Only in San Francisco!

12 Oct

If you’re a “regular” around here, you know it is highly unusual for me not to post for almost two weeks.  However, I was off having a blast with a few of my closest girlfriends in San Francisco!  And since this was my first real vacation in quite some time, I decided to really try to relax and almost completely unplug (I even left my work blackberry behind at the hotel a few times…I know, gasp!)

Our trip to San Francisco really started as the destination for our annual Buffalo Bills away game.  When we realized that none of us have been to San Francisco though, we started researching how many great things there are to do in the city and decided to extend our trip to allow for a few extra days of fun.  Now clearly we didn’t have enough time to see and do everything – and in fact the one thing we agreed on was that we didn’t want to rush through things simply to say we did them – but here’s a snapshot of our six fabulous days in San Francisco.

(Oh, and for my travel buddy, I got it now – it’s a 6 hour flight, not a three.  Thanks for clarifying: “It’s time zones, Kate.  Not time travel.”  While most of our inside jokes are just way too inappropriate to quote, I’ve snuck a few in for you girls!)

Enjoy!

Arriving Wednesday morning, we quickly checked in at the hotel, threw on clothes we could bike in, and made our way to Fisherman’s Wharf.  Knowing our deathly-allergic-to-seafood friend was arriving later that night, we took the opportunity to indulge in crab chowder and bread bowls for lunch at Sabella & La Torre on Taylor Street.  I don’t think we said a word to each other the entire time we sat outside devouring our meal!

From lunch we headed over to Bay City Bikes where the plan was to bike about 12 miles from Fisherman’s Wharf along the San Francisco Bay and ultimately across the Golden Gate Bridge and back.  The views throughout our ride were gorgeous.  There were two things I hadn’t expected though: the steep angle of the hills as we approached the bridge and the intensity of the fog once we reached the bridge.  By the time we rode back over the bridge and down the hills, we literally couldn’t see the bridge through the fog anymore – it was one of the craziest things I have ever seen!  Biking the bridge itself was an awesome experience though, and something that almost fell off our list of things to do…thank god it made the cut!  As I kept saying to my girlfriend, “I am so, so, so glad we did this!”

We got back to the hotel just in time for a quick shower before catching the presidential debate in the hotel lobby bar.  From there we headed out for what turned out to be a great sushi dive for dinner.  (The accident that resulted in a car barreling down the steep sidewalk toward us as we waited outside for our table was, well, unexpected.  Thanks for telling me to get out of the way sistah.  Sorry, I thought I was in a movie and froze…)

And then there were three on Thursday!  Although we had been warned that Pier 39 is a “tourist trap” (it is…), we needed something close to Alcatraz Landing in order to catch our 11 am ferry to Alcatraz.  Based on sheer proximity alone, we stumbled into Eagle Café on the water where I absolutely could not resist the crab cake eggs benedict with fresh market tomatoes.  Beyond delicious!

Our post-breakfast ferry ride to Alcatraz was beautiful with striking views of the San Francisco skyline, Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, and Alcatraz Island itself.  So beautiful in fact that I almost forgot that we were on our way to one of the country’s most notorious prisons!  After docking, we made our way to the residential apartments that once housed the prison’s officers for an orientation video of the island’s history (my mom will be so proud).  From there we marched up the winding hill to the main cellhouse, which is elevated 13-stories above the boat dock, for an audio tour of the actual prison (“No you can’t claim you need to take the tram up the hill! We just passed a woman with a cane!”)  I’m a huge fan of audio tours in general but this one was particularly good as it is narrated by former guards and inmates, shares stories from the prison’s history, and draws your attention to the most minor of details.  In the recreation yard the fresh air, sunshine, and view reinforced a popular theme throughout the tour – that the views from across the bay were one of the most punishing aspects of Alcatraz; the sights and sounds of San Francisco were a constant reminder to prisoners that they were banned from society, which was just 1.5 miles away, just out of reach.  Outside the cellhouse and recreational yard, we created our own self-guided tour of the island’s grounds – the lighthouse, warden’s 17-room house, guard tower, eagle plaza, Alcatraz gardens etc.  What?!  You wouldn’t take turns reading the visitor plaques out loud to your friends at each of these sites…?  We only got a few curious glances from those around us…

Everyone knows that escaping from Alcatraz should be rewarded with wine and chocolate at Ghirardelli Square.  Our priority destination at the original location of the chocolate factory (which was sold and reopened as shops and restaurants in 1964) was Wattle Creek Winery, where a five flight wine tasting awaited us.  From there we selected a glass of our favorite wine from the tasting (Sauvignon Blanc for me!) and made our way to their outdoor patio where we chatted and listened to live music from across the square.  And clearly we could not go to Ghirardelli Square without going to the ice cream and chocolate shop.

