(Judging by my face in the pic below, I was more than ready to take on the sunshine state and even my 5:45 AM wake up call couldn't put a damper on my spirits. I suppose the 3 shots of espresso might have had something to do with it...)
Upon landing at the SFO airport, we wasted no time in grabbing our bags from the overhead bins and finding transportation that would get us to our hotel and out on the streets exploring just as soon as possible. I cannot help but interject at this point that the staff at our hotel was certainly an eclectic mix of individuals. Suffice it to say, this was no Four Seasons Resort, but I bet the Four Seasons doesn't boast an unlimited wine happy hour from 5:30-6:00 which is set to the soundtrack of a most enthusiastic keyboard player (whose day job is working at the front desk), but alas, I'm getting ahead of myself. We got our bags temporarily stored and headed out into the great unknown, determined to complete our to-do list for the day, and we hit up all the items and more.
After we hiked through Chinatown (literally exactly like the Chinatown in New York), we made it to our first destination which was espresso at Cafe Trieste. The aroma of the espresso grounds was intoxicating as it filled my nostrils. The rich, sweet, caramel shots were poured into an icy glass and I got a "true" macchiato which included a little milk on top. Can I just say what a difference it makes to enjoy one's coffee in a real glass with a dainty silver spoon to serve as your stirring device. It was a thing of beauty and I was mesmerized from the first sip to the last drop.
Once we were properly caffeinated, we continued our journey along the streets of San Fran, making our way up to Lombard Street, the "crookedest street in America" (perhaps the world?). Along the way, we stopped into a beautiful church, hugged a tree and caught our 1st glimpse of the glorious sea.
The path to Lombard Street was marked by hills... steep, sloping, painful hills. It was around this time that my legs began to burn with a passionate fury that screamed, how could you not use us for 2 years and then expect us to function in a capacity that even physically fit individuals would have trouble. I ignored my thighs' desperate cries for a respite and pressed on towards the goal, the goal being a picture-perfect Kodak moment, smack in front of the street I had seen in so many photographs. Upon reaching the top of the hill, it became abundantly clear that all my tears (and pulled hamstrings) were well worth it, as the view far exceeded my already lofty expectations. (Come to think of it: I believe that is an accurate summary statement of my trip - I expected much and yet, was consistently blown away by how much more I received.) It was surreal watching the cars squeak their way down each curve and thinking this used to just be something I looked at on a one-dimensional page. Not only was the street itself something to marvel at, but the basketball-sized hydrangeas that lined the street were the whipped topping on the proverbial sundae.
Just as steep as the slope was going up, it was all the steeper going down the other side (and coincidentally worked a whole new set of previously unworked muscles...in case you were curious). Next on the agenda was to tour Hyde Pier, Fisherman's Wharf and Ghirardelli Square. It was at this point that I fell in love. I became so overwhelmed with the combined beauty of the sky, the sea, the mountains, the bridge, the clouds, the architecture, the shore...it was almost too much for me to take in. The verse kept echoing in my mind: "the heavens declare your glory" and I couldn't help but see God in all that surrounded me. Everywhere I looked, there was a new view to behold and a new beauty to be revealed.
After snapping some photos on the beach, we took the party to the pier where we toured an "arc" (the name for a houseboat in the 1920s), viewed Alcatraz from afar and surveyed the ships anchored alongside the pier. I couldn't resist including the last picture in this set. It absolutely cracks me up and is a great example of a good photo idea gone bad. I saw those huge knots made of rope and immediately declared that we should climb in the middle and take a picture. Lo and behold, the wind had other ideas. I was too busy holding my wind-whipped hair, meanwhile Crystal's took on a life of its own and completely blocked her face.
As I'm sure you can imagine, all this walking and photo-taking worked up a ravenous appetite in our stomachs, so our next mission was to walk down to Fisherman's Wharf and peruse our options for a fresh seafood lunch. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, the air was clean and we knew al fresco dining was a must. I drug my traveling companions down the entire pier, forced us to make a detour to Boudin (the original sourdough bread locale - check out the lobster and alligator-shaped loaves) and then made them traipse back to one of our original options. Nevertheless, it was a fruitful endeavor as we had a delicious meal of crab legs, crab bruschetta, crab cakes, clam chowder and fresh sourdough bread. Since I was the birthday girl du jour, they even surprised me with a tall glass of my favorite celebratory beverage. We savored our meal and enjoyed a nice, long leisurely lunch along the sidewalk of Fisherman's Wharf.
After we had sufficiently refueled, we put those walking shoes back on (or boots in this case) and set out to explore Ghirardelli Square, which included a tour of the Ghirardelli chocolate factory. It was like a scene of out Willy Wonka's chocolate factory as I watched the espresso-hued vats of perfectly melted chocolate churn in unison. The heavenly smell was enough to sway even this self-professed non-lover of chocolate over to the dark side...well, almost. After our self-guided tour, I was set on chocolate, but actually found my fix in another form: cupcakes. We discovered Kara's Cupcakes on the square and decided to get a couple of the pint-sized treats for my birthday. Crystal and I chose the fleur de sel cupcake which boasted a oozy caramel filling and had fleur de sel granules sprinkled on top of a chocolate ganache frosting.
With our cupcakes in hand, we took our inaugural ride on the BART system and made it back to the hotel just in time for the heavily touted unlimited wine happy hour. Suffice it to say, the dazzling keyboard melodies played by our front desk concierge made it one of the most memorable happy hours I have ever been a party to. Sadly, I have no photographic documentation to share, but if you can picture it in your head, I have no doubt it will bring a smile to your face.
We enjoyed a few brief moments of relaxation where we kicked our feet up and listened to the bustling sounds of the city from outside our window. However, we had dinner reservations to make, so our time was cut short as we hurried to catch the next bus. My birthday dinner (really, the first of four) was at Oola which was a hip little place serving seasonal items with a rotating menu that changed daily. One glance at the menu and I knew exactly what I was ordering: the watermelon and beet salad and the fig tart. These dishes had me at hello and the descriptions had my mouth watering in anticipation of these savory delights. When my dishes arrived, I knew I made the right choice. The colors were so vibrant and I enjoyed each bite more than the last. The flavors were so fresh and the textures were spot on and so complementary. I also enjoyed the quote at the top of their menu: Never eat more than you can lift. -Miss Piggy Rest assured, I followed the sound advice and was able to lift every last bit into my gullet.
Upon commencement of our delightful dinner, we made our way to the final destination of the day which was a 1920s speakeasy nestled in the heart of San Francisco. Christy's due diligence (in doing extensive research for our trip) can be credited for finding this hidden gem. It was one of San Francisco's original speakeasys during the Prohibition era. The place was in an unmarked building and we needed reservations + a password to make the cut. We rang the buzzer next to the door, hoping we were in the right place. From behind the cracked door, a girl asked us for the password in hushed tones and I knew this was the spot. Once it was determined we were "in the know," the 20s clad staff ushered us into the door and we were transported into another time and place. The lighting was low, the bartenders were skilled and the music harkened back to the days of flapper dresses, pearls, red lips and zoot suits. With a thick book of classic cocktails to choose from, we painstakingly made our selections and sipped on the unique concoctions while enjoying the authentic ambience. Sadly, one of the rules (yes, these were posted), was NO PICTURES. Therefore, I have no proof of my trip back in time.
The final item on the agenda was enjoying my birthday cupcake, which I most certainly did. It was the perfect finale to my first day in California.
Next up: San Francisco, Day 2!!