As we approached the Golden Gate Bridge I was filled with emotion. Crossing this iconic bridge was a huge reminder of how much ground we have covered over the past four months on our road trip. From The Brooklyn Bridge we can pretty much draw a straight line across the country to where we are at this point in time. Entering San Francisco overflowed me with gratitude towards the memories and experiences we have created and shared together as a family over the last hundred and twenty five days on the road. When we packed up our car on July 20th to embark on our journey I didn't know what to expect and whether we were doing the right thing by traveling throughout the country during a pandemic. For some reason, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge gave me instant clarity that it's one of the best decisions we ever made.
Eight summers ago we spent two weeks in San Francisco. Although we had a wonderful time, we did not enjoy the chilly and grey summers the city offered. Coming back as winter approaches all these years later, we arrived to similar windy and cloudy weather. Despite the clouds, I thought, "hey, I can live here". In retrospect, I was just influenced by the stunning coast and views along the Golden Gate Bridge Park. After a couple of days of walking around, spending time outdoors and interacting with locals I quickly learned that this city, for me, is only meant to be explored as a tourist. I would choose NYC over San Francisco any day.
Golden Gate Bridge Park
As soon as we entered San Francisco we headed over to Golden Gate Bridge Park to snatch some epic views of the bridge. The parking lot was full with a long wait line to enter. My hubby pulled over to let us out and walk over to admire the views. The Golden Gate Bridge is really one of the most beautiful bridges that exists.
Before heading over to San Francisco we made a stop at Sausalito, a charming coastal town just ten minutes away from the big city. This was our third visit over the years and we truly adore this small town more with each visit. The homes perched in clusters on the hillsides overlooking the Pacific Ocean are reminiscent of Italian coastal cities like the Amalfi Coast. The sidewalks are packed with people strolling along the shore with San Francisco in the horizon. The small strip of shops and restaurants offer delicious food options and more chocolate and ice cream shops per capita than any city we have visited, as if the views weren't sweet enough!
It is physically impossible for me to walk past a candy shop without going in to taste the goods. I think this is one of the things that makes me most fun as a mom. If there are multiple shops in a neighborhood, well...we make multiple stops. Sampling local sweet treats is an irresistible vice that I cave into whenever possible. Sausalito Sweets overflows with candy, chocolates and even ice cream. The retro décor and oldies music playing through the speakers adds to the fun environment. I'm surprised by their poor online reviews as the kids loved their ice-cream and I cherished each bite of my dark chocolate, caramel pecan cluster sprinkled with sea salt. YUM!
Sausalito Gourmet Delicatessen
After a four hour drive from Yosemite National Park we wanted a quick bite to grab and go and eat on a waterfront bench. In my search, Sausalito Gourmet Delicatessen appeared online for great sandwiches with raving reviews. I called in our order never expecting that the sandwiches were being prepared in such a lovely, European-like setting. As soon as we arrived, we decided to hunker down in their charming patio to soak in their warm hospitality. Let me tell you, coming from NYC I never, ever imagined that there are delis that look like this! Everyone devoured every single crumb of their sandwiches, each one loaded with fresh and innovative ingredients.
Monte Cristo Bed & Breakfast
For lodging I thought it would be fun to book a stay at a Bed & Breakfast to provide a different lodging experience for the kids. While I love the charm and aesthetics of this B&B, my kids...not so much. They much prefer larger, more modern hotels than smaller, boutique inns that have Victorian interior decorating. Because the kids need space for their remote schooling we booked multiple rooms. At bedtime my daughter was a little spooked out being in her own room but ultimately decided not to bunk with us and got use to the dark, velvet drapery and wooden bed posts that gave her a haunted feel at first. On my end, the inn keeper gave us a warm welcome and immediately directed the kids to the dining room to help themselves to a nice spread of snacks and chocolates. I welcomed the romantic décor and tasteful touches of the inn . Breakfast, included in the rate, was delicious and the chef kindly accommodated our request for breakfast to be served earlier than their usual serving time. The highlight of our stay, in addition to the endless supply of chocolates, were the Japanese style toilets that have every kind of toilet function that you can ever dream of. The kids especially got a kick out of this luxury. Ironically, the hotel is located just two blocks from where the kids went to camp the summer we were here and the house we rented was not too far away. We seem to keep gravitating towards the Pacific Heights neighborhood of this Golden City.
