San Francisco, Part 3

The gates at the entrance of Chinatown on Grant Street, San Francisco The gates at the entrance of Chinatown on Grant Street, San Francisco

On my third day in San Francisco, I got up early and went to Chinatown for two things: first, to photograph the red lanterns on Grant Street and second, to get breakfast.

I got to Grant Street just before 8am when the shops were still mostly closed and the street quiet enough that I could stand in the middle of the road and take a picture of the lanterns without stopping traffic or getting run over (don’t worry, I didn’t do anything dangerous).

Lanterns on Grant Street, Chinatown Lanterns on Grant Street, Chinatown

Washington Bakery & Restaurant, Chinatown

For breakfast, I went to Washington Bakery & Restaurant on Washington Street for rice porridge (congee). The clientele was mostly Chinese, any newspapers being read were Chinese, staff greeted diners and took orders in Chinese. On every table were bottles of soy sauce and vinegar, chilli sauce, salt and white pepper.

I ordered pork meatball porridge (US$5) with a plate of yow char on the side (on the menu as “fried Chinese bread”), and a glass of iced milk tea. All around me, orange, yellow or white plastic bowls of steaming porridge – minced beef, pork liver, assorted pork giblets, and the old classic of preserved egg and pork porridge. My pork meatball porridge was very good – hearty, well seasoned and meaty – I think my mum would approve.

Pork meatball porridge with yow char kway and strong milk tea Pork meatball porridge with yow char kway and strong milk tea

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Washington Bakery & Restaurant, Chinatown Washington Bakery & Restaurant, Chinatown

San Francisco Ferry Building

After breakfast, I walked down Market Street to the San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace. There are shops and restaurants there, and the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (I visited on a Tuesday).

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DSCF0132Stonehouse California Olive Oil

DSCF0133San Francisco Fish Company had all sorts of seafood dishes for sale, but Jac would’ve loved a taste of the fresh shucked oysters from Fanny Bay (Canada) and Long Island (New York).

There is an amazing shop here called Far West Fungi that sells all kinds of mushrooms and mushroom/fungi-related products There is an amazing shop here called Far West Fungi that sells all kinds of mushrooms and mushroom/fungi-related products.

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DSCF0148Cowgirl Creamery Cheese Shop

Cowgirl Creamery Cowgirl Creamery – cafe next door

DSCF0153Golden Gate Meat Company

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Farm Fresh To You - local organic produce Farm Fresh To You

Some of the gorgeous organic produce at Farm Fresh To You Some of the gorgeous local organic produce at Farm Fresh To You

Sur La Table

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Farmers' market outside Ferry Terminal BuildingFerry Plaza Farmers Market – just outside the Ferry terminal building

Peppers

Peppers

Tomatoes for sale at the farmers' market

DSCF0186Village Market

DSCF0193Book Passage – book shop, right next to Peet’s Coffee

DSCF0196Acme Bread Company

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Pier 39

I left the Ferry Building to walk along The Embarcadero to Pier 39. It’s very touristy at Pier 39, with live entertainment, the Aquarium of the Bay, boat rides and tours (including to Alcatraz), and lots of places to eat and shop. I enjoyed just walking around. There was one tourist attraction I didn’t want to miss: Pier 39’s sea lion colony.

Walking to Pier 39 Walking to Pier 39

Aquarium of the Bay Aquarium of the Bay

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Open Heart - Patrick Dintino Another Heart of San Francisco: Open Heart – Patrick Dintino

Pier 39 - Fisherman's Wharf

A small number of California sea lions first appeared at Pier 39’s K-Dock after an earthquake in 1989. Over the years, more sea lions have come and stayed at Pier 39, where they have plenty of food from the bay and ocean and they are protected from their natural predators (sharks and orcas). As tides rise and fall, the floating docks are a safer, more comfortable place to be than rocks. There used to be boats at K-Dock, but after much debate, the boats were relocated elsewhere in the marina, leaving the dock to become the sea lions’ sanctuary. The number of sea lions in this colony varies depending on the season, available food supply and their migration patterns, but they’ve become a famous attraction for tourists as well as San Francisco locals. Interestingly, the majority of the sea lions at Pier 39 are male.

