Tag Archive: San Francisco

The Solo Traveller’s Guide to San Francisco: Quiet Edition

I visited San Francisco a few weeks ago for AltConf 2015, a free conference across the street from Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC). Since WWDC moved to a lottery system last year in the face of overwhelming demand, AltConf began offering networking and conference presentations for free to anyone.

Always before, when I’ve stayed in San Francisco, I’ve focused on the stretch from Pacific Heights and the Marina down to the Financial District and SoMa. I’ve rarely ventured out of this small semicircle at the northeast of the city. This time, I decided to explore some different areas, so I rented an Airbnb in Twin Peaks, a quiet residential neighborhood overlooking the Castro and Noe Valley.

When I arrived, I was stunned by the beauty of Twin Peaks. It was a clear day, and I could see from my street (and from my host’s living-room window) cleanly across eastern San Francisco to the bay. In the evening, fog drifted across the hilltop and blanketed the peaks in clouds.

Before attending AltConf, I spent a few days exploring the nearby neighborhoods, rather than returning to the usual tourist spots I’d seen before. If you’re looking for something a little different in your visit to San Francisco — a trip through quiet streets and local spots — this guide is for you.

The Castro

The Castro is renowned as a gay neighborhood and is scattered with great shops and restaurants. Here are a few I tried:

Chow on Church: Breakfast and brunch are unbelievably delicious — much better than lunch or dinner, in my opinion. I ordered a quinoa ragout with mushroom, spinach and poached eggs. I actively dislike quinoa, so I’m not sure why I took the gamble, but it paid off: This single dish changed my mind about quinoa forever. I also tried a cottage cake — a pancake with cottage cheese in the batter. With organic raspberry sauce on top, it reminded me of the jelly donuts I ate as a child from a local bakery. Advice: Don’t miss the weekend brunch — it ends at 2 p.m. Weekday breakfast is 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Eureka! Cafe: They serve organic ice cream from Straus Creamery. I ordered the brown sugar banana flavor and it was delicious. A nice end to my wanderings for the day.

Buffalo Whole Food & Grain Co.: A small but well-stocked grocer in the heart of the Castro. Tiny organic raspberries that were much tastier to me than those big Driscoll ones.

Noe Valley

Noe Valley lies just south of the Castro over a large hill (hint: don’t walk, take the bus!). It’s a family-friendly neighborhood with a strip of low-key shops and restaurants on 24th Street. A couple of highlights:

Bernie’s Coffee: A great cafe with free WiFi in Noe Valley. The food was good, but the highlight was the atmosphere: low-key and productive, with plenty of space. I never felt rushed or crowded out.

Saru Sushi: Delicious sushi and a great choice for lunch. Surprisingly, the salmon roe was the best thing I ordered, and I also enjoyed the Taramiso (marinated black cod) nigiri.

SoMa Again

When I finally ventured downtown for the conference, I wasn’t particularly happy to return to SoMA with its loud noise and heavy traffic. But I found some worthwhile places amid the hustle:

Samovar Tea Lounge in Yerba Buena Gardens above the waterfall. There’s a delicious new toast menu for breakfast (in addition to the regular menu). I had the poached eggs-with-butter toast and the Greek yogurt toast with honey and basil. It was affordable and awesome, until I ordered tea without checking the menu price. Seriously, who charges $17 for tea? Oops.

Creperie St. Germain – Not what I expected, because it’s a food truck and not a full restaurant. But the crepes were delicious and organic, and I found a nice place to eat in the shade near the Children’s Carousel Museum.

Workshop Cafe (not in SoMa but close by) – 180 Montgomery Street. This coffeeshop/coworking space has great healthy food, plus a huge amount of space. To enter the coworking space, it’s $2/hour, or you can sit in the front of the cafe for free. For first-timers, the coworking space is also free for up to 10 hours. Wonderful staff and service made this experience great, and the hot cereal with granola, steamed almond milk and organic fruit was awesome.

