Features

Best of the Gazette

As the Gazette began culling a “best of ” list of Bay Area locales for this issue, it felt hollow. Our region boasts the best of the best — from food and shopping to hiking trails and magical vistas. Sure, we could have published a long list of bullet points, but we dove deeper. Instead, we tapped the personal favorites of our staff and contributors, highlighting quirky ’hoods, lush parks, public art and favorite eateries. Most of these spots aren’t glitzy, but they’re genuinely amazing — and provide a glimpse inside the minds, and walking shoes, of our team.

A bite of the Peninsula

My must-stops on the Peninsula almost always center on alluring eats. After all, there’s plenty of devilish deliciousness to indulge in here, starting with the Sunday farmers market in downtown Mountain View, one of the largest and most popular in the region. Bring along a big tote bag, and hope the parking karma gods are on your side so you can meander past 80 stands to pick up grass-fed beef and lamb, organic berries, just-caught fish, hearty breads made with fresh-milled flour, refreshing aguas frescas and even sheep’s-milk yogurt ice pops.

From there, it’s a short walk to downtown’s Castro Street to put together your own bakery walk, as three distinctive ones are mere steps from one another. At Maison Alyzee, go for the burnished canneles and a Passiano, a passionfruit-and-blackberry-filled sponge cake strikingly shaped like a Russian onion dome. Head next door to Hong Kong Chinese Bakery, a mom-and-pop establishment that’s been around for 40 years with a stellar reputation for egg custard tarts, huge baked pork buns and year-round moon cakes. (Just note that it’s cash only.) Cross the street to Alexander’s Patisserie for matcha croissants, handmade chocolates and macarons in every color of the rainbow.

Don’t forget to visit the nearby family-owned Therapy Stores, where shelves tempt with cool-girl clothing, artsy books, scented candles and irreverent knickknacks. Continue to Los Altos to explore Dittmer’s, a butcher shop and deli that opened in 1978. This is the place to load up on homemade sausages, such as cheesy brats and venison andouille. For dinner and a nightcap, make a beeline to the new BarZola, an addition to Zola restaurant. It’s a cozy taste of the French countryside in downtown Palo Alto, where you can kick back with beef short-rib bourguignon and five categories of cocktails, including low-alcohol and no-alcohol versions crafted with house-made ingredients.

For good measure, the next day go for a brisk hike through the marshlands of Shoreline Park in Mountain View. The wide Bay trail beckons walkers, joggers, skaters and cyclists of all levels who are always on the lookout for great blue herons and quick-ascan- be jackrabbits.

— Carolyn Jung
Contributing Writer

 

Such great heights

I’m a newly converted early riser, so my perfect day begins at dawn at the original Philz Coffee in the Mission District. With an iced Ginger Snap (medium cream, medium sugar) in hand, I’ll set out on Folsom for the climb up to Bernal Heights. I love the haunting morning view of the silvery fog shrouding downtown. After pausing to take it in, I stroll through the maze of hidden staircases descending the back side of the hill until I land on Guerrero Street.

Heading to the corner of 19th Street, I’ll pop into Dolores Outpost, a convenience store known for its obscure selection of Japanese snacks, and grab a yuzu-flavored sparkling water and some Pocky to tide me over for the next leg of the journey. Nineteenth Street twists its way through Dolores Park and past the wildflower bushes at the base of Kite Hill, depositing me at another network of secret staircases. Those stairs deliver me to the top of Tank Hill, where I’ll take a quick meditation break at the eastern-facing bench that overlooks the Bay Bridge, with Mount Diablo in the distance.

Heading down Tank Hill’s western path, I’ll end up in Cole Valley and put my name in at Zazie for brunch — their gingerbread pancakes and Dungeness crab Benedict are worth braving the crowds for. If there’s a long wait, I’ll head to Haight Street to peruse the vintage clothing collection at Wasteland. After a satiating meal, I’ll wander up 17th Street to the entrance of the Interior Greenbelt. Getting lost in the forest almost makes me forget I’m in a major metropolis.

If I can find my way back to civilization, I’ll walk northwest into Golden Gate Park. Passing by the drummers on Hippie Hill and through the serene AIDS Memorial Grove, I’ll stop at the de Young Museum to check out the latest exhibition. The N Judah line is only a few blocks south in the Inner Sunset, so I’ll hop aboard and ride out to Ocean Beach. It’ll be late afternoon when I arrive — perfect timing for some live music and a dozen oysters in the backyard of the Beach Chalet.