Lands End Lookout
There are many parks that offer breathtaking views of The Golden Gate Bridge and coastline. We originally went to Lands End Lookout for their well-known outdoor labyrinth. However, it was so windy and chilly by the water that the seventeen minute hike down the path was too daunting for all of us. Instead, we stayed at the top of the park, which also has a golf course, and soaked in the outstanding views.
Crissy Field is my favorite spot in San Francisco. I have such fond memories here with the kids when they were younger. Their small, bare feet in the sand as they rolled around the grass doing cartwheels and having no care in the world. It is also my favorite vantage point of the bridge. The green grass along the blue waters makes for a beautiful landscape. This is the spot that for a quick minute had me wondering if we could ever live here. It's almost impossible to not fall in love with the city from this perspective.
We were super excited to have dinner at this highly recommended, Michelin star establishment. Our visit here quickly set the tone for our experience in San Francisco and our overall view of the culture that exists here. Before being allowed to step foot in the patio we were abruptly greeted by a draconian hostess who took our temperature, via forehead. Then in a military like approach she proceeded to direct us to scan a Covid survey into our phone to be completed before sitting. When we were finally sat, after what seemed to be longer than airport security screenings, we were ordered not to remove our masks at any point until the food and beverages arrived. Look at the patio in the photo below. It's outdoors and no one was in sight. Even my oldest son needed clarification about keeping our masks on once seated but he heard the hostess correctly, they must stay on. As firmly instructed, we ordered our food via an app that automatically builds in a minimal tip of 18% before you are even serviced. Finally the food arrived, in paper take out containers, at a Michelin star restaurant. What really set me off was that all the sauces and seasonings were served on the side, in plastic ramekins for us to mix into our meals. I was hoping the chef would actually season the food we ordered. This contact-free service was also enjoyment-free and fun-free. Yes, the food was good. Very good. However, at this price point I expect my meals delivered on ceramic plates, seasoned for me by the chef and served by a waiter with a smile on his/her face. This experience was our first insight into the built in, programmed way many of the locals here live their lives. While San Francisco is known to be the hub of innovation, especially in technology, the robotic demeanor of some of the people here definitely lack creativity in their daily lives. More on this later.
I remember this part of the city being overrun by tourists and I have never particularly enjoyed this neighborhood. This time around, with much fewer people walking its sidewalks, I gained a whole new appreciation for Fisherman's Wharf and finally understand its appeal. The waterfront community offers fantastic views of Alcatraz and The Golden Gate Bridge, loads of restaurants and shops in a vibrant atmosphere, the world-famous Ghirardelli Square, and of course the barking sea lions who are the stars of the show and kept us captivated for a solid half an hour. With less people clogging the streets, we were really able to enjoy strolling the entire area on a rare, warm and sunny San Francisco afternoon.
Palette Tea House
I did some extensive research trying to find a great restaurant in Fisherman's Wharf, which is not exactly known for its culinary scene as the restaurants try to cater to the swarms of tourists who are looking for "the best" clam chowder. Palette Tea House in Ghirardelli Square showed up as a highly recommended Dim Sum restaurant with promising reviews. Unlike the pretentious service we received at dinner the other evening, service was on par. Here, "city laws" did not exists and not only did we not have to fill out a five page Covid survey before entering, our temperatures were not taken and we were not forced to wear masks while sitting at our table. We felt at ease immediately. The attractive menu made it difficult to make our selections so we chose a bunch of different items to share. Their dumplings and bao buns are out of this world.
Lombard Street is an iconic street in San Francisco known for its extremely windy road down a tall hill dotted with lovely homes and gardens along the way. This was the first time we were able to enjoy driving down the street with absolutely no traffic. Usually the road is backlogged with other tourists. The kids thought the sixty second ride was "super cool". My favorite part was the view of the city down the hill.
The Palace of Fine Arts
Built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, The Palace of Fine Arts literally transforms its visitors into a romantic fairytale. The structure is tucked into the Marina District of the city and is surrounded by a pristine park perfect for picnics and a lake lined with some of San Francisco's most expensive real estate. This would definitely be my escape within the city. The large park offers many private corners to find solitude in a peaceful and serene environment. Although San Francisco has an abundance of unique and beautiful styles of architecture, this masterpiece wins hands down for its beauty and grandeur.