The small pumpkin spice caramel square sample from Ghirardelli was exactly what we needed to conquer the hills back to the hotel, including the crazy zigzags of Lombard Street, which we just happened to stumble across.

We made our way to the Ferry Building Thursday night for our 7:30 pm dinner reservation at MarketBar.  There the girls and I shared fried green tomatoes, bbq braised pork belly, argula and red onion flatbread with sheep-a-go-go pecorino and chile flakes, butternut squash and brown butter ravioli, and pork chops with sautéed apples and sage.  I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!  And of course there were cocktails.  After dinner we met our fourth amigo, who had finally been liberated from a work event, at Salt House for drinks.  You will not be surprised to learn that vodka ensued.

Still on New York time, we popped out of bed early Friday morning and were out the door by about 9 am for a quick breakfast (“What?!  I’m thirsty!”).  Despite the fact that hiking our asses up the many steep hills of San Francisco left us a bit sore (“My discount double check hurts!”), we had a full agenda for the day.  First was Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower, which everyone had promised would give us breathtaking, 360-degree views from the observation deck of the 210 foot tower.  The tower itself wasn’t as overwhelming as I had expected but then I remembered that Telegraph Hill, which we took to get to the tower, was elevated 275 feet above the city.  We were slightly disappointed to find that the tower stairs were closed and that we would have to take the elevator but all that was forgotten once we got to the open-air observation deck.  The views of San Francisco were incredible!

Back down the hill we jumped on the Powell-Mason cable car to Union Square (I’m a confident enough person to admit that our first cable car ride was embarrassingly fun!)  In Union Square we wandered into stores, in particular checking out counters at Macy’s, Saks, and Neiman Marcus.  And of course the Ghirardelli store for another pumpkin spice caramel square sample and Starbucks for venti iced tea lemonades.  (What?!  We were on vacation!)

I originally didn’t have all that much interest in going to Chinatown but just about everyone told us we had to.  San Francisco’s Chinatown is actually the oldest Chinatown in North America (established in 1848) and home of one of the largest Asian populations outside China.  We easily maneuvered the streets, which were far less crowded than those in New York’s Chinatown where stores spill onto the sidewalks and people are everywhere.  We found a nice little restaurant not-so-creatively named Chinatown Restaurant and shared fried rice, beef lo mein, beef and broccoli, steamed pork dumplings, and chicken dumplings with broth (“They squirt.  You’re welcome.”)

We wanted to try a new neighborhood for dinner so we made reservations at Canela Bistro Bar and hopped the Muni to Castro.  By Friday we were up to five fabulous ladies in our crew, and dinner turned out to be incredibly memorable for so many reasons.  Tapas to die for, house wine that flowed unforgivably, a warm chat with the owner/chef, and conversation topics that had us literally in tears – hook up stories (“Bro, where did you think that door led?!  Narnia?); uncircumcised penises (“The base of WHAT!?!?”); unforgettable pictures of one of the girls (“In my defense, they weren’t my goggles.”).

Okay, sooo….I wasn’t planning to go into the exact details of our dinner but I seriously cannot refuse!  Chorizo and pickled onion flatbread; spinach, olive, roasted squash, blue cheese, arugula flatbread; croquetas with jamon – fried béchamel croquetas flavored with Spanish ham; Spanish torilla – layers of creamy potato, egg, and onion; savory empanadas; calamares a la plancha – calamari seared on the flat top with sautéed white beans; aged jamon ilberico, chorizo, and manchego cheese with bread; pimentos de piquilla stuffed with coat cheese, spinach, oyster mushrooms, and shallots in tomato pepper sauce; seared morcilla sausage on purple potato puree.  You’re welcome.