The Elephant in the Room

My trip to San Francisco was wonderful. The weather was shockingly warm for June, reaching into the 70s and making my black fleece jacket unnecessary on some days. Almost every day, sun streamed over Twin Peaks and lit up the valley below. I enjoyed the absolute quiet of the Airbnb where I stayed, my hosts were welcoming and wonderful, and I loved the opportunity to re-visit one of my favorite cities.

That said, San Francisco has downsides as well as highlights, and it would be dishonest to ignore them. The biggest downside is probably this: For a city awash in so much money, the size of the homeless population is staggering. One of New York’s best organizations for combating homelessness has been Pathways to Housing, which uses a “housing first” model: Just place people in housing and then deal with their other problems later. It works, and it’s expanding to other cities. Before San Francisco cycles from boom to bust yet again, the city and its residents would do well to channel some of that boom money toward housing the homeless.

This may not be the brightest note to end this trip log on, but it’s an honest one.

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San Francisco in the Prehistoric Age

I found this ancient essay I wrote for Derek Powazek’s site about visiting San Francisco in 2001, just after the recession devastated the city’s economy. I’d spent a summer there five years earlier, so I wandered around for the weekend noting contrasts and taking notes.

SF Stories (my post is the long one at the top)
http://sfstories.com/post/general/index.010.shtml

I find I can’t conjure that depth of feeling for the ways L.A. has changed in the past decade. It’s different, and I could write about it, but not with so much melodrama.

Six Months of Airbnb – Traveling in My Own City

Six months ago, I gave up my lease on a Manhattan apartment and embarked on an Airbnb adventure, living in a new place approximately every month.

Before then, I’d lived in a large studio in the east 20s for several years, filling my apartment with stuff and slowly realizing I needed to do something different. I didn’t know what “different” should mean. I’d have a tough day, come home, and buy dresses online to make myself feel better. It was a good feeling that lasted for about 30 seconds after I hit the “Buy” button. Dresses would arrive in boxes, and I’d let them sit in the entryway for weeks.

My parents would bring stuff too — more clothes, knick-knacks, kitchen implements, a form of love that fit my life at the time. I bought feng shui items to try to make my cluttered home feel more open. It worked for a while. But I came home one night last December, walked into my apartment bursting with stuff, and burst into tears.

I felt suffocated. I didn’t know why I was doing this. Why did I need to accumulate more, what was the point, if it held me down and prevented me from trying all the things I wanted to try?

I started to think about getting rid of all my stuff.

Getting Ready for the Leap

I watched videos online of people who’d done it. They had one backpack, and they were roaming the world, doing what they felt like.

That level of minimalism was not for me. I wanted more than one backpack. But I decided to start paring down and see how far I could get.

I gave notice on my apartment at the end of February and called the Salvation Army to set a pickup date. I browsed Airbnb to find promising listings for my new adventure. I wanted roommates, because I’d lived alone for too long. I wanted to shake up my way of life entirely.

One month later, I had three bags of stuff.

Empty Apartment

I walked through my apartment with the super, then closed the door behind me and took a taxi across town to my first Airbnb apartment. There was no moving van and no giant moving fee and no hassle. It was awesome.

Airbnb 1 – April

I chose a loft in Chelsea for the first month, April, living with a fashion photographer. It was directly across from Google and half a block from Chelsea Market. It was also convenient to the subway, which was great because I was still working. I was still weighing whether I needed a change of everything, including my job, or just a change of scenery. I gave myself one month to decide.

The loft was gorgeous, a self-contained space with a living-room area, desk, small mini-kitchen, and loft bed. The walls were covered with artwork, a friendly cat and dog lived in the apartment, and my roommate was the most amazing person I could have hoped for. We talked about life and he cooked delicious breakfasts and we watched Game of Thrones every week. I read programming books in my spare time. I looked out the window and felt life speeding up. At the end of the month, I gave notice at my job.

