January 8, 2007

San Francisco

My trip last October was all about reconnecting. So far I had travelled to three different cities (Mexico, Phoenix and Las Vegas) and spent quality time with friends and family, forming new memories in the process in the hopes that it would sustain us until the next time. Coming to San Francisco was no different and neither was it any less special. I spent good quality time with old friends who I haven't seen in a long time, and also took the BART to visit an uncle who lived out east in Bay Point. (He is my mom's only brother who I hadn't seen in over 5 years I believe. My aunt and cousin joined us for a nice pasta dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory in Concorde.)

However, unlike the other places I had just been to, this wasn't my first time in this splendid city by the Bay. Having visited SF twice before is not enough if you ask me. I can't get enough of her! She holds a piece of your heart captive each time you leave, making you want to linger and compelling you to vow to come back soon. It's no wonder really that she has inspired so many poets, novelists, musicians and artists. Did you know there are over a thousand songs written about this city?
San Francisco Cable Car

Just like Sheila, my friend in Phoenix, the friends I was staying with and visiting on this trip are friends I've had since 5th grade. They're identical twins (for purposes of this blog, I will refer to them from hereon as B1 and B2) and they're both married and living in the East Bay. I stayed with B2 in her house in the Oakland hills where she lives with her husband, her super adorable 5 month old son and his nanny. They have a beautiful 5 bedroom house with a swimming pool and jacuzzi nestled at the foothills of a reserve, the Redwood Regional Park.

B1 picked me up at the airport and she took me straight to Burlingame to meet up with her husband for cocktails. We chatted over mojitos and finger food and it was almost 10 pm when we finally crossed the Bay Bridge into Oakland. I had never stayed in the East Bay before so they made a detour up Skyline Blvd. by the redwood reserve to show me the spectacular view of San Francisco at night. It was breathtaking! I even saw wild deer, like four or five of them from the car. I wasn't fast enough with my camera though, but I have their deer-in-the-headlights look forever imprinted in my memory.

We finally got to B2's house where she had dinner waiting for hours on the table. I had almost forgotten what a riot it is when you have the twins together. They are a hoot and a half, and I missed them immensely. This was going to be a fun 10 days, I thought.
* * *

And how right I was. It was not without thought that I chose SF to be my last stop. Not only could I not resist the opportunity to come back here, but I also wanted to slow down a little, take the pace of my trip down a notch. And this was the perfect place to do that because I didn't have to run around playing the crazed tourist. I did not even make any plans for my 10 days here. I decided to let fate take it's course and let each day bring with it what it wanted.

I spent a lot of time with B2's baby boy who I fell head over heels in love with. (Boy, did it tug at my heartstrings when I said goodbye to him on my last day!) I did a lot of shopping, all the last minute orders of family and friends and buying pasalubongs (gifts for people back home). There was one entire day that Tom, B1's husband, was kind enough to offer to drive me anywhere I wanted. He insisted on being my chauffer when I protested, so I let him take me to Target & Emeryville where we hit some of my favorite stores: Old Navy, See's Candies, Crate & Barrel, Barnes & Noble, Bath & Body Works, Pottery Barn, and Williams-Sonoma, to name a few. In return, I treated him to pizza and a Jamba Juice. :)

Many of my dinners were had in B1's house where her mom would cook us the most amazing Spanish meals. Her mom had a couple of Spanish restaurants back in Manila which were famous for her traditional recipes, Rock Ola being the more famous of the two because it had a young bar crowd as well. I found myself looking forward to these dinners with the entire clan which were always casual, noisy and fun. This was much better than sitting in a stiff and crowded restaurant in downtown Oakland or Berkeley any day.

Stunning views from uphill

I was seeing SF from a whole new perspective, from an East Bay-er perspective this time. Quite different from when I used to stay in San Bruno or South San Francisco during previous visits. I found myself crossing the Bay Bridge at least twice a day, presenting me with spectacular views of the SF skyline during each westward crossing. I loved approaching the city at dusk, when everything turns a hazy orange and looks so serene.

B1 took a day off from work to spend time with me. She asked me what I wanted to do, and I told her to just drive around and so we did. There are few places in the world more diverse than right here. We navigated the hilly streets and drove from one vibrant neighborhood to another.

We headed out to the Presidio, a park under the Golden Gate National Recreation Area which boasts some of the most amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay. Here we parked the car at the foot of the world's most famous bridge and strolled on the dunes among bikers, kite-flyers, joggers, folks with their dogs and sunbathers. It was a beautiful clear day and I was glad to be outdoors. We continued over to the Legion of Honor which commands a magnificent view of the city and the bridge and took some pictures.

