I was recently able to travel to San Francisco for my birthday. My wife conveniently had a conference, and I tagged along and explored the city during the day while she was busy. I only had 50 hours there, so it was a whirlwind of activity. This is the journal of my two-day experience.
Wake up in the hotel and put on my running shoes because I plan to cover a lot of ground today. Mesmerized by the architecture of the neighborhoods and the hills so steep with no switchbacks. Breakfast sandwich and crunchy potatoes at MyMy Cafe. The food culture here is amazing. Last night an Italian dinner at Colombini. I love recalling the flavors of the pesto and icebox balsamic. I hear so many languages, so many accents as I walk the north side of the city. Australian, British, Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, German, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Portuguese, French.
I walk to the Marina from my hotel in the Tenderloin. Put my feet in the Pacific Ocean for the first time, taste the cold salt water from my fingers. Now it is part of me. Golden Gate Bridge. Alcatraz Island. The traffic of rowboats, tankers, sailboats in the bay. A man about my age walks onto the beach and shucks his shirt, shorts, and shoes into a neat pile. He walks into the ocean in swimming briefs and begins to breaststroke in the dark, chilly water. I find three tiny shells, unbroken in the surf, to take home.
The plant life is abundant and wildly different from Denver. Palm trees, magnolia trees, succulents, irises, lilies, orchids. The sweet scent of jasmine on a trellis.
I take a break at the Marina branch of the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL). A small branch but great selection. Pro tip when traveling: libraries usually have free wifi, bathrooms, and water. The library is located beside a small, gated playground. Sign on the gate announces a city ordinance: All adults must be accompanied by children.
I have a persistent headache. My migraine medication doesn’t touch it. A pressure headache? Allergies? I power through.
The majority of dogs here are small, and there are fewer dogs than Denver by a wide margin. Dog walkers abound, four to six dogs leashed to them as if the person is a parade balloon and the dogs are handling them, guiding the person down the sidewalk or the beach. They are plentiful at the beach today. Here are the bigger dogs of the city stretching their muscles, enjoying the sand and sun.
Late lunch at Lers Ros, a Thai restaurant not too far from my hotel. The shrimp Pad Thai has only three prawns in the whole dish, very little egg, a parsimonious sprinkling of crushed peanuts. But what the dish lacks in protein it makes up for in bean sprouts, unfortunately. I’m disappointed but stop at a bakery for a custard-filled eclair. The treat makes up for the mediocre lunch.
I nap and recover in the hotel room until my wife returns from her conference. We walk through Union Square, the high-end luxury stores like light boxes in the early evening dark. Dior. Vera Wang. Jimmy Choo. Chanel. Hermes. We walk north to Chinatown and have spicy miso ramen at Slurp. My birthday dessert is gelato in Little Italy.
Exhausted but happy, we go back to the hotel. I walked 8+ miles today, 20K+ steps. That low-grade headache has not let up even once all day.
Slept in, but the headache is waiting for me when I decide to get up. It’s a clear, sunny day, and I power through the pressure in my head.
Breakfast with my wife at the diner across the street. She has to finish out her conference today, and I need to laze around the hotel room some more. I can hear all the street and city sounds through the hotel windows which overlook an alley off of the main road. The hotel is a converted mid-town building. The room is half the size of any hotel room I’ve been in before, and there are two twin-sized beds. Every time I open the door to the room, it seems like the funniest joke ever to see two twin beds. Like any good story, the situation is strange but okay.
Walking through Union Square again, I watch a young man in a hoodie and loose jeans working at a scratch-off ticket against the wall of the Harry Winston storefront. There’s a kind of fable or moral in that. The image stays with me. So does the woman in the toffee color leather jacket, so smooth and rich it looks like butter or pastry. So does the street side art gallery with Dr. Seuss characters’ heads mounted on boards like hunting trophies. The smells of the city are inundating and 50/50 pleasant to unpleasant in ratio.
Going to Chinatown again, this time in the daylight. I get a picture of the Dragon Gate, then the Chinese lanterns suspended over the street. I look for little gifts to bring back to our children. A Chinese fan and fuschia silk coin purse for my daughter. A large San Francisco mug and small plush No-Face from Spirited Away for my teenage son.
I eventually make my way to City Lights Bookstore at the strange Bermuda Triangle where Chinatown segues into Little Italy. It’s a beautiful store, winding and sprawling especially considering the size restraints of the city. I keep comparing it to the Tattered Cover in Denver, preferring the bookstore at home to the legendary City Lights. Go to the cashier to buy White Is For Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, but they are temporarily unable to accept cards, cash only. I leave empty-handed, disappointed, but also glad to know that my local bookstore rivals this one.
I stop for lunch at Pinocchio to try their in-house pasta. Lovely lunch spot, windows open and a view of the sidewalk traffic. I order the pesto and linguine, cementing the relationship between pesto and San Francisco in my memory.
My wife finishes her conference, and we take a car to the Castro to spend our last few hours. It’s the cleanest, tidiest neighborhood I’ve seen in the entire city. We stop at Hot Cookie and pick out two treats. The Boy Scout cookie with melted marshmallows and a graham cracker on top is by far the best of the two. We share the cookies and sip coffees while sitting at colorful tables and chairs on a public space patio. I watch the gay men, fit and stylish, as they come and go through the nearest intersection, greeting one another with ease.
We search for a bakery that sells sourdough to bring back for a friend. Thorough Bakery in the Castro. Ah, here is where the lesbians are, tall and muscular from moving trays and kneading bread. The bakery cafe smells of yeast, flour, bitter chocolate, and sugar. We buy two loaves of the country sourdough because I have to taste it for myself. Through the back of the cafe, there is a lush green patio space, strangely hushed and cool. At one of the wrought iron tables under the tree canopy, we shift the things we carry and wrestle the loaves of bread into our backpacks for the trip to the airport.
On the way to the airport, I begin to experience other allergy symptoms and buy some Claritin at the terminal gift shop. My nose stops running almost immediately and the perpetual headache lessens in intensity. I surmise that I’m very allergic to something in San Francisco. It’s not until we exit the plane in Denver that my headache completely disappears.