San Francisco

Although I’ve documented how I hate California, I make something of an exception for San Francisco. My wife and I have travelled there periodically for the last fifteen years, and now it’s become a pleasure to go and visit old haunts and eat in our favorite places. So here is a guide to what we do and where we stay in the city.

Monticello Inn

This hotel is near the main cable car stop at Market and Powell. It was a small independent inn when we started going, but has since been hooked into the Kimpton group of fancy local hotels. We started going because they have a nice handicapped accessible room and a good location. From here you are walking distance to Union Square and huge mall on Market Street for the ultimate in yuppy indulgence. A longer walk puts you in Chinatown, gets you to the City Lights bookstore, or puts you into North Beach. I have found the service here to always be excellent. They know what a hand held shower is. They remember us when we show up again after two years away.

The place is also close to a few favorite food spots.

Blondie’s Pizza

Just around the corner from the Inn is this pizza slice place. The thing here is a huge slice of pizza and a coke for $4. It’s a great snack or dinner for your first night in off the plane. I won’t say the pizza is transcendent or anything, but it’s huge and convenient.

Dottie’s True Blue Cafe

Here we have a breakfast place that is truly sublime. I love to get a counter seat and just sit there and watch Kurt (the owner and chef) move behind the stove. He has been doing this so long that every motion is automatic and perfectly efficient. Crack two eggs here, scoop out four pancakes there, flip the omlette over there, turn back and scoop out the oatmeal.

The breakfast here is the best I have ever had. Eggs are done just like you want them. Unlike most places on earth, the scrambled eggs are soft and fluffy, not a rubbery overcooked mess. But the true pinnacle is the pancakes. They are thick and airy, never chewy, not too sweet but with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg. They are the perfect pancake. There is generally a huge list of specials, various egg scrambles, special french toast, and the ever present black bean cakes with salsa and eggs. Also don’t miss the corn bread. Really, I mean it.

You have to get here early or be ready to wait in line. But if you are in the city, don’t go anywhere else for breakfast. Life is too short.

Yank Sing

Walk down market street to the Rincon center, and you can get the best DIm Sum on the continent (although the stuff in Toronto is just as good).

Yank Sing serves up a spectacular assortment of steamed dumplings filled with meat, scallops, crab, scallions, and best of all, snow pea sprouts. The pea sprout dumplings are sometimes just sprouts and sometimes have chicken in them. You have to get them. They are incredible.

Other standards that come around on the carts include roast duck with pancakes, the wrapped sticky rice, long rice noodles with beef or shrimp, pork buns, and lettuce wraps with minced squab. All excellent.

The main problem we have in SF is wasting meals at places besides Yank Sing, and figuring out how to bring takeout on the plane.

The Ferry Farmer’s Market

Stumbling out of Yank Sing, you can walk to the Ferry building and go to the farmer’s market in the parking lot. This market may have moved inside the building, because the Ferry building has recently been renovated into a large up scale mall. If you can find it, you will be in the midst off the best that Northern California has to offer: more kinds of produce than you can ever imagine.

My farmer’s market story: One time, we were in the city at the end of October and went to the market. In one of the stands was a huge sign with large tragic writing on it: Last Berries Until March. This is what California is about.

Marin Headlands

Just the other side of the Golden Gate bridge is a huge expanse of almost empty land that stands in stark contrast to the sprawling city that sits just across the bay. This is the Golden Gate Recreational Area, and the part of it that is closest to the Bay is the Marin Headlands. It’s an awesome bike ride to cross the bridge, loop back around off of Route 101 and then climb the long hill up to the top of the headlands and look back over your shoulder at the city.

It’s also cool to crawl around in the old military tunnels. But mostly what I like to do is sit there and just stare.


Ebisu is a small sushi joint in the Sunset district. The Sunset district has some of the best Asian food anywhere, but we’re always going to Ebisu. Great rolls, fresh fish, good service, and pretty cheap for the area.

Ton Kiang

On the other side of Golden Gate Park from the Sunset is The Richmond, where the other great Asian food is in town.

Ton Kiang is a Dim Sum joint in the area, and while not quite as spectacular as Yank Sing, it does have the Shanghai Soup Meatball dumplings. So you gotta go.

Imperial Tea Court

Finally, in Chinatown, is this stylish tea house. They sell great tea and on weekends you can go there and sit in the completely serene atmosphere and sip as much tea as you’d like while hanging out with the old men and their caged birds. I’ve had no more relaxing experience in San Francisco.

Other Things I can’t Expand On

- Burritos at La Taqueria in the Mission. - Shalimar. - Halloween in the Castro. - Personal Shopping Service at Nordstrom. - All the bike shops.

Things to Avoid

- For the love of God, do not go to House of Nanking - The Slanted Door, unless you liked overpriced pretentious fusion food. - Fisherman’s Wharf - The Greens. Great cookbook, lousy restaurant.