17 February 2015

Six Hours in San Francisco

I would have liked to have spent a couple of days in San Francisco after my conference finished — long-term readers will know that I spent a fair amount of time in Fog City in the noughties but it's been over six years since my last visit. Sadly, though, I had to make do with six hours. However, it's hard to complain too much when it was such an unseasonably warm, sunny day and the city was as beautiful as I remembered.

I took the first train out of San Jose, which got me to SFO for 9.10. I dropped my suitcase off at the Airport Travel Agency (which, at $35 for the day, was rather pricey but worth it for the time and hassle saved) and then took BART into the city. I had a fairly strict itinerary for the day, and task number one was to visit one of the cool coffee bars in the Mission — my coffee tastes have evolved since my last visit to SF, and a creamy cappuccino will no longer do it for me. Top of my list was Four Barrel Coffee on Valencia.

They roast their own coffee on site and even have a pourover bar. I picked up a bag of Colombian beans, and ordered a Colombian pourover and a chocolate and rose doughnut, enjoying my breakfast in the airy, industrial-casual-chic cafe. The coffee was really good, with some surprising fruity acidity after the initial taste.

I suspect that I am not the only person for whom the Golden Gate Bridge acts as core of nostalgia for San Francisco, so my next activity was to head to Crissy Field and walk along the beach to the overlook point for the bridge. Initially, I thought I would take a bus, but it was such a nice day that I decided to walk up Fillmore Street through Japantown and Pacific Heights, where there were plenty of shops to browse and restaurants for another time.

No matter how many times I see the Golden Gate Bridge, my heart still leaps when I catch a glimpse of it, and I spent a good 20 minutes snapping photos, including a couple of selfie-stick selfies and a few self-timer leaps. Crissy Field is glorious in the sunshine, especially on a holiday weekend, where families picnic, barbecue and take a dip in the Bay.

Sightseeing completed, I walked back to Pacific Heights for lunch. Although I spotted a bunch of great-looking burger places (Super Duper Burgers and Roam, for example), I decided to make the most of being in California and had some tacos from Tacolicious. I wasn't the only one with the same idea, however, and there was no room at the inn, so I ate my delicious tacos (one cod, one chicken mole) outside in the sunshine. Then it was time for a bit of shopping on Union Street and Chestnuy Street, where there are a huge range of boutiques and independent shops — including Chronicle Books, Eurasian Interiors and Itoya Topdrawer. This is also a good place to shop for sports and yoga clothes and juices!

By this point, I was in need of more caffeine and by happy coincidence, I was only two blocks away from Saint Frank Coffee on Polk Street, another coffee bar on my list. I planned to order an iced pourover but when the women in front of me asked for a Kaffe Tonic, I was curious. Kaffe Tonic turns out to be a shot of espresso poured over an iced Fever Tree tonic water. I love coffee and I love a G&T but I wasn't convinced. Somehow, though, the two flavours combined well and it was both tasty and refreshing. If you are feeling less experimental, Saint Frank pulls a mean espresso and serves a selection of tempting pourover coffees.

Starting to run short of time and faced with yet another massive hill, I decided to hop on a bus down to Union Square; my aching feet were grateful for the brief respite. I spent 30 minutes rushing around my favourite shops — Madewell, Nordstrom, Kate Spade and American Eagle — in the shopping centre on Market Street before power walking down Market Street to the Ferry Building, a foodie haven. I had hoped to get something to eat so that I didn't have to rely on plane food later on, but the queues at all of the little food concessions and shops inside were huge, so I only had time to pick up a couple of snacks, snap a quick picture of the Bay Bridge and rush to get the 4.30 BART back to the airport.

As you can tell, I packed a lot in to such a short time, but my half-day visit has inspired me to plan another trip to San Francisco — maybe combined with a few days in Portland. I do love the city and have a lot of happy memories associated with it. Also, there are plenty more coffee joints for me to check out, including Ritual, Sightglass, MA-velous and Blue Bottle (which I've visited in New York).

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