If you ask my Mom what she wants to do when she visits San Francisco, the same answer always comes out of her mouth: “Just be with you.”
Well, we did that. And we threw in some sightseeing and exploring.
As usual, my Mom’s four-night trip went by in an instant. She arrived on Saturday evening, along with her friend Jeanne (who I like to call Mrs. Marquez, but we’ll stick with Jeanne for storytelling purposes today). Jeanne was the reason for the visit. She was planning to meet some of her girlfriends for a trip to wine country on Monday and suggested my Mom fly out with her knowing that we could all spend some time together in the City. Great plan!
It almost got off to a bad start. After moving through an incredibly busy downtown of traffic, due to the Nike Women’s Marathon and the BART strike, which clogged up the streets for a few days, Dave and I were nearly late to pick the ladies up from the airport.
Although their flight arrived on time, it was late for them on East Coast time. We took Jeanne directly to her hotel (she was a little tired from the cross-country flight and wanted to rest up).
The rest of us still had to eat, so from there, my Mom, Dave and I went to a nice Italian dinner in downtown South San Francisco at Sodini’s Bertolucci’s, just a few minutes from the airport, which I had already made reservations for to be prepared.
This meal was the first of many delicious ones we enjoyed over the next few days, which included a bottle of house red wine, bread, and warm entrees to fill us up.
Other than the food, I had such a great feeling just sitting there with those two faces.
After dinner, we went drove back to Nob Hill and introduced my Mom to our new apartment.
We were all pretty tired, so we quickly turned in for the night.
I had already pre-planned all of our activities, so we didn’t have to wake up and say “what do you want to do today”? It was all laid out for us.
In the morning, Jeanne came over, then we all went to Trader Joe’s for some picnic supplies and drove across the City to walk around the huge and gorgeous Golden Gate Park. While we had all dressed fairly warmly for the day, the San Francisco fog was thick, and we were all freezing once we got there. As it goes in a city with micro-climates, it was sunny and moderate near my apartment in Nob Hill, but two miles away it was foggy and cold at the park.
Even while shivering, we walked around the park’s Botanical Gardens, checking out the different trees and plants. While enjoying the quiet and open spaces, we stumbled upon the perfect spot to picnic near a babbling brook, which was mostly hidden from the frigid breeze.
Dave and I have a super-functional monogrammed picnic set, given to us as a wedding present. We love to spread out our blanket and use the cup-holders and accessories for a day of dining outdoors.
Yes, we were a little cold. But yes, we were just so happy to be together.
Jeanne is not only one of my Mom’s great friends, but she was also my middle school Spanish teacher and my student government advisor. She is a wonderful and well-traveled woman (on her first visit to Everybody’s Favorite City), who was such a delight to take around SF.
You may notice from the photo above that my Mom, Jeanne and I were all eating the same thing. We each picked up the shrimp louie salad from Trader Joe’s, which is one of my favorites and my go-to picnic lunch. We also brought along some cheese, jelly, crackers, pita chips, and of course, cold white wine.
Conversation included reminiscing about the past, catching up on all the gossip back home in Port Charlotte and Dave and Jeanne getting to know each other a little better, having only met at our engagement party and wedding.
After a long and leisure picnic, we packed up and sought out the warmth of the car.
Interested in finding a magnificent vista for our visitors, Dave and I decided to go off-agenda and drive to Land’s End to take some pictures of the Bay and ocean from a rocky cliff at the Lookout Visitor’s Center. My Mom and Jeanne were in awe of Land’s End and appreciated the diversion.
After a few photos, we hopped back in the car and waited in line to drive down Lombard Street, which is incorrectly called the crookedest street in America.
That concluded our daytime activities, and after that we went back to the apartment to relax, change and prepare for a fancy evening out.
On tap for the evening: First it was cocktails at the Top of the Mark at the InterContinental Hotel Mark Hopkins in Nob Hill. Dave and I went there with my girlfriends back in March and have been wanting to go again now that we live in the Nob Hill neighborhood. The hotel lobby (shown below) is so opulent and exquisitely designed that we knew my Mom and Jeanne would enjoy visiting it.
