Last summer, while planning my now-annual visit to California to visit my dad, I added in a new stop that I hope becomes a regular one — San Francisco. One of my hometown best friends had recently moved cross-country to settle in Lower Pacific Heights, and I couldn’t wait to explore the amazing life she’d created for herself out west.
After a long flight from Albany, where I’d barely caught my breath after my Boston and Martha’s Vineyard trip, I couldn’t wait to give Michelle a squeeze — and enjoy four days in a city I hadn’t properly explored since a school trip when I was thirteen.
After losing my mind at the amazing-ness of Michelle’s brownstone apartment (she lucked into the third bedroom of a rent-controlled apartment her two sweet roommates have rented for more than eight years), we headed out for drinks. San Francisco, I’d learned, isn’t huge on rooftop bars — so the heated “roof-ish” patio at Jones was a pretty big deal.
I was immediately glad Michelle had insisted I bring a sweater. You know that famous Mark Twain quote, “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco?” THAT DUDE KNEW WHAT WAS UP.
We continued our reunion celebration with dinner at Hops and Hominy and bar hopping what felt like all over the Bay Area. As someone who is often in serious trip planning and logistics coordinating mode, there’s nothing I love more than visiting my friends and just blindly following them around for a few days with little to no awareness of where I actually am. Makes blog writing difficult in retrospect (ha!) but it’s such a treat at the time.
The next day, Michelle had an amazingly fun itinerary planned with hiking and brunch and so many of my favorite things. Unfortunately, I was feeling sicker than I have in ages and so was basically a useless blob the entire day — more on that later. But leave it to this super host to find the perfect activity even for an invalid houseguest: a feel-good movie at the fancy Kabuki 8 theater.
The following morning, though still feeling pretty weak, I couldn’t stand the thought of wasting another day on Michelle’s lovely itinerary, and so we set off for a gentle walk through Crissy Field. It was a chilly and windy morning, and fog dramatically clung to the bright red Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.
At the base, we climbed up the Fort Point tower for better views, and could only take our hands out of our pockets long enough to snap quick selfies before they felt like they were freezing again! I could not believe that it was June in California and I was so cold (and yes, in fact, I am writing about this trip nearly a full year later — whoops.)
Thankfully, things started to warm up by the time we got back to the car. The walk had wiped me out but also worked up the first bit of appetite I’d had in over 36 hours, so I was pumped for our next stop — Chestnut Street in Pac Heights.
We could have spent all day strolling this too-cute neighborhood. After evaluating several options, we settled on lunch at Tacolicious, where I nodded in agreement to their signature tagline, “fingers over forks.”
When we emerged from the restaurant, I was shocked by what awaited us outside — bright blue skies! I never would have guessed based on the morning that our day would turn out this way. Michelle was kind enough to drive me back to see the bridge from another vantage point so I could obsessively take photos with this beautiful gift of sun. Ah, tourists.
But seriously… how beautiful is this?!
We ended up going for another wander, this time down to the harbor. The views looked familiar — they were the same I’d seen from my Alcatraz Cruise, my one little pop-in to San Fran since my last proper visit almost fifteen years prior.
But sometimes, when you’re catching up with an old friend, it doesn’t really matter so much where you are or what you’re doing… it’s all just background to a great conversation, anyway.
The morning’s activities left my still-rough-self pretty wiped, but Michelle knew just what to do: a driving tour! I did get out of the car at our two main destinations, but mostly I was quite happy to watch the city go by from the car window, listening to my friend’s narration about her new home.
Perhaps my favorite stop was the Painted Ladies. This famous row of Victorian Houses got its big break in the opening credits of Full House, but fame hasn’t gone to its head.
A little less overwhelming was Lombard Street. In theory, the world’s second windiest road sounds very cool, but in reality it’s actually pretty hard to appreciate (or photograph) unless you’re taking in an aerial view. Still, we drove down it, which was cool, and it was fun to see the huge tour group all angling for the best photo.
That night, we went to Tony’s for pizza and the Warrios game. While the waits are notoriously crazy at this popular eatery, we beat the system by sitting at the bar — a trade off I’m almost always happy to make when dining as a pair.
The next day was the first that I truly had my appetitive back, a terrible thing to lose in a city so famous for its cuisine. Michelle was working from home this day and it was so nice to just have side-by-side laptop time. As someone who often works alone, it really makes you appreciate the silent company of someone else doing the same. Other than a quick lunch outside on the street at The Grove, we chilled from our office on the couch all day.
And suddenly, it was my last night in San Francisco. We ran around town meeting up with various friends — dinner with Michelle’s roommate, drinks with my childhood neighbor and friend — and discovered two gems in the process. The first was Smuggler’s Cove, an intensely-themed pirate bar that would put most tikis to shame. While the night we visited was a little weird (there was no music playing, which I hate in a bar), I’ve had enough personal recommendations for this place to conclude that we just had an off night. I’d love to give it another chance and really work my way through the rum menu someday!
And our next stop was Chambers Bar, which looked like it was made for Instagram. Though we arrived not long before closing, this was one of my favorite finds from the whole trip, and also left me itching for a return.
We turned in after, as the next morning Michelle was back to the office, and I was on to San Jose for a night with my friend Abby before flying to Los Angeles. I always love visiting Abby — when travel bloggers get together they do boring stuff like go to the gym and go to nondescript restaurants and sit on the couch and watch TV and basically do nothing but catch up and gossip about our weird and wonderful industry. Well, at least these travel bloggers do. (And clearly, based on the zero evidence I have of these 24 hours with Abby, we don’t take many photos either.)
Five days in Northern California flew by.
They did so in large part due to the illness I mentioned before… which wasn’t just a bug.
I really hesitated on if I wanted to write about this or not, but I am pretty sure that I was drugged on our first night out. I have many reasons for thinking so, the primary one being that at our last stop for the night, Michelle and I were approached by a sketchy guy who tried to sell us drugs. We laughed off his dancefloor sales pitch (um yeah NO THANKS) but he wouldn’t quite leave us alone. Michelle says she noticed I started acting funny and the guy started speaking to me in Spanish, and I replying in it, so she couldn’t follow what was going on. I don’t remember any of this — because him buzzing around us like a fly you just can’t swat was my last memory of the entire night.
And so I also don’t remember that shortly after, as Michelle was putting us in an Uber, that same man muscled open the door or our car and forced himself into the vehicle just as we were pulling away. Michelle screamed that he wasn’t with us, and our driver screeched to the side of the road, yanked the guy out of the car and onto the curb, and hightailed us home to safely.
I was violently ill for two days; nauseous, weak, and unable to keep food or even water down. While I definitely considered the possibility that I was having a very weird hangover (for better or for worse, at this point I know my body’s reaction to excessive partying pretty well, and vomiting just isn’t party of the equation) but a call to my doctor back east confirmed that my symptoms were in line with those of date rape drugs. He encouraged me to go to a hospital for testing and treatment and to file a police report, which in retrospect I wish I had done. But I didn’t have health insurance at the time and was worried what it all would cost, and I was also fearful of the reaction of whoever I might report what happened to, considering nothing really happened.
It was a reminder that with all the far flung, exotic destinations I travel to, terrible things can happen anywhere and women especially must always, always be vigilant when it comes to their personal safety. While it was a very unsettling experience and I can’t remember the last time I felt so physically terrible, I am so grateful to have escaped the situation relatively unscathed and to have had Michelle take such good care of me while I recovered.
As for all the things I missed while I was healing… I’ll just have to go back. I’ve got the perfect host to crash with, after all.
Till next time, San Francisco…