I heard and smelled the sea lions before I saw them. They were a boisterous bunch, barking and grunting noisily as they basked in the sun. There was some slapping and jostling and the occasional splash as a sea lion slipped off the dock into the water. I worked my way patiently to the front of the crowd so I could take some pictures. The sea lions were cute and funny to watch and I could’ve stayed for ages, but after I took my shots, I stepped away so someone else could squeeze in. Definitely worth a look if you visit Fisherman’s Wharf.

'Goodbye, cruel world!' “Goodbye, cruel world!” Sea lions can often be seen lifting a flipper while they sun-bake – the capillaries in their flippers are cooled by the wind. Penguins do something similar for temperature control with their flippers.

DSCF0275They look cute but are known to bite if provoked, so it’s best not to get too close.

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In-N-Out Burger and Fisherman’s Wharf

For lunch, I went to In-N-Out Burger on Jefferson Street near Fisherman’s Wharf. In-N-Out Burger is a fast food chain established in 1948 in California, where there are now over 200 stores, as well as in Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Utah. I’ve been reading about In-N-Out Burger on blogs for years – I love burgers and was keen to try it for myself.

It was busy at In-N-Out Burger as I expected. The problem wasn’t the speed of service – the staff were very efficient at the counter and in the kitchen – it was finding a seat. With no companion to ‘chope’ a spot, I circled the floor twice, carrying my meal on a tray, before swooping on a newly vacated table by the window. As I unwrapped my burger, I saw an African American lady doing exactly what I had just done, doing a lap of the dining room in search of somewhere to sit. I waved at her and smiled, gesturing towards the empty seat at my table.

“Thank you,” she said. We introduced ourselves (her name was Gladys) and she asked if I was enjoying my burger (I was) and that was the extent of our conversation, which was fine with me.

In-n-Out Burger menu In-n-Out Burger menu. One thing I really loved about America was how root beer is readily available just about everywhere. You can buy root beer in Australia, but it’s not a popular beverage and is rarely on drink menus.

DSCF0315-2The burgers are made to order. I found these guys even more compelling to watch than those lazy sea lions!

I’d done my research and ordered off the not really ‘secret’ menu – a double double (double meat and double cheese burger) ‘animal style’, which means you get pickles, extra ‘spread’ (tastes a bit like thousand island dressing), grilled onions, and mustard fried onto each meat patty. It was a terrific burger, definitely in my top ten burgers and next time I’m in any US state where there’s In-n-Out Burger you can bet I’ll have another one. The fries were OK, a little floppy, not the greatest fries I’ve ever eaten. You can get them animal style too by the way – that’s topped with melted cheese, spread, and grilled onions. Gladys had a hamburger and fries and chugged on an extra large lemonade.

Note: Shake Shack fans, yes, that’s on my To Eat list too for a future USA trip.

Double double animal style Double double animal style

Fries In-N-Out fries

I suppose I should’ve eaten seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf, but I don’t regret my decision. Besides, I hope to return to San Francisco, so I’ll get another chance. It was absolutely packed at the seafood stalls and restaurants and I appreciated the delicious sights and smells everywhere I walked.

Fisherman's Wharf Fisherman’s Wharf

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DSCF0300-4Seafood in takeaway boxes and cups at Guardino’s.

Eat Crab

Steamed crabs Steamed dungeness crabs

Seafood stallBuying seafood plates at The Crab Station.

I walked back the way I came and dropped by the Ferry Building again to grab an ice cream from Humphry Slocombe. The queue was pretty long, so I had plenty of time to decide what to have. That day’s flavours included black sesame, Peanut butter chip, Tahitian vanilla, malted milk chocolate, salt and pepper and basil lime sorbet. I had a taste of one of their signature original flavours, Secret Breakfast, made with bourbon and cornflakes – too boozy for my taste (Jac would probably like it) and settled on Blue Bottle Vietnamese coffee, which really hit the spot on a warm sunny afternoon of walking. Blue Bottle Coffee is a Californian coffee roaster company and in fact has a cafe just opposite Humphry Slocombe at the Ferry Building.