Even though we had to wait about 20 minutes to get a table for drinks, the expensive, and ultra-strong martinis at Top of the Mark were worth the wait. It was a little foggy out, so the view of the City from the high-rise windows wasn’t as good as it could have been, but a nice time was had by all. Thanks Jeanne! 🙂
A downhill walk led us to dinner at Cafe de la Presse in Union Square. Once again, fabulous food, drinks and company. After dinner, Jeanne went back to her hotel in South San Francisco in a cab, and my Mom, Dave and I walked to a little neighborhood market to pick up some carrot cake I discovered the night before. (Having that little market just steps from our apartment may prove to be a major issue for me and my sweet-tooth.)
Sadly, on Monday morning, Dave had to get up early and head off to work.
My Mom and I, on the other hand, laid around and watched some TV for a couple hours before venturing out to explore the City on foot.
We walked through Chinatown, checking out souvenirs in the little shops and dodging the hundreds of people on the crowded sidewalks. My Mom bought some postcards, but we decided the rest of the stuff is best left for real tourists, so no other purchases were made.
After making it through Chinatown, we ended up at a perfect outdoor lunch spot called Cafe Divine in North Beach. When the breeze blew by it was cold, but when it didn’t, the sun was hot and very comfortable.
There was some good people watching to be had from our spot on the corner near Washington Square Park. For lunch, we had salad and quiche and shared a pomegranate mimosa. While seated at lunch, we attempted to take a picture three times to show how lovely it was, but we ended up with the awkward sunlit one below with a strange shadow across our faces. Oh well.
Sticking to our schedule, after lunch we walked to a North Beach staple, the City Lights Books — a true Literary Landmark.
Never have I seen such a diverse selection of books. City Lights Books, which opened in 1953, is three floors, although we just went through two of them, and the interior is packed pretty tightly with books, posters, framed historical shots and words of wisdom on the walls. It radiates counterculture and activism, and is known for being an independent bookstore and publisher. There was even a whole section of books devoted to green politics.
I would’ve loved to picked up a few books for pleasure, but there were too many to choose from, so I left empty-handed. My very tech-advanced Mom reads on a Kindle these days, so she didn’t need to make any purchases either.
It was early afternoon when we finished at the book store, so we headed back to the apartment to rest. I had to teach my regularly scheduled BODYPUMP class in the afternoon, so my Mom laid low while I went off to fit in a little bit of sweat at the gym in the Financial District.
Then, when night came and Dave got home from work, we hopped in an Uber and went to dinner at Fog City on the Embarcadero. Fog City has been completely revamped from its original “diner” status, and is a trendy, modern and tasty establishment, which offers views of the Bay. Knowing we had never been there before, and that it just reopened, our waiter suggested we share plates, since things would come out of the kitchen as soon as they were ready. We decided on bread, caramelized carrots, lamb skewers and some fine wood-oven chicken. The food was truly excellent. It was such a great dining experience, not only because we enjoyed our meal so much, but also because we could see the Bay Bridge Lights (a cool evening light display on the Bay Bridge) from our table. Throughout dinner I kept saying how happy I was to be there with Dave and my Mom. When you move across the country, your time spent at dinners with your favorite people doesn’t happen all that often, so when it does, you savor it. Can you see the genuine happiness below?
On Tuesday, my Mom and I walked around the Nob Hill neighborhood and visited Grace Cathedral Church. Originally built in the time of the Gold Rush in the 1800s as Grace Chapel, Grace Cathedral has been standing in its current spot since it was redone after the big earthquake of 1906. Right now, the front entrance is being worked on (note the trucks and disrepair), but the building still stands dominantly above Huntington Park and really draws you in.
The church is free to the public, however a suggested donation box sits at the entrance.
We donated, walked around to see the paintings on the walls and then joined a small Holy Eucharist service taking place in a little side-room off the main atrium.
Grace Cathedral is Episcopal and is known for being open and welcoming to all, and it was perfect for us. My Mom grew up Episcopalian, and she loves the formality of a traditional church service.
The service we attended was short, just under 30 minutes, and there were only a few people in attendance.
