San Francisco... Part I of IV: Embracing the inner Tourist

As travelers, we're always trying to look for ways to travel so that we don't feel like "zee touristes".  Most people often regard the tourist crowds as some other species of traveler that doesn't resemble them in any way.  We are guilty of this disposition as well.  Often, we've tried to book our vacations in early Spring or very late Fall, attempting to avoid any throngs of tourist crowds in order to feel like we are "locals" to an area we've probably never been to in our lives.

But, with that said, occasionally, it is relieving to don the  cloak of "tourist".  There are those trips when I sigh with relief to clutch one of those cartoon-like maps of the main tourist sights that any 5 year old could figure out, happily settle atop one of those garish colored "hop on hop off" buses that whisk you from one tourist attraction to another with a voice piping into your ear what you should know, and feel fairly unabashed sitting along a crowded boardwalk licking an ice cream alongside 100 other people doing just the same thing, without regard to calorie contents.  Perhaps there is a lot to wrinkle the nose up for some, but on this trip, I didn't mind playing the role of tourist for the first few days before I veered off the tourist track.

Top L: The Bay Bridge, Bottom L: Miette Bakery in the Ferry Building

Shortly after our family returned from trekking through Istanbul, Turkey, we unpacked our bags and packed them up again with a bit of a different wardrobe this time.

A sweater or two, a few scarves, and beach shoes were tucked into suitcases for a week of sight-seeing in San Francisco, California.

However, only two bags were packed instead of four.  This trip was to mark the first time our now teenage children would stay at home...on their own. ALL ON THEIR OWN! [insert trumpet blasts]

Top L: The Ferry Building Marketplace,
Bottom R: Iconic city trolley cars

Honestly, I don't know which pair of us was the happiest.  P. and I were giddy with the anticipation of ambling about the city, just the two of us.  We looked forward to a few fancier meals than usual since the bill was "times two" instead of "times four".  

The kids, on the other hand, with a refrigerator and pantry full of food, were waving equally giddily at us as we drove off for the airport.  They were so excited about the independence of being on their own [different from attending summer camps] for the first time for a full week.  With one child driving, they could go out for meals on their own, attend their summer courses, get to camps, and move back and forth to summer jobs...all on their own.

They didn't know it, but I had secretly called my friend to be on the lookout in case our house was up in flames or a pet or two were wandering forlornly around the neighborhood looking for love ...and air conditioning.

I decided to "play tourist" the first few days in San Francisco  because I had very little time to plan out intricate details for the trip.  

I was, however, able to book two food tours in the Mission District and Chinatown that I cannot wait to highlight as part of this trip.  I'm going to collect all of those photos and thoughts in Part II and Part III of this trip journal.

Top L: Coit Tower
Bottom R: TransAmerica Building

I love San Francisco.  I think it is a beautiful, stylish, fresh city full of character and pizazz.  Since our hotel, Club Quarters, was in the Business District, only a few blocks away from the Ferry Building Marketplace, we decided to do some shopping there first and then sit down for a casual meal.

We passed the striking Transamerica building on the walk to the Bay front.  Visitors are not allowed on any floors above the first floor so I knew getting a panaormic view of the city wasn't possible, but the building is handsome indeed.

Seeing the iconic and brightly painted historic trolley cars rolling up and down along the Embarcadero affirmed that we were indeed in San Francisco, California... and we couldn't wait to soak it all in.  Just the cool ocean breezes were such a treat for us, as Texas is in the throes of 90˚F to 100˚F  temperatures at this time of year.

The Ferry Building Marketplace is a bustling selection of gourmet shops and restaurants all housed in a renovated historic ferry building situated right on the water.  Specialty cheese shops like Cowgirl Creamery and acclaimed restaurants like The Slanted Door are situated in a covered shopping area.  Huge doors on the east side of the building open out onto a boardwalk, filled with tables for diners wishing to eat a meal al fresco while overlooking the San Francisco Bay.  