I never make it to the coast without dipping my toes in the mighty Pacific, so I’ll frolic along the water just in time for sunset. It’ll get dark by dinnertime, and luckily, I’m near some of the finest Asian restaurants in the Sunset District. My favorite, Terra Cotta Warrior, has the best hand-pulled noodles I’ve ever tasted. I’ll grab an order to go and bring them back to my apartment in Duboce Triangle.

It’s been a long and full day, but if I have any semblance of energy left after dinner, I’ll walk a few blocks up Divisadero Street for a nightcap at Madrone. Their buzzy parklet and friendly faces will be a joyful end to my San Francisco adventure.

— Carly Schwartz
Editor in Chief

Public art — and palate pleasers

Picking my favorite Peninsula spots is no easy task. To help winnow things down, I asked myself: If I were showing someone around for the day, what would that day look like?

It would start at Tōno Coffee Project in Palo Alto, the only place you can procure pastries by John Shelsta, aka Love for Butter, aside from the chef ’s own weekly pop-ups that often sell out. From there, it’s a short trek to Stanford University for public art consumption. In addition to the world-renowned Rodin Sculpture Garden — situated next to the Cantor Arts Center, the Anderson Collection and Andy Goldsworthy’s Stone River — there’s plenty more to see. And it’s all free! There’s Alexander Calder’s The Falcon stabile, Josef Albers’ Stanford Wall and the Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden, to name a few. The Arizona Cactus Garden is another on-campus highlight.

For lunch, Back A Yard Caribbean Grill in Menlo Park beckons. (Chef Robert Simpson is also the proprietor of Coconuts in Palo Alto.) A great way to walk off the delectable Jamaican patties, braised oxtail and fried plantains? Exploring Filoli, the historic estate that includes a 16-acre garden, or hiking Djerassi, which is dotted with 60-plus site-inspired sculptures. Both are located in Woodside and require advance tickets or registration.

Also in Woodside is Emily Joubert, whose founder, Judy Sieber, travels far and wide to source items for her home and garden boutique. For further shopping, a number of Peninsula cities boast wonderful downtowns. I’m partial to Burlingame, where locally owned fashion purveyors Les Deux Copines and Sam Malouf Authentic Luxury are across the street from each other on Burlingame Avenue. And nearby is the newest Anthem Home retail outpost.

If the day’s itinerary calls for a casual dinner, Sumika Grill in Los Altos is my go-to. Although it’s hard not to fill up on karaage and skewers here, try to save room for the black sesame panna cotta. For a more elevated dining experience, Michelinstarred Protégé in Palo Alto — where chef Anthony Secviar’s Spanish octopus and ricotta dumplings have been menu mainstays for very good reason — is hard to beat.

— Anh-Minh Le
Contributing Writer

Best of work and play

Without a doubt, my best day in 2021 begins with dropping off both of my children, ages 7 and 5, at their public school for what we now call “in-person learning” — but even more importantly, in-person playing. On-site aftercare is finally open again for the first time since March 2020. (The value of daily affordable child care for two full-time working parents — and the shocking absence of it during the pandemic — cannot be underestimated.)

This means I have uninterrupted time — hours of it. The fact that my best day is a workday is not lost on me. It’s the kind I’ve missed — one that unfolds without a snack request 10 minutes after breakfast or a sibling squabble in need of a referee. While it’s been a privilege to publish a magazine remotely, just as it’s been to kiss my children’s booboos when they happen, I am still just one human. I sometimes short-circuit from the overstimulation of it all.

With a full day ahead of me, my top priority is seeing people: live, unmuted and without the awkward mirror of a screen. I cue up KQED’s Forum with Mina Kim and drive to Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park, a stretch I have strolled during countless lunch breaks, and can’t help but mourn the recent closing of Ann’s Coffee Shop, first opened in 1946. So I meet writers Emily Mangini and Anh-Minh Le instead at the darling Mademoiselle Colette and talk shop with these contributors I have gotten to know solely over email. In our Peninsula community, this means sharing stories — about who is doing good work and why it’s interesting.

