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San Francisco: Our Uniquely American, Great European City

SF skyline.

SF skyline.

I’ve always thought of San Francisco as one of our great US cities.  In fact, it is one of our most European cities, but with added flavors that are uniquely American. Think: “turn on, tune in, drop out”, competitive yoga, gay pride, Asian fusion, and “Full House”.

Having visited in the past, we could skip some of the requisite activities like cable car rides, Alcatraz, the “Painted Ladies” and America’s most crooked street.  Instead, we decided to check out the Mission District neighborhood, which is in major transition and considered an up-and-coming, yet still alternative area.

Since it was another sunny, beautiful (and actually quite hot) day, we used one of the Hop-On buses and Uber to get around and quickly check out some of the city’s progress.

The Mission District was a big disappointment.  It is indeed changing. There are lots of small restaurants, lots of construction and unusual shops.  The restaurants did not entice us, the shops skewed young and the crowds were certainly eclectic.  Some individuals were downright unsavory and we decided to head off to Fisherman’s Wharf to cool off closer to the water, and have a bite in a more scenic (if not gourmet), setting.

As the morning unfolded, I had several updated requirements: buy a lightweight top, change tops, find a decent bathroom, and consume a large Diet Coke with lots of ice.  These things were quickly accomplished as soon as we hit the tourist area by the waterfront.

After lunch, we took the bus over the Golden Gate Bridge. The guide was a real character and gave a colorful and interesting narrative packed with local anecdotes. I was proud of myself for sitting on the top of an open double-decker bus going over the bridge – it was terrifying.

Dungeness Crab at R & G.

Dungeness Crab at R & G.

In any case, we’ve eaten some fine meals here – from the iconic Tadich Grill to incredible Chinese-style Dungeness crab at R & G, breakfast at Sears Fine Food (best bacon ever) and Tyler Florence’s The Wayfair Tavern.

Since we are staying at The Fairmont along with the PGA players, we’ve smiled at Jordan Spieth (this year’s Master’s winner, for my non-golfers readers) and seen Matt Kuchar.

Part of Prime Minister Abe's entourage entering the Fairmont with police and Secret Service escort.

Part of Prime Minister Abe’s entourage entering the Fairmont with police and Secret Service escort.

Our room has a great view of much of the city and it proved to be a great vantage point for watching dozens of police, motorcycle officers, secret service and numerous black cars and vans, blockade the entire area and secure the hotel for the Prime Minister Abe of Japan. It was great entertainment, PM Abe is here about the bullet train.

On our final afternoon, we had some typical local weather – the temps dropped rapidly, the fog rolled in and the Golden Gate Bridge faded from site.

It must be time to head home.

 

 

The Fairmont, holding court at the top of Nob Hill.

The Fairmont, holding court at the top of Nob Hill.

Transamerica Pyramid.

Transamerica Pyramid.

Pier 39.

Pier 39.

View from the Embarcadero.

View from the Embarcadero.

A shop in The Haight.

A shop in The Haight.

The Sonoma Coast

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Today we had to say goodbye to our charming bungalow.  A typical shotgun home, it has been beautifully restored in an updated Victorian-style. DSCN3602We didn’t get to spend much time just hanging around, but it was a perfect spot, in a really convenient location.  We’ll miss our little yellow house.

But today we had new places to go and we headed off to the Sonoma Coast. The Russian River flows into the Pacific on the Sonoma Coast and much of the coast is part of the Sonoma Coast State Beach.  Highway 101 runs along this dramatic, protected area.  We drove the stretch between Bodega Bay and Jenner. It was uncrowded and seemed so remote, with wild, uncorrupted beauty.  There was no cell service.DSCN3662

The few houses and buildings that dot the coast date from around the 70’s before the area was protected and will not be able to be rebuilt. New building is not allowed; if it were, this incredible scenery would surely be blighted with development. We were surprised we had not heard more about this region – truly one of the most beautiful coastal dries we have ever seen, anywhere.

We were headed to Jenner and the Fort Ross Vineyard & Tasting Room, which includes a deck overlooking the forest with views that stretch all the way to the Pacific.  You can bring a picnic and enjoy the setting on the back deck while you have your wine tasting ($15 pp). Among the wines we tried, were two really excellent Pinot Noirs and a Pinotage, a blend I had not seen outside of South Africa.  It was no surprise to find out the vineyard’s owners are South African.  They have planted the Pinotage grapes on their property and even filled their front garden with South Africa’s colorful Protea* flowers.DSCN3622

It was a different and relaxing setting, and the excellent wines were a nice surprise.

All this scenery and wine tasting made us hungry and we headed back towards Bodega Bay* and the Spud Point Crab Company.  You don’t come here for a luxury setting, comfortable chairs (picnic tables outside), bathrooms (across the street at the marina), or heat (it was cold and windy); what you will get is terrific crab, shrimp and clam chowder.  They have won awards for the best clam chowder on the Pacific coast and I can taste why, it was wonderful. Service was fast and friendly and we were soon on our way to San Francisco.DSCN3707

San Francisco is amazing, but more about that tomorrow.

 

*Trivia Facts of the Day:

Bodega Bay is where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds.

Protea is South Africa’s national flower.

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Bodega Bay.

Bodega Bay.