Picks and Pans – San Francisco/Bay Area, Part II


The first Tuesday of every month is the free day at most San Francisco museums and, being that we are enthusiasts of both free things and museums, we were pretty happy to partake in the November day of gratis museum going. Being at a museum on the free day is especially pleasurable because I don’t feel any obligation to see everything that is on view. Strange that paying admission turns my concentration from what really interests me to getting my “money’s worth”. Perhaps I should shift my perspective on that one. Tangent aside, our non-admission driven attentions were captured by several pieces in the museum’s collection including “Stadia I” by Julie Mehretu, a large format painting that created a layered environment in which visual narration was occurring on both large and small scale. I also really liked P_Wall by Andrew Kudless, a San Francisco architect who uses the interaction between his materials and external forces to create structures that look biological in form. The sculpture garden on the museum’s roof is also a good place to get some sunshine while in the midst of some great sculptures (Louise Bourgeois, Richard Serra, Alexander Calder and Juan Muñoz, among others).

SFMOMA store

For some reason, I often find myself sucked in to modern art museum stores. I think it has something to do with the fact that they are usually a combination bookstore/toy store/kitchen gadget place, any one of which could be of great interest to one such as myself. SFMOMA’s store was no exception. The books alone were enough to keep me occupied for a much longer amount of time than we spent there.

Yerba Buena Gardens

The Yerba Buena Gardens sit smack dab in the middle of museum central and is decked out with everything you might want when taking a break from museum going. There’s plenty of lawn, fountain, garden, playground and even a little art to let you down slowly from your museum trance.

Museum of Craft and Folk Art

More of a small gallery than a traditional museum, the MoCFA features both contemporary and traditional folk art. While we were there the exhibit was “Open Source Embroidery”, an exploration of the use and manipulation of pattern in both computer coding and craft. The premise of the exhibit was certainly interesting, but the execution wasn’t especially inspiring. Nonetheless, the museum’s dedication to folk art makes it a worthwhile stop.

Nirvino-sponsored DeLoach Vineyard Wine Tasting at Butterfly

Our friend Tina knows the creators of Nirvino, a website that allows people to rate and share info about the best wine, beer and cocktails in their area. It’s still in its beta phase, so they often host events that feature specific drinks to inspire people to rate them on the site and network with other Nirvino users. We got the chance to go to their DeLoach Vineyard tasting at Butterfly, a restaurant at pier 33 on the Embarcadero. The best of the bunch was the 2007 Green Valley Pinot Noir, a blend from several pinot vineyards located in a cool, shady valley which makes for a concentrated berry nose with hints of floral and a surprisingly dry, tannic finish. The wine was good, the guys from the vineyard were extremely knowledgeable and friendly and the Nirvino crowd was full of interesting conversation.

Plant Cafe Organic

After the wine tasting, we were pretty hungry, so we headed down the Embarcadero to Plant Cafe at pier 3, and there I had possibly the best veggie burger ever. Plant makes their own burger from lentils, mushrooms, cashews, beets and bulgur wheat and cooks them using solar power. Sure, it sounds a little hippy dippy, but it’s delicious.

Ocean Beach

Despite the fact that we found one of our favorite beaches ever right in New York City, I don’t tend to think of big cities as places where you go to the beach. So when we got to the long stretch of sand that meets the Pacific Ocean at Ocean Beach, the peace and awe that always come with time near the ocean was magnified by the fact that San Francisco was right there at my back, even if it was too cold and windy to do anything but huddle up on our blanket, eat some avocados and watch the pelicans.

Nervous Dog Coffee

I know our blog sometimes seems like an endless stream of coffee shop reviews, but they are an integral part of life on the road. We use their power to charge our computers. We use their bathrooms for our morning ablutions. We use their cozy, friendly environments to get tips from locals. So, here’s another shout-out to another great local coffee shop. Nervous Dog has the essentials (wi-fi, good coffee, friendly people) and is located right in the Mission.

