A San Francisco Travel (But Really Eating) Guide
As you get older, birthdays get more blah. It's not that you don't want to celebrate your life and recognize how far you've made it or how many near-death anxiety attacks you've survived. It's just that birthday parties or big birthday dinners that run 15 people deep and last way too long become tired. You don't wanna. In fact, you don't wanna so much that you'd rather order in Domino's, invite a few friends over, get over served on wine, and talk about how you're getting "old" all in the comfort of your own home.
That's where I was at this year. I knew I wanted to honor the day this world was graced with my presence in some way (because, like, come on), just not the way I usually do. That's when it hit me — I don't want to be HERE on my birthday. I want to be out of town. So, I did something I've never done to celebrate — I traveled.
After vacillating between what seemed like every major city in the US, I ultimately decided on San Francisco (mainly for the wine, duh), asked Whitney if she'd accompany me (duh), and we were off.
Now, you should know upfront WHY our trip was so on point. It had nothing to do with me. In fact, I'm infamously bad at planning big events. I can buy a plane ticket and book a hotel room, but as for the itinerary, I need you to hold both of my hands and tell me what's next. The reason we nailed San Francisco is all because of a girl named Harben (and a little bit because of a guy named Dan). Harben commented on my blog five years ago, which moved to email, which ultimately resulted in becoming steadfast social media friends. We've been direct messaging and oversharing for years, so as soon as I decided on SF for my birthday, I emailed her with a subject line that read "I'M COMING TO SAN FRAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" I just wanted to meet her and maybe get a few rough suggestions, but little did I know Harben is a travel agent on the side (not really, but FUCK she should be).
After 200 emails back and forth followed by the sacred exchanging of cell numbers, I had a fucking SF EXCEL SPREADSHEET in-hand crafted by Harben herself. Suggestions of how to map out each our days, places for breakfast/lunch/dinner, the best coffee shops, and even specific public transit routes were outlined. Harben does not fuck around when you're visiting her town (this should be your tagline, P.S.). And the absolute best part of the entire trip? SHE LENT US HER HOME TO STAY IN. It just so happens that Harben is a fellow Aries and was getting out of town to celebrate HER birthday the exact same weekend. So, the first two nights, we swallowed our pride and stayed at a random and pretty upsetting hotel downtown but the last two nights, we got to do it like the locals do and stay in Harben's adorably decorated, perfect apartment in the Hayes district (and save a couple hundred dollars while we were at it).
The only hiccup of the trip was our location the first day. You see, SF is expensive AF. So, although we wanted to stay in a cooler, hipper area, our wallets banned us to our cheapest option, which was staying downtown. In general, it's a downtown. You've got your cool, happening parts and your dicey parts. But the thing is, SF's homeless situation is next level. It is truly a population all its own in the city, specifically in an area called the Tenderloin (which our airport Uber driver told us to avoid, but we had no idea where the fuck we were, so we couldn't). I'm not criticizing it. I'm not making fun or light of it. I'm simply sharing with you all how dire and desperate of a situation it is. I've never seen anything like it. Open drug use (Whitney saw someone pop the top off a fresh syringe), multiple drug deals in broad daylight, entire camps/areas taking up chunks of sidewalk, human excrement and vomit in the street. It wasn't scary or violent by any means— it was depressing. If you're not prepared for it (which we weren't), it's completely jarring.
But that was just one afternoon.
Everything else you're about to see was Harben's itinerary for Whitney and me, and all pictures were taken with my iPhone X because, truly, what else could you possibly need in this world? Enjoy the wide world of food, coffee, snacks, wine, food, food, some sights, and mainly food we enjoyed last week and hit me up if you have further questions about all the food.
There were three coffee places people kept shouting at me to go to (just kidding. They politely DM'ed me): Blue Bottle, Sightglass, and Four Barrel. The first morning, we hit up Blue Bottle because Harben told us to, and it was as delicious as expected. The third day, we got provisions at Sightglass (it's that cold ass latte pictured above), and the last day, we casually grabbed a morning pastry at a place I'll talk about in two seconds and they just happened to serve Four Barrel. So we did it all, you guys. And it all tasted magnificent.
