- Delicious pastries for breakfast in the Inner Sunset
- Play like a kid again in Golden Gate Park
- Finding out what the $4 toast fad is all about
- Watching the gorgeous sunset by the beach
- Stuffing our faces with amazing Burmese food
Check out the other Andy’s Days of Fun here.
When a friend comes to visit, I want to make sure they have an amazing time. Mostly because I love showing my friends the places I love, but also because secretly I want to convince all of them to move to San Francisco. And then we will work together to take over the world… This time my friend Sun was in town from LA where she had been staying for the past month. She only had 4 days in SF so we had a lot of ground to cover. Day 1 she spent going to The Mission and the Castro. Day 2 she spent in Chinatown, North Beach, and the Embarcadero. Day 3 I was free, so I decided to take her on an Andy’s Day of Fun, this time to Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach.
- Starting the day at Arizmendi’s bakery
- Checking out old school movies at Le Video
- Playing on the swings at Koret Children’s Quarter Playground
- Enjoying the free day at the Conservatory of Flowers
- Taking in the view from the Hamon Observation Tower
- Walking through history at the Japanese Tea Garden
- Speed walking through art at the de Young Museum
- Hiking up Strawberry Hill at Stow Lake
- Driving by the Bison Paddock
- Eating the infamous toast at Trouble Coffee Co.
- Climbing the sand dunes at Ocean Beach
- Getting up close to the Murphy Windmill
- Climbing the rocks at Sutro Baths
- Eating tea leaf salad at Burma Superstar
- Duration: 10 mins
Sun was staying at a guesthouse in San Bruno and so I picked her up from the San Bruno BART station and headed towards the Inner Sunset. We had a long day ahead of us and I wanted to start the day with a good breakfast. I chose Arizmendi’s Bakery based on the glowing reviews on Yelp and recommendations from blogs. Fortunately, there wasn’t much of a line at 11am on a Wednesday. Arizmendi’s Bakery is a cooperative business that is owned and operated by the workers. According to the website “The name Arizmendi is based on José Maria Arizmendiarrieta, a young priest who inspired and helped found the Mondragón Cooperatives in the Basque Country of Spain. Although worker cooperatives have functioned in most parts of the world since the 19th century, the success of the Mondragón Cooperatives has attracted worldwide attention.”
This is what greeted us as we entered. The baked goods are all well labeled with their ingredients. Since it was our first time here, we decided to try several items. I went straight after the pecan roll because, look. We also got a chocolate thing, a lemon poppy seed muffin, and a cheese bread. The pecan roll was by far my favorite.
- Cost: ~$12 for 4 pastries and a juice
Pastries in hand, we walked down 9th avenue towards the park to check out this video store I read about that had an amazing selection of movies.
- Duration: 15 mins
The story is that Le Video used to be a standalone video store, but due to economic pressures they combined with Green Apple Books. The first floor is now the bookstore and the 2nd floor is Le Video. We walked through the bookstore and headed upstairs to Le Video. Le Video has a better selection than I had imagined! Most of the titles here are ones you won’t find on Netflix or Amazon Prime. The DVDs are organized into themes, each catering to a specific crowd. I of course went to the Asian section. I took Japanese film during college and was happy to see those directors well represented here. Le Video also has lots of VHS tapes for rent. But I wondered, who still has a working VCR nowadays? On my way out I browsed through the bookstore and this caught my eye. I know a few people who could use this particular title. Next we drove into the park at 9th avenue and headed to the Koret Children’s Quarter Playground for some fun.
- Duration: 30 mins
Playgrounds are just awesome. Unfortunately, many of San Francisco’s playgrounds are off limits to adults unless you are supervised by children. Fortunately for us, this one didn’t have that rule, or at least we didn’t see it posted anywhere. The playground looks a little like a children’s fantasy land with swings and slides and lots of things to run around in and play with. We first played on the swings and then went to the slides. The slides are built with concrete and you need a piece of cardboard to slide down smoothly. Unfortunately we did not bring our own and the ones already there were wet from the previous rain, or dew. Oh well, another day then.
We walked past the carousel and the parking lot to the Lawn Bowling Center where a bunch of rascals were playing their morning games. I had never seen actual lawn bowling played, but it looked like a lot of fun. Next we headed back to the car and drove towards the Conservatory of Flowers.
Protip: The best parking for the Koret Children’s Quarter playground is between the Lawn Bowling Center and the playground. You can also find parking further down the road towards the tennis courts.
- Duration: 30 mins
I chose Tuesday for exploring Golden Gate park because on the first Tuesday of each month, several museums in San Francisco are free to enter, including the Conservatory of Flowers, the de Young Museum, and the Legion of Honor. Lucky for us the weather on Tuesday was perfect.