Golden Gate Park

Now is the time for all New Yorkers to avert their gaze, as I am about to release information that may reveal that NYC does not have the biggest and best of everything. Ok, here it is: Golden Gate Park is bigger than Central Park. And it has ocean on one end. I know, I know, it’s shocking, but once you get past it you can move on to partake in a park so good we spent two days there (except from 10pm-6am, when habitation in the park is officially illlegal). The botanical gardens were under construction while we were there, but they’re free, and if you look past all the orange fencing and closed paths, they have gardens and gardens full of interesting plants. We spent a bit of time in the Garden of Fragrance, where we smelled everything from pineapple mint to wild ginger. We moved on to the ancient plant collection, where the gigantic ferns and primitive cycads momentarily transported us back several thousands of years. We also ventured up Strawberry Hill, where we got a spectacular panoramic view of the whole city and only saw one other person the entire time we were there. Another surprising Golden Gate park tidbit: they have bison. San Francisco has been successfully breeding bison in captivity at the park since 1891, when the park commission purchased a herd in an attempt to save the dwindling number of native California bison. Those crazy Californians and their conservation. They even do it at the park (conservation that is).
Sean says: Right next to the bison preserve they have a bunch of angling ponds and as we walked past we overheard a long-distance conversation of owls up in the trees. Must be those damned Montanans trying to invade California.

Bistro 9

Knowing that we were going to be spending most of our day in Golden Gate Park, and most of our night in the Academy of Sciences (see below), I also knew that at some point we would need some cheap food at a nearby restaurant. With a little help from Yelp, I found Bistro 9 just a block from the park, where they serve up fairly cheap Mediterranean-themed food along with burgers and such. We spent a couple of hours hanging out with our friend Litty on their heated patio while noshing on hummus. A small aside to all you beet lovers out there (I’m not the only one, right?): Bistro 9’s beet salad is really good. So good that you’ll find yourself eating an oddly large number of beets. And the next day you may see strangely magenta evidence of said beet eating. Do not be alarmed.

Nightlife at California Academy of Sciences

As we’ve traveled, I’ve found that every day holds something amazing in it. With even a small bit of curiosity, the world becomes an infinitely interesting and beautiful place. But if you need a quick refresher course on what an amazing place we live in, head over to the California Academy of Sciences. It is a great natural history museum, aquarium and newly renovated planetarium all in one. Plus, on Thursday nights anyone over 21 years old can explore the museum from 6-10pm all while listening to live DJ’d music during the Nightlife event. We spent a full four hours marveling at the frogs, birds, bats, butterflies and lizards in the four story rainforest exhibit, becoming mesmerized by the underwater world of the aquarium and learning about the galaxies beyond ours in the free planetarium show.

Velo Rouge Cafe

We took the chance afforded us by our friend Elias’s lunch break to get one more chance to see him before leaving the Bay Area (Elias is one of Sean’s oldest friends and he and his wife Taeko made their home an open and friendly place to land while we were in SF. Thanks, you two!). We met up at a little cafe near Elias’s work, the Velo Rouge. It’s a little corner cafe with old Tour de France photos on the wall, Billie Holiday playing in the background and thick, white ceramic plates filled with warm, tasty food on your table.

Oakland Art Murmur

In a very limited, GRE analogy kind of way, Oakland is to San Francisco what Jersey City is to Manhattan. Given Oakland’s similarities to our old digs and our positive experience living on its streets for two days we were happy to be given the chance to check out its art scene during their first Friday event, Art Murmur. Most of the galleries are concentrated in a relatively small area, but the density of artists working there is remarkable.

Martha and Bros Coffee

Sometimes in our desperation to charge our laptops, we will walk into any coffee shop with free wi-fi and sit down without thinking too much about it. Most of the times that works out. This was not one of those times. The internet was spotty, the staff was unsympathetic to our wireless needs and on top of it all there was this intrusively cheesy music playing a bit too loudly to be considered background noise. Cream with my coffee…yes. Josh Grobin with my coffee…no thank you.

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