Fun Places to Visit When Exploring San Francisco – Tom & Priscilla
San Francisco was a whirlwind of a trip. A trip revolved around food to be exact. The annual Singapore Day happened to be in San Francisco this year (2016), with the biggest highlight being the delicious Singapore street food, with cooks and ingredients brought in directly from Singapore. Just for the food alone, we impulsively bought air tickets to visit.
This trip was short, really short. We arrived late Friday night in Oakland, and were up extra early on Saturday morning. Trying to pack in as many touristy stops as possible, we stopped by Fisherman’s Wharf, walked to the Marina District for breakfast at Seed + Salt (a little café serving up delicious gluten free, vegetarian, organic, local, etc. food), admired homes on Marina Boulevard, and took a stroll along the beachfront for the classic Golden Gate Bridge view. We underestimated how far the bridge was and soon realized there was not enough time to get to the bridge and walk across it. Next time!
As we left the beachfront, we found ourselves at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, lost in the beautiful pavilion and walkways, and watching the different birds in the lake.
Singapore Day in San Francisco
Finally, we peeled ourselves away from the touristy distractions, and started making our way to the Singapore Day event in the Dog Patch neighborhood. Knowing little about San Francisco, we were surprised to find the Dog Patch neighborhood to be industrial with huge decrepit warehouses. A little hard to believe a national level event was hiding in one of these grimy buildings, but we knew we were in the right place when we saw crowds of people heading in one direction. The event was indeed located in one of these massive abandoned looking warehouses, complete with broken windows and graffiti. The façade seemed scary, but the inside was simply a barebones large event space. Nothing fancy, just a large open space for big events.
Stepping inside, there were exhibitions on Singapore government initiatives, interactive games for children, performances from artists and even a mini National Day Parade. Priscilla bumped into old friends not seen in years, and together we immediately bee lined to the food area. The lines were extremely long, not surprising knowing that food had always been top priority for Singaporeans. We stood in line for as many booths as we could, managing to get Tom’s favorite stingray, roti prata and rojak before food ran out.
Foodie Tour of San Francisco California
We continued our jam-packed agenda to explore the city, which was still very much food focused. We made our way to the Mission District, and really loved the energy and many intriguing restaurants and shops. The one thing that struck us about San Francisco was the number of local, one location only stores. There weren’t big franchises and chains around every corner as in Chicago (e.g. Dunkin Donuts).
We stopped by Tartine Bakery, a quaint little bakery that was almost too quaint for how famous it was. Tom was a huge fan of their beautiful books describing the process of making high quality breads. So here we were, standing in the line that started at the counter inside, went out the door, and wrapped around the street corner. Tartine Bakery usually sold out of their breads and pastries well before closing time, but luckily there was still a good selection for us to choose from when we got to the front of the line. The pastries were well made and just lightly sweet, which really highlighted their strength in making quality dough, instead of masking sub par pastries with loads of sugar and other distractions.
Down the street, we found Bi-Rite Creamery. The line was intimidating, almost a couple blocks long. So instead, we went to a side window next to the store that offered a limited selection of ice cream but with no wait. We got a delicious basic ice cream sandwich – great treat on a beautiful sunny day!
We took a walk to the Lower Haight area, attempting to burn off the calories we ate all day to get ready for the next meals. Walking around San Francisco was more strenuous than expected, with steep hills that constantly challenged our stamina. Priscilla also brilliantly decided to wear “cute” shoes, and paid dearly with blisters and a limp.
As we huffed and puffed our way to Lower Haight, the buildings and stores got progressively older and more dilapidated. There still weren’t a proliferation of chain stores, just mom and pop stores that looked a little worn out. Our friend recommended Toronado, simply telling us we would find it cool. Standing outside the bar, we looked at each other skeptically – was this the right place? We checked the sign a couple times and reconfirmed our friend did say Toronado. From the outside, the bar seemed real dark, and the half door gave a glimpse of the bar’s dive-y vibes. We pushed each other through the door, sat down at the bar, stared at all the stickers and beer tap handles everywhere and observed the seemingly intimidating crowd (think leather jacket wearing biker types). It was not too busy, so the bartender took time to talk about the beers and why people are takings shots of bitters at the bar. Before we know it, we had one too many beers and the night was slipping away. Dive-y it might be, but it had a pretty solid selection of local beers, at least for us out of towners.