So, SF LOVES its pastries. Like, LOVES. There seem to be about 200 pastry shops around the city and each one is better than the last. I don't know how or why this is a thing there, but I'm just grateful it's not one here or I'd be up shit's creek, on my back, so fat and happy but screaming for help because I don't have a paddle — I just have pastries. The first picture is from our very last morning. We walked to a place called The Mill (because Harben told us to) to grab a pastry and coffee, and I'm almost scared to say on a public forum that it was my favorite pastry of the trip. I'M SORRY, TARTINE AND MR. HOLMES LOVERS. I'M SORRY. But it was a raspberry/hazelnut/caramel scone, so I don't really know what you want from me? The first day, though, we made our very uncomfortable way through the Tenderloin to get to Mr. Holmes Bakehouse (I could not stop singing "Mr. Holmes and Me") to try their famous Cruffins. Yeah, a fucking croissant and muffin. IDK, GUYS. The flavor of the day was a strawberries and cream situation, and we downed that shit like two pre-pubescent girls who don't know why they're so angry and hungry but just that they want chocolate and a fresh pad. Lastly, we listened to Dan (a former SF resident who knows his food as well as the next Italian grandma) and stopped into the famous Tartine bakery Saturday morning, selected an array of pastries to pollute ourselves with (a morning bun, a ham and gruyere croissant, and bread pudding), walked our asses up the Mission Dolores Park hill, and sat atop to enjoy the view while stuffing our already overstuffed faces. HIGHLY SUGGEST doing this exact activity. It was a delight (and so was that fucking ham and gruyere croissant, my God).
The night I met Harben Porter is the night my life changed forever. It was like meeting your travel agent and distant best friend ALL AT ONCE. We got to rendezvous Thursday night so we could get the keys to her digs and enjoy a quintessential SF evening with her at the helm (even though she was there indirectly for most of the trip anyway). She took us for Mexican food at an adorable, lively joint called nopalito that provided us with the most addicting, crunchiest spicy chickpeas, some of the freshest ceviche I've ever had, and incredible black bean chicken tacos. Oh, and margs of course. Also not pictured: Whitney's beef empanada and Harben's carnitas. In short, MUY MUY DELICIOSO.
Look. I know I'm Jewish, which means I am prone to loving bagels. But even Whitney herself (a total non-Jew) proclaimed "This is the best bagel I've ever had" while eating at Wise Sons. Harben (OF COURSE) told us to grab breakfast here the morning of our winery day so we were substantially fed, and I'm not kidding when I say looking at the picture of that bagel makes me teary-eyed. It was the best. goddamn. mother fucking. bagel. I've ever had. Just the bagel itself was perfect, but the additions made it orgasmic. I wish I could send you all a taste, truly. You won't understand until you try, but just trust me that I will dream about it for the rest of my days. Plus, they had Stumptown coffee. So, it couldn't have been more perfect. I know New York has this shit at every corner, but GUESS WHAT? I WASN'T VISITING NEW YORK. I WAS IN SF. AND THIS WAS THE BEST SHIT I'VE EVER HAD. Sorry. I'm just so hungry.
I'll tell you what Harben told me about Nopa: "Set a reminder in your phone a month out and make a reservation. They only take reservations a month in advance." And I did. And I got one. And it was easily one of the most amazing dining experiences I've ever had, if not THE best. From the off-menu Blue Bottle Martini to the cucumber/breadcrumb/ricotta/pickled onion/basil/balsamic salad to the warm asparagus soup to the most beautiful burger I've seen to the fresh bowl of pappardelle pasta to the perfect lemon tart... y'all. I went comatose. Ask Whitney. My eyes were rolling in the back of my head at the table. I was out by the burger. I'm surprised I'm alive right now to write this, honestly. In short, Nopa is basics done SO, SO RIGHT. Just mark your calendar a month ahead of time, make a reso, and clear your eating schedule the day of. Oh, and don't pass out at the table. Do better than I did.
Fun fact: This wasn't even on Harben's spreadsheet. However, she did verbally tell us "It's my favorite seafood in SF." We went to Bar Crudo our last night on a whim, thinking there was no way we'd get a spot (it's super tiny in there) and low and behold — WE DID. Two perfect seats right at the bar — one for me and one for Whitney. As soon as I saw they had a wine on their list from our favorite winery the day before, I was LIT. I loaded up on oysters (not Whit's thang), we shared their Crudo sampler platter full of single bites of PERFECTION, Whit ordered the crab legs, and then it happened. I ordered a cup of the seafood chowder and j'ed my p's right there at the bar top. It all happened so fast — I didn't mean to. Then, I ordered a second cup because when you realize you should've gotten a bowl of something so good, THAT'S WHAT YOU DO. "Don't worry. It happens all the time," the bartender told me. I will have dreams about that seafood chowder until my dying day. It was one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth (and I've put a lot in there) (JK) (eh?). It was so rich, so full of seafood, so... chowdery. OMG. I want to go back right now. Sad!
