Last weekend my parents came to visit. I hadn’t seen them since I moved to California last year. They were pretty excited about the whole thing. And they should have been excited. Visiting me would be exciting for anyone. I’m going to go ahead and give a weekend recap just to give everyone a taste of what awaits you if you’re in your 60s and decide to visit me in the most exciting city in America.*
*This post might end up being really really boring.
My parents wanted to see me, but they also wanted to see some sights, because why fly across the country if you’re not going to see some famous bridges and stuff? So on Thursday we set out for San Francisco.
First stop, the de Young museum. I should write a full review of said museum, because I know how much blog readers love reviews of museums in cities where they don’t live. It’s a pretty good museum. There was an exhibition of Dutch paintings on display, including Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, a painting so good it was made into a movie. When you’re a family of Dutch descent, a display of Dutch paintings in a museum called the de Young is a no-brainer. They even had Grolsch in the museum café. We had lunch in said café. A lot better than expected. The museum’s in Golden Gate Park. There aren’t any good places to eat there. This is a shame, since SF has countless highly-regarded food trucks. Can none of them park in the park? (HA see what I did there.) There are only a couple scattered hot dog carts. Seems like a no-brainer. The de Young also has a really cool observation deck, which is only nine stories up but has a more or less unobstructed view of most of the city. Mom and Dad enjoyed that.
I think Herzog & de Meuron are the only architects allowed to design museums now
Adjacent to the museum is the Japanese Tea Garden. Mom and Dad were big fans. There are a lot of plants/flowers/trees in this garden. Both of my parents love plants/flowers/trees. They spent much of the weekend pointing out various kinds of plants that don’t grow in Minnesota. That seemed like their favorite part of the trip sometimes.
There’s no denying that this is a good garden
We then took our leave of the park and headed toward Fisherman’s Wharf. Driving through the city gave me a chance to show off my tour guide skills. I don’t want to brag, but I was a fucking great tour guide. This was the first time I had ever driven in SF, but my parents were none the wiser–they were super impressed at how well I knew my way around. The big highlight of the drive to the wharf was going down Lombard Street. This is the street that is steep and windy for a block. Right before we crested the hill to reach the top, I said, “Get ready to wave to all the tourists!” What a great quip! Because there are a LOT of idiot tourists walking up and down Lombard with cameras. There are even some in cars leaning out the windows with cameras. Luckily Mom restrained from doing that. Although she and Dad both seemed to enjoy gawking at the gawkers. And driving down the street is pretty cool, truth be told.
Fisherman’s Wharf is a huge touristy place. Good thing my parents were tourists! LOL! We walked from Ghirardelli Square to the actual wharf and back. Nothing too exciting, honestly. Then we walked out on one of the piers that has a really good view of the bay. Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin county, etc. SF has more places with good views than any other city I’ve been in.
When we were finished at the wharf, it was a little past 5pm. We had 8pm dinner reservations, which meant a couple hours to kill. Mom and Dad had done a lot of walking at this point, so I thought we’d drive around a bit. SF is a fun city to drive around in. We went along the water into the Presidio. I hadn’t planned on going to the GG Bridge, but that’s where we ended up. I don’t know my way around that well. Don’t tell Mom and Dad. We stopped at the GG lookout point or whatever, which was cool. They had a cross-section of a bridge cable and some other stuff. And, you’ll never guess, a spectacular view. That was a good stop. Glad I thought of it.
I bet you thought I was going to post a photo of the bridge
After we left the bridge, we drove through a couple ritzy neighborhoods into Lincoln Park. This is the site of the Legion of Honor and a nine-hole golf course. Pretty scenic. We went past the Legion of Honor and went out to the USS San Francisco Memorial. Beautiful ocean views. I was hoping to time it so we’d be there to see the sun set over the Pacific, but we were a little early. Too bad. We left the park and set out to dinner. We were still a bit early, so I took the scenic route. Down past Ocean Beach and back through GG Park. This was as close as I got to getting lost. I didn’t really know how the streets in the park worked. They’re curvy and when they spit me out of the park I was on the south side. I was totally turned around and thought I was on the north side. Oops. I figured it out when I made a turn and saw the towers of the GG Bridge where I did not expect to see them. I played the whole thing off like a champ.
Dinnertime. We ate at Chapeau!, which has an exclamation point in its name. Now we all know that chapeau means hat in French, but apparently with an exclamation point it means wow!. If they say so. Chapeau! is a really fucking good restaurant. A French waiter and everything. Dad had the cassoulet. He declared the duck contained within as the best duck he’s ever had, and he’s a man who’s eaten a lot of duck. I had a lamb shank. French toast with caramel ice cream for dessert. Highly recommended.
People who take pictures of their food at restaurants are the worst. Nevertheless, thanks to the guy on Yelp who took this cassoulet photo.
We swung by my apartment and Mom and Dad marvelled at the backyard garden filled with flowers and fruit trees. I hustled them past the rest of the place, which is a shithole. I avoided mentioning the various manhunts that have occurred on my block since I moved here. We drove around the neighborhood a bit. I didn’t go to any actually bad parts of Oakland, but it’s hard to avoid huge tags on walls and piles of trash on curbs. I’d be interested to hear my parents’ candid thoughts about my neighborhood. I think they were expecting the worst and were pleasantly surprised.
