With the exception of European cities, San Francisco was the first city I’ve ever felt to be New York-like in spirit. It had a vibrancy, a liveliness, that felt familiar. We heard a variety of different languages everywhere we walked. There were people waiting for public transportation. There was a Chinatown with shops full of souvenirs and rice bowls and lanterns and luggage. There were neighborhoods full of good restaurants; museums; stores; parks. People were picnicking on the lawn of a park, waiting for an outdoor concert to begin. There were feisty, aged urbanites (“Stay on the right!” an old lady shouted at Andrew, who was taking up too much sidewalk space.) And so much of it was distinctly San Francisco: the cold mornings when the fog is still hovering over the city; the cable cars; the hills, truly scary to drive over; the lovely bridges. I rarely feel like I could live in a city I visit, but I felt that here.
We chose this weekend to visit because Andrew’s sister and a friend were flying in to run a half-marathon. After we arrived on Saturday morning, we took a walk down Market Street, then took a cable car over to the Mission neighborhood to check out the Tartine Bakery, which we’d read about in the New York Times (“my favorite bakery in the United States,” said the writer—obviously, we had to try it). It did not disappoint. We walked through the Castro neighborhood after that, browsing in some cute shops; we went to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory and watched fortunes being wrapped in cookies; and later, we had dinner in North Beach (a good carb-heavy Italian meal for the runners).
Sunday, Andrew and I watched the runners finish the race; then we all went to brunch at Sears Fine Food, famous for their mini pancakes (eighteen to an order!). The San Francisco MoMA was next (thankfully breaking what I suspect may be my longest museum-free spell in many years). A baseball game (some kind of important record-breaking was going to take place) drew Andrew and the others to a bar to watch, while I took a walk to the Ferry building, to check out the fun artisanal food shops inside and take in the lovely view of the Bay Bridge. Dim sum in Chinatown rounded out our day. Then we reluctantly retrieved the car from its parking garage and headed towards home.
However, we made one final stop before getting on the highway: the Golden Gate Bridge, the first sight of it for both of us. Shrouded in fog, it is one of those iconic, almost mythical structures that make me really feel a city. The city skyline was barely visible beyond the fog; we were surrounded by Japanese tour groups, Spaniards (their holidays have begun; last year at this time Iberia went on strike and stranded thousands people in the Barcelona airport, including us), and many other tourists. Seeing one of the world’s great sights, and one of the world’s great cities (many repeat visits are definitely in order—we barely cracked the surface), is good food for the soul as we head into another suburban week.