Spring Break for Grown (?) Ups

March 26, 2011

Twice in the last few years, my wife and I have attended chemistry conferences in San Francisco in mid-March. The weather has often been sufficiently welcoming that we could eat lunch and dinner at outside cafes, walk around the city for extended periods during the day, and generally feel like we would love to come back when our time wasn’t compromised by work obligations. So, when we discovered that our respective colleges were going to use the same week (Mar 21-25) as spring break for the first time in our 20+ year careers, it was a no-brainer to schedule 5 days in San Francisco.

Although rain was in the forecast for every day of our visit, we only experienced serious rain on Thursday. Yes, it rained the other days, but we could always hide for the 30-40 minutes needed to dodge the drops. Here are the highlights of our visit:

  • Washington Square Inn. A lovely, quiet refuge adjacent to Washington Square, and therefore, just a few steps from North Beach eateries and Chinatown, and serves breakfast. When it rains, the tenants linger over breakfast and we made several friends, one of whom turned out to be that rarest of special talents: a syndicated female cartoonist (Jan Eliot, Stone Soup). After a decade or more of sharing my breakfast with the comic strip, I finally got to share breakfast with its creator.
  • Washington Square. The place to be from 7:30-9:00 AM if you want to exercise with the Chinese residents of SF. Calisthenics. Dance. Taiji. It’s all there to see and take part in. Sadly, St. Peter and Paul Church next to the square was wrapped in scaffolding for our stay.
  • North Beach. So many eating options and all good. Dinners found us Ristorante Ideale (M), North Beach Pizza (Tu), Caffe Delucchi (W), and Cafe Divine (Th). We never made reservations – just walked right in and found welcoming faces and relaxing good food (and sometimes even music). Lunch and snacks nudged us toward Cafe Trieste and La Boulange.
  • Chinatown. We usually don’t leave the sidewalk, but with the rain coming down hard on Thursday, we ventured into several shops so that we could stay dry. My wife actually overcame the language barrier long enough to buy herself a beautiful scarf.
  • Sites:
    • Ferry Building with its indoor market kept us out of the rain.
    • The Coit Tower was just a short walk from our hotel, but straight up Telegraph Hill. The murals and the elevator ride to the top were all worth it, especially for the beautiful views of the Bay and downtown.
    • The observation tower at the De Young Museum provided another view of the city, the ocean, and the Golden Gate Bridge.
    • The Yerba Buena Gardens (a short ride from our inn on the #30 Stockton line) provided parks, fountains, waterfalls, and a beautiful place to relax (Samovar Tea House).
    • City Lights Bookstore proved to us that books, book readers, and overly smug hipsters, are not the sole property of Portland.
  • Museums
    • Contemporary Jewish Museum. A 30 second walk from the Yerba Buena Gardens. Added a letter (‘yud’ in Genesis 15:11) to the People’s Torah (I provided the hand photo; my wife entered the letter). Listened to Cab Calloway sing ut a zoy and oy-yoy-yoy while also singing hi-de-ho. Learned how “detectives” are reclaiming the stolen art collection of Jacques Goudstikker and saw several pieces from the collection.
    • de Young Museum. We used our rental car for this trip. Parked underground and went straight into the colossal Olmec exhibit from ancient Mexico.
    • Asian Art Museum. Just off Market near Hyde and the City Hall. We got there (in the rain) using #30 and #21, but we walked back on Market to Kearney before hopping back aboard the #30. Like the de Young, this will need a second (and third) look because there just isn’t enough time to get through everything they have on display.
  • UC Berkeley. New buildings continue to spring up even in these times of underwater budgets, but much of the old (and beautiful) still remains. We found my wife’s old digs on Francisco, then drove to Albany and found my old apartment on Albany Hill (755 Taft?) as well as my old apartment in El Cerrito.
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One Response to “Spring Break for Grown (?) Ups”

  1. mike papas said

    Alan,
    Mary and I were there 2 weeks before you, it looks like we did a lot of the same things. However, I managed to gain 4 pounds in just 6 days. We ate a lot of things we had never even heard of before !

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