Archive for the ‘San Francisco’ Category

On the Beach

May 26, 2015

Until we got a dog, I rarely went to San Francisco’s beaches. If I wanted go to the ocean, I usually went out of town to Santa Cruz or Marin. But having a dog has changed all that.


While most SF beaches aren’t as wild or secluded as some of the beaches up or down the coast, they have the advantage of being extremely dog friendly (most have an off-leash area).

And the beach is so clearly our dog’s happy place. She jumps around happily the minute her feet hit the sand. She digs, plays in the water, and pursues sea birds with intensity and purpose. We try our best to prevent her from rolling on dead sea birds and eating hermit crab shells.


It’s become one of my happy places, too. On warm days, I’ll pack a towel and a copy of the New Yorker, and I’ll read while our dog digs nearby, and it feels as if I’m on vacation. And being at the beach offers such a different view of San Francisco — as a place where people surf and fish and sunbathe naked, and also as a place where crabs, sand dollars and even the strange blue velella wash ashore.


The beach has become one of the things I really value about living in SF. I love that there are so many different beaches to choose from: the giant dog park that is Fort Funston; the long, graffiti-lined stretch of Ocean Beach; and the postcard-worthy views from Baker Beach or Crissy Field.

And I love that we have such easy access to the beach. I feel downright smug at times that we can head to the beach for an hour or two. We don’t have to cross bridges, fight traffic, or pack up and spend a full day there. Instead, we can head home if it’s too windy or crowded or we can pop over just to take in the sunset.




Bernal Adjacent

October 9, 2014

We live in the part of Noe Valley that is “Bernal adjacent” as a recent Bernal Heights blogger put it. We even share a zip code with Bernal Heights.

Bernal used to seem completely off the beaten path to me. It felt like the last SF neighborhood before Daly City. But these days it’s the center of my City life. It’s where one of my best friends and her husband bought a place, and they recently had a baby so that’s a draw. It’s also one of the most dog-friendly neighborhoods in a pretty dog-friendly city. And it’s also a great walking neighborhood with laced with my beloved SF’s stairways and full of breath-taking views of the City.

bernalview2012(Pretty sure Mr. WholeHog took this incredible pic)

The neighborhood is anchored by Bernal Hill, a great off-leash area for dogs that offers panoramic views of the City. (We were up on Bernal Hill just last night to watch the moon rise.)

Getting to Bernal Hill is part of the fun. I prefer to link together some of the many stairways that lead up the hill (there’s also one set of slides for the way down). Some of the streets that back up to Bernal Hill have little trails that lead up there, too.

Another reason to walk around Bernal? Some of the homes were once earthquake shacks from 1906. The streets tend to be narrow, which is fine for walking, but a bit of a pain if you’re driving.


Most SF neighborhoods are lucky to have just one good place for dogs, but Bernal has a few options. On the north slope, there’s Precita Park, which is flat and grassy. Dogs are supposed to be leashed at Precita, but there’s usually a few dogs running around off-leash.

Holly Park, on the south side of the Hill, seems to be the local’s dog park. After work on weeknights, neighbors and their dogs congregate below the children’s playground. When the ball field is free, it’s often used as an unofficial dog park (“He likes third base,” one dog owner told us about his dog). When there’s a game, there are usually dogs run up and down the grassy slopes and through the trees.


Holly Park is one of our dog’s very favorite spots to run around, and it’s one of our favorites, too, since it’s close to our friends’ house, and it’s just a block to Holy Water, a dog-friendly bar on Cortland Street, the main commercial stretch of Bernal Heights. Holy Water is darker than I’d ideally like my neighborhood watering hole to be, but it has a good beer selection (including a rotating sour beer on tap!), and it feels like a treat to get to have a drink with the dog.