Ferries can be seen slipping into their docks and then churning off again for locations like quaint Sausalito and stylish Tiburon.  Sitting on the boardwalk is an excellent spot for people-watching and certainly the seagulls, swooping in and out to pick up tidbits of dropped food, are equally amusing to watch.

Top L: Far West Fungi Shop...Top R: Farm Fresh to You shop...
Bottom L: Prather Ranch Meat Co....Sausages and Cheese

The shops were fun and lively.  We noted the Ciao Bella Gelato and its array of delicious looking options.  This is where I sampled their lemon basil sorbet.  I enjoyed the flavor so much that I came home and recreated this dessert for my 4th of July feast this year.

We decided that after the long flight, we would sit down on the boardwalk, order the classic bowl of clam chowder  and indulge in a fresh lobster melt roll from Ferry Plaza Seafood...all accompanied by icy glasses of beer.  

Lobster Melt Roll and Creamy Clam Chowder at Ferry Plaza Seafood restaurant

The breezes blew off the water, we chuckled at how "chilled" we were becoming, but enjoyed every minute of relaxing, people watching, and remarking how we felt like a young newly married couple once again.

San Francisco is a truly romantic city!  The last time we visited this enchanting city by the bay, we were indeed much younger...and newly married at that time!  

Top L: Shucking oysters at Hog Island Oyster Co./ Top R: Fresh crab/Bottom L: Dragonfruit at Farm Fresh to You/ Bottom R: Whimsical wall mural

I mentioned before that San Francisco has such fabulous style.  Because the climate is so temperate and the pace of life is so mellow with life framed so beautifully by water, fashion is exposed more as opposed to always covered up like in NYC or Chicago.

Heavy coats aren't really needed in the city but the weather gets cool enough for the locals to sport a range of edgy jackets, playful scarves, and wonderfully stylish and funky city boots.  I love all 3 of these accessories so I think I could fit into this city easily.

Patrick took off every day to jog along The Embarcadero, a nice jogging/walking path that runs all along the water from The Ferry Building Marketplace to the Bay Bridge.  He said the weather was so cool and fresh, that he ran twice the distance he can run at this time during the humid summer months here.

I walked all along the bay until I came upon the beautiful and imposing Bay Bridge.  I noticed these fun little cars that zoomed by me as I enjoyed the walk.  They are offered to tourists as a way to sightsee in a fun carefree way.  The company is called GoCarTours.  These cute little cars can zip all over town while you listen to a GPS-guided tour of San Francisco. The car navigates and shows the way – to all the best sites while telling stories about the unique aspects of the city.  Each car I passed had passengers grinning from ear to ear and enjoying this zany way of canvassing the city's sights while enjoying the gorgeous climate.

People watching in San Francisco is terrific, but even more so than the pedestrians are the multitudes of bikers, skateboarders, and scooter riders.  I had a wonderful time marveling at their interesting clothing ensembles and how effortlessly they careened throughout the city sidewalks, trolleys, people, and streets.  Such style and sophistication!

Except for this dude...
Texting and...biking?  Yep...

but Yikes...

If I had to choose my favorite restaurant during these first few days of "playing zee touriste", it would most certainly be The Tadich Grill.  

This restaurant has been around since the days of the gold rush, originally serving as a coffee shop.  The beautiful copper doors, the boisterous atmosphere inside, and the soft light pouring in streams from the street created an ambiance of sophistication but with a certain coziness as well.  I found the ambiance so inviting and very classy.

The menu is printed daily and the chef comes in at 5am every morning to choose the fresh seafood selections from the suppliers.  Once the seafood choices are made, the menu is put together from scratch.  

Choices like the "Dalmatian Seafood Stew" and the "Mesquite Broiled Sea Bass" make this a great spot for a  swanky business lunch or a sophisticated evening meal.

When in San Francisco, how can one skip a ride around the city on the bright red shiny trolley cars?  I waited until I was quite tired of walking  to hop on one of these rides, rest my feet a bit, take in more cool breezes, and ride up the hill to "The Crookedest Street" in the city.