The line at Humphrey Slocombe, Ferry Terminal Building The line at Humphry Slocombe, Ferry Building.

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Blue Bottle Vietnamese coffee A scoop of Humphry Slocombe Blue Bottle Vietnamese coffee

The rare San Francisco unicorn The rare San Francisco unicorn spotted on my leisurely stroll back to my hotel.

DSCF0457There are plenty of public transport options for getting to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf but I enjoyed walking.

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DSCF0469Another one of those San Francisco hills

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House of Nanking, Chinatown

That evening, I headed back to Chinatown for dinner where a crowd was waiting to get into The House of Nanking. I almost walked away but found out that the majority of people waiting were actually a group of 13. Given that most people already in the jam-packed restaurant were there in twos, threes and fours, I figured it would be easier for the restaurant to find me a free seat than 13 people all at once. I was right – though there’s no solo dining in the busy dining room and I had to share a table with a couple of strangers.

My dining companions were John and Judy from Delaware and although initially awkward, dinner turned out very pleasant and we chatted about our travels and impressions of San Francisco. Just about everything on the menu sounded great and it was difficult to choose what to have. In the end, I ordered three dishes for myself, probably too much food for one person who didn’t even have a fridge in her hotel room to store a doggy bag, let alone a microwave to zap leftovers, but I ate as much as I wanted and felt satisfied. It felt slightly chaotic sitting in the heart of the noisy, bustling, dimly lit restaurant, with staff brushing past repeatedly with drinks and hot dishes. We ordered and paid for our food separately, though we swapped tastes – I tried some of Judy’s famous Nanking Sesame Chicken and she tried a taste of my fried Chinese eggplant. John had a beer, while Judy and I had iced lemon tea. When it was time to leave, we said goodbye and went our separate ways. I was pleased to see as we left the restaurant that the group of 13 had been seated and were tucking into a feast.

Fried rice Fried rice – quite simple but nicely seasoned, with onion, egg, peas and zucchini.

Fried eggplant with black bean sauce Fried lightly battered eggplant with black bean sauce – very salty, dangerously molten in the middle, wonderfully addictive.

Green beans and garlic Crisp green beans stir-fried with oyster sauce, shallots and garlic.

House of NankingAs we left, there were still a few people waiting to get in…

I’m not the kind of person who usually makes conversation with strangers. I’m not naturally sociable like Jac is – wherever we go, she always finds someone to have a chat to. On this trip, travelling alone, I constantly found myself in situations where friendly strangers would just start talking to me (I guess they were ‘Jac’!) – at airports, during flights, at the shops… anywhere, really. More than a couple of times I found myself some unexpected company for dinner (don’t worry, always perfectly safe). I surprised myself – I quite enjoyed the interactions. But now that I’m back home I’m back to being my naturally shy, reserved self. By the way – I didn’t offer Gladys a seat at my table at In-N-Out Burger because I wanted someone to talk to… it was just the decent thing to do.

Full House of Nanking Full House of Nanking

Mentioned in this post

My solo USA trip (2014) – about this series

I travelled alone to the United States from late July to mid-August. This trip covered California, Wyoming and Colorado. The primary reason for the trip was to attend a couple of workshops, one on hot air balloon photography and the other on photographing wild horses and cowboys. I also caught up with an old school friend.

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  • Huiyi Chan

    hey TFP, I’m a looooong time reader from sg, and was just in SFO last month. got much info on the city from your SFO part 1 and 2 posts, and am so glad for those cos I made my way to Sam’s burger, and also saw the gorgeous light deco and mural on the side of that building. while the burger is not my favourite, the staff was really nice and it was an awesome experience.

    sucha pity part 3 came out now..I only knew about in-and-out at fisherman’s wharf AFTER I ate. had shake shack in NYC though, it was good but I prefer in-and-out. compare for yourself next time, and keep these awesome posts coming!

