Thursday, September 27, 2012

San Francisco Days, San Francisco Nights

I am a city guy. I love cities. It is probably due to being a born and bred New Yorker. Don't get me wrong. I love nature. But I am most at home in a city. I especially love cities that have a truly distinctive character like New Orleans, Paris or Rome. After a long absence I just spent a weekend in one of my favorite cities, San Francisco.

Like New York and New Orleans, San Francisco is defined by its geography. In the case of San Francisco it is the hills, the water and the climate that help give San Francisco its unique character. More than most cities, San Francisco embraces it surroundings and the result is a city that finds a balance between the urban and the bucolic. You can have your city end enjoy nature too.

San Francisco has always been a food town. It has access to a tremendous and diverse amount of produce that is grown within driving distance. A visit to a weekend farmer's market will make you swoon. Local, fresh seafood is abundant and, of course, San Francisco is a stones throw from wine country. Add to this mix vibrant and diverse immigrant communities and you have an eater's paradise. But San Francisco has also been a leader in developing a culture with a deep respect and concern for where our food comes from and how it is grown. San Francisco has become one if the most important food cities in the US, if not the world.

I just packed in a week's worth of eating, drinking and enjoying San Francisco's bounty in three and a half days. I feel like I gained ten pounds (oh, the glorious abundance) but left in the best shape of my life (oh, the walking and the hills). Over the next few posts I will recap the highlights of my trip. It may take a while. First up, a few first impression of the things that makes San Francisco wonderful and unique.



View from the beach at Crissy Field



My good friend Josh picked my up from the airport and within thirty minutes I was standing on a beach looking at San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Yes, this is in the city of San Francisco. This is a town that understands the value of its waterfront. This is Crissy Field. It was an abandoned military airfield that was reclaimed starting in 2001 and developed into a wonderful park.  When this is the beginning of your trip, you know it is going to be a good one.



The Beach Hut Cafe



Next to the Crissy Field Center, a "multicultural urban environmental education center for youth," is the Beach Hut Cafe. It is a place for snacks. Josh and I stopped in for a quick hit before lunch. This was one of those "I'm not in New York anymore" moments. Remember, I was just on a beach. Now, I want you to imagine you are in Central Park or another park in NYC and you stop at a kiosk or "snack hut." Would any of this happen? 

First, you have to wait for a minute because the cashier is chatting up the people in front of you. No one else is bothered so you have to keep your impatience, which is a New Yorker's birthright, in check. Then it is your turn. And the cashier is very excited to see you and starts to chat you up. You engage. You can't help it. She is so friendly and her enthusiasm is undeniable. You order your tea, coffee or espresso and whatever else you would like. You pay and wish the cashier a good day. You head over to a condiment area to get some sugar and maybe a napkin. The first thing you notice is elaborate trash area. Trash, recycling, composting. This is no joke. Then you notice the array of Meyer's and Method cleaners for sale. Yes, the park snack hut sells green cleaning products. 





Suitably impressed you dig into the fruit salad you bought in an attempt to be healthy after all the garbage you ate on the plane. You don't have high hopes. Melon, strawberries. Not in season but what can you do. Then you taste the melon. Fresh, ripe. Then you try a strawberry. It is great. How is that possible? Then you notice the strange, dark purple mass in your fruit salad.





A FIG! There is a fig in my fruit salad that I bought at a snack bar in a park. I love figs. What is going on here? So you walk, eating the fruit, looking at the water and the bridge, and you marvel at your good fortune.


Golden Gate Park


A beautiful park that has among it's many attractions an arboretum, botanical gardens, a science museum and the de Young Museum:



The park also has winding paths that make you believe you have left the city and entered a primordial forest.





This is San Francisco in a nutshell.


Good Morning


Josh lives on Russian Hill. This is the morning view from his roof. Nice spot to have a coffee or tea.





This is the view walking down Larkin Street from the Russian Hill neighborhood. That is the three master Balclutha docked at the Hyde Street Pier (you can take a tour of it) with Alcatraz in the background.






San Francisco from the Hyde Street Pier. It looks like a toy city.




Beautiful and unique, San Francisco is one of these rare places that a New Yorker travels to and thinks, "Yeah, I get why people live here."

So much more to come.


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