food...!

Thank you to everybody who gave me such great input and tips... we had an absolute blast in SF this past weekend. How could you not in this amazing city? I've posted pictures from the trip at the website below:


FYI, we're two sisters in our early 40s, from South Florida, and this was our second trip to SF. Both trips were short (3 days each time), but it's all my sister can swing, since she needs to leave her kids with our mom (don't worry... mom's coming to Alaska with me in June!) We flew non-stop from Miami to SFO and rented a car with Enterprise. At first, I thought getting the rental car was gonna be a huge, time-consuming pain, but it turned out to be quick and painless. At the SF airport, you have to take the "Air Train" (a sort of monorail) to a central rental car area. This was MUCH easier than dragging your bags on and off shuttle buses to offsite rental centers, like so many airports use. We got a mid-size car for $28/day (total was $125 for 3 days, after taxes)... I think this was very cheap! The process was really streamlined at this rental center, and paperwork was minimal and quick... I was impressed. I travel a lot for business and I haven't experienced such a smooth, short process at any other airport.

FRIDAY: We only had a few hours this afternoon, so we immediately headed up to Golden Gate Park, and found the underground parking garage at Fulton & 10th (plenty of space, since it was a weekday). Our first stop was the deYoung Museum's cafe, and we decided to grab some takeout salads, hummus, etc. to eat at the outside tables facing the sculpture garden. This was wonderful! I have to say, I completely fell in love with the deYoung. I loved the architecture, and the sculpture garden was great (including Miro, Oldenberg, Henry Moore, etc.) Since we'd just arrived and wanted to stay outside for a while (the weather was beautiful, although very windy), we headed over to the Japanese Tea Garden. We really enjoyed this -- the koi pond, pagodas, cherry blossoms in bloom, very lush grounds. Afterwards, we headed back to the deYoung and went up to the observation deck. This was stunning in every sense... the 360-degree view was fantastic, and it was such a beautiful space architecturally, framing the scenes of the city. Afterwards, we didn't have a ton of time, so we only chose one section of the museum collection to visit. We saw the 20th-century and contemporary stuff, which we love... there were some nice things by big-name artists (Diebenkorn, Nevelson, Franz Kline, Stuart Davis) and also some really interesting contemporary pieces that I was surprised to like (for example, a model of a cathedral built entirely out of parts from disassembled guns... interesting!)

Then we headed to our hotel to check in... we stayed at the Orchard Garden Hotel (thank you centralparkgirl!) This is the Union Square area (corner of Bush & Grant). I initially had a room booked at the Triton, but got "cold feet" a few days before we left... the Triton looked funky and fun, but had such mixed reviews. We were extremely happy with the Orchard Garden. We used the valet service to park our car ('cause we're lazy and didn't care about the price... although it wasn't as bad as other places at $40/day plus tax). Hey, I'm on vacation! The front desk upgraded us to a superior room: a 7th-floor corner room, at that! The room was really big, light and airy. The decor is very nice (modern "earthy" with light wood, granite bathroom, big flatscreen TV with DVD player, etc.) and had extremely comfortable beds, linens, duvets. There was also free wireless internet, which was great to have. Also, I'm a very light sleeper and the room was very quiet. Actually, we did have a "situation" one night with some unbelievably obnoxious neighbors who (and I'm not making this up) were playing bongos, singing and burning incense! I called the front desk and they handled it very well; they didn't simply call the room and ask them to keep it down, they immediately sent up a security team (!) and it got very quiet (and odor-free) very quickly. Overall the staff was friendly and helpful. The only negative was the hotel restaurant, which had mediocre, overpriced food... but who cares, when there are tons of dining options within walking distance (including Starbucks for quick breakfasts). Anyway, I would stay at this hotel again in a heartbeat.

For dinner the first night, we went to Millennium, a vegetarian restaurant; I'm a vegetarian (and my sister's a health nut), so we were excited to check it out. Unfortunately we weren't very impressed; our salads and desserts were very good, but our main dishes were unremarkable, as was the service. (Thankfully our dinner the following night more than made up for it... stay tuned!)

SATURDAY: ok, a HUGE thank you to everyone who told me over & over that I HAD to go to the Ferry Building and Farmer's Market on Saturday morning! I switched our schedule to make the timing work so we could go, and was it worth it! I'm still thinking about the hot chocolate at Boulette's Larder! (My sister's still laughing about it; she does not have a sweet tooth and thinks it's hilarious that I quickly drank what was basically a melted chocolate bar with whipped cream!) Amazing. The stalls were great -- sampling the cheese, bread, nuts, dried fruit -- and finding out that yes, you can actually buy Fiddlehead Ferns (for $18 a pound).

