Our first full day in San Francisco – and it was a good one. After a comfortable night’s sleep (another plus point for the apartment) we woke to steady rain that had left large pools at the bottom of the wooden steps leading down from the kitchen to the back garden. The forecast was for it to clear later in the morning to leave a cloudy but dry afternoon and evening.
Tradition dictates that our first morning be spent at the Cliff House at Ocean Beach for brunch. This was just a 10-15 minute drive straight along Fulton until we reached the Pacific Ocean. For the majority of the journey we passed an especially verdant Golden Gate Park on our left, whilst from the passenger side of the car, we caught occasional and tantalising glimpses of the towers of the glorious Golden Gate Bridge looming over the equally healthy trees of the Presidio.
We parked a few hundred yards short of the Cliff House to enable us to take in the bracing appetite enhancing air for a few minutes before we entered the bistro. The ocean presented what was, for us, an unprecedentedly turbulent picture with a swift succession of high rolling waves chasing away anyone brave or foolhardy enough to venture too close to it.
The scene was a busy one – joggers passing in either direction and at varying speeds, people , like us, strolling contentedly in a wind induced state of dishevelment – but most of all, dogs everywhere enjoying the freedom and excitement of exploring the endless expanse of beach. We must have seen twenty species, from caped miniature poodles and chihuahuas and striking, enigmatic huskies to imposing rottweilers. We felt as if we were committing an act of animal cruelty by not having one of our own to exercise. Momentarily, I contemplated hiring one for the week, because, after all, this is San Francisco and I’m sure it is possible. I don’t think, however, pets are allowed in the apartment – ah well! (And just as I typed this I’ve spotted a very cute dog in the back garden – think it belongs to upstairs!).
We had a twenty minute wait for our table, giving us the opportunity to check on coming events (Wednesday prix fixe menu and jazz evenings) and look in the gift shop. We both ordered, tradition again, Eggs San Francisco (two poached eggs and crab on toasted sourdough bread with roasted potatoes and fruit) – delicious. Feeling replete we took another longer walk in the burgeoning sunshine along the beach towards the south, exploring the bonfire pits on the way. Crossing the Great Highway for the return to our car, we called in at the Beach Chalet to look at the fabulous murals depicting everyday scenes of San Francisco history.
We abandoned our planned food shopping trip as we needed time to get ready for the evening (and for me to finish my blog). The mild, partly cloudy late afternoon weather encouraged us to take the long walk from our North of the Panhandle (NOPA) hangout to Club Fugazi in North Beach for the early evening performance of Beach Blanket Babylon. The near hour and a half journey took in some of the less salubrious parts of the city (Fillmore and Civic Center) before turning off Market Street to snake through Grant in the heart of Chinatown.
Inevitably and sadly, there were no shortage of vagrants in the Civic Center vicinity, though we witnessed no intimidating panhandling. I did purchase a copy of Street Sheet from a man who bore an uncanny resemblance to the queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs when she dresses as a witch and tempts Snow White with a poisoned apple. He even had the hunch back and hood. But he was very friendly and appreciative of my $2 donation.
For the unitiated, the Street Sheet is a magazine that has been published by the Coalition on Homelessness since 1989, and is designed to provide information and support programmes for homeless people. The philosophy is not dissimilar from that of The Big Issue in the UK, whereby it enables its extremely poor vendors the opportunity to earn money for food, shelter and other necessities.
We joined an already lengthy line outside Club Fugazi around 50 minutes before showtime. I collected our tickets from the box office and took my place in the line. We were surrounded by around a dozen boisterous and slightly drunk ladies of a certain age taking in the show as part of a bachelorette party. Whilst we didn’t begrudge them their fun we did hope that their seats were in a different part of the auditorium. Our prayers were answered as they lurched off to the area close to the stage on the ground floor whilst we were escorted to our seats in the center balcony – having been five times now this is our preferred area to watch the show. Arming ourselves with a bottle of Woodbridge White Zinfandel and a large packet of pretzels we were ready to cheer Snow White on her worldwide search for a prince.
Once again, Beach Blanket Babylon delivered. Although we had only been this time last year there was still a lot of new content along with the familiar old staples. The highlight for me was when San Francisco Giants baseball stars Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson (no, not the real ones) burst onto the stage holding the World Series trophy and singing We Are the Champions. The Queen‘s appalled putdown of the upcoming wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton was hilarious and a typical Beach Blanket Babylon satirical slant on a subject that is all too often treated too reverently.
We had decided that we would try the North Beach Restaurant for dinner for the first time, provided we could get in (we hadn’t booked). The restaurant looked very busy, but on presenting ourselves at the front desk, we were whisked to the only free table, for two, adjacent to the kitchen. That may not sound the most appealing location but Janet found it fascinating, catching regular momentary glimpses of the frenzied behind the scenes action as the front of house staff went swiftly went about their work.
But what of the food and service? This was traditional Italian fine dining at its best. My linguine with porcini mushrooms and scallops was outstanding, as was Janet’s seafood risotto – both surpassing the excellent meals we had enjoyed at the Riva Grill in South Lake Tahoe. And our waiter was suave, attentive and witty. We would thoroughly recommend this establishment and certainly intend to dine there again.
I had wanted to visit The Beat Museum on Broadway for some time, so as the night was still young (10pm), we called in. Although the museum itself had already closed for the day, we spent some time perusing the bookshelves and other fascinating memorabilia, and I bought a couple of books I had not seen before, one the 700 page Hippie Dictionary – A Cultural Encyclopedia of the 1960s and 1970s by John Bassett McCleary and The Beats – A Graphic History. On leaving we strolled around the fleshpots and nightclubs of Broadway before fleeing back into civilisation at Vesuvio’s bar on Jack Kerouac Boulevard. Again, we were fortunate in claiming what must have been the only two seats available, at the bar. After a couple of drinks we walked down Montgomery through the Financial District before boarding a number 5 MUNI bus at Market to transport us back to the apartment.