(Note: This is part of my San Francisco neighborhood guide to be published individually, then in its entirety at completion. Also, as a result of the ongoing business restrictions during the pandemic, some of the restaurants and retail businesses I talk about in the guides may close shop with little warning.)
North Beach Like the perfect picture postcard of San Francisco, there’s no mistaking what city you’re in on a stroll through North Beach, and why it’s so popular with visitors. Another reason: its supreme walkability, one of the best in the city (despite four lanes of Columbus Ave); there’s something interesting at every turn. It’s also the most traditional and established of San Francisco’s neighborhoods – residents have lived here for decades and Italian families for generations – and with the richest history. From the Barbary Coast to the beats, jazz to punk rock, the North Beach scene was instrumental in all of those eras. It’s also home to the first club in the U.S. to go topless (The Condor). Back then, if you were young and hip and seeking excitement, you went to North Beach. Yes, these days it’s a tourist magnet, but it’s not ‘touristy’, and anyway the tourists bring some bustle, and stay mostly to Columbus Ave and the Italian eateries along it. Venture off the main drag and things quiet down a bit, and that’s where you’ll find some of the quirkiest shops in the city, especially along Grant Ave. (or could until recently). The family-run coffee shops and cafés might not be hipster favorites, but there’s no better place to nurse a cappuccino and watch the city pass by. Caffe Trieste is not only filled with characters – on both sides of the counter – it’s the OG of west coast coffeehouses, while Caffe Greco would be my daytime home if I lived anywhere near the area. The same holds for some of the city’s best and most colorful old-school bars, like Vesuvio’s, Mr. Bing’s and The Saloon (the city’s oldest bar and best for live blues). And while restaurants along Columbus are often dismissed as tourists traps, they can be a fun and truly Italian experience (e.g. playful banter with the maître d’). You’ll find the city’s best old-school Italian eateries in North Beach, and the best pizza (Capo’s and Tony’s). Washington Square (state’s oldest park), Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower, Saints Peter and Paul Church, City Lights bookstore, exquisite architecture (the Malloch Building), fantastic views, North Beach has a lot to offer and tops my list as the best neighborhood to visit.
If you’re looking to spend a weekend exploring Sonoma wine country, consider making Healdsburg your base of operations. It’s easy to get to (minus any traffic woes) just off Hwy 101 about 10 miles north of Santa Rosa, so just enough removed from the small city sprawl, car dealerships and office parks of that area. Yet it still has all the conveniences and amenities you might need, and enough small town charm to make it feel like a proper country getaway from the city.
The biggest reason of all: it’s located at the intersection of three wine regions – the Russian River AVA, Dry Creek AVA and Alexander Valley AVA.
According to Yelp, there are 555 donut-serving establishments in the city and east bay. And while an unknown number are cafes, coffeeshops and Chinese cafeterias, it’s obvious the Bay Area is not lacking in sugary fried dough substances. Some are good, some suspect, but generally we do a passable donut product here (not like the sad state of our bagels and pizza*). I thought it was pretty much like that, until I came across a thing so rare I was unaware it actually existed until sinking my teeth into its still warm, perfectly textured (not too dense, not too fluffy), generously iced dough, and was transported to a land of rainbows and unicorns and dancing Homers. And I’m not even a big donut fan. Continue reading Holy O’s!→
Sausalito is such a lovely town. Bike across the Golden Gate Bridge or take a ferry from San Francisco, stroll along its waterfront, check out the shops, have lunch at Scoma’s or grab a burger and fries at Hamburgers, maybe an ice cream at Lappert’s or a drink at No Name bar, and you’ve had yourself a pretty darn good day. But venture off the well-traveled tourist path of downtown, and you’ll find some of the best of what Sausalito, and Marin County, has to offer. Continue reading 8 reasons to get reaquainted with Sausalito (hint: it’s all about the food)→
I was able to track down some information on a new coffee place I learned about through a friend’s sister who overheard a conversation while waiting in line for a kimchi masala burrito at a truck outside Zeitgeist.
(::) (pronounced ‘hm’) is a pop-up speakeasy craft coffeebar appearing bi-monthly in a series of unspecified unannounced locations throughout San Francisco, from Dolores all the way to Potrero. Limited seating of a single party of up to three, guests meet with (::)’s experienced coffee sommelier to discuss bean options, though please be advised options may change without notice throughout the seating. Options in the past have included a reduced bold Papua New Guinea pygmy coffee/wild taro hybrid with notes of vanilla, chocolate, cherry, black olive, onion and pepperoni. The popular Xanadu Icelandic summer pancha blend is crafted according to ancient ayurvedic standards with beans picked by trained adult Bornean Orangs (the only ones able to access the remote fauna without harming the rare, endangered zucchini orchid which grow on the trees).
The chosen beans are roasted by hand on vintage tabletop Beghelli roasters imported from Italy, which allow for no more than two ounces of beans per batch. Roasted beans are then crushed by hand at 117 kPa of pressure through a reverse rotation method for maximum particle uniformity and aeration. While the beans are set aside to cure in our portable humidor, locally sourced spring water is slow heated in stainless pewter containers to 188.8 degrees Fahrenheit for greater ionic release, then naturally cooled, then heated again to 207.6 degrees. Beans are carefully placed in pouches hand-sewn by the Nepalese Women’s Initiative Coop using recycled teabags and set in hand-blown glass sieves. Water, now cooled to 203.33 degrees, is slowly poured and the coffee allowed to slow drip into a (::)-signature Meissen porcelain mug. All potential locations are wi-fi accessible. Please be advised service may take up to 90 minutes. $$$
I used to think of Pescadero as an overlooked gem. Not so much anymore, what with all the cars lining the main (and only) street on weekends. But this charming village of 643 human souls 15 miles south of Half Moon Bay and two miles east of Hwy 1 takes some effort to get to, whether driving south from the city or over the Santa Cruz mountains from the Peninsula, so it’s not a place to simply ‘drop by’. Which I suppose keeps it from being overrun by tourists. Continue reading The wonderful world of Pescadero: it’s a small town after all→
Drive along Hwy 84 in the Santa Cruz mountains and you’ll come across the occasional Grateful Dead flag flapping in the wind, a reminder that this area was once the stomping ground of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, and their Hell’s Angels friends (in nearby La Honda). Just up the road where Hwy 84 meets Skyline Blvd (Hwy 35), and fitting right in with the counter-culture vibe is Alice’s Restaurant, named for Arlo Guthrie’s ’60s anthem. And just like the song (and the menu) says, apparently you can get anything you want here, within reason. Continue reading Alice’s gives you what you want→
Okay, so it’s the only general store in San Gregorio. In fact, it is San Gregorio, unless you want to count a nearby farmhouse, an old barn and a rusted out VW bug. And this general store is not your grandpappy’s general store, with old-timers sitting on creaky chairs under a rickety front overhang. Located less than a mile off Hwy 1 in San Gregorio (pop. 287), the setting is appropriately country, with the closest town being Pescadero eight miles to the south and Half Moon Bay 12 miles north. But the big difference at this general store is the old-timers ride Harleys. Continue reading The best little general store in San Gregorio→
In my perfect world, all bookstores would serve beer. Buy a copy of Ulysses, get a free pint of Guinness. Mark Twain’s Autobiography would come with discounts on Anchor Steam. William Faulkner? bottles of Dixie beer. If so much great literature was written under the influence of alcohol, shouldn’t it be read the same way?