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  • Writer's pictureNick International

California Love - Pt 1 (San Francisco)

I discovered something in San Francisco; it is that you can actually feel freedom, and relaxation in a metropolis. It’s in the air; it’s in the attitude of the people almost as though it is built into the foundation of the Golden Gate city. The pace of life is so chilled; it was almost like being on one of the islands of The Bahamas but much more developed with towering buildings and a proud sense of diversity I’ve never seen in all of my travels. This is not a city for the closed minded, the anything-phobic, or those with orthodox rigid values – this is a city for everyone.

Welcome, to San Francisco

From Nassau, it feels like a bit of a long mission and this is from someone who is used to regularly making 10 hour transatlantic trips to the U.K. I suppose the pandemic is to blame for my not having boarded BA flight 252 in almost 2 years. But, this is about San Fran so back back to Cali Cali, I go.

You’re going to want to hop a flight to Miami, or Charlotte and then connect to head to SFO which is a five and a half hour flight away. About an hour and a half out of SFO you see the mountains rise up and you can spot the fault lines grafted by the tectonic plates shifting near and around the San Andreas Fault line. The reddish-brown topography glazed by the sunset on approach as the evening closing in makes the horizon fade from oxblood to a deep orange. By the time you land, it’s already dark and like sequins on a shimmery gown the lights of San Francisco adorn the landscape and paint your first picture of this global city.

Getting a taxi from the airport into downtown San Fran was simple, and there are of course Lyfts and Ubers available if that’s your preference. The 20 minute drive is like a quick procession down an aisle leading to a city that is the altar of divergence; something just feels different. Think of New York and San Francisco as siblings, New York is the elder sibling that the parents were figuring things out with, and San Francisco is the younger sibling that was just easier to get right because there was no more trial and error involved. Sorry, New York.

We stayed at the W, part of the Marriot Bonvoy collection, which is essentially at the centre of downtown “Frisco” and within walking distance to Washington Square, and a whole slew of quaint cafes and restaurants. The first night was all about getting checked in, and getting some rest. We had dinner plans, but they got absolutely derailed by flight delays and Scotiabank acting the complete ass. Thank God for Uber Eats.

Day 1 – Lavender Gimlets, Prison and “Julio”

The morning was a brisk 55 degrees and honestly I hadn’t been checking the weather like I normally would before a trip so I was very much like “What the fuck is really going on?” The sunrise was truly beautiful; it was as though the sun peeked out to say “Hey, welcome to the city” before it disappeared in the cloud cover to start its own daily routine.

After the previous night, we were as hungry as you can possibly imagine, thankfully my partner and travel buddy @petechebethell was quick to find us a breakfast spot just around the corner, called The Grove. I would 10/10 recommend this restaurant if you’re looking for good, traditional breakfast and brunch staples and a bomb ass Lavender Gimlet.

Like I said, the W is well positioned in the city so it was literally a 3 minute walk to The Grove.

Of all the variations of eggs benedict, the California Eggs Benedict is now one of my favorites; in place of salmon, they serve it with locally grown avocadoes and strips of bacon doused in the smoothest hollandaise sauce I have had since the last time I made it. The interior gives quaint old house vibes; picture an old Aunty living in the country side with a fire-place and pumpkins to set the homely tone.

Peteche had the French Toast with a healthy side of bacon and a bomb ass fluffy southern style biscuit.

After a hearty meal, it was time to cross of a long time bucket list item of mine – Alcatraz Prison.

If you’re like me, I obsessively watch history documentaries about anything really, but I’ve always found the Alcatraz and its former inmates to be something of particular interest. I’ve been told that the famous track by The Eagles (which I am listening to as I write) “Hotel California” is actually about Alcatraz Prison. Whether it is, or isn’t I haven’t been able to confirm but either way, the minute you get there you understand why you can “check out anytime you like, but you can never leave”.

We boarded a ferry from the famous Pier 33; about a 10 minute right across the San Francisco Bay was “the Rock”. It’s a bone chilling fixture to behold set on an islet in the middle of the bay; a prison for the worst of the worst offenders in the history of the US up to 1963 when it was closed. Among some of the famous guests at the “Hotel California” were Alphonso “Al” Capone, Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson, and the one and only Machine Gun Kelly.