After cappuccino and a buttery croissant, I cross El Camino, abuzz as cranes erect new multistory buildings in either direction, and pop into Kepler’s Books to browse new releases. I buy The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson, who wrote about UC Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna, featured in our December issue for her Nobel Prize –winning work on gene editing.

I then drive up 280 and head into the office at the stunning Merchants Exchange building in the Financial District (let’s get a move on with those electric air taxis, Silicon Valley!). Gloria Steinem has often said her idea of heaven is an editorial meeting, and it’s those brainstorming sessions that I have missed the most. The creative energy runs like a current around a room that’s not Zoom as we slate the next several issues (hey, my Type A-ish mind can dream). Even as downtown still largely sleeps, I feel alive with the rush of creating again in the city I called home for most of my 20s, where I met my husband at Hemlock Tavern on Polk Street, and where I earned my storytelling stripes.

I wrap up in time for a reservation at Rooh’s Palo Alto location with dear high school friends from Castilleja. We have been doing masked backyard meet-ups, but to hear the contagious relief of our laughter flit around our parklet table, you’d think this was our first night out in a long time. And it is, our conversations given time to unfold over an entire meal of delicious Indian fare we haven’t shopped or prepped or cooked or cleaned. (Today, there are no dishes!)

Back at home, I tuck in my babies and hear about their day, what they did with their own uninterrupted hours — when they didn’t have to wait for me or my husband to get off a call, when they could swing from the monkey bars and build up those calluses again. When we all had the time to miss each other.

— Jennifer Massoni Pardini
Senior Editor

A west side story

It’s a gorgeous day on the west side of San Francisco. We’re not talking about just left of Van Ness on the map, as a lot of Gazette readers might think — we’re hard by the beach, ensconced in the Outside Lands, roaming the wilds of the Avenues, deep in the heart of the Outer Sunset. It’s Saturday and the summer sun is in full bloom, but the chilly breeze coming off the blue and windy sea keeps us cool as always.

Weekends are for brunch, and the place to start is New Taraval Cafe. Proprietor Stanley Lui, who took over for his aging parents several years ago, has used his venue to engage in the sort of activities that you don’t see at just any old greasy spoon — Burger night popups! Cookie dough takeout! — but if he’s forgotten his roots as a slinger of bacon and eggs, you wouldn’t know it from the contents of your plate. His prices remain eminently reasonable, indirectly proportional to his portions.

My 8-year-old is addicted to his bicycle, so we offset brunch with a ride along the upper Great Highway; Lincoln to Sloat and back puts 7 miles under our belts and empties the fuel tanks. The hunt for an afternoon snack takes us to Devil’s Teeth Baking Company in the little commercial district at the foot of Noriega Street, where we choose from a variety of rich sandwiches, drinks and baked goods, including the house scones that pair perfectly with a cup of black coffee.

The lad now has more energy that must be burned off. Lots more outdoor activities beckon, especially so close to Golden Gate Park, but we opt for a meetup with other kids and parents from school at the West Sunset Playground and Ortega Branch Library. We refresh our bedtime reading material, then he’s back on his bike as he and his classmates pursue each other around the gigantic outdoor recreation facility, laughing and chatting endlessly.

As the day grows late, he gets to pick dinner, so we drive to his favorite — The BullsHead in West Portal. The burgers at this 42-year-old purveyor of no-frills, high-protein plates are a constant draw, and I know he’ll be asking for a onethird- pound bison bacon cheeseburger with fries and a pink lemonade. The waitress knows him by name. He asks her for “the usual.”

On the drive home, we head back downhill as the golden sun, low in the evening sky, reflects off the Pacific. Fog lingers off the coast. It’s home. It’s heaven.

— Terry Forte
Production

Everything you could want

It begins with a workout at the Bay Club, with a nice steam and sauna to set up the day. Jetting back up to my neighborhood, Nob Hill, I hit Cafe Isabella for a double capp and walk over to Huntington Square for the usual peopleand dog watching on the benches by the fountain, where I hear all the neighborhood scuttlebutt as I sip my morning drink and say my hellos to the neighborhood dogs (I don’t have one and this is how I get my fix until Clint approves a Nob Hill Gazette mascot I can bring to work). Then I make a stop at Le Beau, our friendly neighborhood market. I always grab bottles of wine (yes, plural — they have a good selection), and end up buying their roasted chicken at the deli for dinner multiple times a week. I tell everyone: For a corner store, they have everything you could want — including my favorite Snyder’s Sourdough Nibblers pretzels —and the team of workers has been there for years. They’re like family.

