My mom always wanted to take me to SF when I was a kid but could never afford it. She knew I'd love how pretty, artsy and Japanese it was, and she was right. Last year the only reason I was working from home was so that I could pay back some money I owed her, save up just enough to move to Korea and afford to travel to the U.S. cities I was interested in seeing before leaving. Well, and to pay bills and whatnot, but I basically had no responsibilities.
These are the notes I was initially taking so I'd remember what to write, which turned out to be a great idea since I've ended up posting about it 7 months later:
Day 1 highlights:
Slept for less than 2 hours.
BART is fast, efficient, self-explanatory and affordable, like a baby NYC subway.
The art deco hotel is pretty awesome, everything's expensive but not outrageously so.
SO. MUCH. JAPANESE. SHIT.
Art and creative store displays abound.
Union Square, Jeffrey's Toys & Comics, Pinecrest Diner, Old Navy flagship store, H&M.
Walked by no fewer than 3 people smoking weed outside 2 different Armani stores.
Lots of compliments on my outfit, surprising ego boost in a city way trendier than mine
Speaking of outfits, saw a random possibly Italian guy in a zoot suit.
Day 2 highlights:
Bio organic gluten free French cafe. Ermahgerd.
Japanese Sweets, Angelic Pretty & Harajuku Hearts, The Daiso
Saw a guy walking a well-groomed grey toy poodle wearing a steampunk hipster outfit
I got a great deal online for the Hotel Union Square, which, as one might guess, is in the heart of downtown near Union Square. Some people online complained about the rooms being too small, but for a hotel just under 100 years old, it's quite nice. I'd call it cozy but very comfortably sized. It's also very clean and has interesting, aesthetically-pleasing fixtures and complimentary wine in the evening. The original decor from 1915 remains; it's art deco complete with a number of Egyptian-themed accents and mosaics.
I hadn't slept or really eaten much for a while before we landed, and I needed some major calories immediately. Oddly enough, SF has a shitload of diners everywhere. I don't know if it has to do with the fact that it's a port city that used to have a bunch of sailors wandering around all the time or if there's a need to balance out the waves of immigrants with classic Americana or what, but it's kitschy and they're delicious. Delitschy.
The best-looking one nearest our hotel was the Pinecrest Diner, which also had fabulous friendly service. The omelette above was even bigger than it looks, and that hearty plate full'a meal was about $10.
The one must-see shopping destination I found at Union Square in this small window of time is the historical monument of a Neiman Marcus store. I felt completely underdressed just walking past the perfume counters and browsed the Alexander McQueen sale section; found a few things I wanted for a mere $600-$1300. Le sigh.
Anyway, the point is that it's beautiful. It's like walking into a European palace with a whole bunch of marble and gold accents and a gorgeous atrium. It's called the City of Paris rotunda, preserved in its original form from the old department store of the same name that existed from 1850 - 1976 before being demolished to make way for the current Neiman Marcus.
What was left of the first day was just spent wandering around Union Square, and the second day began with a trip to the aforementioned organic gluten-free French cafe. People with dietary restrictions, SF is for you.
The breakfast cake on the right has a soft, doughy texture and is made with oats, quinoa and other grains; it wasn't really sweet but is definitely a satisfying winner. The "cookie" with guava jam on top is extremely dense and filling, but drier and not quite as good, though it's still better than most of the gluten-free baked goods I've eaten.
What a selection, huh? They have a shitload of homemade kombucha, delicious dark chocolate-dipped dried fruit, yogurt, and even non-gluten-free and non-vegetarian sandwiches and wraps, for those of you who are obligated to visit these establishments with your picky significant other but never enjoy them :D
The Daiso is just around the corner (that is, every corner) now that I live in Seoul, but last year was the first time I'd ever been to one. There are at least two in the Union Square neighbourhood, and I went a little nuts in the smaller one where everything is a dollar. But hey, I seriously needed a new miniature measuring tape and mascara sealant.
At least I resisted the urge to grab these:
Er, well, you know, not grab them, but buy them.
I also found a beautiful, immaculate traditional Japanese bakery and went a little nuts there, too, but can you blame me? Check out the selection:
It's the sort of thing that's too pretty to eat, so it's a good thing they're only supposed to be refrigerated and last a couple of days. As it turns out, yuzu (a subtle citrus fruit) is quite a nice flavour.
