Father’s Day marked my last day in California. To start off the sunny Sunday we woke up early and booked a private Uber to take us to Haight-Ashbury. I was very excited to visit the district because of the study I had done about the Summer of Love and the influence of the Haight in my undergrad History of Rock and Roll class. The course had been one of my favourite during my four years as an Undergraduate and had a lasting impact on me.
Arriving in the Haight on this super hot Sunday I was struck by all the colours of the place. I love colour and the more vibrant the better, so this area immediately made me smile. Before leaving Victoria I had been warned that the Haight was no longer the independent space it once was had had been gentrified. At the end of our stroll there was a rather nice Whole Foods and the area reminded me a lot of trendy villages back home but it was still pretty wonderful.
Along Haight Street there were shops where you could buy all the tie dye your heart desired, as well as marijuana paraphernalia and stores where you could stock up on Summer of Love memorabilia. A full throwback to the sixties. There were hints of the counter culture, free speech, free love hub the area once was. My favourite were the multi coloured rainbow walls and murals you could find along the sides of buildings and down alleyways. The fact that June is also Pride month in San Francisco helped to add even more rainbow to the sights.
San Francisco seems to have quite a few shops that just sell socks and one store in the Haight stuck out for this reason. As we headed to see the famous Painted Ladies we popped into a retailer who exclusively sold unique socks and proudly displayed an array of PRIDE socks. They also had some very impressive diorama hanging from the ceiling with notable gay, lesbian and trans gender icons like Harvey Milk and Janet Mock.
Almo Square Park is a beautiful small and slightly hilly green space located across from the Painted Ladies. The beautiful Victorian houses are a sight to behold. I grew up living in heritage houses and have a deep appreciation for Victorian architecture so viewing these houses, which are so clearly loved, cared for and well maintained was a treat.
Most tourists will view the houses from across the street on top of the little hills in the park but I couldn’t help myself. I had to be closer to these wonderful structures and left the park to take photos up close. The result was a different perspective than you usually get on the Painted Ladies and I was quite happy with how my photos came out.
After the beautiful Painted Ladies it was off to Union Square, one of the largest shopping districts in America and a historic Californian landmark. The square was built in 1850 and was the gathering place for pro-Union demonstrations right before the American Civil War. You can get everything and anything in and around Union Square from high quality designer brands to department store finds. The technology giant Apple also hosts their flagship store there. The wonderful multimillionaire dollar open air two story structure that hosts interesting activities, such as workshops to learn how to use the photo settings on your iPhone by being a part of a photo walk around San Francisco’s most iconic areas and structures.
My favourite part of Union Square was the heart art installations, you could pose with the hearts and these art structures were a nice play on leaving your heart in San Francisco. The installations in Union Square are beautiful and each one is a bit different. One of my favourite hearts had the Golden Gate bridge skyline juxtaposed on its belly.
The department stores that line Union Square have unique qualities to them. My favourite was Neiman Marcus, the retail giant has a restaurant on its top floor with the most beautiful stained glass ceiling, designed by Louis Vuitton. The glass is beautiful shades of golds and yellow and standing in the entrance surrounded by makeup displays you can look up and take in the sun streaming in the glass through the ceiling.
A true highlight of my trip was the discovery that The Cheesecake factory is not just a figment of the creative imaginations of The Big Bang Theory writing team but an actual established American chain of restaurants. This discovery gave me the chance to experience eating true American food.
Eating at The Cheesecake Factory is an experience in itself. The menu is almost like a mini binder, compromising about 22 pages and including any type of food you could imagine. The thing that really struck me was the amount of calories in the meals! Even in the skinny menu you would be hard-pressed to find anything under 560 calories, with the average meal running you about 1000 calories!
Our waitress was wonderful and very friendly, she walked me through the menu and helped me figure out how to navigate all the options. In the end I opted for the chicken and biscuits, both Nell and her roommate had informed me the day before that if I wanted to experience true American food I had to try biscuits. The plate my meal came on was about a metre long, which explained the 1950 calorie count, but it was very very yummy. I would definitely indulge in a biscuit again as they were so soft, warm, buttery and fluffy. For dessert I had to try The Cheesecake Factory’s original New York style cheesecake. Although I could only eat half of it, I still enjoyed it. I hadn’t had cheesecake in forever and this super sized slice really hit the spot.
After the large but yummy lunch and with very fully bellies we headed back down to Union Square to catch a classic San Franciscan cable car. The cable cars are now very much a tourist attraction, there are no transfers and a one way ride will cost you $7, but they are so worth it! These old wooden cars weave around the steep San Francisco streets with a few lurches and bumps that test your core stability and balance. If you are truly brave you can hang off the side of one of the cable cars, holding the hand rails like a seasoned commuters. I opted to stand inside the car and hold on to one of the leather straps. Being positioned in the middle of the car was ideal because from this vantage point you have a clear view of the conductor and the assistant at the front and back of the car.
Once safely parked at Fisherman’s Wharf we disembarked the street car and headed off to The Musée Mécanique, the antique games arcade where most games cost you a very reasonable 25 cents. If you are a huge Princess Diaries fan, the way I am, you will remember this arcade from Mia and Queen Clarisse’s day exploring San Francisco. Nell was a great sport and helped me recreate some of favourite scene at the arcade, even though she hadn’t seen the movie. We posed for photos in the Black and White photobooth and challenged the surprisingly strong strong man to arm wrestling matches. We also got sorted by the Harry Potter sorting hat and received pretty accurate fortunes. It was lots of cheap fun and I would recommend the arcade to any traveller to San Francisco’s Pier.
Another must do when down at The Pier is to go view the Cable car turnaround. Here the conductors have to get out and manually turn the antique cars to get them positioned to take travellers back up the hill away from the wharf. A travel tip here is to never wait at the turn around for your cable car, as you could wait for up to two hours on a busy day at this spot. Instead walk up one block and jump on the car there, there won’t be nearly as big of a line and you will be able to get on your way much quicker.
Nell’s lovely roommate wanted to take me for some southern food and so after the the cable car turnaround it was off by private Uber back to Downtown Berkeley to dine at Angeline’s Southern Kitchen. At Angeline’s I got to have some authentic Louisianan style gumbo and finally try beignets. The square puff pastries dusted with icing sugar were light and fluffy sweet pieces of joy and I can’t wait for my next opportunity to eat these little donut like puffs again. I may even look up the recipe and try making them myself one day.
After dinner I got to have another first time American experience, visiting Trader Joe’s. I had always heard about the retailer and have many friends who bring back shampoos and goods from the shop when they go on weekend shopping trips to the States. In this particular shop I had the experience of buying the cheapest bottle of wine I had ever purchased in my life. Now I have a bit of a reputation for drinking wines in a range of prices and types from cheap to moderately expensive, bu mostly cheap. I have been known to drink wine out of a box, out of a can, in a prepackaged cup and now I have purchased a blend of California grapes from the Napa Valley and Sonoma for the fantastic price of $3.27! Nell and her roommate Connor were skeptical that I would a) drink this cheap concoction and b) not get sick from it, but you best believe I drank it! Not the whole bottle, mind you, but a few glasses and it wasn’t bad, dry with a smooth finish.
Day three marked my last night in San Francisco and we celebrated by showing Nell my favourite movie, The Princess Diaries. It was really cool to watch this movie, that I have seen a million times, while in San Francisco and to be able to say I had seen and been to many of the landmarks I can now recognize in the shots. Although it was a short trip, I really enjoyed my time in California and can’t wait to go back one day.