Archives for posts with tag: san francisco

I’ve wanted to see the Red Bull Flugtag since the first time I saw it advertised more than 6 years ago.  The commercial—in heavy rotation on late night TV—promised a day of costumed crazies, and genuine thrill seekers, launching absurd homemade (man-powered) aircraft from a 30-foot high pier; presumably to see who could travel farthest before crash (!) landing in the water. I knew instantly that I had to go someday.

For those who haven’t seen the commercials, and who are saying ‘big whoop, nerd’ right this second, what makes this event interesting to folks beyond aeronautical engineers is that entries are judged on creativity and showmanship as much as distance. Which is good. Because ironically—flugtag literally means “flight day”—very few really take flight. Most just sort of limp to the end of the runway and topple off the edge. But that’s only after the team gets thirty seconds to win over the judges with a skit. I guess that’s what keeps the killjoys from ruining this by over thinking it.

Anyway, as soon as I found it was going to be in SF this year, I marked my calendar. I might have even let out a tiny little girlie squeal. My mission these days is to get out and see and do new things, so I put aside my aversion to crowds, and traffic, and people who drink Red Bull, and headed down to McCovey Cove with the family and my camera to finally see this spectacle for myself.  

We had an awesome time. Following are some of my favorite shots from the day.

One of my faves of the day. This was the R. Kelly entry. He believed he could fly. He was wrong.


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Gritty. Edgy. Artsy. Great character. Up-and-coming. These are all the things the realtor said about The Mission District in San Francisco when we first moved out here in 2010.  We looked at a few places there, but having come from Manhattan, we were ready for something quieter. Plus, those terms usually describe neighborhoods that are much hipper than I am (eg, just about anywhere in Brooklyn).

So we settled in across town, closer to the parks and the ocean and my office. We always talked about going back over there to really explore, but then, we didn’t.  “It’s crowded” and there’s “not going to be any parking” we’d tell ourselves.

But I promised you folks we were going to live like tourists out here, so earlier this week, I got my work wrapped up right around lunchtime and made a proclamation; “We’re going into the Mission for tacos.” 

Pause for an aside. For those of you who don’t know, The Mission District in San Francisco is known for authentic, quality Mexican food. There’s even a style of burrito named after it (see here).

So I filled my pockets with quarters for the meters, threw the baby carrier in the trunk, and we set out. I had one destination in mind.

Pause for an additional aside. After nearly 14 years of living in big cities (Philly, NY, SF), this is about the best piece of advice I could offer any visitor to a new city: If a local (ie, non-chain) place draws a big line, go there. When it comes to food, city folks tend to tire of mediocre quickly. They weed it out in brutal fashion, leaving it to be picked over by the out-of-towners. Conversely, they will reward good with slavish, almost-to-the-point-of-absurd, loyalty. Hence, the lines.

Ok, back to the story. We were going to La Taqueria (24th and Mission); widely, and consistently, regarded as one of the best among the best in the Mission. We got there relatively early, and as expected, there were already people lining up.

I don’t know why, but places that get this busy really throw me off my game. Like Costanza with the Soup Nazi, I’m rehearsing my order in line, afraid to get yelled at or to look stupid among the regulars. But the lady at the cashier was friendly, and the menu was simple enough, that I think I made some decent choices. Plus, I had Yelp as my guide: “Dos tacos con pollo, uno con carnitas, y uno con chorizo” to split between Denise (and Madison), and myself.

I don’t fancy myself a food blogger, so I’ll just say I really enjoyed them. Original. Fresh. Tasty. But really, this was always more about just having fun. It was something completely different than we had intended for the day. I was glad we made the effort.

In fact, I was so much into the spirit of the tourism thing, that I decided to track down a place that a buddy had bragged about for years. It was time for dessert.

Headed down 24th to York to Dynamo Donuts. A local favorite that had even been featured on the Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Bacon Episode” for their “Maple Glazed Bacon Apple” Donut. And even though I’ve grown increasingly skeptical, and critical, of this bacon craze we seem to be going through—bacon having become a trendy, and lazy, culinary substitute for originality—I wanted to try it. When in Rome, after all.  

Afterwards, Denise would say, “tasted like a really great doughnut…that someone sprinkled bacon on.” I can’t say she’s 100% wrong, but I thought it worked. The bacon wasn’t overpowering, and the donut really was as good as that fella from the Food Network promised. Whether or not the bacon is necessary at all, or just clever marketing, I’ll leave to the experts. I know that I didn’t pick it off, and I didn’t leave a crumb on the plate. In fact, the only of us who left a crumb was Madison. We thought we’d let her try her own vegan, Spiced Chocolate donut. But by then, she was over our little excursion, and wanted to get home for a taste of the familiar; a bottle and a nap. Being a tourist can be exhausting. 