And of course, I had to stop at the Angelic Pretty and Black Peace Now pop-up stores, also conveniently located a short walk from our hotel in Union Square, though they were sort of hard to find. It was also hard to find a time when they were open, as, I believe, the shopkeepers take approximately four hours to get dressed and another two to ride through the crowded streets on miniature unicorns, pausing frequently to take pictures with sparkly-eyed children and adoring weeaboo fangirls.
You're not allowed to take pictures inside, but I got one of the window display and one of my laughably small purchases. And actually, I snagged the necklace for my mom. But whatever, the postcards are great. If they hadn't had them I wouldn't have been able to buy anything for myself at all, even on a trip all about blowing money. x_x
That evening was the much-anticipated trip to Japantown with the always lovely Bay Area native I met online while we were in high school, Darren. Finally meeting him in person was one of the reasons for the trip.
We raced to try to make it to 6%DOKIDOKI, which had unfortunately had already rotated out of the shopping centre, but there was a garden shop with lots of marimo goodness in its place:
The mall was also closing, so we hustled through it and the Japanese grocery store (which had an ample supply of Hello Kitty wine and some tasty dango) to make it to the purikura place. There was only one of these ridiculous photo booths in Arizona, at Golfland Sunsplash, and around two and a half years ago a friend and I made the journey there to use it only to find out that it had been removed. So lame.
The place is called Pikapika Purikura, which is surprisingly easy to say 5 times fast and a great way to waste ALL the money and time. I'm not even sure how much time we spent making our sheet of photo stickers, just that it was too much. In a good way.
After this I got a proper introduction to Korean food at a bibimbap place. Prior to that I'd only kinda sorta had Korean food once, in the form of a big beautiful salad a confused Korean woman in Phoenix cobbled together for me after trying to understand why someone wouldn't want meat, fish or onions.
Traditional mushroom-shaped ice and plenty of side dishes.
After this we hit Castro, easily the most fabulous street in America. There should be a larger-than-life-size full body statue of Harvey Milk at the main intersection entrance to the area, if you ask me.
The famous Castro Theatre was showing Clueless, Mean Girls and Heavenly Creatures that night.
Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of the adorable penis cookie bakery, but look! Gay bandanna codes finally explained!
Darren took me to Badlands to dance. Wearing tall uncomfortable shoes in the hilly wonderland that is SF isn't the best idea, and I was in kind of a funk that night for some reason, but still had a good time.
And afterward, a much-loved Southwestern tradition: late-night Mexican food. Oh how I miss it.
That awkward feeling when you realise your friend is taking a picture of you eating a burrito.
The next morning my mom and I went back to Cafe Bio, but she also stopped at a different popular cafe chain for herself. This time I had gluten-free coconut cake and a maple almond "cookie", which was also super dense, filling, and not the best, but still good.
We ate like kings on this trip, it was so awesome. It's the best I've eaten by far since finding out about all my stupid food allergies.
After a leisurely and very carby breakfast, we took the trolley down to Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman's Wharf. There was a crazy homeless guy trying to tell us that there was no such thing as lines and criticising us for queuing up while we were all waiting on the sidewalk, even though we tried to explain to him that a mob running into the street wouldn't really work. When he started hassling one of the guys (I'd been talking to) in line and telling him he was going to get all his brothers down there to beat his ass, the guy kept his cool and told him he'd knock out the one tooth in his mouth if he tried anything. It was pretty great.
Anyway, I highly recommend taking the trolley through Chinatown and the rich neighbourhoods down to the coast; it's so fun, and the weather is so amazing.
Unfortunately, Ghirardelli Square was a zoo because we were there on Saturday in the middle of summer, so we didn't get to try any overpriced hot chocolate or ice cream. There are lots of different levels of shops on the big outdoor hill thingy that culminates in the chocolate factory itself.
Handmade wooden dragon mobile and mermaid fountain.
We continued walking down the famous coast toward Fisherman's Wharf. What was possibly the flagship store of one of the big sourdough bakeries (Boudin) had all kinds of epic novelty bread loaves on display at this entirely glass-front tourist location:
There are tons of street performers in SF, but we ran into a troupe of three British siblings putting themselves though performing arts school together who were particularly good. They were also particularly good-looking. The older brother took on a dopey, take-everything-literally, slapstick sort of role, and the younger one, who looked like a small Chris Hemsworth and sounded like Russel Brand, was the leader. The gorgeous sister never said anything. They draw an impressive crowd, and I'm sure they make more money than I do.
At the height of summer the Wharf is obviously packed, and Pier 39 is super touristy no matter what, but it's so cute! There are sea critter-shaped hedges, blowfish with crowns, huge crabs, photo-realistic doughnut magnets, a huge candy shop (where I got the obligatory saltwater taffy and a bacon lollipop for Jarrod) and plenty of seafood restaurants you should really only patronise for the view, as they're obviously overpriced.