In the morning, I’m more apt to leash the dog in front of Pinhole Coffee, one of the only legit coffee shops in the area. Run by a longtime Blue Bottle alum, Pinhole brews coffee from many good local roasters, including Blue Bottle, Linea and Verve. It’s a much needed addition to the area.

pinhole-facebookimage from Pinhole’s Facebook page

And if we need something other than coffee or beer, we can usually find it on Cortland. There’s Avedano’s, a woman-owned butcher shop that sources good quality meat (read: not-factory-farmed), or The Good Life, a conventional (but independent) grocery store. There’s a cramped little pet store and a small library. There’s The New Wheel, a shop focused on electric bikes, which was opened by a friend of ours from the farmers market and her husband.

Bernal can feel like a small town, which is why when Mr. WholeHog suggests, as he does from time to time, that we cash out of the City and move to a smaller town, I don’t see the point. It feels to me like we’re already in a small town, or at least adjacent to one.



August 29, 2013

August — or Fogust, as someone cleverly put it on Twitter — is a rough time to be in San Francisco. (Even The Daily Show agrees: “It’s August and it’s always fucking cold there!” John Oliver said earlier this month.)

Of course it’s not news that SF has terrible summers or that I have a hard time in the dark days of August, but this year, I finally realized that I need to have a better plan of action.


In my dream life, I would leave town for July and August. But while my long-term plan may be to find a job that allows me to leave town for months at a time and pays me enough to buy a summer home (ideally with a pool), in the short term, I need to come up with some better day trips that get me out of the fog. (My current six-day a week work schedule doesn’t give me enough time to go away for a whole weekend.)


Almost every August, I end up taking day trips in search of sunshine, but these trips come more out of desperation to get out of the fog than a real desire to be somewhere in particular. One year, I read the Sunday New York Times on a bench in Sonoma. Another year I picnicked on the grass in Ross.

This year, after waiting until 2pm for the fog to clear one Sunday, I drove south and ended up at Wunderlich Park in Woodside, a moneyed town west of Highway 280. (I parked between a BWM and a Mercedes and a Tesla passed me on the road). The hike I took wasn’t very exciting, but it was easy to get to, it was warm, and I could look up and see a bright blue sky through the trees. That was enough.


But I couldn’t help thinking that it would have been nice to have a few more places to go, to spent a little more time in the sun. It would have been nice to pair the hike with a stop in at a new ice cream shop, for example. For me, my ideal trips usually include a nice place to walk and something nice to eat or drink so my goal for next year is to have fleshed out a few more options. I’ve been collecting ideas — bookmarking a brewery near Santa Cruz, a bike trail in the East Bay, a new bakery in Marin — so that when the fog settles in, I can head out.

Now the Sun is Shining

May 2, 2013

Summer came to San Francisco in April, and I spent the month trying to pack in as much summer as I could.

In SF, seasons don’t arrive in the expected three-month intervals. Instead, we can cycle through a year’s worth of seasons in a week (or even a day). This used to drive me crazy (OK, sometimes it still does), but one thing I’ve grown to appreciate about SF’s unpredictable weather is that we can’t be complacent about it.

goldengatebridgea pretty day down on Crissy Field

We can’t take a warm day for granted because our summers are an accumulation of these rare days when it’s warm enough to wear shorts or when we didn’t need to carry around a jacket. This pushes us to make the most of every warm day in the City, to do something that feels like summer to us, whether it’s wearing a sundress or going to the beach or barbecuing. On one 80-degree day last month, a friend emailed me, “I’m in a sundress!”  This is what a summer day in SF feels like, a time to be documented and celebrated.

I tried to take full advantage of these warm days we had in April and these first few days of May. I had a coffee milkshake and walked along the Bay one sunny afternoon with Mr. WholeHog. We spent a few warm evenings out on our back deck drinking margaritas and having chips and guacamole for dinner (I think it’s safe to say that I’ve gotten more satisfaction out of the table and chairs on our deck than anything else we’ve bought for our place). I got my first sunburn of the year just walking through the Mission. The first cherries of the season arrived at the farmers market. My sister and I took a trip up to Healdsburg where we wore sundresses, rode bikes, swam in the pool, and ate dinner outside.

h2-poolby the pool in Healdsburg

By the end of such a warm April, I was surprisingly tan. I looked the way I might look after spending a week on the beach at Tahoe in July. I could point to the time I spent by the pool or the sunburn, but the real reason I was tan was simply that we got a shot of summer in SF and I was out enjoying it.

