Monday, May 03, 2010


When I suggested San Francisco as a destination for our family holiday, I did so for a slightly odd (and somewhat selfish) reason. I didn't think I really liked San Francisco. I'd been a few times over my life, and never felt any particular connection to the city-- most recently I'd visited the city on a decidedly miserable college road-trip that made the city seem grimy, bland, and populated by washed out hippies and aging beatniks. And admittedly, my fondness for LA might have spurned a little Nor-Cal rivalry. But recently I'd spoken with quite a few interesting people who love the city, making me wonder if there was something I'd missed. And during the developing of my interest in food, my researches kept pointing back toward San Francisco as a great food center. So I decided to give the city another chance.

I planned the trip rather closely with my sister, and we were very particular in our plans. We avoided everything that seemed too touristy (no bread bowls on Pier 39), skipped the Haight completely (ew), and sought out a mix of local cafes, restaurants, and bakeries to sample from. I wanted to live as much like a local as I could during our short stay, to gain a new perspective on the city.

And as a result, I will happily admit that I was wrong; San Francisco truly is a rather fantastic city. Though the best thing about the city is its vibe and atmosphere, I've isolated a few of the particular things that I loved most about San Francisco. Are they enough to make me spurn LA completely? Well, if I could ever afford an apartment in the Mission...

1. Eating well, locally

The creamy latte and sultana-studded muesli above were enjoyed on a sidewalk table outside Farm:Table, a minuscule cafe with a changing daily menu of straight-from-the-farm produce. San Francisco is not only an easy city in which to eat well, it's also an incredibly easy city in which to eat responsibly, as there are lots of opportunities to eat foods that are grown or produced locally.

There are fantastic cafes, like Farm:Table or the super-cool Local Mission Eatery, which feature menus that are not only fresh and creative, but also made up only of local, seasonal foods. One incredible resource for eating locally in the city is the Ferry Building, which houses enough San Francisco food artisans to put together an incredible picnic lunch. We took home camembert from Cowgirl Creamery, baguettes from Acme Bread Company, and several regional bottles from the Wine Merchant.

The Ferry Building also have a great farmer's market several times a week. One of the best meals we had on the trip was a fantastic breakfast tart Bordeaux made, using local salami, pancetta, eggs, asparagus, herbs, and heirloom tomatoes, all purchased from the farmer's market at the Ferry Building.

2. Asian culture

After having lived in Asia I've had to accept that I'll never be able to leave the continent behind completely; so a US city with a strong Asian culture might be ideal. San Francisco's location on the Pacific Rim was clearly obvious, in elements ranging from the iconic Japanese Gardens at Golden Gate Park (pictured above), to the simple every-day details, like announcements in Mandarin on city buses. It's also a great city for Asian food, with options ranging form rock-star restaurants like The Slanted Door and Burma Superstar!, to small hole-in-the-wall binh my shops.

3. Car-free living

I have really grown to love living without a car, and while I still see the use in having one for moving furniture or going on road-trips, I'd be rather pleased if my daily life was totally car-free. San Francisco must among of the very few cities in the American West where that's actually a possibility. We were lucky enough to rent a house in Nob Hill, from where we could almost everywhere; for longer distances, I loved the retro cable-cars that have been gathered from all over the country.

Not only was it personally enjoyable being able to get around on foot, but it created such a wonderful atmosphere in the city. The streets and sidewalks felt totally alive, because people weren't just ducking into their cars as soon as they got outside. People would pass us carrying groceries or bundles of flowers, walking french bulldogs, or going on their daily run. And all the people mingling on the sidewalks meant tons of opportunities for fashion-spotting among locals, who somehow all seemed incredibly beautiful and well-dressed. Maybe it's all the walking and jogging that makes them look so good...

4. Sweet City
Yet for a city that is so fit and healthy, there are an incredible diversity of places that make getting rather fat look quite tempting. There are bakeries, sweet-shops, and ice-cream parlors all over the city, most of them featuring artisinal desserts, creative flavors, and high-quality ingredients. Pictured above is an almond crossaint I wish I'd tried Tartine, where we splurged on a range of pastries to split over a picnic in Golden Gate park. I won't go on too much about the topic of San Francisco's sweet-shops now, because I have a lot more to say about it another entry...


Cate said...

I made a brief visit there in March and ran out of time to spend eating, but I plan to go back there and hot these places with a vengence, Love these images so...tasty.

A Girl in Asia said...

I'm so jealous, I'd LOVE to go to SF! The food scene there sounds amazing, and I've heard amazing things about Tartine. Love the sound/idea of the hills, houses and trams too (reminds me of the opening credits of Full House!). Enjoy!

Postcards and Coasters said...

I've had the same feelings about SFO... and have also been thinking lately of giving it another try. I think I'll try it without a car this time. Thanks for the info.

Jamie said...

Xander, it's so great to hear about your trip to SF!! I am so happy that you gave it a second chance, because it really is fantastic. I agree with you on all four points, and these are the main reasons we decided to move here. As a fellow former Asia-dweller, I too have found the Asian influence here fantastic. I never imagined I would seek it out as much as I have, but I love it!

And thanks for the detailed posts showing all the places you ate. There are a few that we didn't even know about that we'll have to try soon!!