One thing I really appreciated about San Francisco was how easy it was to get around the city without a car. With the city’s efficient bus system and the help of Google Maps, my friends and I felt pretty comfortable navigating the city on our own.
But not having a car also led to some interesting detours, especially on our third day in the city. We got a little lost, but that forced us to familiarize ourselves with the city much better.
Our original plan was to leave the hotel by 8:30 a.m. to catch a bus down Market Street for breakfast at a bakery called Andersen. Then we would visit Alamo Square — home of the often-photographed row of Victorian houses known as the “Painted Ladies” — before heading to the pier for our 10 a.m. city sightseeing tour.
That plan didn’t run as smoothly as we would’ve liked. Not only did we leave the hotel later than we had planned, we arrived at the Market Street Andersen Bakery only to find that it was closed. I suppose it was because it was Saturday and we were in a business district.
But I did snap a photo of the Twitter headquarters which was right across the street. As geeky as it sounds, I was really excited to see this in person!
We checked Google Maps to guide us to the nearest Andersen Bakery which ended up being in Japantown, a 20-minute bus ride away including one transfer.
That may sound simple, and it would’ve been if we didn’t get off the bus a few stops too soon. So we ended up having to wait 15 minutes for the next bus to drive us to our actual stop we needed to get off at. After the bus picked us up and dropped us at our intended stop, we accidentally caught a bus that went in the opposite direction. So we had to get off and wait for the right bus to finally take us to Japantown.
About an hour later, we finally ended up at the right location.
If you read one of my previous posts about when I visited Andersen Bakery in Hiroshima, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan.
An interesting tidbit about this European-style bakery is that it originated in Japan, but its founder Shunsuke Takaki was heavily influenced by the bread and pastries of Denmark. The bakery’s name actually comes from the “Andersen” in Hans Christian Andersen.
Today, there are several locations all over Japan, Denmark and California.
After my excellent first impression of this place in Japan, I convinced Lauren and Tannia we needed to check it out in San Francisco.
Once we got to Japantown, we entered a mall with shops and eateries called Japan Center.
As we walked through the west end going east, we reached Andersen: a bright, modern and snug shop welcoming customers with a variety of freshly baked breads and pastries.
I ordered a blueberry danish — since they didn’t have the dark cherry pastry like in Japan — and clam chowder.
The clam chowder was delicious, but the danish — with a flaky exterior surrounding a rich custard center topped with fresh blueberries and drizzled with a coat of syrup — was exceptionally good.
Both were worth the long waits for buses and random detours.
City Sightseeing Tour
We missed the 10 a.m. city sightseeing tour, but made it in time for the 12:30 p.m. tour which involved riding through the city on a red open-air school bus.
The highlight of the tour was stopping at the entrance point of the Golden Gate Bridge to snap a few photos.
I was just in disbelief at how beautiful the day turned out to be: With not a cloud in the sky and no usual fog over the bridge, it offered perfectly clear views of the Golden Gate Bridge in all its glory.
It sounds corny, but the drive over the bridge was a completely exhilarating feeling, with the sudden temperature drop and the wind in my hair.
Driving over the bridge took us to Sausalito, a seemingly affluent community in Marin County. The city’s temperature is generally warmer than San Francisco which, according to our tour guide, is primarily due to the steep hillsides blocking the fog from descending to sea level.
The city — with its waterfront and lively shopping district — seemed quaint and charming. Our tour guide said Otis Redding got his inspiration for his “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” here in Sausalito.
Overall, with our bus driver’s interesting narrations as he took us to major attractions, I felt the tour was a great way to see major parts of San Francisco at a glance.
Blue Bottle Coffee
After we got back to the Fisherman’s Wharf area, I split up from my friends to meet up with my cousin’s friend John (who gave me his list of San Francisco recommendations) for coffee.
He suggested meeting at Blue Bottle Coffee in the Ferry Building about 2 miles from Fisherman’s Wharf in which I took advantage of the F-Line streetcar to get to — a straight shot to the Ferry Building.