Noe Stairway Walks

March 22, 2013

One of the best things about living in the Castro were the walks we took from our old apartment, particularly the stairway walks. We could cross Castro Street and wander up the many different stairways on Liberty Hill, or we could cross Market Street and walk the Vulcan or Saturn Street staircases in Eureka Valley. The closest stairway walk to our Castro apartment were the stairs at the corner of 20th and Douglas Streets. They led up to Corwin Street, where we’d walk past the little community garden and out to Kite Hill, one of the City’s open space areas that offers an expansive view of the City.

But I’ve grownDay Street stairs to love the stairway walks in Noe Valley, too. There are many stairways in Upper Noe Valley, especially up where the streets begin to head uphill toward Diamond Heights. There are stairs at Noe and 27th, Castro and 28th, Duncan and Noe, and Valley and Diamond. My Noe version of our old Castro walk is to head up Day Street to where the street begins to make its odd 90-degree turn to meet Castro.

On the left-hand side of the street, next to the very last house on the block, there’s a little walkway. It looks private, but it’s not. It leads to a short staircase, which isn’t the longest or the prettiest staircase in the City, but it wins points for seeming hidden and like a place only locals would know.

The stairs lead up to 30th Street near Laidley, right at the base of Billy Goat Hill. (I’m sorry to say that I’ve never seen any billy goats on this hill.) Billy Goat is essentially the Noe equivalent of Kite Hill: a nearby open space area with great city views. The wooden stairs in the picture, below, lead down to a little viewing area that also has a rope swing. The swing seems so San Francisco to me: why would you merely sit and take in the view when you could be swinging?! (This post about the rope swing made me laugh.)

billy goat

We were up on Billy Goat Hill recently just as the sun was setting and casting an orange glow over the City.

sunset City

View of downtown SF


View down 30th to Bernal Heights (and Mt. Diablo across the bay)

From the top of Billy Goat Hill, two other stairways are easily accessible. Head to the right and you’ll find stairs off Diamond Street down to the top of Valley Street. Head to the left and you’ll come to the Harry Street stairs (pictured below).


Harry Street stairs

The Harry Street stairs are one of my very favorite stairways in the City. Unlike most of SF’s cement stairways, the Harry stairs are wood. Like the stairs on Telegraph Hill or the Vulcan stairs in Eureka Valley, there are little homes along the Harry Street stairs. Harry street stairs take you back to Laidley Street, a street with lots of interesting architecture, if you want to keep walking.

I went out into the night

October 7, 2012

Many nights, after we’ve finished eating dinner and watching The Daily Show on Hulu, Mr. WholeHog and I head out on a walk. Sometimes we walk because we’ve eaten too much at dinner and need to walk it off. On other nights, we might walk somewhere to get dessert. On the rare warm nights, like we experienced earlier this week, a walk is a way to get out of our stuffy apartment; on other nights, it’s a way avoid doing the dishes. And sometimes, like after making an offer on the apartment that we now own, walking helps us clear our heads.

I thought about our evening walks when we were looking for a place to buy, and Noe Valley is a pretty good area. It feels relatively safe, the streets are fairly clean, and we don’t run into crazy street people or drunk kids — although at times, we have to wade through the crowds of people waiting for their number to be called at Mitchell’s ice cream. Usually the people we see on our evening strolls are out walking their dogs or going on a nighttime run.

There’s a lot to see in the dark. TVs are now so large and bright that on our walks we’ve watched the neighborhood’s TVs turn from the Olympics to football to politics. Given the home improvement projects on our minds these days, we’re often more interested in the paint colors or the built-in shelves we see in other people’s living rooms than what they’re watching on TV.