While I have to admit, the conditions didn’t look all that bad as far as prisons go, I think it is the fact that the lights of San Francisco are visible from most areas of the Prison, almost teasing the inmates, giving you hope of passage back to society but I’m sure they knew good and well that they’d never make it across the bay if they tried to escape. I can’t imagine what it felt like on arrival at this place as an inmate. As a visitor, it was a weird experience to be in this home for violent offenders – my whole body went cold, and that’s weird because I knew we’d be able to leave at some point. I don’t know much, but I know prison isn’t for me – that’s for sure.

Without standing on ceremony, we left at the end of the audio tour which took about an hour and boarded the ferry back to San Francisco. I think we both expected a little bit more from the experience, something more interactive but it is still worth visiting if you’re into that sort of thing. I felt like my release papers had been signed and I was a free man again.

We took a little break for booze and bites at Wipeout Bar on Pier 39, just a quick walk up the street; just a quick minute to recharge before we went for lunch at The Fog Harbor Fish House.

In true form, we always tend to meet people wherever we go, and when Peteche found out that her cousin Danielle was in San Fran, along with her colleague Mickaela, I knew I was going to have to relinquish some time for them to catch up. The only thing that makes great food better is great conversation and laughter and we certainly had a lot of that.

But, let’s talk about the damn food. That’s what is really important here. Brace yourself this is going to stir up your appetite.

One thing I have always wanted to try was Dungeness crab; it’s a pacific crab so you absolutely cannot find it in The Bahamas or anywhere on the east coast of the US (unless it’s imported obviously, but I want the fresh catch, feel me?). The garlic roasted Dungeness crab at The Fog was *chefs kiss* just perfect. The flesh was sweet and flavorful and the garlic butter just cranked that flavor profile up 10 notches; I almost ate the damn shell it was so delicious.

There was also a fantastic clam chowder that was creamy, still had elements of the ocean present in the flavor and was clearly made with love and pride.

The crab roll; a San Fran take on the traditional lobster roll was a true testament to Texas toast, stuffed with fresh Dungeness crab and buttered to perfection. This restaurant should definitely be on your list for San Francisco.

I got dragged along on a shopping excursion under the guise of a cable car ride – in Bahamian terms, "I get swing" – but it was a great way to see the hills of San Francisco. We also had the funniest cable car operator out there, I’m sure. I know two things about this man, he is an Oakland Raiders fan, and really thinks Julio is a cool name. There was a passenger named Julio on board, and he would rhythmically ring the cable car bell chanting Julio. It was hard to tell if Julio was embarrassed or jumped in on the joke but either way it was a ride filled with laughs as we meandered the steep – and I do mean steep – hills of San Francisco.

I don’t give a damn about Sephora or going to the mall so not going to talk about that. I am going to skip straight to dinner. But also, look at these three, one thing abut Bahamian women they are gonna pose.

So. Food, again! There's no shortage of places to eat in San Fran but by popular recommendation we went to a particular spot for dinner.

Go to China Live.

It’s an experience; mind you I am still not sure what this means but they had some really excellent food and terrific service. It’s one of those places you definitely have to go to on an empty stomach because the portions are massive, but the food is delicious and reminiscent of the authentic Chinese food I enjoyed so much during my time in Beijing.

A Chrysanthemum salad to start was slightly tart, but oddly a great taste bud cleanser for what was to come.

The highlight was the Peking duck “sandwiches”. I can’t even put into words how tasty this duck was; the skin was crispy, and the meat was cooked to perfection with a tidy amount of hoisin sauce and green onion to compliment this perfect score.

Day 2 - Sweet Maple, Tarantula and the Great Tap Out

I am a freak for breakfast and brunch. I prefer to have her for breakfast and then go and get brunch, so that’s exactly what we did. Was that too much? Oh well.

Sweet Maple is the type of breakfast and brunch restaurant I really enjoy. This place isn’t in walking distance, you’ll need to take a Lyft to get there (it’s about a 15 minute ride from downtown) and after you eat the massive portions of food you will need a lift and a Lyft to get back.