I very much enjoyed the mocha I ordered — which used TCHO chocolate made right down the street on Pier 17. The rich flavors and unique quality of the espresso combined with the chocolate reminded me of a lot of espresso drinks I would get when I lived in Seattle.
It was great talking to John, overlooking the picturesque waters off the pier and listening to his stories about what made San Francisco such an amazing city and why he decided to call it home.
I met back up with Lauren and Tannia at Fisherman’s Wharf. That’s where Tannia’s friend Jen, who lives in San Francisco, would pick us up to take us around the city.
Since we missed Alamo Square earlier that day, Jen was nice enough to take us there.
After parking, we climbed up the hill of the park to get a good view of the “Painted Ladies.” Although an annoying afternoon shadow was cast over half the houses, it was still a nice photo op nonetheless.
I was just waiting for the Tanners from the TV show “Full House” to emerge from the bottom of the hill for a family picnic!
Since there are no Trader Joe’s stores in Hawaii, when Hawaii residents go on trips to the mainland, it’s pretty much an unspoken rule that they go to Trader Joe’s to pick up some gifts for friends and family back home.
So without hesitation, Jen offered to take us here.
It seems that Cookie Butter from Trader Joe’s is the latest craze — I mean, I suppose it is pretty amazing the way it oozes on your bread when just toasted and the way the Speculoos bits crunch in your mouth.
My dad recently went on a trip to Phoenix to visit my aunt so I put in a request to bring back several jars of Cookie Butter. After searching high and low at several different Trader Joe’s locations, they were mostly sold out with the exception of the new Cookie Butter Swirl flavor.
But when Jen took us to Trader Joe’s and I went to the section with all the jams and spreads, there was a whole shelf of Cookie Butter! Anxiously, I grabbed nearly 10 jars, but about 15 minutes later, I decided 10 was a little excessive and put eight back on the shelf.
It was dinnertime so we all agreed to drive back over to Japantown where we would meet up with another one of Tannia’s friends named Susan.
First, we stopped at Daiso — the Japanese version of the Dollar Tree — since we don’t have this back home. I found a cell phone car charger, hair bands and other nicknacks for less than $3 a pop. We each bought reusable bags to save on San Francisco’s 10 cent fee for checkout bags.
As we walked through Japan Center, flanked by rows of inexpensive traditional Japanese restaurants, we were faced with a tough decision of where to go for dinner. After much deliberation, we finally chose Mifune, which cooked up everything from udon noodles to sushi.
I ordered an oyako donburi (a hot bowl of scrambled eggs and chicken over rice) — the perfect solution for dealing with the cold weather outside — and split a dragon sushi roll with Tannia.
San Francisco reminds me of Seattle in many ways, especially with its prevalence of bubble tea — a Taiwanese-based drink which usually contains black tea, milk and chewy tapioca balls — shops.
When I lived in Seattle, hanging out at bubble tea shops with friends and sipping on milk tea was one of my favorite pastimes. So I was really excited when Susan and Jen suggested taking us to one of their favorite bubble tea spots — a little hole-in-the-wall bakery called Sweet Hut in the Inner Richmond neighborhood.
My tapioca milk tea — that had the perfect amount of sweetness — made for a refreshingly delectable treat.
After we all got our drinks, we walked around the street and browsed some of the shops including a cute vintage bookstore called Green Apple Books that sold a wide range of used books.
Browsing a bookstore with one of my favorite desserts of all time? I could live with this.
2 thoughts on “Postcard 19.2: San Francisco, California”
I live in San Francisco and this is actually such a good overview! Daiso is one of my faaavorite place, so many adorable and cheap little gifts. I just wrote a little post on the Ferry Building as well 🙂 You seriously hit a lot of the great spots in SF, nice job!
Thanks for your comment! I checked out your site and enjoyed your post on the Ferry Building… I’m bummed that I missed out on that place where you got that grilled cheese sandwich. It looked delicious. Btw it’s awesome that you still blog about SF even though you live there! It seems like the kind of place where there’s always something new to see/do. 🙂