Protip: When parking at the Conservatory of Flowers, park behind the building instead of on JFK Drive. You’ll be closer to the main building and it’s easier to find a spot. There was even a jazz musician playing the tunnels under the bridge. It was the perfect soundtrack to a beautiful day in the park. Here is Sun taking photos on top of the tunnel. The Conservatory of Flowers is not huge, but it has lots of interesting plants. I’ve been to many botanical gardens and greenhouses, but some of these plants were completely new to me. Moving on! Next stop was the music concourse and the Hamon Observation Tower.
5. Taking in the view from the Hamon Observation Tower
- Duration: 20 mins
The music concourse is the area between the California Academy of Sciences, the de Young Museum, and the Japanese Tea Garden. You can see the Spreckels Temple of Music in the photo below. The Hamon Observation Tower is the tall part of the de Young Museum. Unlike the rest of the museum, it is always free to enter. I think the de Young Museum is an odd looking building. If I were a super villain, I’d choose this place as my evil headquarters. You can take the elevator up to the 9th floor to get to the observation room. From here you can get a 360 degree view of San Francisco. However, most of downtown San Francisco is blocked by the hills to the East. The views today were amazing, thanks to the drought we’re having. At this point it was around 12:50 pm, so we left the observation tower to make the 1 pm free walking tour at the Japanese Tea Garden.
- Duration: 55 mins (45 min walking tour)
We got to the Tea Garden just before 1 pm and bought our tickets. We waited just inside the gate for our walking tour to start.
- Cost: $6 for residents, $8 for non-residents
I found out about the free walking tours of the Japanese Tea Garden from SFcityguides.org. It is a non-profit organization that provides free walking tours for many popular areas of the city including Chinatown, the Presidio, and the Financial district. The tour guides are all volunteers and have been giving tours for many years. This was our guide Leslie. The tour group had 6 people including us. The others were a middle aged couple from the midwest, and 2 grad school girls studying in SF. Off we go to learn about the history of the garden. The tea garden was originally created as a “Japanese village” exhibit for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition. After the expo, the garden was taken care of by landscape architect Makoto Hagiwara, who expanded it from 1 acre to 5 acres. However, during WWII, the Hagiwara family was forced into internment camps in Arizona, and their home in the garden was torn down. After the war, the Hagiwara family was not allowed back into the garden, and many of their family treasures were removed. Sadness… After that story, we felt like we needed to visit the tea house for some tea and snacks. The tea house offers a variety of Japanese snacks and teas. I decided to go with the 10 piece mochi and the Genmaicha tea. Both were great and the tea really helped to warm me up as the temperature started dropping. Next we headed back to the de Young Museum to take advantage of the free museum entrance.
- Duration: 30 mins
My big mistake during the planning was that I forgot to plan for lunch. I had thought that we would have a big enough breakfast that would help us last into the afternoon but I was wrong. As a result, I think both of us were a little hangry and weren’t in the best mental state to enjoy the art at the de Young. I am always a big fan of the glass art at the de Young. This is one of my favorites. Mmm…. food…. We essentially sped through the exhibits in about 30 minutes, and didn’t take many photos. Here’s one of the pieces I hadn’t seen before. However, I did enjoy a new exhibit at the museum called The Gay Essays. It featured photographs by Anthony Friedkin chronicling the gay communities during the tumultuous years between 1969-1973. It’s on display till early January, so go see it while you still can! Next we drove over the Stow Lake.
- Duration: 25 mins
Stow Lake is one of the many small lakes in Golden Gate Park. I like this area because there are some very scenic spots around the lake for photos. This one below is of Sutro Tower and Twin Peaks. Views from the edge of the lake:
At this point hunger was really getting to us and I made an executive decision to go for food.
- Duration: 1 minute
Even though the official name of the area is the Buffalo Paddock, what you will see are actually Bison. We did not actually stop to see the bison. We just drove by slowly and watched them from a distance. But if you were to stop, this is what you would see. Finally, we’re getting food!
- Duration: 15 mins
San Francisco is a foodie’s heaven. There are countless amazing restaurants, cafes, and food trucks all serving up their unique creations to satisfy the always hungry taste buds of the local residents. As a result, food is a lot like fashion in this city in that what’s popular is always changing, and fads can go in and out of existence in the blink of an eye. Trouble Coffee Company is responsible for one of those fads: very expensive toast.
I’m not sure when it started, but all of a sudden cafes around SF started selling artisan toast, sometimes for more than $4 a slice. The hipsters of SF just couldn’t get enough. Some people thought that this was a sign of the tech elite inflating prices for everyone else, while other people thought it was just good toast.
The story of how the fad started was even featured on This American Life. After hearing the story, I had to try a piece of this toast.