Destination: La Taqueria between 24th and 25 on Mission Street.

Y dos cervezas por favor. If you’re going to do it, might as well do it right.

Was so anxious to get started, got halfway through my tacos before I remembered to pause and take a proper picture. Still, doesn’t that look tasty?

Having a blast. Note the line in the background, now well out the door.

Baby Tourist gets her first taste of the Mission. She didn’t complain.

The fallout. On to dessert…

Had to go bacon, despite some of my recent misgivings. Part of this tourist thing is trying new things. Plus, before the hipsters commandeered bacon and flavored everything with it for their own ironic purposes, it was a pretty great thing, no?

Maple Glazed Bacon Apple (front), Vanilla Bean (back left), Spiced Chocolate (back right). Note the tiny little shadow of a hand creeping in up top. Baby Tourist was about to get hers.

What is this? Vegan? Seriously?!? Take it away. And take me home, I’ve had enough.

Adios Mission. You were great.

In honor of its 75th Birthday, I thought I’d share some of my favorite photos—and memories—of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who has ever taken a picture of it. 

(I should probably Google that)

On the bridge, probably my favorite shot of all.

Another on the bridge. Hard to resist trying to see it from an original angle.

Bike ride across the bridge. A must-do if you’re visiting SF. Even if it means wearing these awesome helmets.

Baby under the bridge

The familiar fog of San Francisco

At Twin Peaks. San Francisco is smaller than most think, if you’re high enough, you can see the bridge from just about anywhere (meaning altitude, settle down hippies).

At Land’s End, one of our favorite hiking spots. Like I said, you’re never far from the bridge here in SF.

Awe and awww. Taken from the overlook across the bridge.

Finally, two bridges in one shot. Can you spot them both? Our favorite picnic spot, with my favorite local beer; 21st Amendment’s Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer.

Taken at Land’s End, San Francisco. Click to enlarge. 

Not on the SF bucket list, but still pretty cool to look at.

Saturday brought with it beautiful blue skies and a hankering for sushi. Since we had nothing planned for the day, we figured we might as well make lunch an event. Rather than ordering in, or walking down to our corner spot, we decided to head to Japantown.

I’ll admit up front, I had high hopes, but low expectations. First of all, for reasons that are still cloudy to me, San Francisco isn’t great for sushi. After two years, I feel pretty confident in saying that. But since I’m no foodie, and wouldn’t win in a debate with one on this topic, I’ll go ahead and concede right here that there are probably SOME great sushi places in SF. I’ll just say not enough of them. Certainly not for a city that has at least enough of a Japanese population/affection to warrant a ‘Japantown.’ (On that subject, we’re also appallingly short on good karaoke bars; though that may not be an opinion widely shared)

The second reason I wasn’t expecting much is that Japantown doesn’t really look like much. I drove by it for months before I even realized I was driving by it. That’s not an exaggeration; according to my extensive research (ahem, Wikipedia) Japantown is only 6 square city blocks. We live less than a mile from there, and had never felt adequately compelled to visit. Even the people who helped introduce us to the city when we got here never tried to sell us on the place.

But with our renewed commitment to live like tourists, as previously discussed, we grabbed the camera and the stroller and started walking. Hoping for something at least worth remembering.

The rest of the story is captured here in pictures. I’ll summarize by saying that we had a really nice time, and I’m glad that we checked that off our list. We didn’t find the holy grail of sushi, but if we hadn’t bothered to try, I would have never known how much we had missed out on in Japantown. It’s not a huge place, and it’s not somewhere you could spend days exploring, but it was different. And for an afternoon, it definitely felt like we were visiting a new city, which is always one of the coolest things to accomplish in your own city.

If there's one place you don't have to feel self-conscious about asking someone to take your picture, it's Japantown. Surprising no one, everyone has a camera. In fact, the person who took this did so only after I took a picture for her and her friends.

Bonsai!!

Yeah, well Fuku, too.
(I think I have an idea of how to actually pronounce this, but they should know how I intend to pronounce it...we moved on)

Baby tourist at lunch. We found an inexpensive sushi/noodle place where the menus were in Japanese and the majority of diners were Asian. A good sign. Another good sign was the "Michelin Guide Recommended" sign on the wall up front. So why was the Benihana across the way from this place so crowded? Not everything tourists do is worth imitating.

'You guys gonna finish that?'