I drop off my purchases at home and get ready to leave the house for the day and enjoy the outdoors. I have a fun group of friends that is always up for an adventure. I love to walk, so I’ll take a long walk down to the Golden Gate Bridge, enjoy the incredible view of the Bay while crossing over and meet my friends in Sausalito at the Spinnaker restaurant for a well-deserved cocktail, some eats and a few laughs on the deck by the water. To top off the day, we’ll board Schooner Freda B for a sunset sail in the Sausalito marina right across the way. The crew is awesome and they provide an incredible sail in the Bay. The scenery is electric as the sun sets on the horizon, and I am present, taking it all in and appreciating what our great city offers. We are blessed to live in such an amazing place. Then it’s an Uber ride home, unless I hitch a ride with a friend. That’s my perfect day!

— Jill Pietrowiak
Director of Operations and Partnerships

Green thoughts

The day begins in Potrero Hill, where I’ll grab a mocha from Farley’s and an everything bagel at Hazel’s Kitchen on 18th Street. These two businesses have been a pillar in the neighborhood for as long as I can remember, and provide fuel for some garden work at Pennsylvania Street Garden, which has been a labor of love for my wife and me over the years. We have dedicated a good number of Saturdays — along with our fellow volunteers — to caring for the 1-acre freeway off-ramp garden. It has become a refuge for the community as well as a destination garden for visitors who can see how drought-tolerant plants can be used in Northern California gardens.

Inspired? The next stop is Flora Grubb, just down the road in the Bayview District. You can find all sorts of interesting plants, from cacti to ferns. It’s part garden tour, part retail therapy. And it’s hard to leave without a plant!

For lunch, it’s definitely dumplings, and my go-to these days is Dumpling Time on Division Street. I absolutely love everything I have tasted at this spot. One of my favorite dishes is the Tom Yum soup dumplings.

It’s time for a mini road trip to the Bay Area’s most interesting garden: the Ruth Bancroft Garden & Nursery in Walnut Creek. World-renowned agave expert Brian Kemble is the curator and brings his expertise to the otherworldly landscaping, which features a selection of plants you won’t see anywhere else. On the way back across the Bay, I’ll stop at the Cactus Jungle in Berkeley and the Dry Garden in Oakland for more plant perusing. The Dry Garden, in particular, has an amazing selection of hard-to-find plants. You never know what might pop up. We’ve seen aloe polyphylla there and a variegated form of pampas grass that is sterile (and isn’t invasive) that adds wonderful soft foliage to a low-water garden.

We drop off our new plant purchases at home, then head back out to wrap up the day in the Mission District, where I’ll indulge in some plant-based Mexican food at Gracias Madre. It’s a place that anyone can enjoy, vegan or not. Oh, to be in a crowded and vibrant restaurant again hearing the spikes of laughter and glasses clinking among friends!

— Matthew Petty
Director of User Experience

The local’s Sausalito

A number of my favorite businesses — and views — can be found in Sausalito. The Friday night 5:30 p.m. ferry from San Francisco’s Ferry Building is always a blast. Everyone is in a good mood at the cocktail bar and the 30-minute boat ride is the perfect amount of time to enjoy a sauvignon blanc or cocktail of your choice. The bar is cash only, but if you forget, there’s usually a friendly passenger who will step in. The ferry is currently on hiatus but, fingers crossed, it will be back soon.

I often start my day at Golden Gate Market. Daniel and the gang have transformed the place into a neighborhood gem, complete with a world-class coffee bar. Aussie Dave heats the extra half-and-half in my Americano and gives great advice on everything from placing an aging parent in assisted living to the best bike rides in Marin. The deli kicks butt, too — it has everything from salads and wraps from Burma Star to the homemade soups made by the store’s original owner, Robert, and the signature Witchy Vegan and Hungry Pilgrim sandwiches. I love the latter, made with turkey and fresh stuffing.

