Boarding the plane to move to San Francisco was a day of very mixed emotions. Although I was very excited to be moving to San Francisco, to be living in California, I was still sad to be leaving Hong Kong. Hong Kong was a place that surpassed my expectations and gave me two wonderful years. I had only been to California as a child, so my idea of California has mostly been created from movies and the awesome ‘Visit California’ adverts, and I thought the reality might be a disappointment. How wrong I was, it never rains, there are palm tress, endless beaches, wonderfully friendly people, a diverse society which is artsy, chic and easy going. California you are quite a special place indeed.
In Hong Kong there was a noticeable expat community, which isn’t as present in San Francisco. When you are walking down the street in Hong Kong you rarely have interactions with strangers, whereas in San Francisco you can’t be in your own bubble, people smile and talk to each other and complete strangers start conversations with you. At first it seemed alien to me but it’s helped make me feel at home in this beautiful city.
Moving, on the other hand, has been difficult, and unlike the 6 weeks it took for our belongings to be shipped to Hong Kong, the wait here was 14 weeks, due to delays. We lived with plastic plates and cutlery for ages, and I really missed my kitchen. But it’s now fully functioning and three times larger than our single hob plug-in-oven kitchen in Hong Kong.
There is another side to San Francisco and that is of people living on the streets. Homelessness is a bleak reality for many people, with beds for only 1 in 5 homeless people. Since we moved here I have been volunteering in the Dining Room at St Anthony’s Foundation. I have been so impressed with this charity, which serves over 2500 meals every day in a dining room that provides a place of security and support for the homeless guests. I volunteer once a week with the same group of volunteers who are among the most inspirational and caring people I have ever met. Many are retired, some well into their 80s, and some who have volunteered here for over 30 years. I get such an education in compassion, care, passion and empathy here. It has also been very interesting from a food perspective, seeing thousands of meals being served. You can volunteer four times before you need to train, so if you visit SF and fancy helping out, as well as getting to know the city, you can sign up to volunteer online very easily.
So here is the low down and my highlights from my first 90 days in San Francisco. I will be adding more posts so keep checking for updates.
On our very first morning we went to the Ferry Building for the Cuesa Farmers Market, and we now go every Saturday. The farmers market is possibly my favourite thing about San Francisco and I love going every week to get my fresh produce. Buying from a local market not only supports local farmers, it reduces your carbon footprint and brings you fresher produce.
This is the place I rely on for many of my purchases as it is an online site selling everything you would need, and at much cheaper prices. It also has great sales each month so you can stock up, and next day delivery so you rarely need to spend more in the supermarkets.
We arrived late Friday night and we were keen to explore. I was very excited to buy goodies from Whole Foods Market. These types of shops were not in Hong Kong, so walking around the aisles and having endless choices of delicious healthy foods was heavenly.
There is a joke in San Francisco called ‘Whole Pay Check’, for if you shop there you will spend your month’s salary. But Whole Foods is actually not that badly priced, some things are more expensive, but for a few items it is ok. Mainly it is just lovely to walk around a beautiful store with yummy things on the shelves.
Another brilliant store selling everything you could want for healthy allergy-friendly cooking. From bee pollen to all types of nuts, grains, seeds, flours and fresh produce.
The first meal I craved in SF was Vietnamese; I had become used to having Vietnamese food weekly in HK and so after three weeks of none I was mouth-wateringly excited to try Mau. I had the Cha Ca La Vong and it was scrummy, the atmosphere is great, lively and chilled.
San Francisco’s food scene is fabulous, with so many foodie places, which have in common a laid back atmosphere with no particular dress code in the restaurants, which is refreshing. Sometimes it is nice to go somewhere with a slightly fancier buzz for a candle-lit dinner. Kokkari is the place for that; you do need to book in advance though. Kokkari is a Greek restaurant, and although the tables are packed in, the candles and lighting makes every table feel intimate. I do love Greek food, but sadly if you can’t eat the list of things I can’t eat, then this food can be difficult, although the chef will amend things and whip up something for you. I had a delicious salad and fish dish.