On our recent strolls, we’ve watched the predictable start of Decorative Gourd Season. First, there was just the occasional pumpkin sitting on the front steps, but now the full-on Halloween assault of spider webs, ghosts and jack o’ lanterns has begun. One night, as we walked toward Glen Park, we heard a strange shrieking sound and found two skunks fighting over a bowl of cat food that had been left out on someone’s front porch. Earlier this week, a hot Indian summer night, we walked up Bernal Hill in the dark and watched a huge orange moon rise up over the East Bay hills.

Noe Doubt

March 24, 2012

I didn’t expect to be someone who lived in Noe Valley, much less a person who owned in Noe. Until I moved here, I didn’t really get the appeal of the neighborhood. It doesn’t have the personality of the Castro, the history of the Haight, or the style of the Mission (lumberjack) or the Marina (lululemon). Instead, Noe seems best known as a place for kids. In our Bikes of San Francisco poster, a tricycle represents Noe Valley. More recently, Noe’s become known as a neighborhood of tech workers, since it’s close to many tech company shuttles to the South Bay. But I don’t have kids and I don’t work for a tech firm.

Rainbow over 24th Street

Noe Valley’s main commercial drag, 24th Street, didn’t have the destination restaurants or stores that give other neighborhoods a sense of place. There are some decent stores, but many — Rabat, Ambiance, Plumpjack — are local chains. Few are unique to Noe Valley. Until Contigo opened, 24th was a wasteland for restaurants. The better neighborhood restaurants, like Incanto and La Ciccia, were farther down Church Street.

Despite Noe’s family reputation, the area is also surprisingly geriatric. Although the old-timers are probably one reason why the neighborhood is such a quiet place to live, they may also explain why Noe can be so conservative. Until a few years ago, one storefront on 24th street was a shrine to Republicans with Reagan and even Nixon memorabilia posted on the walls and windows. The signs in the front windows referred to the neighborhood as “Looney Valley.” Army Street was renamed Cesar Chavez Street back in 1995, but there’s still a house on Cesar Chavez with a sign that says, “It’ll always be Army Street.” On our block, a neighbor’s truck proudly displays his ultra-conservative views, and when he’s really riled up, like when Prop 8 was overturned in August 2010, he writes ugly statements on his back windshield. That’s not something I’m used to dealing with in SF.

It wasn’t until we’d moved to Oakland that I began to appreciate Noe Valley. I liked that it didn’t have the noisy nightlife of the Castro or the tourist-crush of the Haight. It wasn’t as cool as the Mission or as cheap as the Richmond, but it had all the benefits of city living: real transit, not just commuter lines; corner markets that were open late; and people out on the sidewalks. Oakland had felt so spread out, but from Noe, we could walk to the Castro, the Mission, Bernal Heights or Glen Park.

Still, I didn’t really accept that I liked living in Noe Valley until we started looking to buy a place and soon realized that we might not be able to afford to stay here. After going to open houses in other areas of the City, I began to appreciate little things about Noe: like how our corner market sells organic milk, local cheese and Green Forest paper products (along with more typical corner market fare like malt liquor and Playboy). I liked the neighborhood feel I’d seen here and I remembered how when an ambulance came for our upstairs neighbor a year ago, people came over from the coffee shop and the restaurant across the street to see if she was OK (she was). And as crummy as the J Church MUNI line is, I like knowing I can easily get home on BART when MUNI grinds to a halt. And I love that we get the chance to take the old F Line cars at times. It feels like a special treat of living in this part of town.

Of course just as I’ve finally begun to come to terms with being a Noe Valley resident, some say that our new home isn’t really in Noe Valley. Some say we’ve bought in “Baja Noe,” while others say it’s “La Lengua,” a name coined by a local website for the tongue-shaped region between Noe, Bernal Heights and the Mission. Maybe Noe’s conservatism is rubbing off on me because when I hear this I just shrug and think, it’ll always be Noe to me.

