I’d always wanted to live in Northern California, and I’d never been to Northern California.
After spending one January week in San Francisco, I’m positive I want to live in Northern California. It’s like a foreign country…I like foreign countries. I just can’t seem to stay in the good ole U.S. of A. for more than a few months. I appreciate the States…after spending time sleeping under bug nets, having no electric power, meeting children who dreamed of apples, and four bouts of classical Mexican food poisoning (I really should stop going to Mexico). But there’s nothing like the sound of a foreign language drifting from the next outdoor cafe table while noshing on exotic food, local artisan cheeses, meats, breads, craft brews, small vineyard wines, unusual seasonal fruit and veggies, and things I’ve never heard of eating.
San Francisco is 49 square miles of the best of both worlds: (ultra) modern conveniences & (multi) cultural experiences. I was floored by the sheer size of their Chinatown. With over 100,000 residents, its bigger the New York City’s by 20,000! But there’s more Asian culture than Chinatown from the city that has everything. They’ve got Japantown and Little Saigon. The House of Nanking is my recommendation. Shanghai style cuisine with homemade noodles in a tiny, always packed, long-standing establishment. My advice: skip the one offering of white or red house wine, and go with the flowering lotus hot tea.
Blocked off street festivals complete with horrible Karaoke and an acquired taste of Chinese classical singers entertain on stages while old men play street dice games that I call Chinese Checkers. This is the perfect place to buy a wok from a street vendor! You’ll find electronic stores that sell garden supplies…or was that a garden store selling big screen TV’s? Either way, get a good deal on more inches for next years football season. Made in China.
A few steps away and you’re in North Beach, a version of NYC’s Little Italy or Boston’s North End. You’ll know you’re there when you see Asians selling gelato. Interesting aside…Chinese-American citizens are taking over New York’s Little Italy as the Italians are becoming more affluent and moving to the burbs for more spacious living quarters. No worries about it disappearing any time soon, though, as it’s of the National Registry of Historic Places.
But back to San Fran, a term I’ve heard you should never use as a tourist in that city, the seafood is the most local cuisine of all. Hella good, the locals would say. Dungeness crab and raw oysters being the most prevalent. If you must go to the tourist trap of Fishman’s Wharf, grab your clam chowder bread bowl & street vendor cracked crab then head to Peir 39 to watch hundreds of massive barking seal lions play, bask & fight on floating docks. Check out the live webcam to watch them now.
Less than an hour in, I’ve had all the gypsy beggars and silver spray painted robot street performances I could handle (although I’ll give it to the guy dressed like a classical dancing Mexican skeleton). Quickly walk, trolley, train, bus or cab (great mass transit is the hallmark of a great city) away from the bay and hit the best raw bar in town, a favorite of Anthony Bourdain and the Kochel’s, Swan Oyster Depot.
It’s a skinny, bar service only establishment with around 15 seats, so come early, come often and dress in layers because you’ll be waiting in a line outside in unpredictable Bay weather. A variety of fresh Northwestern oysters on the half shell with all the trimmings and a crisp local white wine makes the wait worth it. Don’t forget to ask for the “back” when you order a cracked crab. Broiled with butter, the fat and brains becomes an alchemy they call “the Nectar of the Gods” to be soaked up with sourdough bread.
And don’t you worry your pretty little head (or booty) about the calories. San Fran is a walking city so beautiful with dramatic hilltop views, glimpses of the Pacific at every turn, green mountains, and orange bridges, you’ll be hungry in The Mission District before you know it. Self proclaimed as the “Mexican Hipster” neighborhood, food is affordable and has a vegan twist like only California can. We hopped from tapas bars to the neighborhood “Cheers” to our food finale at The Monk’s Kettle with beer flights, Rogue creamy blue cheese, in-house made ground mustard, chutney and jams. Mind blowing.
Which leads me to another oddity…SF at the foot of Sonoma & Napa wine country, is a beer city! Handcrafted microbrews at every restaurant or locally brewed Anchor Steam on tap at the very least. A mystical city where Rogue beer has its own bars and sells its own cheese. With flavors like “Doughnut Bacon Maple” I couldn’t stop myself from buying two liter bottles knowing full well I was about to go through airport security. I never thought it would come to smuggling good beer into The South. It made for a happy bell hop anyways!
And if you need a little stretch, SF is one of the premiere yoga cities in the world. Yoga Journal Conference comes every January bringing all the Masters under one roof. There’s even a two-day business workshop for all you studio owners (or wannabes). All my favs: Shiva Rea, Seane Corn, David Romanelli, and Annie Carpenter were on hand for brain picking, trance dancing, and asanating (as Erich Shiffmann would say).
Busy next January? Then visit SF’s pride and joy, Yoga Tree Studio. Or across the bay bridge to Oakland’s Namaste. Or better yet, get the early bird special on NYC’s April Yoga Journal Conference by registering before March 2!
So I guess its true what they say about San Francisco, you may not have been born there…but you’ll want to die there.
Editor: Tanya L. Markul