Mission District For Dinner
We headed back to the Mission district to pick out a dinner spot from amongst the many interesting options there and settled on Cha-Ya, a vegan/vegetarian Japanese restaurant that was simply and tastefully furnished. We stood at the door unsure if we had to find seats ourselves or wait to be shown a table. Gut feeling told us it was wrong to barge in and grab a table ourselves. We waited awkwardly until one of the ladies nodded at us, which we somehow correctly interpreted to head towards the table she was at.
Just like the décor, the food was simple yet delicious – vegan soba noodles in vegetable broth. It was a relaxing, down to earth dining experience.
Sunday Morning in the “Tenderloin”
On Sunday, we were up bright and early to join a friend at Hai Ky Mi Gia. We took a bus that dropped us off right where the fancy car dealerships were, but also noticed there was an unusual amount of trash everywhere. We shrugged it off as people partying too hard last night and not gave it much thought.
Hai Ky Mi Gia turned out to be a hole in the wall noodle shop typical of the classic Chinatown style. The shop had a variety of noodles to choose from, but the popular option was to have noodles with a braised duck leg. Delicious!
As we headed towards the nearest train station from Hai Ky Mi Gia, the trash situation we noticed earlier answered itself. We were actually in the Tenderloin neighborhood, where people were loitering, some yelling into their phones, others watching in amusement, and then others sitting or lying on the ground. A few who stood out were a completely naked man stumbling around, and another was staring intensely at us while chewing through a garbage bag full of bread. It was certainly shocking for the unprepared, but just as quickly as the area showed its true colors, we crossed a street and were in the thick of tourist land, full of chain hotels, bustling shops and trams. It was baffling how such poverty and decrepitude was hiding in plain sight.
Eat Real Fest – AWESOME Food Trucks and Artisanal Bites
We hopped on a train and headed straight to Oakland. Yet again, we were in for more food. It so happened to be Eat Real Festival this weekend, a large outdoor event with a mind-boggling number of vendors. The weather was beautiful and lots of people were out. It was a lively scene, right by the waterfront in Oakland.
Craving desserts, we headed straight to the FK Frozen Custard’s truck. They had an array of mouth watering exotic and adventurous flavors to choose from, like maple butter, Thai tea, chocolate barley tea, coffee mint mojito, etc. Despite all the amazing options, we went with plain vanilla custard, but redeemed ourselves by topping it off with a mini rum infused cupcake and drizzles of condensed milk.
There was so much amazing food and drinks with a focus on artisans from around the area. We wandered around, ogling the delicious treats that we want but just way too stuffed to take another bite.
Final Thoughts on Tom and Priscilla’s Trip to San Francisco
Just as soon as the trip started, the trip came to an end. We headed back to the airport after only about 36 hours of being in San Francisco. This was a rare treat of a trip, where we were constantly eating and each meal or snack we had was amazing and unique. It was also a rare treat in so many different ways; meeting up with friends, getting great Singapore food and visiting San Francisco for the first time.
San Francisco is likely the most vibrant city in the US at the moment. The city is surging with energy, with people out and about, active and busy. The food scene appears to be bursting at the seams with local and new upstarts, and plenty of diverse local businesses are around every corner waiting to be explored. San Francisco area is likely one of the wealthiest area in the country, with a prosperous tech industry that has attracted the most intelligent and ambitious young people to live here. We certainly enjoyed exploring the city and its food, and loved the energy of the city. We will definitely be back again!
San Francisco List of Destinations and Links
- Early morning exploration – golden gate bridge
- Seed + Salt – breakfast
- Singapore Day – Dogpatch neighborhood – giant abandoned warehouse
- Tartine Bakery
- Bi Rite Creamery
- Toronado – Haight Street
- Cha Ya – Japanese eatery for dinner