Hidden Lanes of Glen Park

January 23, 2012

Glen Park is one of those San Francisco neighborhoods that can trip up even native San Franciscans. It’s a sweet little neighborhood on the southeast side of the City, but it often feels isolated from the rest of the city. It’s tucked down beneath the ugly condos in Diamond Heights. Highway 280 cuts it off from the eastern part of the city and it backs into Glen Park canyon, a neat little wild space.

But it’s easy to connect to Glen Park from Noe Valley. If you keep walking south, you’ll likely soon find yourself in Glen Park village. (If you want directions, from 30th street turn left on to Chenery — and you’ll pass this wacky carnival-themed front yard on the way).

There’s plenty to do in Glen Park — have pizza at Gialina or walk through Glen Park canyon — but lately, my favorite part of Glen Park is its hidden lanes.

While many San Francisco neighborhoods are known for their stairways, Glen Park has charming little dirt roads that bisect certain blocks. Poppy Lane, for example, runs from Conrad Street to Diamond Street, and my favorite is Ohlone Way, which runs between Sussex and Surrey streets. The lanes are quiet and car-free, but the best part about them is that they feel like secret shortcuts.

Even if you know these hidden lanes are nearby, it can be hard to find them. It’s easy to get off-track in the winding streets of Glen Park. But if you are heading to Ohlone Way, one tell-tale sign is ornately painted red-and-black house that is across the street from the Sussex entrance.

When This is Guiding You Home

November 27, 2011

The weekend before we left for Spain, Mr. WholeHog and I were in the Inner Sunset on a gorgeous sunny morning. The Inner Sunset gets a lot of deserved grief for its terrible, cold and foggy summers, but on those rare sunny days, it’s still one of my favorite places in the City to be.

We stopped at Arizmendi on 9th Avenue, where we are still recognized as regulars, and took our pastries up to the top of the hill at 14th Avenue and Moraga. From this vantage point, you can see the SF skyline and also the ocean. You can see Golden Gate Park — and how it divides the western side of the City — as well as part of the Golden Gate Bridge. You can see all the pastel-colored ticky tacky that makes up so much of the Outer Sunset. In short, it’s a lovely place to be on a bright, clear day.

“I love where we live,” Mr. WholeHog said that morning.

And he said it again as our flight path home crossed over Marin and we could clearly see the long arm of Point Reyes from the plane’s window.

This is one of the many delights of travel: it makes me look at my city with fresh eyes and it often reminds me what I love about where I live. Travel has the magic ability to make even the most routine elements of life seem new again. After just two weeks away, I marveled at aspects of SF that I normally take for granted. For example, have you seen our sidewalks? We have incredible sidewalks. They are wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side, they are generally free of feces, and you almost never see scooters driving on our sidewalks.

Or the air in SF. Have you noticed that it’s remarkably clean and fresh? That it isn’t permeated with cigarette smoke and diesel fumes? (After a month away from SF, my sister said the air seemed almost sweet to her).

Absence didn’t make me fonder for everything about SF, however. Waiting for MUNI was even more enraging after I’d spent two weeks riding public transit in different cities and countries where I’d never had to wait more than 4 minutes for a train. In Barcelona, a sign on the platform counted down to the next train: 2 minutes, 1 minute 30 seconds, 1 minute. MUNI predictions don’t often count down. It may tell you a train is coming in 5 minutes, then 4 minutes, 3 minutes, 4 minutes, 4 minutes, 4 minutes — until you’ve ended up waiting 15 minutes for a train that you’d been led to believe was just 5 minutes away.

But although SF (and the U.S. in general) still has lots of room for improvement when it comes to transit, I mostly came back with a renewed appreciation for SF. On those first days back, I relished the crisp mornings that melted into almost-too-warm afternoons. I battled my jetlag with strong, delicious coffee. I walked around the farmers market at the end of October amazed that there were still corn and tomatoes available. I had a bowl of radicchio with wheatberries, roasted beets, feta cheese and dressed in an oregano viniagrette at Cane Rosso — precisely the sort of food that I miss when I’m traveling.