Since it’s a small town, exploring Sausalito on foot is the way to go. When I leave Golden Gate Market, I make a right on Third Street and follow it to North, make a left and go up the Cable Roadway steps. Then I take a right on Crescent, a left on Sausalito Avenue, and another left to end up on Prospect, which is parallel to Highway 101. From there, I go up the steps to the fire station, then cross (under the highway) at the Spencer exit and pick up the Morning Sun trailhead, which leads me to Wolfback Ridge Road and, finally, the SCA trail. The SCA leads up to the Golden Gate Bridge or, in the opposite direction, down past the bunker to the Cavallo Point Lodge, which is a great spot for a leisurely brunch on the veranda. They recently opened the upper level, which offers spectacular views of the bridge. Ask for Frederick: He’s a fantastic server and has been working there since they opened 14 years ago.

The recently renovated Southview Park (on North Street between Third and Fourth streets) has the best views of any park in Sausalito. It’s a popular spot, with its tennis courts, basketball court and a play structure with a soft bouncy surface. It’s a hub of activity, from middle schoolers playing lacrosse to teens shooting hoops and older folks enjoying tennis and pickleball. I love seeing this park come back to life with young families enjoying the swings and brandnew playground equipment.

Before I know it, it’s dinnertime. Sausalito also offers great casual dining alfresco. Sean Saylor managed to keep Saylor’s Restaurant and Bar open (and his employees on payroll) during the pandemic by sheer force of will and offering really good Mexican takeout. When outside dining was eventually allowed, he rented plastic bubble tents for physical distancing on the back patio. The bubbles are gone but the patio is fantastic — and warm and protected even when the wind is whipping down the hill as it does in the summer. Another plus: Pets are allowed.

— Karen Fraser
Executive Director of Brand Partnerships

The rhythms of North Beach

Like all of the world’s great neighborhoods — and how many American quarters can legitimately claim membership in that exalted club? — North Beach has its own rhythms, rituals and recurrent characters, which together create what writer Jane Jacobs memorably called “the ballet of the good city sidewalk.” The great urbanist was talking about Greenwich Village, but North Beach has its own familiar, lovely, ever-changing dance. The dance and the day begins with a stroll down upper Grant Avenue, still rubbing the sleep out of its late-partying eyes at 8 a.m., to get coffee at Caffe Trieste. Barista Paul, who just celebrated 30 years there, is often working the morning shift, and he rings up my Africano without asking. A Trieste Africano is an old-school caffeine hand grenade. It’s lighter on the milk than a latte, and injects the life-giving speed directly into the neural receptors, producing an elevated heart rate and a tendency to make obsessive conversation. The latter quality is useful at Trieste, since it is populated by a ragtag band of poets, musicians, writers, filmmakers, eccentric older gentlemen in retirement and other types noted for small bank accounts and big mouths.

Now sufficiently jump-started, I head back up Grant, turn right up the ski-jump-ramp-steep Filbert Street and walk up to Coit Tower. With luck, the wild parrots will be eating berries on a tree to the left of the stairs — when the sunlight illuminates their red heads and impossibly gaudy green bodies from 3 feet away, the day is off to a psychedelic start. Old Chinese men and women are walking around the tower, doing their morning exercises just as they have been doing since Sun Yat-sen was hanging out in Chinatown. We exchange friendly nods. As true San Franciscans know, the apparent dourness of the Chinese is only a surface phenomenon.

At lunch, I take my dog down to Washington Square, one of the oldest and most charming parks in the City, populated by an unpredictable mixture of tourists, weird local loons, people more or less permanently experiencing homelessness, a few tech bros and other members of the park’s unruly corps de ballet.

I knock off in the early evening, wander back through the park, amble down bustling Columbus and stop in for a tissue restorative at Vesuvio, the Beat-era bar next to City Lights Books with its fabulous mezzanine, or its equally cool neighbor Specs’, on the other side of Columbus. It’s hard not to go past City Lights, for 68 years one of the world’s great bookstores and the cultural heart of the neighborhood, without stopping in to sample the free all-you-can-eat intellectual and aesthetic buffet. Then it’s back up Grant, now jumping and preparing to earn its hangover, the usual derelicts and dreamers getting their drank on outside Maggie McGarry’s and Tupelo. Music is wafting down the street from four different places, including an excellent flute-andguitar duo playing jazz standards in front of, what else, the flute store on the corner of Union and Grant. I pop into the Live Worms Gallery and check out the art, then turn left on Green. This was always a gorgeous block, and with the outdoor spaces spawned by COVID, it has become an urban-nightlife dream, all colored lights and Renoir celebrants. A glass of wine at Belle Cora, a slice of pizza from Golden Boy (in this reverie there is no line), and I walk up the hill to home at the end of another ordinary, perfect North Beach day.

