Number 50 - November 2015
Welcome to "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel's quarterly newsletter of fun and interesting things to do in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Northern California. Whether you are visiting San Francisco or hosting visitors, Blue Heron can provide an unforgettable experience. Visit our website, www.BlueHeronTours.com, to learn more about our private, custom tours.
The first of 48 issues of "Rick's Tips" was published in July 2003. All of the back issues are available on Blue Heron's website. Since the original publication of the newsletters, some of the information is no longer accurate as San Francisco has changed in many ways. This is the second of a short series updating articles that appeared in early additions of "Rick's Tips." The first update was in the August 2015 issue.
As you know, I love San Francisco and think it is a great place to visit and live. However, Paris is also wonderful, and sometimes I need a quick hit of Paris without all the fuss and cost of traveling to the City of Lights. So here are a few tips for feeling like you are in Paris when you are in the City by the Bay.
There's no better way to start your day in Paris by the Bay than with a breakfast in San Francisco's own French Quarter. These four square blocks between Sutter and Pine Streets and Grant Avenue and Montgomery Street are home to no fewer than seven French restaurants. At Cafe de la Presse, you can you sit outside on a beautiful spring day with your coffee, croissant, and "Le Monde" or "Le Figaro."
After breakfast, you can either take in French art or taste sparkling wines produced by wineries owned by French Champagne houses.
If you prefer art, head off to the Legion of Honor. This museum was inspired by the French pavilion at the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco and is a three-quarter-scale adaptation of the 18th-century Palais de la Legion d'Honneur in Paris. As you walk into the museum, you will be greeted by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin's "The Thinker." Inside, you'll find other Rodin works that were given to the Legion of Honor by its founder, Alma Spreckels, as well as the Fine Arts Museum's collection of European art. You may also want to visit Stanford University's Cantor Arts Center, which has the largest collection of Rodin bronzes outside of Paris. If you visit Stanford, make sure you also see the six "Burghers of Calais," which are located near the beautiful Main Quad.
For lunch, you can dine in the Legion of Honor's restaurant or the cafe at the Cantor Arts Center.
If winetasting is more up your alley, visit the Napa Valley and Carneros wine regions and the French-owned wineries producing fine sparkling wines. LVMH (Luis Vitton, Moet, & Hennessy) makes Moet & Chandon in France and Domaine Chandon sparkling wines in Yountville. The winery offers a variety of food pairings with its sparkling and still wines. The great Champagne maker, G.H. Mumm et Cie, owns Mumm Napa in Rutherford. Here you can take a tour, taste wine on the terrace overlooking the vineyards, and visit a wonderful photography gallery that is home to photos by Ansel Adams and rotating exhibits.
Getting hungry for a delicious French lunch in the Napa Valley? As you enter Bistro Jeanty in Yountville, you will feel as if you are walking into a charming French country cafe. The food is terrific - with many of your French favorites. And, of course, you will want to pair wonderful California wines with your meal.
To finish a day in Wine Country, I like to visit Taittinger's Domaine Carneros. The terrace of this French-style Chateau is the perfect place to sample some sparkling wine paired with cheeses, caviar, or sweets while you watch the sun go down.
Regardless of whether you spend your day in San Francisco, Palo Alto, or Wine Country, you will need a little down time before heading out for a French dinner to complete your day in Paris by the Bay. San Francisco has many superb French restaurants, including La Folie - a long-time favorite in the city. If you want to return to the French Quarter, you'll have an abundance of restaurants to choose from including Cafe Claude on Claude Lane, its sister restaurant Gaspar Brasserie on Sutter Street, Aquitaine - a restaurant and wine bar - also on Sutter Street, Plouf and Cafe Bastille on Belden Place, and long-time San Francisco favorite Le Central on Bush Street.
Next time you long for a quick and easy day in Paris, just come to San Francisco for a day in Paris by the Bay.
Food is an important part of travel. Dining in new and interesting places enhances any vacation. Memories of new taste treats can last a lifetime. Having an insatiable sweet tooth, many of my most vivid memories are of great pastries and ice cream. I still salivate when I think of the creamy gelato I had in Florence and the flaky apple strudel in Vienna in 1972.
San Francisco has no shortage of bakeries, ice creameries, and candy stores. Anyone with a sweet tooth will not be disappointed on a visit to San Francisco. A fun way to see the city is to combine a visit to some of San Francisco's diverse neighborhoods with sugar fixes. You can do this in almost every neighborhood in the city, but here are three neighborhood/sugar fix combinations that I recommend.
The original version of this article included a section on Russian Hill. While this is still a great neighborhood to explore, most of the places selling sweets have closed, although, the original Swensen's still sells great ice cream at the corner of Hyde and Union Streets.