I kept my camera in my purse and took pictures of SF as if I were a tourist during my first week back. All the pictures in this post were taken that first week as I stopped to admire the sunset out my office window, the city skyline seen from out on the bay, or the sun rise at the Ferry Building as I was setting up for the farmers market on Saturday.

On our first morning at home, I found myself awake too early. I was lying in bed and hoping I’d fall back asleep when there was an earthquake. And if I had any doubts about where I was, I knew then that I was back on the San Andreas fault line.

Know Before You Go: Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

April 16, 2011

Now that that the spring weather is here, baseball season has begun and the market is full of spring produce, the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is getting crowded again. Some people come to the market to do all their grocery shopping, while others are there to pick up picnic supplies or to get breakfast or lunch from the prepared food stands. The market is also a common tourist destination — and for good reason: it’s a great place to see the incredible variety of food that is grown or produced in (primarily) Northern California.

For this particular farmers market, there are a few things that can really improve your experience. Aside from the usual things like bringing cash (and not $100 bills!) and hitting an ATM before you get to the market (the ones in the Ferry Building often have long lines), there are some things you should know before you go, such as:

1. Bring Your Own Bags
Unlike many markets, you won’t find plastic bags given out at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. The FPFM went bag-free (at least plastic bag free) in May 2009. So now some stands have no bags, while others may offer either small paper bags (without handles) or relatively flimsy biodegradable bags — usually for a fee.  So bring your own bags (you’ll pass as a market regular even if you’re just visiting) or come to the market prepared to purchase bags from the stands or at the information booth.

2. Samples Aren’t A Guarantee
Don’t come to the market expecting free food. Some stands offer samples but not all do. One reason for this is that the SF Health Department has strict rules on samples (pdf file), such as that samples are supposed to be in “approved, clean covered containers,” anyone distributing samples is supposed to wear disposable plastic gloves, and you’re also supposed to have “clean water, soap and sanitizer available” to wash utensils and hands.

Many stands aren’t able comply with these rules, so they don’t offer samples (or at least don’t readily offer samples). So don’t get upset if there aren’t samples available at every stand or if you aren’t automatically offered a taste. You can always buy something if you want to try it, or move on and find another stand that is offering samples.

3. ‘Heirloom’ means Delicious
Come ready to try foods that may be unfamiliar to you. Farmers markets are a good place to find ‘heirloom’ fruits, vegetables, and even meats for sale. Heirloom varietals aren’t generally grown commercially because they often aren’t easy to mass-produce, but some shoppers find it disconcerting to be faced with unfamiliar foods.

Try to remember that heirloom = delicious. Take a chance on an heirloom variety and see what you think.

Try a cara cara orange in the winter, or a black cherokee tomato in the summer. If you’re lucky enough to visit the market in the fall, apples are one of the cheapest and, in my opinion, one of the most rewarding heirloom options.

4. Watch Your Step!
There’s so much to take in at the market, especially in the back of the Ferry Building where aside from all the eye-catching produce, you get a view of the Bay and the Bay Bridge and where many people hang out. But do watch your step as you wander through the market. There’s some uneven ground and curbs and it’s easy to trip over a vendor’s tents or umbrellas. I’ve seen some epic falls over the years by both regulars and tourists alike and it’s not pretty. There has been blood.

5. Chefs Carts
The people pushing carts piled high with boxes of produce through the market are not traveling produce sellers. In most cases, they are chefs who are shopping for their respective restaurants. You shouldn’t sample from these carts or take produce from them. Going to the market is not like going out to dim sum. You go to the stands to buy what you need; it doesn’t come to you. (It had never occurred to me that this would be a problem until today when I saw a woman start to remove a basket of strawberries from the two-flats of strawberries atop a chef’s cart. While the chef was polite, the look of disbelief on his face was priceless.)