San Francisco diary – Day 12: 12 Feb 2014


We allowed ourselves a small sleep in this morning, getting up at 08:00. After breakfast we left to catch a 38 bus all the way west to Land’s End, where the city meets the Pacific Ocean.

We got off at the terminus on 48th Avenue, just a short walk from the Cliff House and Sutro Baths. We walked down to the baths and then out to a lookout point facing Seal Rocks. There was a lone angler down by the water throwing a line into the churning swell, and on the lookout point were two men with spotting telescopes on tripods. We struck up a conversation with them; they were out here to watch birds. They pointed out some oystercatchers, which I got a long range photo of, and mentioned a few other birds they saw out there occasionally. At one point we saw a whale surface to breathe, quite close to the shore. The men said it was a grey whale. We watched the streams of bubbles it left on the surface for a while, but didn’t see it surface again.

After a few minutes enjoying the view and the brisk morning air, we walked up the hill and around the path to the north, to another lookout where we had a views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The weather was overcast and grey, but the cloud was just high enough to let us see the bridge, with just the very tops of the towers occasionally disappearing into the fog.

We walked up the hill from there to the U.S.S. San Francisco memorial, which overlooked the ocean, then on to the same bust terminus where we’d arrived. One bus was just leaving as we approached, so we had to wait ten minutes for the next one.

The Castro
Castro Theatre, The Castro.

The bus took us back east to the intersection with Divisadero Street, where we caught a 24 bus south. This took us into the Castro district, the heart of the gay and lesbian community in San Francisco. It was fairly obvious from the street decorations and some of the businesses. We stopped in at a cafe for a late morning snack. M. had Moroccan mint tea and I decided to get a bowl of chick pea soup. The soup was thick and peppery and came with some hot Irish soda bread, all of which was very good. M. shared a bit of the bread and soup too and agreed.

Following that we walked down Castro Street and one of the side streets to have a look at the various shops and other things. There was a place called Posh Bagels, where we stopped to buy some for a light lunch after the soup. They had an interesting selection and we got a dried tomato bagel with cream cheese and a pesto bagel without.

We ate them as we walked across from Castro to Valencia Street, heading towards the Mission district again, but this time to walk down Valencia rather than the parallel Mission, as a man who was running a shop in Sausalito had told us that this was a more interesting street to look at. It had many interesting shops and galleries, and we stopped in several to have a closer look.

Cafe La Boheme
Cafe La Boheme, The Mission.

When we reached 24th Street, we crossed the block over to Mission, intending to catch BART back to our hotel. But we stopped in Cafe La Boheme so M. could get a coffee and we sat in there for a while with all of the other customers who were basically just sitting at tables and using their laptop computers. We stayed for about half an hour, and in that time I think only one person actually got up and left. While there we thought about what else we could do, and decided to visit Stella’s bakery in North Beach, after it had been recommended to us by our waiter at Nick’s Lighthouse restaurant.

We planned a route involving catching a 49 bus north to Union Street, then a 45 east to Columbus Avenue, where we thought the bakery was. The first trip was a long one, punctuated by a woman at the back screaming and telling other people to stop talking to her, and the bus driver threatening to stop the bus and call the police.

Eventually we made it though and then we had to figure out where on Columbus Avenue the bakery was. At first we walked north, but turned around after we exhausted the length of street we’d walked down before, because we knew it was somewhere we’d passed already. Heading south we thought the area didn’t look right, but eventually we spotted the sign “Stella’s”, and it was right next door to Calzone’s restaurant where we’d eaten last week! We went in and looked at the various Italian biscuits and cakes, and bought a couple of pieces of almond biscotti and a chocolate dipped shortbread finger. They were all nice.

(Written later)

We walked back to our hotel down Stockton Street, through the heart of Chinatown which we’d only seem from the bus before. It was an incredible feast of sights and smells, as we passed dozens of Chinese grocery stores and places selling dried fish and mushrooms, and others selling unidentifiable dried things for Chinese medicines. Several of the places were labelled in Chinese script only, with no English signage at all. Just before the Stockton Tunnel we saw a small procession of people, about a dozen ranging from children to one very old man with a long beard, dressed in colourful Chinese robes and playing small drums and bells, walking along the street and stopping to poke their noses into shops they passed and shout out some sort of greeting – possibly Happy New Year since the Chinese New Year was just a week or so ago.

Chinese grocery

At the tunnel we climbed the steps up to the street above, then walked up the hill to the top, then crossed over to Powell Street for the remainder of the walk back to our hotel. We rested for a short while and changed for our dinner appointment at the Tonga Room in the Fairmont Hotel. This was a hike up the steep hill all the way to the top of California Street, where the hotel is situated. On the way out we confirmed with our hotel reception that we had booked a late checkout for 16:00 tomorrow.

Once there, we entered the main foyer and found a map showing the way to the Tonga Room, down two floors. The room is an old swimming pool which has been converted into a South Pacific themed restaurant, with tables surrounding the pool which still exists in the middle. At periods throughout the evening, simulated thunder and lightning play while rain gushes from the ceiling above the pool, making it sound like a tropical storm. A boat with a grass thatched roof floats on the pool, berthing at one end to allow a three piece band to step aboard, then drifting out to the middle as they play.

We ordered some cocktails first, M. getting a zombie, while I got a mai tai. I was slightly disappointed that the mai tai came in a coconut shaped ceramic mug, and not a real coconut, but the drink was good. For food we ordered some shiitake egg rolls for an appetiser. These came with what the waiter said was called “Tonga sauce”, a combination of soy, mustard, and molasses. It was thick and brown and slightly sweet, and very different from any other sauce I’ve ever had with spring rolls. For mains M. got the kung pao with tofu, while I chose the Tonga hot pot, a combination of “Hawaiian seafood” in a spicy coconut curry sauce. With these we got the “forbidden rice mix” a blend of four different types of rice, resulting a black and brown combination with a delicious nutty flavour.

Tonga Room storm
The Tonga Room.

The food was all very good. We ate slowly to savour the evening and the music and give us time to get through our cocktails. I got a glass of Sauvignon Blanc to go with my fish, while later M. ordered a pineapple royale cocktail, which was served in a whole hollowed out pineapple. For dessert I had the dessert sampler, which had a small coconut pudding with crunchy nuts and a blue sauce, two bite sized caramel tarts with something marshmallows on top, and three different flavours of mochi ice cream: green tea, coconut, and mango. After eating we got up to dance a bit to the band. There was an older couple doing some slower dancing as well.

We didn’t leave until after 22:00, by which time we’d been there over three and a half hours. Several tables around has had people arrive after we arrived, who then left, were replaced by a new group of people, and who had also left! But we were having fun on our last night in San Francisco, so we didn’t care.

When we finally left we walked back down the hill to our hotel and virtually dropped straight into bed.

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