The only way to end an evening like this is at a bar with an indeterminable name, great music, and sailors (“I mean, it is semen week!”)  But more on sailors later…

Go ahead and admit it.  A vacation just isn’t a vacation without a Saturday morning bottomless mimosa brunch.  I almost died when I saw the $10 price tag on the bottomless mimosas at Grub.  Nothing costs $10 in New York.  And, for the record, I have absolutely no regrets about the chorizo hash benedict (“I love these fat ketchups!”), or the fact that we consumed a bottle of hot sauce with our breakfast.  Our phenomenally friendly waitress gave us a few suggestions on what to check out in the neighborhood including a great little store, Therapy, which we browsed through before taking a quick picture with an attention-grabbing sign outside a bike shop, and heading to Delores Park to hit the lawn for a bit.  Just as one of the girls was finishing up her take on how to “lazy dog it!” we decided it was time for more cocktails and an impromptu bar car which eventually led us to yet another San Fran neighborhood, the Marina District.

Things got good from there.  Like, really good.  The plan was to meet up with Buffalo Bills fans Saturday night at the San Fran Bills Backers bar, Northstar Café.  Now we had seen “We Proudly Support San Francisco Fleet Week” signs all over town the past few days but let’s just say that amongst our group of friends, one of us “supported” Fleet Week a little bit more than the rest of us (hint: it wasn’t me!)  As friends that we haven’t seen since last year’s away in Dallas started to populate the bar, the girls and I branched out and to some degree lost track of each other’s whereabouts inside the bar.  Which is exactly why I missed one of the girls going in for the kill with a sailor!  Rawr!  San Fran style!

(Shout out to our girlfriend who responded, “What am I, an effing belt?!” – except she didn’t say “effing” – when another friend asked us the next day how we could have let this happen.)

Game day.  And I always do this to myself.  I always show up at the stadium thinking we might actually win.  I know better.  I really do.  But as usual – because I’ve never actually been to a winning away game – the highlight of the game was catching up with friends, tailgating, and checking another stadium off our list.

While it was cool to see another stadium, Candlestick Park is really not much to write home about.  And neither was the game.  There was only one person who (kinda) showed up for this game: McKelvin had one punt return for an almost touchdown (Byrd was called for holding) and one kick return for 59 years (which the offense scored its only 3 points on).  There was absolutely no Fitz-Magic to be had; he overthrew to both Graham and Johnson on deep passes and his short clunker of a pass intended for Jones ended up a 49ers’ interception.  Fitzpatrick ultimately threw for only 126 yards plus that interception.  They rushed for only 89 yards.  The Bills gave up 621 yards to the 49ers – 311 yards running and 310 yards passing – allowing the 49ers offense to score six touchdowns and one field goal in a game that ended 3-45.  (And yes, I just threw up in my mouth typing that.)

On Monday morning, we lost one of the girls to her office and the other to an early flight.  For two of us though, we had all morning and into the early afternoon until we even had to think about heading to the airport.  This sistah had only one thing on her mind: In-N-Out Burger.  Since 8:30 am felt a bit aggressive for burgers and fries, we instead grabbed a quick breakfast and then meandered through Pier 39 in search of two things: sea lions and a spoon rest for my mother.  For those of you who don’t know my mom, you do not go on vacation without bringing her back a spoon rest or envelop opener (I generally opt out of the envelope opener given TSA’s aversion to sharp objects in carry-ons).  We strolled in and out of shops – cheesy gift shops, The Spice & Tea Exchange, Toms (“We found Kate’s happy place!”), candy and fudge shops – and then finally stumbled across the sea lions that inhabit K-Dock (check out the live webcam!) before settling down at an outdoor patio for some people watching and a pitcher of cold beer.  From here, there was really only one place to go…and I’ve never seen someone so excited for a burger!

Now indulge me in a quick feel-good minute!  San Francisco is a fabulous city and I had a great time on our many adventures but what really made this trip so memorable are the amazing friends I was with.  The opportunity to see new things, try phenomenal food and wine, laugh ourselves silly, and share inside jokes and stories is only made better when these experiences are shared with your closest friends in the world.  Thank you, girls – this is one of those experiences I’ll remember forever! (Now get me some citrus tea!!)

One Response to “Only in San Francisco!”

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  1. 12 memories from 2012 « Unwedded Bliss - January 18, 2013

    […] San Francisco! […]

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