Tuesday, April 13, 2010

San Francisco: Best for Big Children

Ask my 12-year-old daughter Eloise about her recent holiday in San Francisco and she might respond with something like this:

“I slept in my brother’s bar, The Roasted Frog, where I played darts and video games all night with his friends from business school. I spent Easter Sunday at the Hunky Jesus competition run by weird guys dressed as nuns and the Bring Your Own Big Wheels Race where everyone dresses up and rides tiny bikes really fast down a really steep hill. One time we went to a garage for breakfast and another time I started the day with salted caramel ice cream. I had some fabulous burritos and went to a Pirate Store and a prison.

Now before someone calls children’s services, let me explain:

  • The Roasted Frog is the bar/pub my son and his French roommate built in their apartment in the Mission, the hood that is part Latin barrio, part hipster hangout with a heavy concentration of cool stores and restaurants and reportedly the best weather in this city of microclimates. Nearby Dolores Park, on a fine evening or weekend, is a great place to hangout and watch the locals ‘do their thing’ which includes playing music, drinking, dog walking, tight rope walking, hula hooping and God-only knows-what-else.
  • The Hunky Jesus competition (now in its 31st year) is a much-loved Easter tradition run by the Sisters of Perpetual Devotion, an interesting group of drag queens dressed up as nuns. It’s weird and fun and reinforces whatever expectations you have about America’s pinkest city. Needs to be seen to be believed.
  • The Bring Your Own Big Wheels Race is SF mayhem and madness at its very best. Every Easter Sunday, hundreds and hundreds of San Francisco natives ride kiddie bikes down treacherous Vermont Street in Protero. (They used to ride down Lombard Street but that got shut down) Think McQueen in Bullit on a bike. Some adventurous souls ride their rubbish bins. They come as super heroes and Easter bunnies. They crash. Their bikes fall apart. The huge crowd cheers loudest for the losers.
  • Everyone should eat Bi-Rite Creamery ice cream for breakfast – it’s that good. Ditto for Tartine Bakery and Cafe (If you can’t stand to wait in line make a reservation at Bar Tartine around the corner) or Blue Bottle for Coffee or La Taqueria for burritos. In fact, the food in SF is ridiculously good almost everywhere. The best meal we had was at trendy Nopa in and old bank building in the area ‘North of the Panhandle.’
  • The Pirate Store at 826 Valencia is, unsurprisingly, “San Francisco’s only independent pirate supply store.” It is filled with all kinds of treasures including great books about writing. All proceeds go towards supporting a literacy and writing skills initiative, 826 Valnecia, started by writer, editor and publisher, Dave Eggers.
  • Even San Francisco natives who scorn most of city’s tourist attractions love Alcatraz Island. A visit to the once notorious prison includes a scenic ferry ride, and a chilling self-guided audio tour where stories of crime and punishment are brilliantly retold. Booking ahead is essential - expect crowds – but the experience is worth it. Also crowded but worth it was the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.

Actually, everything we did in San Francisco was “worth it” - and loads of fun. My oldest son, the San Francisco resident, put it this way.

“Mom, this is a city for Big Children."

He meant it as a compliment. I think his point was that in this American city of unique neighborhoods, spectacular views, wonderful food (not to mention a comprehensive public transport system and health access for all) you can grow up but you don’t have to grow old.

We’ll be back.

Photo Credit: Eloise Hedges

Idea Credit: Leland Hedges

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