We hit the 101 North last week with a To Do wish list that well exceeded what we were realistically able to accomplish. Is there any other way when traveling as a family? So it goes. Because this was the longest road trip we’d done with both kids, we broke up the drive with overnight stops on the way up and the return trip home. After visiting the goats and chickens Alma Rosa winery and an as-always terrific dinner at the Hitching Post II, we finally cruised into the city by the Bay after constant “is this San Francisco yet?” inquiries coming from the back seat as we made our way up the Peninsula. This trip would be very different from our last San Francisco vacation several years ago, when just the two of us spent a weekend stumbling our way from one drinking and eating place to another.
What followed were a few days of intense public transit riding — hallelujah for that three-day MUNI pass deal — and much fantastic eating, both as a family and without the boys (Quince, Bar Agricole; thanks for coming with us, Mom!). We could have spent weeks hitting all the spots our Bay Area savvy friends recommended; places such as Yank Sing, Burma Superstar, A16, Sandbox Bakery, Molinari’s, Farmer Brown, Bi-Rite and Just for You will have to wait for future visits. Same goes for Central Coasts treasures like Giovanni’s Fish Market, Doc Burnstein’s, Ruddell’s Smokehouse and Sea Harvest in Monterey.
Here’s a recap of how we all stayed well fed and very happy as we put NoCal vs. SoCal rivalries aside and submitted to the endless charms of San Francisco. Hint: a lot has to do with the glorious Ferry Building.
The best travel planning decision we made was to stay at the Embarcadero. Other neighborhoods might be more quaint, but I cannot overstate how useful the logistical perk of Ferry Building proximity is for families. Only downside? A labor protest at the J. Portman-designed atrium Hyatt hotel (I’m a wee bit obsessed with this era and style of architecture, and those elevators were a constant source of amusement), yikes!! So from now on, no more Hyatts, and I’ll check with my cousin the SEIU economist before booking future stays. Lesson learned.
Anyway, with the exception of one morning, we foraged for breakfast at the uber-historic former transit terminal daily, and inevitably wound up back there at least once, if not twice more, throughout the course of the day. Plus there’s the thrice-weekly farmers’ market.
Vendors there seem to be deeply into playing with the template of the morning egg sandwich. I loved the oozey gooeyness of Cane Rosso’s fried egg combo with sweet onion butter, pancetta from Ferry Building neighbor Boccalone, and provolone. Also big thumbs up to Cowgirl Creamery’s kick ass earthy and intense baked egg sandwich on baguette with a load of fragrant mushrooms crammed in. A fresh waffle with a tautly caramelized exterior served straight up in a coffee filter comprised the boys’ daily breakfast as we had our Blue Bottle coffees from the same stand.
I was nervous about an upscale Vietnamese dinner at the famed Slanted Door. Better to go here in a more civilized context, no? Actually, based on a survey of the scene on a Sunday night, they smartly corralled us into a de facto family section. Solid cocktails and a Bee’s Knees (Miller’s Westbourne gin, wildflower honey, lemon) took the road trip edge off, and the noise level and loose family style service made it a fun, if not inexpensive, option. The glossy room’s prime view of the ferries coming in on the bay and the bridge certainly helped.
And the reward for eating enough soft savory rice cakes, clay pot chicken, oysters (we have a five-year-old oyster FIEND on our hands), braised pork chop, and cellophane noodles with Dungeness crab: what else but that lychee cotton candy! Between Out the Door take out and the Academy Café at the Academy of Sciences, we had plenty of other opportunities to experience Charles Phan’s imprint on San Francisco.
1 Ferry Building, #3; (415) 861-8032
Thankfully Gott’s Roadside has imported its classic American menu and sustainable ethics down from St. Helena to the Ferry Buidling. Morning means breakfast sandwiches and tacos and incredible hash browns (think an unprocessed version of McDonald’s), while the evening I could hook the kids and their babysitter (AKA Grandma) up with burgers, fries, and a lovely Cobb salad before we headed out on our own.
1 Ferry Bldg., #6; (866) 328-3663
Wanna make an overwhelming decision? Pick where your ONE pizza meal in San Fran will come from. In a town with an already distinguished Italian heritage, the current artisanal pizza craze means there are an awful lot of wood-burning ovens cranking out all kinds of beautifully carbonized, tender crusts. Because most of them are in the Mission, and most are ONLY open for dinner, the decision became a bit easier when my friend Trisha sent me this article about Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in North Beach. With the insanely comprehensive, in-depth menu with pies all true to authentic baking style and daytime hours, it seemed like the place for us to try. And glad we sampled the perfect Spacca Napoli (roasted tomato, bufula, sauce-free) and classic Margherita pies, we were. The Pistola cocktail with rye, Aperol, blackberry syrup, Galliano and egg white? Not so much. Maybe that’s karmic payback for boozing it up during an otherwise wholesome family pizza lunch.
I’m usually not a fan of outdoor seating but, but proximity to Washington Square park across the street was essential, and the interior tables were cramped anyway. Just a two-block walk and we could hop on a cable car for yet another visit to the fascinating Cable Car Museum. And then it was back on the vintage F-line streetcars to the SF Railway Museum. Again.
1570 Stockton St., North Beach; (415) 835-9888
Our kids are used to our coffee geekery and getting dragged around to cafés where their presence kind of baffles other disaffected customers, especially in say, the Mission. The open space and crazy mechanics of the Sightglass roaster in SOMA will be an experience that’s hard to match, as will the stunningly rich pistachio-paste crusted, blackberry jam-filled croissant. Out of all the coffee joints who are into the exposed wood truss, repurposed materials, aged metals and such, the new Sightglass shop by far outdoes them all. And with the upstairs mezzanine and mechanical activity below, this place is the Metropolis II of coffee spots. Way to make an impression.
270 7th St., SOMA; (415) 861-1313