The two wineries Harben instructed us to go to couldn't have been more different. Our first stop was Domaine Carneros in Napa, known for it's sparkling everything. The only problem? This winery is stunning and you mostly go for the view, but since it was raining cats and dogs all day Friday, we were stuck inside with each other as the view (ew. JK. Whitney is really pretty). So, that sort of sucked for us but the bubbles were DELICIOUS and so was the cheese plate that I ate most of (Whit housed all the brie. Good for her) and regretted later. If we had been able to sit outside and take epic Insta pics, it would've been even more lovely.
I don't even know how to describe this actual piece of heaven on our miserable earth. SCRIBE is perfect. The aesthetic. The scenery. The wine. The food. The layout. The everything. Again, it was raining which probably changed the experience quite a bit, but it was still absolutely amazing. For the first half hour, Whit and I couldn't stop talking about how perfect it was. The decor, all the delicate touches, the entire vibe was just so fucking on point. I never wanted to leave, and I even ordered two bottles of wine from them. If you ever plan a wine country trip, stop here but don't plan on coming back because you won't want to. Oh and one thing I'll say about touring wineries — unless you're staying out in Sonoma or Napa, I suggest only booking two for the day. More than that, and you can't really sit and enjoy yourself at all. You're rushing to taste it all and get to the next one. Take your time and sip your wine, ya know?
STUFF YOU CAN'T EAT
WALK THE CITY
Two out of the 3.5 days Whitney and I had in the city, we walked HARD. Each of those intense walking days, we clocked in over 20k steps and close to 9 miles. SUPER SICK. My FitBit was so happy (that's the douchiest thing I'll ever write on my blog. Promise). San Fran is incredibly walkable, so if it's nice weather, put on your walking shoes and go sculpt your ass on 'dem hills. You'll see lots of pretty things that way.
THE PAINTED LADIES
Of course, it wouldn't be a quintessential San Francisco trip without a visit "The Full House" row AKA The Painted Ladies. Oh and fun fact: all of SF's parks are happy to accept you and your open containers of alcohol. So if you're lucky enough to have a local tour guide/friend like Harben who sneaks along a bottle of champagne in her bag to pop in a park, indulge her and yourself.
MISSION DOLORES PARK
Remember those three Tartine pastries from earlier, strewn atop a brown paper bag? The Mission Dolores Park is a literal one minute walk from that bakery, so load up on whatever pastries make your world go round and walk them and your ass up to the top of the park to enjoy the views and the treats. It's as magical as it sounds (thanks for the tip, @grossypelosi).
Going to see live jazz on our last night after the orgasmic Bar Crudo chowder was, well — I guess what I want my wedding night to be? Black Cat is located in the aforementioned dicey Tenderloin area, but once you walk inside, you forget that you're anywhere but somewhere cool as all fuck. Per Harben's reco, I made a reservation a month in advance for a 10pm table downstairs, and we were seated right in the front of the stage. The jazz that night was fronted by a female singer named Sami Stevens who literally sounds almost identical to Amy Winehouse, and they killed it. We sipped old fashioneds, cheered probably way too loudly after each song, and even saw a Kardashian sister! It was one of the best "going out" experiences, and I highly recommend it if you're ever in the city and appreciate jazz.
GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE (duh)
Last but obviously not at all least is the Golden Gate Bridge. Per Harben's orders, we crossed the bridge and were dropped off of on the other side for the best view. I also did extra research to find out exactly WHERE we should be dropped off for the most opportune pictures and got a resounding "Battery Spencer," so I complied. We got lucky. It was our last morning, perfect weather, and the most stunningly clear view. The lookout is technically in Sausalito, and very easy to walk up to. The pictures speak for themselves — I don't need to carry on. In short, it was the perfect way to end our trip, and a view I don't think either of us will forget any time soon.
Oh! One more thing: WHATEVER YOU DO, IF YOU FLY SOUTHWEST INTO THE SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, DO NOT EAT ANY OF THE FOOD FROM ANY OF THE NO NAME KIOSKS/RESTARUANTS. I DON'T CARE HOW HUNGRY YOU ARE AND THAT YOU ONLY HAD A PASTRY FOR BREAKFAST. GET A BAG OF CHIPS. IT'S A TERRIBLE, OLD TERMINAL WITH TERRIBLE CHICKEN SANDWICHES THAT MAKE YOU POOP AND VOMIT AT THE SAME TIME FOR A DAY STRAIGHT.