Food trucks are a big thing in San Francisco, and with the wonderful weather it’s brilliant to sit and eat outside, and you don’t have tax or service added on to the bill. Off the Grid is an innovative group that brings the food trucks together a few times a week at different locations. You can also track your favourite food trucks and see where they will be next. My favourite food truck is Bowl D Acai, which serves great acai bowls, juices and smoothies, the perfect breakfast or mid morning/afternoon booster.
When we found our flat in SF I didn’t know that it was round the corner from BiRite Market and Ice Creamery, an amazing place to be near. BiRite is a food store that sells delicious fresh produce, prepared foods and artisan items. I love just walking around their store and looking at all the delicious items, but what I really love is the vegan ice cream. The scrummy chocolate coconut milk ice cream is utterly divine and you will be in heaven when you eat it. You can buy tubs at their market store or you can join the queue in the ice cream scoop store across the street. Cold days, warm days, lunch times, afternoons, evening and late at night, this place has a queue. It is insanely popular, but queuing is almost part of the fun of it all. There is a real buzz and energy in the queue with everyone chatting while they wait outside. We go every Monday night for ice cream; wrap up warm and go queue. Oh, and I forgot to say that they have gluten-free cones, yes gluten free, so you can lick the ice cream rather than when you have a cup and have to use a spoon.
In the Ferry Building is Humphrey and Slocombe, one of my favourite places where we go Thursday lunchtimes. It is a delicious ice creamery with two sorbets on rotation. The best flavour by far is the Coconut sorbet, which is not like sorbet at all, but creamy and so ‘lickalicous’. The next best flavour is P.O.G sorbet, which stands for Passion fruit, Orange and Guava, and the taste of these three is sublime.
Plant-based, organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, refined-sugar-free. Serving yummy chia pots and smoothies for breakfasts and great salads and baked goods for lunch. I have sat outside Seed and Salt in the suntrap seats enjoying numerous different items. The chia pot is a perfect breakfast before a walk along the Marina soaking in the beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The salad mixes and cookies are a fabulous re-fuel for lunch after a hike from Lands End past the Golden Gate Bridge and Palace of Fine Arts.
This is another interesting place in the Ferry Building, and I do love this building. I would happily spend every lunchtime here mooching in all the stores. Marisposa is a gluten-free bakery, but they also have some vegan and soya free items.
Dandelion is a San Francisco chocolate factory in the Mission District, making the best vegan chocolate bar I have tasted. It is soya and dairy free, yet not dry or crumbly and it has a smooth fruity delicious taste.
Finally, people have caught on to the fact that soya milk is not good for you and not a healthy alternative to milk. San Francisco cafes have clocked onto this and serve almond milk, which I have only recently been able to tolerate. If it’s not for you there is a good variety of teas and juices.
We went to Petaluma to shop in the antique/vintage furniture stores of which there are many here. We found some great things, including an industrial lamp and a wall hanging. Petaluma is a sweet town, and there are families who carry pet piglets shopping with them…yes piglets…don’t believe me, see the photo below. Not only is this a delightful town, just 40 minutes drive from San Francisco, but it also has some fabulous food places.
I was so chuffed to find this place in my research before we went to Petaluma, as I love acai bowls and so this was our first port of call when we arrived in the town. It was a cute café with a wide range of smoothies, juices, bowls and snacks.
This was another cute cafe to stumble across as it had an interesting selection of teas and some vegan or some gluten-free pastries, but unfortunately for me not both gluten free and vegan.
I am a city girl through and through; I like the countryside but give me a busy hectic city any day. Living in California for only three months has changed this slightly as I am beginning to fall in love with the suburbs and smaller towns. Getting on the BART train and going to Berkeley brings you too a sweet town with a beautiful main street with quaint little stores.
The first thing that stands out when you walk into Mission Heirloom is the fabulous space that is decked out really well. The outside seating is heavenly, with a covered area, fairy lights and bright tables. Your attention is drawn to the menu with a fresh organic healthy stance. All their food is free from grains, refined sugars and oil. I love the way the food is presented, with the salads and soups in beautiful jars. They have a great selection of baked goods as well.
I had the carrot soup which was so clean and fresh tasting and it was beautifully presented with edible flowers.
This is my favourite restaurant; the menu is entirely vegan and plant based, with many gluten-free items. Unfortunately nuts are used as the main substitute, but there are some nut-free items. I had the Pure salad, which was really scrummy but I cant wait to try even more of there dishes.