— Gary Kamiya
Contributing Writer

Cycling through bliss

San Francisco — even with its famous hills — is a wonderful city to explore by bicycle, and one of my ideal destinations is well within biking range from anywhere near the core of the City.

Spoiler: We’re heading to North Beach! From the Mission/Castro area I head east toward Mission Bay, then find my way over the Caltrain tracks to the funky houseboats that line Mission Creek (aka Shit Creek). I cross over either the Third Street Bridge (the Lefty O’Doul Bridge) or the Fourth Street Bridge (which I like to call the “Righty O’Doul Bridge”), go past the backside of Oracle Park and then get on the wide multiuse path that serves as a bike route along the Embarcadero, taking care to give pedestrians a wide berth. If it’s crowded, I’ll take the bike lane on the street. Even during days when the winds inevitably pick up and bring in summer fog, the mornings are typically serene and sunny in this part of town.

Getting to North Beach from here via the flattest route means going to Mason, where I can then head inland. My goal is Coit Tower, but even with the granniest of granny gears on my bike I won’t pedal ALL the way up to the tower (the pro cyclists who raced in Giro di San Francisco time trials struggled up that hill themselves, so no thanks!). But I can make it up at least to the Guglielmo Marconi Memorial statue.

When I get to Coit Tower, I park my bike and head inside to visit the murals from 1934, frescoes that were done by artists in the pilot Public Works of Art Project (an early part of the FDR administration’s “alphabet soup” New Deal program). They captured Depression-era California through the lens of social realism, and their work stands as a document of how people lived and worked back then. It’s not perfect (there are only three Black faces, for instance, and the agricultural workers depicted seem predominantly white, reflecting perhaps the artists’ own social circles). When things get back to normal, I advise taking a tour of the murals through SF City Guides, which offers free walking tours that cover so many San Francisco historical and cultural highlights. They are a truly great resource that more folks should take advantage of.

After marveling at the 360-degree views, I head back to the flatlands of North Beach and stop by Liguria Bakery for the only thing they’ve made since 1911: focaccia. It’s a piece of disappearing San Francisco, so savor the experience while you still can. Life is short, which is what I tell myself as I devour the carbs and plan to make my next stop at XOX Truffles. These silky chocolate knots from proprietor Jean-Marc Gorce come in a range of flavors. After this treat, I’m set: I’ve taken in great views, visited a historical landmark with some privileged vistas, eaten amazing local goodies — and all while getting some exercise. I may continue along the water, past Fort Mason and Crissy Field. Is that the Golden Gate Bridge? Hey, I hear it has a bike lane. Let’s go!

— John Angelico
Digital Content Contributor

Walk this way

It starts on Clement Street, late morning. I’m with my friend Cindy, who has known me since high school and shares my love of marathon walks, vintage finds and spontaneous San Francisco outings. This particular weekend excursion is one we’ve done for years, and while some of the venues and scenery have changed, the ritual has survived our own changes in style and life (moves, marriage, kids). In the early days, we’d get brunch; later, we’d switch to coffee and a pastry at the Toy Boat, which is still thriving as Toy Boat by Jane.

One thing to note: We are always on foot — at least for the first stretch. When we leave the cafe, we walk up Clement toward Arguello and zigzag up California Street for a few blocks before cutting over to Sacramento, home of our favorite consignment store: Goodbyes. Over the years, we’ve found countless new and pre-loved treasures. Cindy heads straight for the shoe room (her past scores include rag & bone booties and distressed red Frye boots). My finds have ranged from comfy cotton Frank & Eileen button-up shirts and a favorite Ralph Lauren cocktail dress to a (still) puzzling midlife-crisis purchase: wacky, brand-new black leather Prada robot sneakers. I have learned that you buy when you see: To this day, I mourn the Miu Miu handbag and vintage Miriam Haskell beaded necklace that got away.