Airbnb 2 – May

On May 1 I moved to Brooklyn, to a two-bedroom apartment in Boerum Hill. My roommate was in technology, and with similar interests we had great discussions about technology and politics. It took a few days to adjust to the slower pace of Brooklyn — I’d wanted to try it, but at first it felt suburban, and I wasn’t sure about the low-key vibe. By the end of the month, I felt at home. I became friends not only with my roommate, but with his dog, and enjoyed the fully equipped kitchen and projection screen. Also, for the first time, I felt like part of a new community. I was moving toward something instead of away from something.

At the end of the stay, I decided I still had too much stuff. Moving was a struggle, and my suitcase was too heavy. So I left the suitcase behind for my June travels, and just took a backpack and a shoulder bags with a small purse inside of it.

Airbnb 3 – June

After my last day of work, I went to AltConf in San Francisco, so I didn’t rent a place in New York for June. Instead, I stayed in a Pacific Heights Airbnb for a week, in one of the most ideal rooms I could imagine. The Airbnb listing didn’t have professional photos, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. But the place was a tiny brick house on a hilly street, the apartment was clean and quiet and full of light, and the room in the back had a bed, a futon and a tiny fireplace and desk. I slept so peacefully there that, once again, I felt San Francisco embraced me as a visitor.

Airbnb 4 – June

In between trips to visit my parents and to see friends in upstate New York, I spent a few days in Manhattan in late June. I chose the West Village, since I’d always wanted to live there. It was a great experience but really no better than other neighborhoods, which allowed me to put to rest my inflated expectations. The best part was meeting my host and the other travelers staying with her. This is something I’ve found to be true with Airbnb — there’s almost always another roommate in the picture at some point. I’ve been fortunate to have great experiences, but it is something to be aware of, if you’re thinking of booking a private room instead of an entire apartment.

Airbnb 5 – July

After traveling in Canada (at an official B&B, not an Air), I returned to New York in late July for Hacker School. I chose an Airbnb room on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, directly across from a Le Pain Quotidien. I needed more than just a backpack for the next three months, so I bought a tiny carry-on suitcase that was easy to carry up and down stairs. Along with my backpack and shoulder bag, this was all I had and all I needed.

I loved living in Brooklyn Heights. The room was quiet, huge, and beautifully furnished. I could look out my window and see people dining on roof decks and then go downstairs to see people dining on the street. I didn’t see my roommate much, but enjoyed the conversations we had and then enjoyed the peacefulness of the space and the neighborhood.

Airbnb 6 – August/September

My final stay in New York was in Dumbo, where I’m typing this now. I live under a bridge, and the noise of trains is my companion. I love it, for the time and the place and the atmosphere and the industrial/new/old feeling. The apartment is a mid-century furnished loft, my roommate is amazing, and the little dog is incredibly friendly and playful. The water is filtered, there’s a trampoline to jump on for exercise, and I’ve gotten a lot done while living here.

Dumbo loft

I’m also ready to move on to what’s next. My “rent” next month will be in Florence and Tuscany, where I’m traveling for a post-Hacker School change of scenery. My goal is to maintain my pace of learning while seeing new places and having new experiences and considering what’s next.

I’ll be back in mid-November to decide for sure. My period of discovery will need to shift to a period of implementation or form a strange hybrid of the two, which could be even better.

But I still won’t have any stuff. And I’m happy about that. The important things in life are love, experiences and giving back — leaving something good behind. Stuff has no place in that equation, for me. It gets in the way. It’s a placeholder. I’ve learned to admit it, and clearing my life of stuff has done me a great good. It’s allowed me to see what’s important to me, focus on what’s important, and get things done.

Traveling in my own city, with Airbnb, has been an amazing experience.

Day 12: Carousels and (Alt)Conferences

I’m sitting near the Leroy King Carousel in San Francisco, typing this blog post in the sun while drinking coconut water.

It beats working under fluorescent lights in my cube.

I spent the past three days going back and forth between the Children’s Creativity Theater and Jillian’s restaurant, which are hosting AltConf near Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference. WWDC has grown so popular that Apple moved to a lottery system this year, so many shut-out developers have chosen to spend the week meeting new friends and learning new things at AltConf instead, which is free.

