June 7, 2009
★ One Year in San Francisco: Getting Out & Finding Food

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Food in San Francisco

I didn’t know this until moving here, but some of the best tasting food in the world is in SF. Of course, I’ve never traveled outside of The U.S., but I’ve been told this by a lot of people. SF cuisine is very diverse. Chinatown is only a mile from Japantown which is only a mile from some amazing French cuisine. Chinatown sits alongside Little Italy which borders Fisherman’s Wharf. Food in SF is amazing if you can afford it but beware of the locals giving you hell for getting Starbucks. Like most of SF culture, I mentioned earlier that you have to be a part of a clique to be accepted here, despite the fact that everyone says feel free to be as expressive and unique as you want. Living in SF can be a pleasurable experience if you can afford it. If you can’t afford it, it can be miserable because there is so much awesomeness but you’ll find yourself eating at Subway everyday because that’s all you can afford. Maybe I should start over as I’m coming off way too bitter about this.

I often tweet or post photos of what I’m eating day to day because I enjoy sharing what I’m up to with everyone. Every time I post a tweet, photo or public update about what I’m eating, I’ll get a reply from a local that’s usually negative unless I’m dining at one of the top 25 places to eat in SF. In SF, everyone likes to announce that they know things. I don’t think social networks are to blame but I find it interesting that social networks allow you to tell everyone what you’re up to all started in SF. I can tweet that I’m at Pancho Villa enjoying an amazing chicken burrito and I’ll get 3 replies telling me Pancho Villa sucks and xxxxxxxx is better. If I tweet that I had Subway, you’d think that I just announced I was raped as a child and the comments about how stupid I am and how sorry they are for me that I had to eat such horrible food starts coming in. There are 50 other sub places that I could’ve eaten at but I eat at Subway because it’s $5 for a sub (compared to $9 at other places) and I actually like eating there.

If I buy meat from Safeway (a local grocery store), I’m told there’s a butcher in The Marina that is the best in town and I get some look as if I just bought rotten meat and, once again, they feel sorry for me. There’s a feeling that I’m a horrible person for getting Starbucks instead of drinking Peets and why go to Chevy’s when there are “far better tex mex places within walking distance.” What people fail to mention is that most places in SF have small portions, cost twice as much as chain restaurants and are generally packed with people. I prefer to spend less money and get more for my money. Then they agree with me but have one more thing to say, such as, “Think of the money you’re giving to the corporations and how you could be reinvesting back into the local community.” Oh jeez. Well, they have a point but I’m still not switching because now I have to eat out half as much as I do now (which is about 3 times a month) just so I can support local businesses. That’s why I give up. It’s typical pretentiousness of this city and I have a feeling it’s the case with most cities.

In closing, since I have to offer you some tips, Yelp.com is king here. The reviews are great, categories are perfect and it’s the place you go to find where to eat. Ignore the foodies who make you feel like an ass for eating at a chain restaurant and the one tip that I think is valuable is that you never eat at the same place twice in SF. There’s so much amazing food in SF that it’s best to always go to a different place so you can let your taste buds explore the beauty of quality food.

Getting out of San Francisco

If you’re like me, you didn’t grow up in a city and all of this is brand new. The noise the first month living in the city will keep you awake at night and you’ll realize there’s never a moment when you don’t see or hear another human being. It really gets to you but you’ll get used to it. If your job doesn’t require a lot of travel, then I’d recommend getting out of town for a 3 day weekend once a month. Seriously, it’s healthy and will keep you sane.

SF is a beautiful place but it takes only 2 weeks to do every tourist thing and suddenly you find yourself wanting more. How the heck do you get out of town with no car?

There are a few options here. A bicycle can get you over the golden gate bridge and all the way up to wine country. You can go north to Seattle if you’re overly ambitious, but I’ve gone about 25 miles north of SF on my bicycle and it took about 5 hours. I even took a ferry back into the city, so don’t worry too much about getting home. Just map out the 2-4 ferry areas in north bay and make sure you can get to one of them.

If you’re lucky enough to have a friend with a car, then it’s easy. Pay their gas and plan something outside of the city but there’s still a few alternatives. The first is Caltrain / BART. You can get to a lot of interesting places on these two transportation systems. I spoke about them earlier. Berkley, Oakland, Walnut Creek, Richmond, Redwood City, Millbrae, Palo Alto, San Jose, Cupertino, Mountain View and Burlingame are just a few of the places these public transit routes pass through. For about $10-$20 you can go to any of them round trip so those are great ways to get around.

Looking for more freedom? Signup for Zipcar or City CarShare. I use City CarShare and like it, but both of them have their advantages. They offer hourly or daily rental prices and it’s a membership so you’ll find yourself paying monthly to be a member and billed automatically every month for your usage. Go online, pick out a car and pick it up at hundreds of different garages all over the bay area. Cars range from Mini Coopers to Mini Vans or Mid-Size Trucks. This can get very expensive so we just use it for our weekly grocery trips and maybe a once a month day trip to an area outside of the city. Either way, having a membership is valuable for times when you have to get somewhere for work that you can’t get to using public transit. The hourly fees can be expensed in most cases. Insurance and gasoline for the cars is included in the hourly rate.

Flights from SF or Oakland are very cheap. Flights on Virgin America leaving SFO to Seattle, Las Vegas or Los Angeles are $49-$65 each way and flights are only 1-2 hours. If you have a friend in any one of those places, take a $5 BART ride to SFO, hop on a plane and spend the weekend somewhere else. You work for an Internet company so you can work wherever there’s a Wi-Fi hotspot and at 5PM, close your laptop and enjoy your time at your destination. It’s very affordable to get out of town and SF’s location on the map is very convenient for getting away.

Finally, going for a walk is a great way to get out of the city (not quite literally). San Francisco is very diverse and you can escape the foggy wind in Sunset District with a 10 minute walk. Tired of SOMA traffic? Walk to North Beach which is about 30 minutes on foot and suddenly, you can find some quiet parks to chill out in without the crowds.