The "Painted Ladies" and the SF skyline behind them, taken from Alamo Square
We headed towards Haight Street, a stretch of vintage shops and bars where the vibe underscores the city's counterculture, where we stopped for a crepe then drove through colorful Castro district, the mecca of the gay community and venue of the world's biggest gay pride parade. We proceeded to Marina, one of my favorite neighborhoods, where you can find the Palace of Fine Arts, then finally through quaint Victorian houses that make up most of Noe Valley and Western Addition district. We stopped at Alamo Square and sat in the sun enjoying the view before we headed home to get ready for the party. This is a great way to see the city, just driving around the neighborhoods and stopping at cafes and parks as you please.

Haight St. boutique
* * *

On the Saturday before Halloween, we attended a private "pimp n ho" party at a friends house out in Marin County. We immediately headed to Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley to find something to wear. Stepping out into Telegraph Ave. you are immediately transported back to the '60s. Browsing the record shops and vintage clothing stores, I felt so...ordinary! It was almost liberating to be surrounded by so much individuality and people who exuded a devil-may-care attitude about the way they dressed or spoke or lived for that matter. Needless to say, the party and seeing everyone in pimp and ho mode was a blast!

There are tons of reasons why I love San Francisco so much. It's a vibrant, liberal city where anything goes. It is so culturally diverse that each neighborhood might as well be in a totally different country. The unparalleled epicurean delights are endless, ranging from budget friendly to luxe, and representing all corners of the globe. The climate is usually mild though unpredictable at times, the vistas are spectacular, it is a peninsula surrounded by water (a big plus!), I can name you a hundred reasons. But I won't. Instead let me show you two more of them:

Blondie's Pizza and....

clam chowder on sourdough bread!

No trip to SF is complete if I don't have at least one of my three favorite foods from there, the third being dungeness crab. :)

Blondie's Pizza
64 Powell St. , near the end of the Powell cable car line

Boudin Bakery
Macy's Dept. Store, Union Square

Up Next: Sonoma Valley


Mila Tan said...

I'd agree, SF is one of the best cities in the world. Lately, whenever I make a visit, my best friend will bring me to a strip of restaurants and shops near Berkeley, Walnut Grove I think it is, and spend the day shopping, eating, and then take a long drive north.
But I also just love the city. It's walkable, livable, and so full of character. One of my aunts lives right above Haight Ashbury, I love people watching there and in Castro, not to mention the great coffee shops in the Italian district. If real estate there didn't cost an arm and a leg, and a torso too, I'd live there. When you go back, check out the Joseph Schmidt chocolate factory and the Scharfennberger (spelling?) factory. Truffles and chocolate galore!

The Knittymommy said...

Oh my God! I simply love love love, SF. I see you also know of Blondie's Pizza. SF will always be memorable for me... (sly grin...) I'll tell you about that privately...

Did you go to Thanh Long? Please say you did.....

christine said...

Yes the coffee shops in North Beach! I have a funny story about NB, remind me to tell you over dinner sometime. I've heard of the Scharfennberger factory, but not the Schmidt one, will have to look that one up.

Mieke, you gotta tell me! You have me curious now. Email me! hehe. And Thanh Long is exactly THE place I mean when I talk about dungeness crab in SF. I didn't go this trip though, but I've been a couple of times before. I have never tasted anything like it since!

Mila Tan said...

Ohhh, Thanh Long! The messiest, tastiest crab ever. God, my salivary glands are on overdrive now, and it's not yet lunch time!

Ok, you have two sets of stories: one about your Santa escapade and another re: North Beach.

joey said...

Sounds like an amazing time! :) I haven't been to the states in aaages...so no exciting exciting stories to share, hehe :) (But I'm all ears if anyone wants to spill beans!)

christine said...

Mila, the first time I ate in Thanh Long I was instructed to scoop up all the oil with the crabmeat, and so I happily obliged. I practically wiped the plate clean, and licked my fingers too. But not before I devoured an entire plate of their unbelievable garlic noodles. I could barely move after that, but I was a contented cow to say the least. The next day, you can say I turned into a mad cow. I had the most horrible upset stomach, and I spent the entire day in the toilet. I will spare you the gory details! But that did not deter me from going back for more on my next trip out there. :)

Jo, in San Francisco you'll be hard pressed to not have a good time. It's just such an upbeat place with so much good vibe and positive energy! And one of the reasons I love Vancouver, is because it reminds me of SF in many ways (and vice versa). :)

katrina said...

nens, 10 days in SFO is heaven! and with b1 and b2, how lucky can you get! i loved reading this entry. i get tons of email asking me to name my top 10 list. when it comes to my favorite cities, even if it is so cliche, i can't help but mention SFO. hey, no pics of b1 and b2? and the b of b2? heehee.

christine said...

Hi Kat! There's a reason it's so cliche, it's a spectacular city, and that's putting it mildly! I have LOTS of pictures of B1 and 2, we'll have to get together for coffee or lunch sometime so I can show you. You have to see Etienne, Baby 2's son, sooooo cute! I didn't want to post their pictures as they might not like the idea, though I was tempted to post pictures of them during the pimp n ho party haha. You gotta see those! Hannah and Jerrie have both mentioned it's time for another get together anyway so let us know when your're free. :)