After a couple hours of grazing, we got on an F Market old-fashioned streetcar and took it to the Castro. We saw Harvey Milk Plaza (marked by the giant rainbow flag), and here they have some historical photos posted which were neat to see, especially just having seen the movie "Milk." We basically walked up and down Castro Street and checked out various shops. The most fun was "Cliff's Variety" which is pretty much 1/2 basic hardware store, and 1/2 funky novelty shop. It's nice to be able to pick up lightbulbs and a fake handlebar mustache at the same place. This was literally what the guy in front of us purchased

We walked east on 18th Street and wandered into Dolores Park for a bit (lots of people were out enjoying the sunny day), and then we tooled around the Mission District (mainly on Valencia between 16th and 21st). We went down Clarion Alley to see the murals, which was cool. Among our favorite shops on Valencia were Paxton Gate (gardening supply and taxidermy!) and 826 Valencia (a non-profit children's writing project and pirate supply store!) It seems that SF has a knack for strange dual-function stores There were also some wonderful independent bookstores in the area, including "Modern Times," and "Dog Eared Books," which had unbelievable selections of titles you'd never come across in major chain bookstores. I'm a huge fan of indie bookstores and stocked up on things I'd never find at home. I could easily have spent a full day in just the bookstores in the Mission District. Several restaurants in the area looked really good, including "Dolores Park Cafe" and "Ti Couz" (crepes), but since we pigged-out at the farmers market, we only had room for a snack, which we grabbed at the small "Javalencia" coffee shop. (By the way, Tartine's Bakery was PACKED and we didn't want to wait... next time!)
CarolM is offline  
May 4th, 2009, 08:09 AM
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(Part 2):
We then took the BART to Civic Center... it was easy to navigate our way through the subway, once we figured out how to use the automated ticket machine (and glad we held onto the tickets since you need them to exit the station!) We were headed to the Asian Art Museum, and on the way enjoyed the view of the beautiful City Hall (and the not-so-beautiful strung-out heroin addicts here and there). We felt essentially safe, but it's always unnerving to see. Anyway, the Asian Art Museum was fantastic! I wouldn't characterize myself as someone who's into Asian art, but I was pleasantly surprised and really enjoyed myself. There was a special exhibit from Bhutan which was interesting, but we most enjoyed the 2nd and 3rd floor galleries, filled with dramatically-lit Buddhas, ornate statues and other art from Southeast Asia, China, Japan, etc. If you only have an hour to spare, you can see most of the museum (we did a moderately-quick swing through the galleries in about an hour), and still felt it was very worthwhile. I'm surprised more people don't talk about going. (I believe they've done a renovation in recent years?) Afterwards, we took the BART back to the Montgomery station, which was very close to the hotel.

This night, my sister and I (no exaggeration) both had the best meal we've ever had in our lives. It was at "Aziza" in the Richmond District (5800 Geary Blvd.) It's billed as a Moroccan restaurant, but it's more of a modern place with Moroccan influences. Stu Dudley pointed out an article from the Chronicle in which Aziza recently got a rarely-awarded 3.5 star rating:


I'm no food critic, so I can't even find the words to describe the flavors, but suffice it to say that every bite had our eyes rolling into our heads! I never thought I'd be able to say that an "artichoke salad" was the best thing I'd ever eaten... but it was! This wasn't your run-of-the-mill appetizer... I have no idea how the artichoke hearts were prepared, but they were to die for. That article above describes some of this dish (sous vide squares of Tibetan pear, triangles of parmigiano-reggiano, etc.). We also had unbelievable cocktails -- called a "Cilantro" -- a tart, not sweet, vodka martini with keffir-lime and cilantro -- delicious! The service was great, and I loved that our server had definite opinions and all his suggestions were spot-on. My sister had the halibut as her main dish, and raved about it. I was happy that there were 3 vegetarian options, and I choose the recommended farro (with maitake mushrooms and grana padano cheese), which was creamy and rich and fantastic. We forced ourselves to save room for desert and had the chocolate cannoli-shaped pastry with chocolate sorbet and a sesame-something tuile. For food of this caliber, I would have paid more than twice what we did -- it was very reasonable for such an excellent meal!

