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Solo San Francisco Recap: Day 5

September 17, 2010

My time in San Francisco has been so full. I’ve seen and done so much that I feel like I’ve been here a month, but I’m not done yet…

Day 5

6:00 am I’m up and it seems my body is finally beginning to adjust to West Coast time. I can’t believe I’ve slept for thirteen hours straight—I must have been exhausted. My homesickness is completely gone and I’m raring to go. Going through my already well-established routine of preparing for my day before I take a shower, I’m out the door within an hour or so.

8:30 am The F line streetcar drops me off at Mission Street and I’m pleased that the area has a distinctly different feel from downtown. So far, my travels have taken me to the tourist meccas but today I’m traveling slightly off the beaten path.  My destination this morning is Mission Dolores, the 18th century Spanish mission that played a critical role in San Francisco’s early life. It’s one of the oldest buildings in San Francisco—it escaped, relatively unharmed, the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires—and I have to see it. I walk a couple of blocks down Mission Street past a homeless man sleeping on the sidewalk.

There it is–beyond the massive basilica on the corner of 16th and Mission Streets, Mission Dolores is a much smaller building, dwarfed by its neighbor; visually out of place but feeling right at home in its surroundings. I’m anxious to get inside to take a closer look but the building isn’t open until 9 am. Instead, I use the opportunity to go out in search of some breakfast. I find it two blocks down at Maxfield’s, an eclectic corner eatery. I order hot chocolate and a ham, egg, and Swiss cheese bagel. It’s a shock when she hands me a huge ceramic mug of the hot liquid—I’m so used to the paper cup. Soon my breakfast sandwich is ready and I take my place on the long bench at the interior wall near the window. It’s great for people watching. Warm wooden tables and chairs are scattered throughout while a grouping cushioned rattan seating creates a cozy corner setting. Outside at the metal bistro tables, a young woman clad in a black crochet top sits, talking and moving animatedly. I assume she’s got a cellphone earpiece in her ear.

9:15 After finishing my meal, I head back to Mission Dolores. Passing by the young woman seated at the table outside, I realize that she’s not on the phone at all. She’s having a full-blown conversation with herself. She doesn’t look crazy but I avert my gaze anyway. Halfway up the block, I hear someone shouting behind me: “Hey, girlfriend! Hey, girlfriend!” I know it’s not for me—I don’t know anyone in San Francisco. The voice calls out again but this time it’s nearer. “Hey, girlfriend! Hey, girlfriend!” Before I know it, the woman from the café has caught up to me and her mental instability becomes apparent.

I try to get away, but she begins speaking to me. Her words make little sense but I don’t know what do. Will staying agitate her? Or will walking off cause her to respond? I don’t know. I try to make heads or tails of what she’s saying. “You have to tell people who use drugs and have sex that it’s not good, you know and that they mess up….Can you handle that?” I’m still a little afraid, but I tell her yes, I can handle that and she walks away. I feel so much pity. It was like she knows what she’s trying to say, that her life had become a cautionary tale, but her brain seems so messed up she can’t express herself properly. It saddens me.

At Mission Dolores, there’s a mass being held so instead of going in through the Mission itself, I enter from the rear, through the cemetery. I love old cemeteries—they contain the personal histories of lives long past. The gravestones tell stories and I like that. I’m not alone. A sandy-haired, blue-eyed man is wandering among the graves too. Our paths cross and we give each other a knowing smile. I tell him I love old cemeteries and he says he’s just like me—he loves them too. We run into each other several times as we explore the Mission and eventually get to chatting. He’s from Albuquerque by way of Chile and encourages me to visit Albuquerque in October, when the Balloon Festival is held. I store one more destination in my mental list of places where I want to go. The Mission isn’t large but inside it’s elaborate, particularly the altar. Soon I’ve seen as much of it and the basilica next door I want to see.

In the cemetery garden at Mission Dolores

10:30 am I walk a few blocks down into the Castro and wait for Bi-Rite Creamery to open. It doesn’t begin to serve customers for another half an hour, but a line is already forming. By the time 11 am rolls around, the server has the entrance stanchioned off, but I’m first in line. I order a cone with one scoop of honey lavender ice cream and another of salted caramel. When I emerge from the small store, I recognize the face of one of the women waiting in line. It’s the woman who took my photo as I came off the Golden Gate Bridge yesterday. I ask her if she is indeed the same person and sure enough, she is. I can’t believe it. She introduces herself as Felicia and offers to take a picture of me eating my first Bi-Rite ice cream cone. I can’t believe my good luck. We chat for a while longer before I set off up Mission to Market Street eating my ice cream cone.