The walk down the Crookedest Street is more about people watching than anything else really.  I enjoyed hearing all of the diverse languages around me laughing and taking a zillion photos and looking for that perfect angle to get in all of the hairpin curves of the street.  O.K., so obviously, by the photos here, I was right in that pack snapping away with them too.  

The view from the top of the street to the water is striking and pretty, flowers are bursting out of every nook and cranny, and the architecture of the row houses are all charming and unique.

While most tourists continued on at the bottom of the street, I walked back up and continued on to Russian Hill and the Cow Hollow area.

I really enjoyed watching the style of the neighborhoods change from one area of the city to another.  I wove in and out of streets while slowly making my way to the waterfront, popping out at Fort Mason.

Marina Green is adjacent to the Fort and so many locals were having their lunch out by the water, jogging the trails, or just enjoying the warm rays of the sun.  

I had walked miles at this point but with no time constraints and enjoying how easily walkable this city is, I decided to continue all along the waterfront in the direction of Fisherman's Wharf.

Before tackling the vibrant and booming Fisherman's Wharf area along the water, I just so happened upon the Ghirardelli Ice Cream shop [wink].  I knew it was nearby, and with feet beginning to feel like 2 stiff 2x4 pieces of wood, it was a perfect stop for something cold and creamy.  Never did an ice cream and chocolate dipped cone taste so good!  Try the "coffee espresso chip". Mmmmmm.

Oh, Fisherman's Wharf!  I don't remember visiting this area of the city right off the water on my previous trip to San Francisco.  In fact, no one could forget whether or not they have been to the Fisherman's Wharf.  The visit would leave an indelible mark indeed.

Fisherman's Wharf is a collection of blocks that have a very vibrant, raucous, and festive atmosphere.  The mood here is one of carnival tempo with bright colors, boisterous crowds, and many souvenir shops.  

I can imagine the locals of San Francisco avoid this area with a passion, but as a tourist in the city, I must admit that it is a great spot for tourists, newlyweds, children, and families.  Street performers are singing lively tunes and playing instruments, small mom & pop eateries are frying up fish and chips, and all sorts of garish and prized souvenirs are on offer as mementos to this historic area of the city.  It is all in good fun, but is strictly geared to tourists.

My nose bypassed all of the carnival type flashy attractions and carried me right to the doors of the Boudin Sourdough Bread Bakery.  In 1849, the Boudin family began making a unique tasting bread that was slightly altered from the traditional french loaf taste...sourdough bread.  It became hugely popular and a portion of the "starter mother dough" still lives on.

A few days spent capturing all of the tourists sights only left me curious to discover more of this fabulous harbor city.  After a bit of research, I booked what looked to be an intriguing food tour of the Mission District.  And it was fabulous.  I cannot wait to pull together the collection of foods, restaurants, and sights along this food tour for the next article.

Fresh seafood is so central to the culinary lifestyle of this city.  I am always inspired by my visits to the west coast to get into my kitchen and recreate some of the fabulous seafood dishes enjoyed out west.

I came across a "Fisherman's Soup" recipe that had all of the flavors and colors of the many soups and chowders found on so many menus in San Francisco. 

Seafood is a great base for a soup because it's a wonderful salty and nutritious addition.  So much about this recipe can be altered from the type of fish used to the types of herbs and flavors used in the soup.

I found the consistency of this recipe was a bit of a mixture between a soup and a chowder.  The slices of bacon gave a terrific flavor to the soup.  Instead of potatoes, I decided to use chunks of tofu instead to add a bit more protein to the soup.  

The chopped parsley, thyme,  garlic, and white wine to compliment the chopped tomatoes and to create a broth that is bursting with multiple flavors that pair well with a any mild fish.

I realize that living in Houston allows us access to an abundance of seafood here as well.  The Asian market here in the city has a huge selection of fish than can be prepared any way desired.

I am definitely intrigued by cooking more dishes with shrimp, lobster, and crab.  I can't say that I am very proficient with making dishes with these ingredients but I think it is time to get out of my comfort zone and try out more shellfish recipes...certainly having been inspired by the gorgeous seafood menus found all over the incredible and gorgeous city of San Francisco.

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