The last time I pounded the pavements of San Francisco, I was 13 years old and I was with my mother. I had a copy of Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club and would read pages from it while imagining the SF Chinatown that she grew up in while waiting with my sister in the dressing rooms of Macy's for my mother to be done trying on different clothes. Now that I'm 31, a lot has changed since then.
With the influx of tech startups and an economic boom, real estate prices have sky rocketed for one. And now, Chinatown is teeming with tourists. A late night trek there to the famous House of Nanking ended in disappointment - there was something about entering a Chinese restaurant that didn't have a single Chinese person eating there that made my skin crawl. There was a line, but it was filled with tourists - all non-Asian. Chinatown had turned into a gimmicky tourist trap that I needed to avoid. Note to self: for authentic Asian food, one should go to inner Richmond. Unfortunately I did not have time this trip to do that.
But it really wasn't authentic Asian food I was craving, but rather an eclectic mix of innovative modern Asian food, which I feel is more representative of SF anyway. This city is home to huge communities of so many different Asian nationalities - Filipinos, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Burmese, Cambodian and many more. This inspired me to take my best friend Kwun (who drove up from LA) to Chino, a modern pan-Asian dumpling and noodle establishment in the Mission District for some alcoholic Boba drinks, dumplings and the best (and inventive) jelly shots that I've had - A big thank you to Danny Louie, the most awesome bar manager ever.
It’s been nearly a year since Kwun and I’ve seen each other and of course we wanted to relive our younger days - the carefree days before she got married and when life seemed a lot less complicated… so we got smashed and hit Double Dutch, the venue next door that played old school hip hop - music that made us fondly remember our high school days - back when I still liked and danced to Jay Z's hits like H to the Izzo. Now defunct boom boxes with cassette players covered the walls. Since it was a Thursday, it was pretty quiet when we got there. So, naturally we were the ones who had to start the dance party. Eventually we got a groove going, but there didn't seem to be too many people out on a Thursday night. Places here close at the latest by 2am. This also goes for late night eats like this yummy Taquiera Cancun - a cash only establishment with the best tacos and burritos in town.
After slowly getting out of our cozy bed at Villa Florence, Kwun and I did some of the standard touristy things – just to prove we were indeed in SF. Since we didn't want to run with the tourist crowd, my cousin Allan, who lives here, was kind enough to bring us to the Golden Gate Bridge right before the parking lot closed so we could avoid all the tourists. Unfortunately, we couldn't avoid the wind. He took us on a brief walk onto the bridge, just so we could look down into the choppy waters of the bay. I could feel the entire bridge vibrating – shaking from the commuting cars (on average, there are 100,000 vehicles crossing the bridge daily) and the 40 MPH winds that were beating at it. I held on the railing tightly. I really didn't want my 100-pound frame blowing over into the bay.
We even ventured where we weren't supposed to venture - to the Tenderloin district - for some authentic Thai food at Sai Jai Thai. Despite the warnings about the drugged up crazies that walked about the Tenderloin, we figured that like vampires, that most of them were allergic to the light and that they slept during the day and only came out at night. We hypothesized right. Although we did see maybe a couple crazies walking about - for example, the man who walked around with his arms spread out like wings into the traffic - but compared to some of the really crazy things I've seen in NYC (like homeless people defecating in the subway), this was pretty tame.
The Thai food at Sai Jai was absolutely worth the walk through Tenderloin. I think that 's because of the fresh ingredients that you can get out here in California, Thai food generally always tastes better here than it does on the East Coast.
Later that night we went for drinks at a cool little Tiki bar with a super long line out the door called Smuggler's Cove - where there were so many different types of rum. Check out this menu.
I ordered The Wray and Ting, which consisted of Jamaican overproof Rum – 63% alcohol – mixed with a Jamaican carbonated grapefruit drink, Ting. I was basically drunk after three sips and had to give the rest to my cousin. Now, that was one hell of a hangover…
I traveled to SF originally for the Women's Travel Fest at the San Francisco Design Center, an architecturally beautiful building - hoping to find some inspiration and words of wisdom from adventurous female travelers such as Laura Ling, Julia Cosgrove of Afar Media and Pauline Froelich of Yahoo! Travel. Click here to read the post with some tips I picked up from hearing their panel (COMING SOON!).
After the sessions, I explored Valencia Street in the Mission District - one of the most desirable neighborhoods to live in. I heard from one of my friends who recently moved there that rent for a 1 bedroom apartment in the area runs at about $3400 - that's pretty close to Manhattan prices.
Then we stopped over at Luna Park for some more fusion food - I had Szechuan noodles and a mezcal. I'm totally obsessed with that smoky Mexican liquor at the moment.
After lunch, we stopped by Lolo for some mid-afternoon fancy cocktails… where I ordered the lorenita (mezcal, orange liqueur, agave nectar, citrus served on the rocks) if you can’t tell, I'm totally obsessed with Mezcal at the moment.
The night ended at the Redwood Room at the Clift Hotel, where I spent a few nights. The bar was adorned with scantily-clad women in tall tall heels mixed with well-dressed men who smelled like money. The ambience was playful, like we were in some sort of art museum – with adult playthings that included a huge chair in the lobby that made me feel like I was in Jack and the Beanstalk when I was sitting on it. Believe me when I say there was a line of drunk women waiting to take photos on this infamous big chair.
The alcohol selection at the glowing neon yellow fully-stocked bar was impressive. I don't actually remember all the drinks I had. Lucky we didn't need to drive, just commute back up to our room. We were dancing all the way there - jamming even in the elevators... You can only imagine our hangovers from that night.
Golden Gate Bridge
Ride a Cable Car down Russian Hill
Valencia Street in the Mission District
Dolores Park - http://sfrecpark.org/destination/mission-dolores-park, Dolores St, and 18th
The Clift - https://www.morganshotelgroup.com/originals/originals-clift-san-francisco, 495 Geary St; +1(415)7754700
495 Geary St; +1(415) 775-4700