    (hats off on travelling all the way frm
    aussie to the U.S. Even from Singapore was quite a journey!)

    • Hi Huiyi, I did intend to write and publish my USA posts sooner but easier said than done! I travelled to the US twice last year, once on my own and the second time with Jac (so many more blog posts to come). I hope to return next year too. Yeah, it’s a crazy long flight but well worth it.

  • Peta Titcomb

    I absolutely LOVED seeing your pics, Cyn. San Fran was at the end of our trip and the boys were ready to come home, so we didn’t do as much as I would have liked. But we did have a beautiful seafood lunch at one of the restaurants at Pier 39, and watched the sea lions as we ate, which was awesome. Will be sure to check out the rest of the series in your blog. Love to Jac and the cats x

    • Peta Titcomb

      ps do you ask most of the people you photograph if it’s ok, or do you just take the shots? curious..

      • Hi Peta, I’m pleased you enjoyed the pics. In most cases, no, I don’t ask. In public places where there are lots of people it’s difficult to ask everyone. Legally, there’s no problem with taking photos, and I don’t hide what I am doing. if a person was to ask me not to photograph them or not to take pictures in their shop, I would do as they asked. If a person was to see themselves in a photo on my blog and asked me to remove it, I would. If a person notices me pointing the camera at them I usually smile and whether I take the photo depends on their response. If they look cross or look away, again, I wouldn’t take the shot. If they go back to whatever they were doing, smile or pose, well then, I press the shutter button.

  • Cold Salt

    Hi, TFP! Long time reader here. I really enjoy your blog and your beautiful photographs. I have a question, if you don’t mind. What did you think of prices in the states compared with Australia? I ask because I have often looked at the prices you have listed for various meals and things in Australia and thought, “Wow, that seems expensive!” I once asked a friend who has emigrated to Australia from the states and she reminded me that prices in Australia reflect things like a higher minimum wage and the lack of tipping. So what may seem like an expensive dish would probably be about the same in the states if you added in tipping, etc. Just curious about your thoughts, if you are willing to share them. I am looking forward to more of your US adventures.

    • Hi Cold Salt,
      Initially, the food in the US seems cheaper overall, but once you factor in the exchange rate and tipping, I don’t think it’s quite as cheap as it appears. I also found sales tax was a hidden cost – it varies state to state and is not stated upfront or a fixed percentage like the Australian 10% GST – it doesn’t add much to the bill, but makes it impossible to know how much the bill will come to – until you actually get the bill. I agree with your friend – the price of restaurant meals in Australia reflect the higher wages staff are paid (and all the other costs of running a restaurant). I didn’t mind paying what I paid in the US and I tipped as well, although back home I only tip when I feel the person has given excellent service and deserves the extra reward for his/her efforts (that’s how tipping is generally done in Australia – a bonus, rather than expected each time). I think I prefer the system in Australia, where people are given a reasonable minimum wage to begin with. Some people say you get better service in the US because people work harder to get your tips. I found the service was good and bad, just like in Australia.

  • Craig Hind

    Epic post! The US is not high on my agenda for visiting other countries, but there are two states that I definitely do want to visit one day and that’s California and New York. San Francisco looks fascinating and I think that looking at your photos I’ll be quite happy with the food.

  • Row

    This post makes me miss San Francisco. Love the closeup shots of the sea lions… they’re a noisy bunch! Now I’m craving an double double animal style burger, big time. :)

    • I LOVED the sea lions. If I lived in SF I’d love to go see them regularly. Their noises and the slapping and pushing and lazy lolling around made me laugh. I am hanging out for my next In-N-Out burger. Looks like the earliest it’ll happen is next year sometime.

  • ciaojenn

    Love your vacation recaps! Btw, you have to order your fries “well done” at In N Out to get them crispy :) They’re my favorite!