A lot of Japantown is dedicated to shopping. Can't be sure, but I think this guy's wife was probably off trying something else on. At least that's the look that I usually get.

In the words of Noel Gallagher (and later, Chris Pacetta), 'step outside summertime's in bloom...'

I might be taking this living like a tourist too far. Starting to dress like one, too. Good bye and thanks for hosting us, Japantown. Sorry I underestimated you.

When my wife Denise announced to her family that we were leaving New York and moving to San Francisco, one of her aunts, a former SF resident, passed on to us a piece of advice that someone had once passed on to her; “live like a tourist,” she said. Simple. It was one of those moments where it feels like someone struck a gong right by your head. Of course. How else would you live in a new city? GONNNNNG. It was so profound that my first feeling, oddly, was melancholy. I wished that someone had given me that advice before I moved to New York six years earlier. Because if anything, I’d always done the opposite. Work came first. And I learned to judge and despise tourists the way that only New Yorkers can…”can you believe that guy just asked me for directions to the ‘big Christmas tree’” I’d scoff, as I put my head down and plowed through the crowd, not letting it dawn on me that I’d never truly seen the tree at Rockefeller Center either (except from the window of a cab that was taking me away from that nightmare).

Only when I was faced with leaving NY did I realize all things I hadn’t done. Stuff that people from all over the world come to NY just to do.

I never went to the Statue of Liberty, or to the top of the Empire State Building. I went to Central Park an embarrassingly few number of times, and can’t say I ever really tried to enjoy it. I went to Grand Central, but only because I had to. I never set foot in the NY Public Library, though I had drinks out back there at least a half dozen times. I never went to Famous Ray’s, nor do I even know which one is the real Famous Ray’s. The cool touristy things that I did do were often at the behest of people who came to visit. My first trip to Broadway was because my aunt made me go to see Phantom with her. If memory serves, I griped about it, a lot, but eventually let my mom talk me into it. I probably ought to thank her for that. The one time I visited Ground Zero was right after I moved to the city, when an out-of-town friend asked me to take him there. I said ok, and insisted that we walk all the way from 35th and 1st. I never admitted to him (until now) that it was because I didn’t really know exactly where it was or which trains it would take to get there. And I was too proud to ask someone.  So we headed out on a vaguely southwesterly course. It took us about an hour and a half.

I should have been more tourist-like.

“Living like a tourist” I’ve come to appreciate is not just about seeing new things, it’s also about being unselfconscious; of our ignorance and of our enthusiasm. Those people we all make fun of don’t even know we’re making fun of them. And get this…<gasp>…they don’t even care! Imagine that. It’s freeing, really. I wish I had known. Because as I started to think about New York, I was forced to think even further back to the 7 years I spent in Philadelphia, where I never went to see the Liberty Bell or Betsy Ross’ house or Independence Hall. I never even ran up the ‘Rocky’ stairs (let alone enter the Art Museum that stands at the top of them). I was too lazy to make the effort, and too cool to be impressed.

Which brings me to today. I’d like to say that I did exactly as I was told, and lived like a tourist here in SF. But I didn’t. We started out strong, with trips to Alcatraz, hikes in the Presidio, and ballgames at AT&T Park, but then…we stalled. We fell into routine. Wasn’t completely our fault, of course. First of all, we had a baby. Second, living like a tourist often means being around other tourists. And my years of urban training tells me that that’s a bad thing…as if at any second I could get dragged into a chain restaurant and forced to eat unlimited salad and breadsticks (as if that would really be that bad of a deal, come to think of it).

But a while back Denise and I had a serious talk about San Francisco and what we hoped to get out of it. We decided it was time to remember her aunt’s advice. We aren’t leaving anytime soon, but when we do, unlike Philly and New York, I want to know that I lived it all.  So we started a SF bucket list; all the things, big and small, that we want to do while we are here. We’ve already started checking boxes. We went to Napa to try new wines. We finally drove up to Twin Peaks, just to enjoy the view of the entire city (see pic). We went to Fisherman’s Wharf for Dungeness crabs. We went to see the Buffalo in Golden Gate Park. We drove down the coast to see Mavericks. And today we’re going shopping in Union Square (an activity I would have gladly passed on). It’s been amazing. We’re making memories, and someday we’ll have them to share with Madison. She won’t remember, but she’ll see herself in the pictures. And, guess what, I’m going to flag down hurried locals and ask them to take those pictures for us, so that we can all be in them together. Sorry. It’s just something us tourists do.

Hopefully, they’ll get it. Thanks Aunt Julie!