Cooler weather here this morning means that I can convince Steve to don walking shoes and hit the pavement in search of breakfast. We are aiming for Tartine Bakery in the Mission district which is a decent 30 minute walk from our abode. Friends who had recently travelled to San Francisco a few months prior raved about their morning buns. So off we go on our mission to the Mission district. Colourful murals of street art on fences, cascading across entire building facades and hidden down laneways pull at my attention. The half an hour walk stretches into 45 minutes.
Taking our spot in the queue that orderly lines up along the front window, I shift my wait from foot to foot anxious as we get closer to the counter. I’m not a fan of sweet things in the morning generally but this place is known for their predominantly sweet pastry range so I’ll give it a go for research’s sake. The top pick apparently is the morning bun which is a layered butter-rich dough reminiscent of a croissant incorporating orange, cinnamon and sugar for a crunchy almost caramelised finish. This is also Steve’s top choice if there’s any left by the time we get to the register.
As the line creeps inside, we manage to nab a menu to scan all possible options. I decide on the ham and cheese croissant and am not disappointed when I get close enough to see it behind the glass case. A plump wad of croissant with smoked ham poking through the pastry layers, its dark and light brown stripes of crispy goodness tease me. We eye off the pain au chocolat, flaky almond croissant, dark and rich chocolate puddings, large wedges of fruit scones and shelves of long fermented award-winning breads. As we order and pay, our goodies are being plated up and handed over by another staff member. Our haul includes a morning bun and shortbread finger for Steve, ham and cheese croissant for me and an orange juice to share with mandatory paper-covered plastic straw included. Luckily, my years as a waitress weren’t wasted as I carry our plates and drink outside to find a place to perch. Making short work of breakfast, I’d be tempted to go back inside for another round if I didn’t have to join the now-longer queue.
2000 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94103, USA
TRIP TIME 00:17:19
FARE BREAKDOWN Base Fare 2.00
Booking Fee $1.55
Driver – Zi
Our Uber arrives promptly which is fortunate as we have a tour of Chinatown booked and paid for across town starting soon. Steve tries his opening line with our driver as usual but this one doesn’t take the bait. It’s a quiet but comfortable drive to our meeting point diagonally opposite Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral on the edge of Chinatown. An historic landmark, I like to imagine it as the Transamerica Pyramid of the late 19th century. Secretly, I wish for the Transamerica Pyramid to be a quirky showcase of Egyptian inspired, gender-fluid paraphernalia instead of the triangular skyscraper of offices and retail spaces that it is.
Our bubbly tour guide in regulation black with hot pink logo polo shirt and clip board, ticks our names off one by one as the small group gathers for our walking tour. Soon enough we head downhill and into the colourful chaos that is most Chinatowns I’ve ever been to. Chains of red paper lanterns hang from balconies while gold and red lettering looming large above doorways jostle for space with banners advertising SPECIAL T-SHIRTS 5 FOR $10. Briskly she ushers us all in and out of temples, fresh seafood markets and Chinese medicine stores. I manage to bless my family, avoid buying fresh frogs and get advice on a concoction to boost male virility. Between that and learning about Chinese immigration’s pivotal influence on San Francisco, it’s been a full morning.
851 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA
TRIP TIME 00:10:29
FARE BREAKDOWN Base Fare 2.00
Booking Fee $1.55
Driver – Chris
I acquiesce to a summoning another Uber for a trip down to Fishermen’s Wharf after our 90 minute long walking tour. It is early on in our trip and I know that there is plenty more walking in the weeks to come. Our driver Chris would probably make a fair income as a Woody Harrelson lookalike if he ever decides Uber driving isn’t paying well enough. Most Uber drivers we meet seem have other jobs. Actually Uber driving seems to be their other job. Some work nine to five in an office and drive evenings and weekends. Others are students or shift workers. I once met someone who had broken up with his long-time girlfriend and didn’t want to hang out at home with his parents so opted for driving an Uber instead. I did ask him if he looked at it as a dating opportunity and while he denied it, I do continue to wander.
Uber Chris pulled his sporty SUV into a laneway beside one of the many eateries in the Fisherman’s Wharf area. Right at the start of the Embarcadero, this touristy bayside pier offers scenic views of Alcatraz Island and its notorious prison – if scenic is an appropriate word for such a grisly place. I’ve denied Steve’s many entreaties to visit what I can only think of as a place full of negative vibes. We eschew the tacky shops, restaurants and continue walking along the waterfront looking east over the Bay Area. I chant the word ‘embarcadero’ silently to myself, slightly mesmerised by its mellifluous rhythm.
At one point, we stop for a refreshing libation. The sun has come out and it’s only sensible that we keep our fluids up. With a bar overlooking the water, we order a couple of local beers and take them outside to some empty stools lined up between a wind-blown car park and the pier. Only an off-white balustrade between us and the sea lions frolicking in the rippled blue waters ahead, it’s basic and it’s beautiful in its simplicity. No gold star on a map or spreadsheet entry, this discovery is what serendipity is all about.
Further along the waterfront we walk, making our way between couples taking holiday snaps with the bay as background. I do my best not to think about the only context I have for this area – Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s classic disaster movie ‘San Andreas’. Steve shot me dirty looks as I laughed out loud while watching this on the 17 hour plane ride from Australia. I love the absurdity of most disaster movies and will confess to laughing uproariously in the cinema during Titanic’s sinking. California sits smack bang on the San Andreas fault. I’ve always been curious as to what would compel someone to live in what can seem like such an inherently dangerous spot. Danger is all relative though. Death by traffic accident versus airplane crash is heavily skewed against cars but few people confess to a fear of driving as opposed to a fear of flying.
Bright orange cable cars rattle past, with tourists crammed inside like sardines. At least out here, there’s a cool breeze off the water and all we have to do is avoid the families sprawled across the footpath and the amateur Segway enthusiasts. From a distance we can see a clock tower rising from what turns out to be the old ferry building and now a thriving indoor food market. High arched windows over a long portico shade an array of fast food vendors who are making quick work of the lunch crowd.
We duck inside and pause at many of the stalls along the main corridor. My tummy grumbles as we loiter at Boccalone Salumi, Acme Bread and Cow Girl Creamery cheese shop. It almost physically pains me not to stock up on these incredible goodies but I have no way to protect from the heat of the afternoon. Though only fifteen minutes later I look around at the butter-yellow plates and tumblers of iced water on the stiff white tablecloth and I’m placated. At the edge of the market we found a brasserie called Market Bar, so here we sit perusing the menu.
‘Devilled eggs with spicy aioli and bacon bits?’
He nods in agreement and counters with, ‘A dozen oysters?’
‘Absolutely.’ I rarely disagree with this suggestion. Fresh shucked oysters are a thing of beauty, their sweet briny goodness is the perfect palate-starter at any meal. The seafood and snack bias of the menu suits us as we are in no rush to go anywhere and want to try everything. We round out our lunch with charred flatbread topped pancetta and rocket, a garden salad and blistered peppers. With a flourish, our waiter brings a half carafe of chilled rose for me and pint of a local IPA for Steve.
‘So what’s on the list for San Francisco?’ I ask knowing there is an actual list and he will have access to it on his phone.
‘Well there are a few breweries I wan tot check out. There’s one not far from here called 21st Amendment that I thought we could check out this afternoon. There are some over the other side of the bay but that’s probably a whole day.’
Possibly, we linger too long, sloth-like after our sumptuous meal. As we stand to leave I spy a number of wait staff around the corner polishing silverware and scoffing down a well-earned meal.