San Francisco/Napa Valley: PART ONE

San Francisco.  City of Rice-a-Roni, sourdough bread, and the Golden Gate Bridge – which I don’t think I will ever be able to dissociate from the Full House opening credits.  This place has always been high on my list to see as I’ve only heard good things – particularly in the food-realm – but without a great excuse to visit, it’s remained uncharted territory for a long time.

Thanks to business school, however, Patrick is working his summer internship in the Bay area (with that fruit company), which finally granted us the perfect opportunity to explore the city together.

When we arrived from our 5-hour flight in the early afternoon, we were basically famished.  Thanks to Priceline, our hotel was located on Fisherman’s Wharf and sustenance was just a short walk away.


I keep hearing about Boudin Bakery and how it is the place to go for the quintessential sourdough experience.  Apparently they can trace their roots all the way back to the California Gold Rush.


When famished, you know you are in the right place when you are greeted with rows and rows of bread upon entering.


Not to mention baskets of it rotating continuously around the ceiling.


We decided to share the Clam Chowder bread bowl and crab cake sandwich which ended up being a wise decision on our parts because they were both DELICIOUS.  I highly recommend dipping the crab cake sandwich into the clam chowder.


At the front of the bakery, they have large windows set up so you can watch the bread being made and shaped into fun creatures, like this alligator.  Also, some of the bakers have headsets so you can interact with them.


Next time I want to get this cute turtle, but I might feel guilty biting into it (only for a second).


After lunch we wandered around Fisherman’s Wharf.


We spotted Alcatraz Island in the distance (where we would be heading for a tour shortly) and took advantage of this lovely photo op.

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During our wanderings, we also found this rather fun museum called The Musee Mechanique which is a sprawling collection of antique coin-operated machines.


I was infatuated with this display called “The Carnival” which is an entire carnival scene broken down into tiny, elaborate pieces that light up and come to life when you feed it a quarter.

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Patrick was more interested in the career pilot,


these photos of the San Francisco earthquake,


and this French execution game, in which you pop in a quarter, a curtain opens onto this scene and, well, you can fill in the rest.  The whole thing is about 15 seconds long.


We wanted to stay and explore more but we had 4pm reservation with Alcatraz Tours.


We hopped a ferry and, when the wind wasn’t whipping my hair violently into my face, the island gradually came into focus.

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Not only did this island once house a federal prison from 1933-1963, but it was also home to a group of Native American activists in the late 1960’s (hence the graffiti).


The Alcatraz tour was a self-guided audio tour which meant we were able to explore at our own leisure.  Next time I would like to try a nighttime tour as I’m sure the ambiance would be completely different!



This is the recreation area which you may recognize if you’ve seen the movie Escape from Alcatraz.  And speaking of Alcatraz-related shows, did anyone else happen to catch the 2012 TV series Alcatraz?  The one produced by J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot Productions?  I kind of thought that series deserved a 2nd season even though I had no idea where the plot was going (but hey, that didn’t stop me from obsessively watching all 8 seasons of Lost.)


Just beyond this concrete expanse – surrounded on each side by towering walls – was this magnificent view of the city, which I’m sure the prisoners rarely got the chance to witness (probably to their benefit).


Instead, they were limited to this view of the outside world.


Or no view at all for those in solitary confinement.  To help the time pass, one inmate spoke of throwing a coin onto the ground and then searching the floor until he found it.  Sounds pretty enthralling, right?


I also found it interesting to see how the kitchen kept track of their knives when the prisoners were done working for the day.  Apparently knives still went missing.  Hmm…


Following the tour, we headed back to the city and decided to find dinner around Little Italy.  And what better mode of transportation to take than the San Francisco cable car, which remains the last manually operated cable car system in the world?


OK actually there were probably a lot cheaper and faster ways to get down there (we stood in line for over an hour!) but we were of course going more for the experience 🙂


When it reaches the end of the line, the cable car turns around by loading onto this rotating circle where workers manually push it into the opposite direction.

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When it was finally our turn, I snatched a bench seat while Patrick stood in front of me holding onto these poles for support.


Since San Francisco boasts some rather lofty hills, it was interesting riding along as the cable car powered through some of the steeper ascents and descents.


Per our concierge’s recommendation, we got off at the Chinatown gate and explored a bit of the area.

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Just past Chinatown, we stopped at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in Little Italy, which was another recommendation from our concierge as well as one of Patrick’s friends who is from San Francisco.


Admittedly I was a little hesitant at first, thinking a generic name might make for generic pizza.  Turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong!  (More on this in a second).

We arrived around 9pm and were told we still had about 1.5-2 hours wait (on a Wednesday night!).


Fortunately we were able to give them our phone numbers and continued to explore the neighborhood (stopping for some Pringles along the way to tie us over).  We headed to the Coit Tower, which was about a 15 minute walk from the restaurant.  The tower was closed but we still had a fantastic nighttime view of the city from here!


About an hour later, we returned to the restaurant and were seated relatively quickly since we opted for an outdoor table.

Now, where to begin with this place?  How about the fact that the owner, Tony Gemignani, is an 11-time World Pizza Champion?  Check out some of his pizza tossing skills here and read about some of his impressive accolades here.  Or that many of their ingredients are imported directly from small suppliers in Italy?  This limits them to serving only a set amount of certain pizzas a day, like their famous, award-winning Margherita pizza.


Since it was already past 10pm, we were kind of out of luck there.  Luckily, the menu has a ton of other options including almost any style of pizza, each cooked at varying temperatures in various types of ovens (electric, gas, wood-fired, etc.).  This feature highlights a number of options.


We learned that the hotter ovens (up to 1000 degrees) produce a softer, more malleable crust since they are only baked for 90 seconds or so.  We were in the mood for something a bit crunchier, so we ordered the Jersey’s Original Tomato Pie which is cooked in a 550 degree gas oven and made with hand-crushed tomatoes, sliced mozzarella cheese, oregano, garlic, parmesan, olive oil, and Italian sausage.


This was seriously amazing pizza.  Seriously!


We also ordered their meatballs which I also highly recommend.


I really didn’t want the leftovers to go to waste so I saved them for breakfast the next day 🙂


If you’re ever in San Francisco, you must try this place!  It’s worth the wait (especially if you can stop and see the Coit Tower in the meantime).


More on our San Francisco/Napa Valley adventures in my next post!

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7 thoughts on “San Francisco/Napa Valley: PART ONE

  1. Loooove this first recap! Your Boudin Bakery pictures have me craving some animal-shaped bread. 🙂 I also felt like I was touring Alcatraz all over again – great photos. The Musee Mechanique looks so cool, and that pizza place looks and sounds absolutely fantastic. Can’t wait to hear more about your adventures!

  2. Debby Engel says:

    I haven’t been to San Francisco yet, but I really want to now. I hope to go with you there too. The pictures are great, but the food looks soo good! At least I get to live vicariously through you. Keep the pictures coming.

  3. Mikala says:

    LOL “that fruit company…”

    I really want to see that little carnival that comes to life when you put a quarter in it! And I reallllyyyyy want some of that clam chowder and the crab cake sandwich.

  4. Susan says:

    Great San Fran post! We went to Boudin bakery when we were there last year; I’m pretty sure I ordered that same bread bowl and chowdah (the proper Boston pronunciation :)). Haven’t been to Alcatraz yet, but boy, that find-the-coin-on-the-ground game sounds uh… super fun.

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