The Painted Ladies
This brightly colored row of seven Victorian homes have become famous examples of the city's Victorian architecture. These "ladies" are one of the most photographed locations in San Francisco. They are also located across the street of a small park which invites admirers to kick back and relax while checking out the many details of these Victorian-era wonders.
To really get away from it all and to feel completely removed from city life head over to Japantown. The Peace Pagoda Square provides a Zen-like retreat and leads its visitors to Japan Center, a large, indoor mall exploding with everything Japanese from sushi to kimonos. When we visited years ago we remember having the best crepes at Sophie's Crepes, in the mall, and were sad to find them closed on the days we were in town. Still, all these years later, we equally enjoyed our walk through this part of the city.
State Bird Provisions
This one Michelin star restaurant serving American style, farm to table, tapas dishes has been one of our favorites to date. We have dined here twice before and worked really hard to snatch reservations during this visit. While the food was undeniably good, our experience was nothing like what we remember. In the past, the staff would bring out carts of whatever came out of that kitchen at that moment and diners would make their selections on the spot. There was no menu. Instead, there was an exciting atmosphere of waiters shouting whatever the chef just created on a whim. Nowadays, they have a set menu with items combined with their sister restaurant, The Progress. They built a creative outdoor dining scene which we admired immediately. From there, our admiration began to dwindle. Although at this fine restaurant we did not have our temperatures taken and were not required to fill out a Covid survey, we were instructed to keep our masks on at all times except while eating. In fact, when the waitress came to bring us fresh plates mid-meal, she would not serve them to us until we all put on our masks. It's like these Michelin starred restaurants are trying to outdo one another with ridiculous rules. In my opinion, they all win for stupidity so they should stop competing with one another for the prize. Eating in San Francisco reminded us of what a waste of money it can be to eat at expensive joints. As we are major foodies from NYC, over the last couple of years we started getting turned off by shelling out hundreds of dollars on the food scene even back home. Sadly, eventually it all starts to feel and taste the same and it is very rare to be completely wowed once you have been lucky enough to have tasted so many fantastic culinary creations. California sucked us back into the money drain that comes with eating at "top restaurants". Personally, I can't wait to get out of hotels and into a home so I can start cooking some delicious, homecooked meals at a fraction of the cost in the much warmer and hospitable environment of my home.
I don't want to take away from the gorgeous presentation of their food or beautifully prepared plates of interesting ingredient combinations. State Bird Provisions does deliver a delicious meal. It's the experience and atmosphere that they have failed to master and in my opinion, this is an equal component of a great meal.
So, San Francisco... I am really trying to figure you out. I appreciate you more this time around. You are definitely gifted with beauty and have your own, unique sense of style. Sadly, you have created a culture of people who seem robotically programmed to carry out whatever guidelines they are implored to execute.
Every single person, I mean EVERY SINGLE PERSON, in San Fran wears a mask. Hey, I am 100% for mask wearing and wear mine all the time, but we didn't see one person deviate from this guideline. We have been to dozens of cities over the last four months and there are always the rebels, the black sheep of sorts. Nope, not in San Francisco. Here, everyone dutifully does what is expected of them. It is impossible to drive one block without seeing BLM, LGBQ, or Biden posters in apartment windows. They are everywhere. Again, it feels as if the locals here are programmed to deliver these messages through their windows and dutifully comply. The city of San Francisco has come up with what I am sure they think is a brilliant solution to battle the virus- all diners must now wear a mask even while be seating. Hmm... to me this policy seems to be an attempt to "one up" other cities' guidelines. Really, if they are so worried about cases going up in restaurants, why don't they just close dine-in like Washington and Oregon recently did? Because, there is something appealing to San Franciscans about having an air about things. Here, it's much more fun to have ways to further control the environment.
For a moment, when we arrived, I really thought I could be open to living here. But the small mindedness in this large city really got to me. Can you tell? I did some serious self-reflecting to try to figure out why the city got to me so much. I needed to know why I had such strong feelings about this city, more than any other we have visited. What I realized is that the city really challenges two values that are important to me: authenticity and freedom. I feel too confined in a city where rules are arbitrarily made up with the expectation that citizens not only honor them but openly respect them. I also feel suffocated by the thought that my freedom can be taken away by a culture that heavily judges others whether it is because they do not wear their masks, do not have a poster du jour in their window, or do not want to sign a five page Covid survey. On the surface, this is one of the prettiest cities we have visited. Unfortunately, as we dug deeper, the attraction quickly faded.