Of Being a Tourist in Your Own City

Thursday was a very serendipitous day!  For the first time in months, I got off work super early and Zac had a class canceled, so we were able to have adventures in San Francisco together while it was still daylight.  Since moving, our schedules have been so completely different that spending time together has been a huge challenge.  True, we have been making lots of delicious vegan meals and blowing through Battlestar Gallactica, but seeing each other during the day when we can go out and do stuff?  Not so much.  So we took full advantage!  And I gotta hand it to my man, he planned everything.  I had nothing to do with the plans.  He’s cool like that.

Our adventures began by taking the lightrail to practically it’s last stop at the Embarcadero (actually, we went grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s first, but you don’t want to hear about that).  The Embarcadero is the north-east edge of San Francisco where all the piers are.  Our first stop there was to check out the Ferry Building at Pier 1.  This historic building used to be the transportation hub for anyone arriving by train or ferry across the water from the east, hence the name “Ferry Building”.  In the 1930’s, ferry transportation became almost obsolete once the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge completed construction, and the building was used very little.  In recent years the building has been restored to it’s former glory, and now houses a fancy marketplace with artisan vendors and restaurants.  Naturally, all these beautiful vendors are too pricey for us, but most of them do give samples!  We had many excellent samples of gourmet olive oils from this olive oil place (Persian lime infused oil, anyone?) and cookies from this gluten-free bakery, but the gelato guy gave me crap from requesting a sample of the pumpkin pie spice gelato since he knew I wasn’t going to buy anything.  I know that’s probably what everybody does, but what does he care?

Our big splurge at the Ferry Building was a Pepples donut.  They are vegan, 100% organic, local to the bay area, and delicious!  I normally do not like donuts; the combination of sugar and fried makes me nauseated.  But I will always brake for a Pepples donut.  We had a cookie one with bits of cookie dough in it and it was flippin’ fantastic.

Don’t you want some of this???

Once satiated by donuts, we left the Ferry Building and headed out of the Embarcadero into downtown.  A friend of Zac’s had told him about some place called the Jackson steps, or something like that, but we couldn’t figure out where it was, so we rambled on to Chinatown.  Our plan was to go to the Chinese Cultural Center, but that too proved tricky to find.  It turns out that it is housed in the Hilton Hotel, but you access it from a park across the street.  The park is tiny, but has different levels to it, and on the second level you get to a bridge that you walk on into the center.  The park itself is fascinating.  I’m not sure that it has a name, but it is located on top of the Portsmouth Square Garage.  There is no grass and an abandoned playground with no children in it ever, but almost every foot of floor space is covered by dozens of old Chinese men playing cards and board games.  Usually only 2 or 3 men are playing to a game, but there is always a crowd around them shouting and placing bets.  They get really into it.  I felt very much the foreigner.  Besides us, I saw another white couple who looked like they were up to no good and a few homeless guys, but everyone else in the crowded park was old and Chinese.  There were a few women playing too, but they were in a different section of the park and there was also a fitness class going on.

This park also has some random and cool statues: a bronze ship with golden sails being tossed by the wind with a Robert Louis Stevenson quote on it’s base and a replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue from the protests of Tiananmen Square of 1989.  Zac was really taken by the latter and took a few photos of it.

The Goddess of Democracy

We headed across the bridge to the Chinese Cultural Center.  The Hilton building that it’s in is very tall and imposing, and a very linear cement building that looks like it’s from Metropolis.  Along the bridge were cool little Chinese style sculptures.

The facade of the Chinese Cultural Center

Anticipation mounting, we opened the door and walked in – and found ourselves in the middle of a medical technology convention.  Um, where’s the Chinese stuff?  After looking in every door leading off from the room of ultrasound booths and the like, we realized that the cultural center had closed at four.  So we went back on the bridge and hung out and checked out the amazing view of Chinatown.  The weird thing was, nobody looked at us or asked us what we were doing, even though we clearly were not part of the convention.  We totally should have raided their buffet.  The view on the bridge was incredible though, a cool cross-section of the roofs of Chinatown and the roofs of the financial district.  It was nice to pass some time there and feel like a tourist in your own city.

Financial District-type roofs
Spooks on the roof
Chinatown-type roofs


A portrait of the writer by Mr. Zac Hopkins



Chinatown is right next to North Beach, the Italian area of San Francisco, so we went there next for another surprise.  Zac took me to Columbus Cafe, an old bar that’s been around since 1936 and boasts the best happy hour of the city.  This was a treat because 1) we never go to bars together and 2) I love happy hours.  I’m cheap and found of food and drink, so happy hour is my favorite thing.  They also have $3 shots of Fernet, an herb-filled, medicinal liquor kind of like Jaegermeister.  I’d never heard of it before living in San Francisco, but it is pretty much the drink of the city.  It’s not for everyone, true, unless you live in here, and then it becomes your thing.  The happy hour consisted of two-for-one draft beers, so we washed the frenet down with a Guiness followed by Palm, a Belgian.  It’s a small bar, and a nice way to while away the time sipping beer and putting tunes on the jukebox, watching locals and tourists come and go.

Our last sip of Palm drunk, we realized that we still had time to hit up SFMOMA before it closed, so tottered down to SOMA (South of Market Street area) to check out some art.  On Thursday nights SFMOMA is open late and has half-price tickets, so we needed to take advantage.  We’d been once before and seen the permanent collection, so headed up the stairs to the top floor for the exhibition on Jasper Johns.  The exhibit was ok.  I thought that I liked Jasper Johns, but maybe I only like his famous stuff, or perhaps I just like his name, because I was underwhelmed by the collection on display.  They had a lot of lithographs and etchings of numbers, which apparently he is fascinated with, but I thought were just ok.  What I did like was a few pieces that he did on the seasons in 1987, the year I was born.  I’ll put a couple pictures here.

We checked out some of the other exhibits before being kicked out when the museum closed at 9.  I really liked the work of Jay Defeo.  She did a lot of large scale paintings on which she built up the paint to be 3-dimensional forms that are raised off of the canvas.  Her work does not really translate to pictures on a computer screen since you lose this aspect, but in person they are impressive.  After closing time, we hopped the train home and got back to normal life: thai peanut noodles and Battlestar Galactica.  But it was lovely to get out and take advantage of many amazing things happening where we live.  When was the last time you were a tourist in your city?

Good Luck and Happy Travels,


7 thoughts on “Of Being a Tourist in Your Own City”

  1. Such a good post! I’m glad you guys had a good time and I can’t wait to check a couple of these things out next time I come. And yes, you totally should have eaten at the buffet 😉

  2. Hi Mo, read your travel blog all the time. The way you write is so fantastic. It is like you actually take the reader on your journey with you. Keep up the excellent work.

    Love you dearly honey x x

    1. Thank you so much Anita! I love this blog, because of how I can connect with everyone near and far through it. I hope everything is going well for you guys across the pond!

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