I love the conference. I’m not such a party person, so I’m more comfortable meeting people during the day, one on one over tea, coffee or sunshine, rather than drinking and forgetting names over the roar of a band.

The great thing is that AltConf and WWDC provide both types of venues for meeting people and having fun.

The coolest part of AltConf for me, besides meeting new friends, has been the AltLabs at Jillian’s. So far at the AltLabs, I’ve:

  • Gotten advice on a problem with how UICollectionView scrolls horizontally in my flashcard app (solved Monday night by working with my awesome Thinkful mentor, hurrah!).
  • Added accessibility features to my flashcard app. This took about 15 minutes, compared with the hours it would have taken me to investigate these features on my own.
  • Downloaded the Philips Hue SDK (software development kit) and understood how it works in 40 minutes, compared with the days or never it would have taken me to explore this on my own. Began customizing a basic app and learned where to find help in the guidelines for developers.

I’m also enjoying San Francisco itself, a city I love visiting. I’m staying in a quiet neighborhood away from the conference, which is less convenient but also a lot cheaper. It’s been relatively easy to get downtown in the morning, even with the MUNI workers’ pseudo-strike-sickout Monday and Tuesday. Less easy to get back home, but I expect the situation will improve with more buses on the road now.

It’s still cold here when the wind blows, consistent with my experience of San Francisco in summer. At least the haze has cleared and the temperature is higher now. A few dozen miles away, in Cupertino, it’s 83 today. Here? 64.

Jacket. Sweater. T-shirt.

Coconut water. Sunshine.

Day 10: AltConf Adventures as Swift Launches

I woke up in Pacific Heights around 5am, jet-lagged in my favor for once. Into a cab at 5:50, quiet streets all around, and arrived near the Moscone Center just after 6am.

Crowds queued outside Moscone West, waiting for the WWDC keynote. I was attending AltConf, a free event for developers without WWDC tickets to network, learn and have fun.

The mood at AltConf was exuberant throughout most of the two-hour keynote, turning to anticipatory dread when the crowd  realized the end of Objective-C was nigh, then overcome by relief and curiosity when Swift appeared to be a useful replacement.

I say “appeared to be” because I’m still reading the Swift iBook released by Apple today. Still absorbing, learning, and seeing a lot of work in my future to master this new language. But looking forward to understanding and then mastering it.

Food-wise, today was half disaster, half dream. I started the day with a nutrition bar and a tasty burrito, followed it with burrata mozzarella on toast, then had an organic egg crepe, organic vegetable juice, a muffin, fried polenta sticks, kale salad, almonds, a pack of organic raspberries, and half of an organic chocolate tart.

Come to think of it, I ate a lot.

Tomorrow: Less food, more code.

Day 8: Leaving Home Again, New Goals

I left Brooklyn yesterday. Took my three bags to the subway, got on the A train, sat down while stations whisked past. I struggled with my bags, impractical and heavy, and realized: Three bags is still too many. Even after a giant clear-out, my stuff still drags on me. Lighter is better, in all things.

I thought about how easy it was to leave New York, after six years of living here. I didn’t feel any ties, no, “I’m moving now” signs flashed in my head. Just the same subway stations brushing past as blurs. I’ll be back in a few weeks, then gone, then back. I won’t be buying souvenirs while traveling, since I have no stuff. Instead I’ll bring back experiences, new motivation, and refined goals.

Tomorrow I fly to San Francisco. I’m bringing one small backpack and a shoulder bag, which should get me through the week. I don’t think I could travel so light for a month-long stay, but I do see the appeal of switching to a much smaller rolling suitcase. The one I have now is a carry-on that always seems an inch too large for the aisle on the plane. And I think I should have two bags, not three — even for longer stays.

Major goals for this week are: 1.) Network and meet new and old friends; 2.) Work on my flashcard app at least a little; and 3.) Have fun and learn new things!