The ice cream is sheer divine pleasure. The honey lavender flavor is as bright and floral as a late spring day but the salted caramel is full and dusky, like a swarthy lover. The layering of the sweet and salty flavors almost leaves me weak in the knees and I wonder aloud why we haven’t developed a way to capture taste the way we can capture images. I mourn that I can’t take any of it back with me and already begin making mental plans to come back to San Francisco simply for some Bi-Rite ice cream.

My Bi-Rite Creamery ice cream cone. Yum!

11:30 am I take the F line streetcar back to Fisherman’s Wharf to redeem my voucher for the Blue and Gold Fleet’s Bay Cruise Adventure. On the way there, the streetcar is very full (it’s the Labor Day holiday, after all) and I sit next to a delightful older lady from Eugene, Oregon who’s visiting San Francisco with two young relatives from Italy. We chat all the way to Pier 39 and she’s simply utterly charming. I wish her and her two young grand-nieces well and, after visiting the Blue and Gold ticket counter, I stop in at the Aquarium of the Bay. I love this place. The moon jellyfish floating serenely in their tank plus the bay anchovy that swim gracefully were simply beautiful. It’s not a large aquarium so I don’t spend a long time there. I head over to visit the Pier 39 sea lions, because what visit to San Francisco is complete without them? They’re exactly where they’re supposed to be: sunning themselves on the floating docks, barking and wriggling their full bodies in the warm sun. They’re a sight to see. I want to stay a while longer, but I’ve got one more place to go before I go on the bay cruise: Coit Tower.

1:45 pm I set off through North Beach on foot and up to Telegraph Hill. It’s a rigorous but short climb and soon, I’m there. I purchase the $5 ticket for the elevator ride to the top of the tower and then wait in the line, admiring the WPA murals that adorn the walls of the tower’s base. The wait isn’t an extremely long one, and I’m soon riding to the top. A few more stairs take me to the observation deck and I’m in awe: San Francisco and the bay lay below me like a visual feast. I take many pictures of the 360 degree views and then head back down.

The Christopher Columbus statue at Coit Tower

I walk down again through North Beach for my 4:00 pm cruise of the bay on the Blue and Gold Fleet’s Harbor Emperor. The cruise takes us under the Golden Gate Bridge, and it’s amazing to see it from this vantage point. The red of the bridge transposed against the blue-blue of the sky–if anything it’s even more imposing this way. We go around Alcatraz Island and—ah—this is what it looks like on a clear day. Overhead, two fighter jets are doing maneuvers.

6:00 pm I walk north through the wharves, past the Boudin Bakery and up to Ghirardelli Square. There are many sidewalk artists selling their wares, but I’m not terribly interested in buying more stuff. I go up to the Ghirardelli Express store where I sample the pumpkin spice milk chocolate caramel square–mmm, heaven!–then buy an utterly decadent vanilla confection at Kara’s Cupcakes. My last stop is Lola of North Beach where I purchase a gift for a friend back home. There’s one more place I need to go tonight, so I wait to take the Powell-Hyde cable car.  The sun is setting beyond the bridge and a wave of nostalgia hits me. A guitarist is playing for tips as we wait–as I wait–to ride my last cable car. This time I’m lucky. I’m the second person in line so I grab a straphanger position. It’s the only way to ride–hanging from the streetcar as it goes up and down those famous San Francisco hills, the wind blowing in your face. It’s oh-so exhilarating.

7:15 pm After paying the $10 cover charge, I head upstairs to the Union Room at Biscuits and Blues, a restaurant and nightclub in Union Square. I know the cuisine isn’t authentically San Franciscan–or Californian for that matter–but I want to hear some music. Keith Andrew and his jazz band warm up while I order a sweet and fruity Georgia Peach cocktail and then some fried chicken. They’re both good. The lights are low, but the peachy color of the cocktail is unmistakable.  My dinner arrives shortly thereafter and I savor it as the band starts to play in earnest. They’re good and tight–lead guitar, bass, keyboard and drums–and they’re jamming, delving into a couple of bluesy numbers before they take a break. I get to chat with a couple of the band members–Keith on guitar and Nate on keyboard–and I so desperately want to stay for their second set, but I’m exhausted. I apologize for leaving and walk the few blocks back to my hotel. Ultimately, I’m satisfied with how I spend my last night in San Francisco and it’s off to bed.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 17, 2010 12:17 pm

    Ah, I loved this! Especially your description of the ice cream, and the people you met along the way. What a lovely solo day!

    • September 17, 2010 5:01 pm

      Thanks! It really did turn out to be a great day and the ice cream was beyond words!

  2. October 12, 2010 8:49 pm

    I love San Fran so much! The weather this time of year is spectacular! If you have extra time while you’re there, driving up to Napa & Sonoma is definitely worth the drive! I have some photos to prove it on my blog!

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