By the time we leave Goodbyes, the sun is out, and the day swells with possibility. We head to the Lyon Street steps and begin the descent, stopping to marvel at the intoxicating views that make us feel giddy and overwhelmingly fortunate. When we reach the bottom, we meander through the Marina. Union Street is constantly changing, and I feel a pang of nostalgia when I think of the great businesses that have lined the street over the years — from estate jewelry boutiques (my Edwardian engagement ring came from one) to offbeat shops (I once purchased an undergarment from Carol Doda, who was a gracious and patient salesperson). Thankfully, Ringolevio, the hair salon run by the charming and chatty Bob Cinti, is still going strong.

Before we know it, it’s late afternoon. Neither of us wants to go up the Lyon Street steps, so we catch the 28 Muni bus outbound on Lombard Street, which provides postcard- worthy scenery as it winds its way to the parking lot of the Golden Gate Bridge, where half the bus empties and a new group embarks with maps and souvenirs in hand. We hop off at Park Presidio and Geary, not far from where we started, stretch our legs and gear up for the shortest walk of the day: a 10-minute, 10-block trek to Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant, where — on a perfect, serendipitous San Francisco day — two seats beckon at the bar and two margaritas are coming right up.

— Jennifer Blot
Contributing Editor

Blown away

The epic atmospherics of our San Francisco summer — blustery fogfilled days, bracketed this year between “May gray” and the annual “June gloom” — is my “best of ” City season. While fellow citizens may groan and launch skyward fist shakes, I silently cheer the arrival of the fog creeping in (as eloquently coined by early EssEff bohemian poet George Sterling) on “little cat feet.”

Until social media was invented way back in the 1990s, our fog was nameless: There was no #KarlTheFog, or his current Twitter usurper, #KarlaTheFog. Among barometric aficionados, the City’s storied — yet, too oft, vilified — meteorological advection is a glorious white vernal wall. Cascading wisps swoop in from Ocean Beach or surge across the Marin Headlands, enveloping the Golden Gate Bridge — and our fair City — in a mist-drenched embrace kissed by the hypnotic wail of foghorns.

Our fog often descends in a rowdy fashion. Yet the City softens then. Wailing sirens — harbingers of fear or heartbreak — are muted. Puffy jackets, rarely donned in our autumnal Indian summers, are yanked from dark closet corners. The laughter of kids, wrapped in wool scarves and caps, playing pickup ball until lights dim over city parks, is — thanks to the density of damp air — oddly amplified. That joyful cacophony echoes beyond the blacktops of Rossi or Moscone parks, culminating in a summer symphony teleported blocks away that slips through apartment windows cracked open by rent-controlled denizens.

Honestly? I long to truly pen herein that I arise early each weekend, biking the Great Highway paired with a Parkside pit stop to savor toe-tapping jams at a Taraval Street parklet fronting the Riptide, a honky-tonk of renowned camaraderie. But those who know me would spit out their coffee, laughing.

My quarter-century reportorial perch has afforded manifold “best of ” experiences. I’ve interviewed my musical hero, Tony Bennett, at civic extravaganzas. Thanks to Protocol Chief Charlotte Shultz, late philanthropist Ann Getty, social lioness Denise Hale and civic leader Dede Wilsey, my elbows have rubbed against a legion of international honchos and renowned artists (hello, David Hockney!). In the backroom of the old Tosca Cafe (then owned by North Beach raconteur Jeannette Etheredge), I reveled in stardust scattered by Sean Penn, Bono and the late journalist Christopher Hitchens. When the Giants nailed the historic 2010 World Series, the team allowed me backstage access to … Timmy! MadBum! Bochy! The red carpets I’ve trod extend across galaxies.

But after a crushing year-ish of lockdown, my inherent inner recluse still struggles to crawl out of #COVIDcave. Now, I’m a devoted fogspotter.

From my corner window perch, I eagerly welcome the fog’s muted majesty as it sound-scatters the bells of St. Ignatius across Lone Mountain while encircling the sublime green patina of the copper-domed Columbarium.

Before San Francisco was even a glint given rise to, and long after she’ll collapse unto herself — amid a civic mire of NIMBYs, bike zealots, Sunset apartment towers, YIMBYs, endless Tenderloin overdoses or SFMTAculture- canceled cable cars — there will be fog. Its exquisite tango of light, mist and moisture dancing across the horizon is not only a San Francisco “best of ” — our fog is San Francisco.

— Catherine Bigelow
Chief Social & Cultural Correspondent

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