We drove around Lake Merritt and up to Berkeley for lunch. First we stopped by Cesar Chavez Park, which is a park I like a lot. We ate at 900 Grayson, which is said to have one of the best burgers in the country, and is neither a diner, a drive-in, nor a dive. I had the burger. Very good. The brioche bun was the highlight. A little fancy for my taste. Ahn’s ¼ Pound Burger is more my style.
A+ burgers in a style similar to midwestern favorite Culver’s
Next stop, Tilden Park in Berkeley. I spend a lot of time up in the hills, and Mom and Dad wanted to see what it was all about. I decided on Tilden because there’s a nice easy trail through the eucalyptus trees. I maybe should have gone with Joaquin Miller or Redwoods, but I wanted to go to 900 Grayson and this was more on the way. I think Mom and Dad were fine with eucalyptus instead of redwoods. They’re probably the more exotic of the two. Really cool-looking. Another point for Tilden is Lake Anza, which is a really cool spot. If I thought my parents had the gas to make it to Wildcat Peak, it would have been a slam dunk afternoon. As it was, not too shabby. We drove back to Oakland through the Berkeley hills. Grizzly Peak Boulevard. We stopped at one of the lookouts on the road. Pretty good view.
Eucalyptus bark is wild
I dropped Mom and Dad off at their hotel for a nap. They were pretty tired from all the walking and the time change. The time adjustment from Eastern/Central to Pacific is often underestimated. It’s tougher than most people think.
Dinner at Champa Garden. Dad suggested some kind of Asian cuisine not readily available in Minneapolis. I thought about hitting one of the good local pho joints, but there are plenty of those in Mpls and I think Mom would have been put off by the ambience of a good pho house. (Ambience is inversely proportional to the quality of the soup, generally speaking–see Oakland’s best pho pictured below.) So Champa Garden. I don’t think there are any Lao restaurants in Mpls. Maybe there are. There probably are, now that I think of it. Anyway, I like Champa Garden. It was packed. A good meal was had by all.
Sounds like “fucking” hahaha I’m 12 years old
Mom and Dad wanted to go back and see downtown SF. Dad especially wanted to ride the BART. So that was our big plan. Mom had coffee with an old friend of hers in the morning and then we set out around 11. Mom and Dad were kind of fascinated by my descriptions of eating tacos served from trucks, so that was my great idea for lunch. We got some tacos and burritos and headed out for a picnic at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park.
Oakland’s best park, non-hills division
Middle Harbor Shoreline Park is a crazy and awesome park. It’s right in the middle of the HUGE Port of Oakland. Driving there through the shipyards, surrounded by semi trucks, is pretty intimidating. It is a great park. Great views of SF, the Bay Bridge, the abandoned Alameda Navy base, and gigantic unloading container ships. The port was more or less dead, it being Saturday, which was disappointing. It’s cool to be in the middle of the action.
After our highly successful picnic, we set out for SF once again. Dad’s plan was to get out downtown and just walk around. He and Mom were both surprised at the number of tourists. I was surprised at their surprise. We walked from the Powell Street BART station down to City Hall. We went through a couple highly sketchy Tenderloin blocks. I wanted to let Mom and Dad execute their plan of walking around, but I should have exerted more control over the route. No harm done in the end. We walked back up to Union Square. Mom wanted to do some shopping. She specifically planned to buy something for my sister. She wanted to stop at Forever 21 to do so. I am totally baffled by that impulse. She had just told me about the huge new Forever 21 at the Mall of America. Why waste your time at the one in SF? I steered her toward Uniqlo, and she bought a couple shirts.
I hear this is a cool store
Then we stopped at the mall on Market Street. Mom was blown away. This was maybe her favorite stop of the whole weekend. I was, again, baffled. This isn’t an especially large or impressive mall. I guess it’s just the fact that it’s downtown and is several stories tall. I don’t know. It has curving escalators and an atrium I guess.
Cool place for a bar
Back to Oakland. We stopped and had a drink on the patio of Portal overlooking Lake Merritt. Mom and Dad were both impressed by how nice the east side of Lake Merritt is. I spend a lot of time down that way for the same reason. Dinner at Boot and Shoe Service. What an interesting and offbeat name for a restaurant! Food was good. Fancy pizzas and such on the menu. Dad had a deep-fried rabbit leg. Rabbit is a trendy thing on menus these days. Kind of an interesting phenomenon. It’s the only animal in America that I can think of that’s a) kept as a pet, b) found commonly in the wild, and c) eaten as food. When Dad was a lad, he sometimes visited his grandparents’ farm. They served rabbit that they trapped on said farm. They told the kids it was chicken because the kids, Dad included, wouldn’t eat rabbit. Now Dad spends $20 on it at a hipster restaurant. I can’t even imagine what old Wietse* would think of that.
*This is a Dutch name. Did I tell you my family is Dutch?
Overall a fun weekend. There’s a lot of good food to eat in the Bay Area. A lot of fun things to do. A lot of good views to be had. A lot of interesting vegetation. A lot of good weather if it’s snowing in late April where you live.