Today, I think the Mission District is a better neighborhood to combine sightseeing with making your sweet tooth happy. The neighborhood takes its name from Mission Dolores, more formally known as Mission San Francisco de Asis, San Francisco's oldest building. The church welcomes visitors daily, but the old mission or basilica cannot be toured when mass is underway.
No trip to the Mission District is complete without exploring the area's many murals. Two great places to see murals are Clarion Alley, which runs between Valencia and Mission Streets just south of 17th Street, and Balmy Alley, which runs between 24th and 25th Streets parallel to Treat and Harrison Streets. More information, including mural tours, can be found at Precita Eyes.
The Mission District is home to more great sweets than any mortal can consume in one day. Tartine Bakery at the corner of 18th and Guerrero Streets, near Clarion Alley, is considered by many to be the best bakery in San Francisco. It's definitely worth a visit but avoid peak times or you'll be waiting in a long line. Three great ice cream shops make their home in the Mission. Bi-Rite Creamery is just down 18th Street from Tartine Bakery, closer to Dolores Street and Mission Dolores. On warm days, watch out for the long lines. Humphry Slocombe on Harrision Street near 24th Street and not far from Balmy Alley, is known for its unusual flavors. Finally, Mitchell's Ice Cream at 688 San Jose Avenue is a San Francisco institution that has been making delicious ice cream for over 60 years. Mitchell's is best known for its tropical fruit flavored ice creams.
If you're a chocoholic, you'll want to check out Dandelion Chocolate at 740 Valencia Street to tasty their yummy artisan chocolates. Dandelion also offers factory tours and classes.
The food scene in the Mission is constantly changing, so I've undoubtedly left out a few great spots for sweets. Let me know if I've missed one of your favorite shops.
Japan Town/Pacific Heights/Fillmore Street
Japan Town was home to a vibrant Japanese community before World War II. Many of the residents never returned after their internment during the war. Today, the most visible symbol of this old community is Japan Center, a shopping center devoted to everything Japanese.
Pacific Heights descends from Broadway down to Japan Town. A walk through this neighborhood will bring you to many magnificent mansions as well as fine examples of Victorian architecture.
The stretch of Fillmore Street between Sutter and Jackson Streets is one of the city's best shopping districts. Walk along this street and you will find many fashionable boutiques, coffee shops (of course), and good restaurants. Fillmore Bakeshop, 1890 Fillmore Street (at Bush Street), is one of the best bakeries in the city. Here you can find wonderful pastries, cakes, croissants, cookies, and pies. Seating is limited, so you may need to savor your sweets while window shopping.
One of two Smitten Ice Cream outlets is at 2404 California Street, just west of Fillmore Street. (The other store is in Hayes Valley on Octavia Street at Linden Street). Smitten makes all natural ice creams while you wait with a process that uses liquid nitrogen to quickly freeze the cream.
There is no beach in North Beach as Yerba Buena Cove was filled back in the 19th century. Long an Italian neighborhood, today the community is more diverse. Still this remains a great neighborhood to visit. Hike up to Telegraph Hill for beautiful views and depression-era murals in Coit Tower. Window shop on Grant Avenue. Sip red wine or espresso at one of the many Italian cafes along Columbus Avenue. Stand on the steps of St. Peter and Paul Church where Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe were photographed after their civil wedding at City Hall. (They were both divorced and could not be married in the church.) Come early and join a tai chi workout with the many practitioners in Washington Square.
North Beach is the longtime home to Stella Pastry & Cafe at 446 Columbus Avenue. Stella prepares many Italian delights including sacripantina, tiramisu, cannoli, and biscotti. Enjoy your treat with a strong espresso as you sit outside and watch the world go by. You can also visit Stella's sister bakery, Victoria Pastry Company at the corner of Filbert and Powell Streets, which has a great selection of Italian cookies.
Just down Columbus at number 754 is XOX Truffles where you can find over two dozen different flavors of the best handmade truffles you will ever enjoy. There is no place to eat in the store so you'll need to buy a box or bag of truffles to take with you. Just don't eat them all while you are wandering through North Beach!
Finally, North Beach is home to two Gelato stores. Gelateria Naia is located at 520 Columbus Avenue on your way from Stella Pastry to XOX Truffles. Gelato Classico Italian is located at 576 Union Street, just east of Stockton. I have never done a side by side tasting so can't recommend one gelato producer over the other. If you do, let me know which one you think is best.
This Sweet Tooth Tour of San Francisco is sure to please. However, Blue Heron assumes no responsibility if you need to lose a little weight after you return home.
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