I, for one, accept and embrace our new crab overlords.
View of Alcatraz from Neptune's Palace.
DNA has apparently been voted the best dance club in SF every year since '08, and with the great varied formula they have going, I'm not surprised. Annexed to the main warehouse building is an all-night bar and eatery studded with signed concert posters, and the club itself has one huge main room with balconies all around the second floor looking down, a stage, multiple bars and multiple other rooms with at least one additional DJ booth.
Eating a banana + giant nostalgia bomb, lolll.
The night we went for Bootie, there was also one of those acrobatic performances using long strips of fabric hanging from the ceiling. I had a tasty, cheap house cocktail that was sort of like and possibly called Toothpaste, but it didn't actually have any mint in it. Afterward we had some more delicious, delicious late-night Mexican food.
What you're looking at is just one tofu taco. That's right: hearty, delicious, cheap vegetarian taco. Glorious.
Continuing on about food and eating like a king, I went back to Bio one more time to try a couple more things before calling it quits. What I thought was a granola-type thing covered in dark chocolate turned out to be a big hunk of dark chocolate sprinkled with non-wheat cereals that were once healthy on their own. @o@
Then, my mom and I went to the Haight. My favourite shop was probably Decades of Fashion, where they have everything from the 1890's or so up to the 1980's or so. I even found a super cute and unusual-looking 80's party dress that fit me perfectly as soon as I walked in.
We hit a neat bookstore and then went to Loved to Death, the shop from the SF version of Oddities, where I got a terrible-quality pic with the goth chick from TV. She's very nice, and imho the best items in the shop were the dollhouse dioramas that had little dead animals inside instead of fake people.
After this we decided to take a ferry over to Sausalito (which is across the bay), because my mom really wanted to see it again after about 30 years of remembering how nice it is. It was a wonderful ride and only the first time I'd actually been on a boat.
The view of SF was, to this day, the most impressive view of anything I've ever seen. I've been to the Grand Canyon, over the Brooklyn bridge and seen the International Space Station rotating through a telescope. Seriously, everyone should take this inexpensive ferry ride. You also pass Alcatraz and the Golden Gate while on it.
Unfortunately I felt very sick for some unknown reason while in Sausalito, but it was still gorgeous. We found a great geeky toy store where I bought a large Totoro bag to use as a bigger carry-on for the return flight and had lunch at the Seven Seas Restaurant, which is pretty weird, sort of European-style and has a retractable ceiling.
Darren was nice enough to come and pick us up to save time, so we even got to go over the bridge on the way back! Seriously, I think we managed to do all the quintessential things on this trip save for Chinatown.
That night he took me to The Cafe, a Castro staple. There was another tasty house cocktail I can't remember after this long to save my life, but I want to say it was equal parts vodka, pineapple and blue curacao. The best part of the drag show that night was definitely when a volunteer was molested onstage, getting his pants and even his bright pink underwear taken almost completely off.
For the compulsory late night Mexican nommage that night, I just had a small pineapple and golden raisin dessert tamale, which sparked a conversation about making Mexican food into delicious 5-star desserts. I still want to try that one of these days.
All of my mom's coworkers had told her to eat at Sear's Fine Foods, which was just a ways down the street from our hotel, so on the last day, we finally had breakfast there. I unintentionally ordered a boatload of food, not expecting an actual large bowl of oatmeal (which was still flavourless with jam and brown sugar mixed in) and a serving of hash browns the size of my face, but whatever. Binge eating done right. The broiled grapefruit was the real winner, and I recommend it.
Not all of SFMoMA was open that day, but we had to go before leaving and I'm glad we did.
The highlight was probably noticing Waldo on an adjacent building's roof. Finally found you, you bastard.
This postapocalyptic rendition of the museum itself was my other favourite.
Before leaving for the airport we made a point of finding one of the Creme Brulee Carts we'd spotted earlier; it's my mom's guilty pleasure. It's also just awesome to be in a city centre so wealthy and sophisticated that they have creme brulee street stands.
I got Nutella and strawberry (to die for, naturally), I think my mom got chocolate almond or some such thing. We got coffee and nommed in a gorgeous semi-indoor marble pavilion called Citigroup Centre at 1 Sansome.
And that's it.
I wouldn't mind living in SF one day, even with the constant looming threat of devastating earthquakes. Seriously, it's so beautiful that I don't think I'd care if I died living this kind of life in this kind of place.