Friday, June 13, 2014
Last year at about this time, James and I took our nieces Caelan and Emma on their first plane ride to San Francisco, one of our favorite cities. We know and love the City well, and planned what we thought would be the perfect traditional kid-friendly first trip. I think we did a decent job. Not only did the girls fall in love with the City, but it gained some ground on me too.
Fresh off the plane we made a beeline for - where else? The Ferry Building! Honestly, I probably go here about as often as I would if I still lived in the Bay Area, given the lines and the hassle of getting there. They now have Disneyland-style dividers to corral the queuing crowds at Blue Bottle and the new Humphry Slocombe ice cream outlet. Good news is there is a Humphry Slocombe - it replaced the Ciao Bella stand.
While James and the girls got in line for burgers at Taylor's Refresher I ran around the corner for an Out the Door Bahn Mi. Holy Roast Pork Goodness. Juicy pork, nuoc mam marinated cucumber, carrots and cilantro on a french roll.
We stayed at the Phoenix Hotel in the Tenderloin - not because we love the neighborhood so much, but because they have a parking lot right out front with *hooray!* FREE PARKING. In San Francisco that is huge. Not only that, but they have a pool, and the girls luurvve to swim. They also have relatively cheap rates if you book ahead. The beds are comfy, they have a trendy bar and restaurant onsite and the staff is unfailingly polite - but the coffee is weak, the bathrooms are shoddy and the renovated motel thing only goes so far toward covering up the fact that the place is - in fact - a motel. With kids and a car though, it was the perfect place for us.
That night we had tickets for a Padres-Giants game. It was our first time at Pac Bell park, and we were thrilled to discover that among the concessions at the park is a mobile Ghirardelli hot chocolate vendor complete with whipped cream. While James and the kids ate hot dogs in the seats, I scarfed one of the popular crab sandwiches with a plastic flute of champagne.
I loved how carefully curated this little display cell was, for example.
The gardens that were once maintained by the staff's wives were planted with blooming flowers. They grew lots of vegetables on the grounds when the island was operational and the grounds are lovely - it's too bad the former residences for the warden and other senior staff weren't left standing - they must have had some amazing views.
After the tour, we hopped down the Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf to another venerable institution, the Franciscan crab restaurant. In the 70's and 80's my parents considered the Fisherman's Wharf restaurants tourist trap ripoffs, and when I lived in the Bay Area in the 90's I only ever went to Scoma's twice (where I once overheard a tourist from Texas say loudly in her twangy drawl "You could hammah nayles with that bread!") Needless to say, I had never been here before - but the visit quickly turned into a looping repeat of "where have you been all my life?!"
The Franciscan is housed in a lovely art deco building - you walk up a staircase hung with vintage black and white celebrity photos to and an old school white marble bar and soaring open dining room with unobstructed views out to the bay.
We *might* have overdone it on the crab - in someone's view. Not mine. We started with an appetizer of crab crostini with smoked salmon and avocado, then moved on to crab sandwiches and a crab louie - with a side of crab claws. (I made up for the fact that this wasn't a food-centric trip by eating crab every chance I got.)
The girls were disgusted - they can't stand seafood - but I was bouncing up and down in my chair. The Schramsberg and the amazing view were icing on the cake. I love to crack crab but James hates it, so I went to town on these suckers. Cracking and pulling those fat pieces of dungeness crab meat out of the shell and dunking them in melted butter is an experience everyone should have at least once.
After lunch it was time to do what the girls wanted to do - the Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum and hot fudge sundaes at Ghirardelli. The museum was a hoot for the girls - there isn't much to it, but they loved the funhouse at the end, and I enjoyed listening to them shriek with laughter and crash into the walls. The line at the original Ghirardelli on the east side of Ghirardelli Square was a block long - so we continued into the complex to the second location which was huge and nearly empty, with views looking out over the park to the bay.
That night we continued the "San Francisco Cliche" theme with a trip to the Stinking Rose. It was memorable only for the decor in the front room. The food was mediocre at best, but you already knew that, and so did we. It was still fun.
The next morning we stopped at the Dynamo Donuts kiosk at the Marina Green - a great way to enjoy a gorgeous morning. It's easy to get in and out (and to park) and the donuts and coffee cannot be beat. They have a few tables and chairs overlooking the water and a view of the Golden Gate Bridge beyond the trees.
We had Maple Bacon, Lemon Blueberry, Vanilla Bean and Spiced Chocolate - they were all delicious and they pull a gorgeous macchiato.
Next up was the Exploratorium - the science museum in its new location on the Embarcadero. It was expensive and crowded, but definitely worthwhile. Give yourself a few hours to make sure you can see it all, because you will have to wait for a turn at many of the exhibits. They had a fun little workshop for kids where they can build things with motors, etc. and an excellent gift shop with a lot of fun and smart kids toys. We had lunch in the cafe, which was expensive with long lines and lackluster food.
After spending most of the day there, we took the girls out to Golden Gate Park to one of my favorite places in San Francisco as a kid - the Japanese Tea Garden. They fell asleep in the car on the way there, but they were able to revive enough to enjoy walking around the beautiful gardens and have some tea in the pavilion overlooking the koi pond.
I felt pretty good about the fortune in my cookie.
It was quiet around there and they were closing up the tea pavilion since it was late in the day, but we were able to walk around the garden and take some pictures, etc. It's a really lovely, contemplative place - the perfect antidote to all the crowds and chaos we had been experiencing thus far.
We still had a little time to kill before dinner at the Beach House with friends on the Solstice, so we went over there and had drinks at their downstairs bar while the girls played in the park. The Beach House isn't exactly a pillar of grande cuisine - but it was a perfect spot for a fun group dinner to kick off summer.
The next morning we headed over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Muir Woods (after a stop for breakfast at Mel's Diner.)
On the way back, we popped by the Divisadero Bi Rite Creamery - all the fun and flavors of the Mission location with zero line. Win win.
Dinner that night was at the Tonga Room. Yeah, don't do that. We knew better and we did it anyway, and paid the price. My parents took me here to the bar as a kid and I LOVED it, and I knew the girls would at least get a kick out of the rain storms, the paper umbrellas and the music, and I think they did, but the food was flat out awful. I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu in an effort to lessen the pain. It didn't work. At least James got to drink a cocktail out of a real pineapple.
We capped off the night with a cable car ride down to Embarcadero on the California line. We practically had it all to ourselves - and we almost had a tragic accident when Niece No. 2's glasses fell off and she tried to jump off to get them. I sprouted a few gray hairs on that one - thankfully our cable car operator was a nice guy and stopped so James could hold up traffic and retrieve them.
Our last stop on the way to the airport was Chinatown, so the girls could pick up some souvenirs and presents for friends and family - just like I did when I was a kid. They picked out a few trinkets and I wished we were driving home instead of flying, so I could buy some Chinese firecrackers.
People always say we're so nice to do things like this for our nieces, but really, it's as much fun for us as it is for them. Not only are they just awesome, well-behaved kids - it was amazing to watch them fall in love with the City - hanging off the cable car for the first time, taking in the breathtaking vistas from the hills, looking up at the massive redwoods in Muir Woods, talking about how they want to go to college there when they grow up. It's one of the best and most beautiful cities in the world, and I felt lucky to be able to show it to them.
Posted by Alice Q. Foodie on Friday, June 13, 2014