I have to say that I was not disappointed. The toast was thick and fluffy, and the brown sugar on top gave it a nice little crunch. It also went very well with the young coconut they also sell at the cafe.
Funny part of this is that Sun didn’t know that you could also eat the coconut meat, so she just drank the juice and threw the coconut away!
From Trouble Coffee Co. we could see the beach, and so that’s where we headed to next.
- Duration: 15 mins
I love going around the city on a weekday, there are just so few people around! I get to have Ocean beach all to myself. We parked the car at the lot at the end of Lincoln Way, and walked to the South to climb the sand dunes.
The sand dunes are actually pretty high, some go as far as 20-30 feet above the beach. There are little alcoves in the dunes that make for good picnic spots because they are shielded from the constant wind on Ocean Beach.
This was my view of the beach from the top of a sand dune.
It was getting somewhat chilly so we didn’t go to the edge of the water, instead we headed back into the park to see the Murphy Windmill.
- Duration: 5 mins
The Murphy Windmill was the second windmill to be constructed in Golden Gate Park, and at the time of its construction, it was the largest windmill of its kind. However, years of neglect had left the windmill in poor condition, and it wasn’t until 2001 that the city raised money to repair the windmill. The windmill is now in excellent condition, and perfect for a photo at sunset.
Besides taking pictures of the windmill, there isn’t much else to do here. At this point we left the park and headed to Sutro Baths to watch the sunset.
- Duration: 45 mins
Sutro Baths is the ruins of a swimming pool and bath house complex built at the end of the 19th century by former San Francisco mayor Adolph Sutro. The bath house was never profitable, and eventually burned down as the result of arson. Now the site is a park of a national park, and a popular place to hike the Land’s End trail.
I wanted to get even closer to the water, so I hopped off the ledge and climbed on the slippery rocks by the water.
To get a better view of the sunset, we walked up the hill to a viewing spot to the north of the ruins. The view from there was gorgeous.
The sun is down and we were ready for dinner. Next stop, Burma!
- Duration: 1 hour
Burma Superstar is one of those places where it seems like everyone I know has been. I mean, the place only has over 5,000 reviews on Yelp. Since it was on my way home, I figured it would be a great way to end the day.
Fortunately the wait wasn’t long since it was only 6:30pm on a Tuesday night.
Of course we had to get the tea leaf salad, which is probably the most popular dish at the restaurant.
The ingredients are fermented tea leaves, lettuce, fried lentils, fried garlic, peanuts, sunflower seats, tomatoes, jalapenos, and sesame seeds. The waitress came and mixed it for us, making it look like this:
Compared to the other tea leaf salads I’ve had (2), it was lighter in flavor, but richer in texture. It’s a good way to start our meal.
The next dish is the Nan Gyi Dok, which is a mild coconut chicken rice noodle curry. It is made with Burmese rice noodles with a mild chicken coconut curry sauce, egg, split yellow pea, fried wonton chips, lime leaf, and fried onions.
Before and after mixing:
The noodles were quite creamy and had a good amount of spice. The wonton chips and fried onions gave it a nice crunch. I would have preferred the noodles to be a little drier, but then it might not be Burmese.
The last dish was a basil chili pork belly.
Now this had some heat! I liked everything about this dish.
The portions at Burma Superstar were solid and we left feeling completely stuffed. Even though I tend to stay away from restaurants that are TOO popular, I thoroughly enjoyed myself here and I can see coming back here with other visiting friends.
- Cost: ~$30/person including drinks
That concludes Andy and Sun’s Day of Fun! I dropped Sun at her guesthouse and went home feeling quiet accomplished and exhausted.
How the day went:
I was happy with how the day turned out. Golden Gate Park is such an amazing place with so much to see and to do. I think the challenge with going to the park is figuring out what not to do so you can spend more time at fewer places. I went to some of my favorite spots in the park, but there is so much more to explore and see.
If I were to do the day over, I would make the following changes:
- Plan a lunch in the Inner Sunset or Inner Richmond. Both neighborhoods have great lunch options. I would probably go with dim sum or Chinese dumplings in the Inner Richmond.
- Skip the de Young Museum. Unless the people you are with REALLY want to go, there are just better things to do than spend your time indoors at a museum.
- Spend more time at Stow Lake. I really want to rent a boat and go around the lake, but we didn’t have the time nor energy for it today.
- Skip the Murphy Windmill. Driving by it slowly should be enough, unless you really want close up pictures of the windmill.
Again, here’s a handy map of all the attractions, restaurants, and bars I visited in this post: Map
If you enjoyed this post, please check out the other Andy’s Days of Fun here.
What did you think of this tour? What did I miss? What would you have done differently? Please share it in the comments. I’d love to hear what you have to say.