SUNDAY: we headed out early and drove up to Muir Woods. I was thrilled I got to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, which was fun, but I still recommend that everyone walk or bike it at some point (it's even more dramatic up close and personal.) We got to Muir Woods around 8:15 am to beat the crowds. It was COLD that morning, but still so peaceful and nice to have the place virtually to ourselves. We spent about an hour-and-a-half, then headed up to Point Reyes. I have to say, there was a LOT of driving this day, and it was the least enjoyable part of the trip for me. You see, we're flat-landers -- there's not so much as a hill in South Florida -- and I found the driving on Highway 1 to be... INTENSE. I'm sure it's because I'm not used to it; I don't have a fear of heights, and I didn't feel nervous.... it was just the constant curves and the demand for intense concentration. I couldn't relax and enjoy myself or really absorb much scenery. (Funny enough, I felt completely "at home" driving in the city of SF, but I'm used to urban driving.) Anyway, after about 45 minutes (and 947 curves later), we got to the "Station House Cafe" in Point Reyes Station... this is a lovely little restaurant, and we sat outside in their nicely planted courtyard and had a really great lunch... I totally recommend it here. Then we drove to the Pt. Reyes Visitor's Center, walked the short Earthquake Trail (with the fence that was displaced 20 yards by the 1906 earthquake) and it was very nice -- lots of wildflowers in bloom. The day was extremely windy, and the rangers at the Visitor's Center recommended that we not head out to the lighthouse (35 mph steady winds), so we thought that maybe Chimney Rock would be more sheltered.... but we were wrong. We wanted to check out the elephant seals (pups were recently born), but the drive out there had a road that actually DID make me nervous (one lane, very steep, yikes!) and the wind made being outside completely unenjoyable. So we headed over to Drake's Bay, had coffee at the cafe there, and walked around the beach with the dramatic sand cliffs.I know I didn't get to see much of Point Reyes, but my experience left me a little disappointed. It's a harder park to really "get into" -- very spread out, requiring lots of time. Several years ago, a friend and I visited the Monterey / Carmel / Big Sur area -- going down to Point Lobos, hiked in the redwoods (Julia Pfeiffer State Park, etc.) and I found the coastline there to be very accessible and more dramatic than what I got to see in Point Reyes.

I didn't mean to end on a negative, because all in all, it was a wonderful trip! I thank all of you who gave me so much valuable information. I hope this trip report "gives back" some of that to others.

CarolM is offline  
May 4th, 2009, 08:12 AM
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Sounds really fun, thanks for the report back! ***kim***
kimamom is offline  
May 4th, 2009, 08:13 AM
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PS -- for easy viewing of the pictures link above, you can click "Slideshow" in the upper RH corner.
CarolM is offline  
May 4th, 2009, 08:19 AM
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I agree, it's a pity people miss the best of the city - the museums!

Asian art museum was in the same building as DeYoung, and moved to the old library on Larkin several years ago, after the library got a new building.
Dayenu is offline  
May 4th, 2009, 08:22 AM
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Nice capture of the apples, and the "walking apple" in the back in the DeYoung
Dayenu is offline  
May 4th, 2009, 08:35 AM
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HA! You saw that! I was hysterical when I got home and looked closely at that picture... I couldn't have staged it better!!!!
CarolM is offline  
May 4th, 2009, 08:43 AM
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nice trip report and pictures!

my favourite spot to visit in spring is the japanese tea garden when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

driving to pt. reyes can be unnerving for even us locals.
i invariably get car sick and have marked many spots along the road.

826 valencia was founded by dave eggers.
it is such a great outlet for kids especially to encourage their interest in reading and writing.
i think he has opened several other 826 valencia centers around the country.
abranz is offline  
May 4th, 2009, 10:02 AM
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CarolM - wonderful report and photos. I'm glad that your service was attentive at the Orchard Garden. I had one problem and they were really short staffed (due to the economy). And I can 'taste' that artichoke salad!

Dayenu - LOL - I saw the Macoun too!
Centralparkgirl is offline  
May 4th, 2009, 05:49 PM
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Kal is offline  
May 7th, 2009, 02:35 AM
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What a great report! Thanks for posting
yk is online now  
May 8th, 2009, 06:43 AM
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abranz, thanks for the info on the 826 stores... I just looked online and it turns out there are now 7 branches around the country (each with a different fun idea... not pirates, but one has superhero stuff, one has spy stuff, etc.) That's really cool... I had no idea he had taken that nationally. It's a great program!

btw, thanks for sharing your "experiences" on the road to point reyes -- i don't feel so wimpy now!
CarolM is offline  
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