We landed on a Saturday afternoon, after a three-hour flight from DFW, to smoky skies due to wildfires burning up north and east of the Bay Area. This haze combined with the often present marine layer added to a certain eariness in the air. July 4th holiday was approaching so the waiting area at the rental car lot looked like a Calistyle refugee encampment full of wayward holiday travelers but after an hour and a half waiting in a slow-moving line, we were on the 101 in our silver RAV4 cruising to our boutique hotel, the Spero, located near Union Square in the heart of San Francisco.
The hotel was named originally, the Californian, back in 1923, but it has recently gone through many name changes including this new tag since I booked our room nearly four months previously on Priceline. The times they are a-changin’.
The building is registered on the National Register of Historical Buildings and blends Spanish Colonial architecture with modern features, lots of light and that cool California vibe. Our room was on the third floor, small but well appointed with a quality mattress and a huge, flat television screen. Great water pressure so our needs are met. Below is a picture of just one of ceiling beams from the massive lobby.
After a long and pleasurable hot shower, and and a bit of unpacking, we headed to the Pacific beach in our rental car to find our dinner destination, in the Cliff House. It was dusk at the beach, unexpectedly chilly for July to us Texans, with a light rain, swirling winds, and birds, lots of large pelicans swooping up and down, feeding on anchovies and shrimp.
Alfred Hitchcock filmed his epic movie, The Birds, just north of San Francisco, near Bodego Bay, so this scene brought goosebumps to the back of my arms and neck while mental flashbacks of the horror film’s schoolhouse sequence added to the effect. The howling winds completed the episode but we didn’t let a little cold weather hold us back from exploring the old baths located below Sutro’s, our fine dining pick for the night, located in the historic Cliff House. The baths are now in ruin but at their height they could host 10,000 bathers at a time. See the picture below from the Sutro website of the large baths with their climate controlled sections.
At dinner, we gazed out the high windows as the birds feasted in the surf below. We sipped warming drinks and tasted the legendary, local sourdough bread.
The wine and warm bread and salted butter was a meal in itself but we elected to add to the pleasure with a selection of house prepared ravioli with tomato broth and tiny octopus. Enough for Day 1 of our adventure.
The next day involved lots of walking with nearly nine miles of trekking about the very hilly sidewalks of San Francisco including trailing up and down Lombard Street, out to the Wharf, then back to Union Square and Chinatown.
We chose the Taylor Street Cafe for a late breakfast with my first taste of Millionaire Bacon, a sweet, spicy thick-sliced cut of fried pork belly. The cafe is small, a bit run down but a long line suggests it’s worth the wait.
The meal kept my energy up all day as we walked the streets until a late night dinner in Chinatown at Great Eastern Restaurant with small plates of spicy long beans and dim sum. I loved shopping for trinkets along the route including a collection of meditating Buddha’s and Happy Cats. You see so much more of the heart of a city from street level including apricot trees full of fruit, quaint gardens and encounters with locals.
The next morning, we hopped into the RAV4 and headed north over the Golden Gate Bridge for the Muir Woods and beyond.