IF YOU ARE GOING TO SAN FRANCISCO…
The famous 1967 song from Scott McKenzie always gets me in a reminiscent mood. I start thinking about my time as an Au Pair, when I was living so close to one of the most fascinating cities in the world. But at the beginning of October, I didn’t have to reminisce no more. I was actually going to San Francisco to meet two of my longtime friends from Germany.
I haven’t seen them for two years, and I sadly missed out on their big wedding this summer. Luckily for me, they decided to spend their honeymoon in the states and invited me to tag along. I didn’t have to think twice to announce that I would be on board and counted the days till October finally came along.
For our stay we had rented an apartment in the Russian Hill area, which was walking distance to the piers. From our living room window we could see the Alcatraz Island, which was extremely spooky at night with the fog and the prison building lights shining through the clouds. Just thinking of it now really makes me miss this place and the city. Except the steep hill we had to walk up every day to get home.
On our first night together, we walked towards Fisherman’s Wharf to grab dinner at Nick’s Lighthouse. A great spot for seafood lovers with some decent vegetarian offers and a cozy atmosphere, we celebrated the first night of our reunion. After some good food, we worked off all the calories from dinner by climbing our way up the steep hills towards home. This was definitely a great alternative instead of hitting the gym.
The next morning, our culinary excursion took us to the Buena Vista Café right down the street. I have been to this place many times, and since it was only a two minute walk from our apartment, it was a no-brainer to have our first breakfast at this location. The Buena Vista Café is well-known for its Irish coffee. I have to confess that I have never tried it and am not intending to, but it is sure interesting to watch the baristas fixing it for thirsty customers.
For me, the best part (besides the really yum food options), is the view onto the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. I could stare all day at this beautiful piece of construction, wondering how it is able to hold tons of cars and people crossing it each and every day. The cafe is located right across one of the cable car starting points, in case you’d like to catch a ride right after.
If you do consider visiting the Buena Vista Café, I have one tip: If you can, avoid going on a weekend. There is no “Waiting to be seated” agenda, and the restaurant gets VERY busy. People literally wait till one spot opens up and then rush over to claim it theirs. It doesn’t matter who sets foot in the restaurant first. Weekdays are much less crowded and strenuous to your nerves. Trust me, I have tried both weekend and weekday and I would never consider visiting this place on a Saturday or Sunday again.
For the remainder of the day, we checked off a couple of mostly touristy activities on our list. We visited the seals by pier 39, wandered around the area, and then headed over to Powell Street for some shopping, followed by then devouring the cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory at Union Square.
To be honest, I am not the biggest fan of the tourist spots in San Francisco. Of course, you have to visit them if you have never been before, but I personally prefer the less-overcrowded-by-foreigners areas, such as the Haight and Ashbury district with all its funky and unique stores.
One of the days, we decided to visit the Golden Gate Park and see what it had to offer. We took a stroll around the Japanese Tea Garden (cost: $9 per person for non-residents) and relaxed in the Zen atmosphere. We totally forgot for a moment that we were residing in one of the biggest and busiest cities in the U.S. and rather focused on the beautiful trees, plants, and ponds.
Afterwards, we decided to walk the more than three miles towards the end of the park, where two giant windmills were located. We did feel like being in the Netherlands for a second until we crossed the street and found ourselves at Ocean Beach. Unfortunately, the fog had taken over and so we didn’t witness a breathtaking ocean view. That is another thing I am sure many of you know: the weather in San Francisco can be unpredictable.
Another spot we discovered during our time was Za Pizza, a very small pizza joint located in our neighborhood. The pizza is amazing, and the restaurant is located in the midst of residential complexes. No tourists, no noise, no overcrowded streets. This was what I was looking to find during our trip: A hole-in-the-wall kind of ambiance that turned out to be a total gem. We went two times while being in town, and I miss this place dearly being back in Southern California.
Throughout our stay in the city, we mainly traveled around by bus. It was really easy and cheap to go from point A to Z by public transportation. And, as weird as this might sound, it made me feel being more one of the locals than a tourist. We also happened to be there when it was Fleet Week. We got to witness the streets being crowded with sailors and watched the incredible air show, the highlight being a performance by the amazing Blue Angels.
The only real downside during our vacation was the bad air quality we experienced during the second week in the city. Due to the heavy fires in Sonoma County, smog was laying all over town. It started on Monday night when we acknowledged a smokey smell in our apartment. We first thought it must have come from a barbecue, but the smell got stronger by the minute.
It was when we turned on the news that we got informed about the cause of it: the outbreak of the horrendous fires up in Napa Valley and the surrounding areas. The next morning, when we pulled up the blinds on our windows, a big cloud of smoke was hanging over Alcatraz. It consisted of the remainder of our trip. Even at the airport, the air quality was so bad that some flights experienced delays.
We made sure to still make the best of our time despite the impact of the fires. We visited China Town and took a tour through Madame Tussauds. Spending time in this city never gets old, and I am already looking forward to my next trip. Until then I will keep listening to Scott McKenzie’s tunes.
Images: Anne-Kathrin Schulte
Anne-Kathrin Schulte, is a contributor for CaliforniaGermans.com. She writes on her personal experience of the American Dream as well as on working as an au pair in CA. She was born and grew up in Düsseldorf, Germany, where she completed her degree as a state-approved Kindergarten teacher. After her au pair engagement in the US and a quick return to Germany she decided to attend university in California and moved back to the United States. She has been living in Southern California since 2011.
If you would like to contact Anne-Kathrin, please send an email to californiagermans(at)gmail.com and place her name in the subject line.