If I had to guess what a downtown San Francisco Episcopalian service would be like, I would have said, traditional, but progressive. That it was.
The speaker of the day was an energetic woman named Sally, who my Mom and I were able to chat with after the service. She gave a truly San Francisco sermon, focused on biblical preachings, but also tying in modern-day activism against slavery. She referenced how there is still slave trade taking place today internationally and is an often-ignored issue. She told us to look out for messages from God in our daily lives that he might be sending and we are resisting. I think my Mom and I both had an idea of what that meant to us.
The service included a communion, a short prayer and plenty of time to shake hands with the fellow attendees. Apparently Grace Cathedral holds shortened services like this everyday of the week, in addition to main services and events. I’ve found out since our visit that the church is famous for its men’s choir, and it has one of the nation’s largest organs. The largest on the West Coast. It’s just a short walk up the hill, so I may go back one day to take in a full-fledged church proceeding. Check out the main hall and small room below.
The church service left us feeling quite fulfilled. And to top it off, we saw Sally driving away in her little Smart Car. What a cool lady.
After church, my Mom and I did something that I rarely do. We repeated a restaurant in the same weekend!
Our meal had been so good at dinner on Sunday, that we walked back to Union Square and had lunch at Cafe de la Presse. We each ordered something different, and it was just as tasty.
From there, we went into one of the nicest Banana Republics around in Union Square, checking out all the warm weather attire that my Mom doesn’t need and all the fancy work clothes that I don’t need. We also explored Gump’s, a famous San Francisco department store that I’ve been curious about for a while. Since I’ve often walked by, I’ve always wondered about Gump’s. It’s clearly luxurious, and not your average Macy’s.
While we were browsing the unique gifts and decor, I learned from one of the associates that there is only one Gump’s store in the world, and it was started by two brothers (by the name of Gump) after the Gold Rush more than 150 years ago right here in San Francisco. How about that? My Mom loved the high-end stationery and Christmas ornaments. She picked up a catalog to take home as a souvey.
The rest of Tuesday was pretty chill.
We laid around, and then ordered takeout pizza and sushi from two places down the hill, Uncle Vito’s and Maru Sushi. Not only did Dave have to work on Wednesday, but I had to be up to teach an early morning class and my Mom had a flight, so we figured hanging out at home was the best choice, and we cancelled our final night of dinner reservations.
Unfortunately, my Mom’s flight home was a bit messed up with delays on Wednesday morning, but she was put on a different flight and made it back to Charlotte County around midnight after a long day of traveling.
She said the annoyance and stress of the trip home was bad, but she’d do it all again just to see me.
Thoughts and Reflections
This was my Mom’s third visit to San Francisco.
Before I moved across the country, she was scared to fly and hadn’t been on a plane in more than 30 years. Today, she is a true jet-setter, even changing planes and navigating multiple airports to reach me. Nobody likes flying, and I’m so proud of how she has overcome her fears to do it. She is such a good sport during her visits, too. She helps with chores, goes with the flow, and truly appreciates every second of being with us out west. I love it. I wish she could come visit every single month.
She wanted to take pictures of the hills to show how steep they were. Here she is in front of Grace Cathedral, giving a glimpse at the incline.
Both my Mom and Jeanne had a few comments and reflections of their own from their visit to San Francisco, which included the following:
- The hills are incredibly steep in Nob Hill. To the average person, it’s jarring to have to do them regularly to get where you are going on foot. My Mom and Jeanne were both huffing and puffing — and laughing — as we scaled a few tough hills.
- Restaurants in San Francisco are SOO good, yet SOO expensive. Wow. Yes and yes. Here are my previous thoughts on that.
- Everyone in the City dresses the same and in the same colors, wearing beige, grey, black or navy. Nobody is wearing pink or bright colors. So true.
- It’s really cold here. Sure is, especially when the wind gets going.
- Our apartment is decorated adorably. Yay! They were the first guests to spend time in our new 550 square-foot abode. I’m so glad they liked it.
It was a fabulous trip that went by too quickly, but since my Mom is a master traveler, I know she’ll be back one day soon. And when she does, I already have a couple of items picked out to add to our detailed itinerary.