Famous for their Millionaire’s Bacon; that was an absolute must try, right? But, it didn’t stop there. You can do what I like to call a bacon flight where they bring you one thick strip of each flavor of bacon that they make. It’s a pork lover’s paradise, naturally I was in heaven.

The Citron flavor was a bit salty, I mean, you don’t really need to add MORE salt to bacon, but I get it, I guess – a little razzle dazzle never hurt. They won’t tell you exactly what they use to season the original but that was actually my favorite. It’s peppery, it’s zesty and a little smokey with a sweet kick at the end that gives Maple Syrup vibes. I could gloss over the cinnamon entirely because who the fuck puts cinnamon on bacon? Rosemary is a welcome addition to the striped swine and I’d definitely do that in my home cooking when I’m feeling nostalgic.

Also, I had a Dungeness crab omelet that was topped with thick shavings of parmesan cheese; I had never had a crab omelet but it is definitely something I am going to try and replicate with some local ingredients. I mean, damn that was a great omelet.

A little saltiness from the crab, which almost tasted like it was butter poached first actually; the eggs were whipped lightly ad cooked perfectly - a dream in a world where people screw up such a simple breakfast dish.

Peteche had the incredibly fluffy pancakes with fruit, chicken sausage and a side of scrambled eggs; the pancakes were like buttermilk clouds and that is how a damn pancake is supposed to be done.

For my Bahamian readers, this place gives the old Olives Restaurant vibes, and you can easily tell by the $50 surcharge imposed for throwing up in the restaurant that Sweet Maple gets absolutely turned up for brunch.

Oh. Wait. There is also a bottomless mimosa option, as many as you can drink in 1 hour. By my count, we got through 12 in total, I think? I don’t know after the Mango mimosas ran out so did sobriety and my ability to count. A reasonably priced and popular restaurant, this is a great place for a trendy brunch in a chilled neighborhood outside of downtown.

It’s important that you know that for the rest of the day we had planned to go to the Golden Gate Bridge, do the Hop on Hop off bus tour of the city, check out DogPatch and the Mission where there are a load of breweries and cafes, visit the Japanese Tea Garden, and check out the San Fran Museum of Modern Art. None of this happened after we left Barbary Coast. I’m not throwing anyone under the bus I’m just saying I’m not the one that tapped out. What is Barbary Coast? A dispensary.

Check the flex.

Cannabis use for medicinal and recreational purposes is legal according to California State law, though still illegal under US Federal Law. Uncle Sam got this all the way fucked up, but that’s a different story. There are two dispensaries that everyone seemed to mention, the Apothecarium, and Barbary Coast. We decided to visit Barbary Coast. Absent only of the history that The Bulldog Coffee Shop in Amsterdam has, Barbary Coast trump any dispensary of coffee shop I have ever visited.

There were so many options to choose from – gummies to cookies, sodas to juices, cannabis flowers to shatter – it is a mini-market for the cannabis connoisseur, basically. It is very unassuming in décor and modest in its charm but with a comfortable lounge and incredibly knowledgeable staff it’s a great place if you’re just looking to have some canna-fun in San Francisco. While I wouldn’t label myself as a cannabis expert, I will say that I know a few things.

It was really my first time having cannabis infused soda and it was delicious, word to Future, this was the real dirty sprite. I also got some Birthday Cake cookies and few pre-rolls just for the hell of it.

It was a wild experience to be able to freely roam the streets of a major city and enjoy a Tarantula Strain pre-roll. Naturally, my black senses started tingling the minute I saw the cops but then it clicked “Fuck it, I’m in Cali”. That strain is no joke though; I see why Lil Wayne gave it honorable mention in the intro to “Seeing Green”. It’s incredibly potent with a slow onset and an intense climb up the ladder toward mellow and sensational. Having the soda beforehand probably didn’t help much either.

My darling’s Bahamian roots started to show through and somehow we ended up in target buying snacks, went back to the hotel and then passed out for the rest of the day. We did nothing, literally nothing else. We even put on a movie and didn’t even make it 10 minutes in before passing out only to wake up at 10:00pm like “Well, what the fuck happened?”

That’s San Fran in a really big nutshell. It really was a fun experience but not at all the point of the adventure. The real trip started the next day.

Next stop, the Napa Valley.

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