Food + Style in NoCal
Food + Style in NoCal: A Vegetarian’s Guide to Destroying Your Body (and Wallet) in Only a Week by Darcy Olmstead
Despite living in Arkansas, I’m a notorious self-proclaimed East Coaster. I try linking it to my roots (the Olmsteads were one of the founding families of Hartford, Ct and my dad grew up in the outskirts of Baltimore), but really I’ve just been up and down the Atlantic coast a lot. I’m familiar with it-- hell, I’m moving to the Chesapeake basin in a few months. I consider the East Coast my home away from home. I’ve never subscribed to the whole “West Coast, Best Coast” craze.
I’ve only ventured West two other times in my life. First, it was San Diego in second grade. The only thing I have to remember that trip is a snow globe featuring Eddie Murphy’s zebra character from Madagascar. Then it was Seattle, which I liked alright, but it was no contender to Boston or Portland, Maine. The Pacific Coast had yet to woo me.
Of course, I was pleasantly surprised by my week in San Francisco and Point Reyes. It filled my time, as would any other city, with art, shopping, and food. Not everything totally impressed me (I’d still list Boston, DC, and New York as my top three cities) but below are my top nine favorite stops in Northern California-- from an Easterner’s perspective. I’ve also included some of my outfits from throughout the trip (which were more suited for an Arkansas June rather than a chilly SanFran one, but still cute! That’s what matters).
I spent my third day touring around looking for the perfect boutique showcasing unique San Francisco style. I found a cute boutique district going down Haynes St. and the surrounding neighborhood. I noticed 40% sales in most of the windows, so I was game to enter most of the shops. That said, 40% off in a notoriously gentrified city isn’t that much of a deal. While I loved shops like Rand + Statler, even the clearance sections weren’t in my price range. Steven Alan’s sample sale had the perfect deals for me and it was all up my alley style wise. Lot’s of sleek designs and handsome linens. I bought the top and ascot seen below and another striped button down that I wore to the Japanese Tea Garden.
We decided on this spot as our ~fanciest~ dinner of the week because it was started by the chef who used to work at Rasika in DC (aka the best Indian restaurant in the country) so we knew it would be good. It’s “modernized” Indian food, so everything’s plated like something off of Chef’s Table but still retains those classic Indian flavors. There are four courses so you’ll be stuffed by the end but it’s all worth the pain. I definitely recommend the Palak Chaat if you’re looking for your taste buds to explode in ecstasy.
Samovar was the only place I agreed to visiting twice in one trip. Located in the immensely peaceful Yerba Buena Garden (and only a block from our hotel and SFMoMA), Samovar’s location was more than enough to put you in Zen Mode. They also had a fantastic world playlist going, featuring my favorite Nico song and Lhasa. The tea, of course, was amazing. Their Velvet Cacao Pu-Erh had me in utter bliss. Their toast and chia pudding selection was also something to rival Fayetteville’s own Church and Center cafe.
If you know anything about me, you knew this was coming. Museums are my heart, my soul, my everything. This is what I want to do with my life people! So we went to a lot of museums and galleries in the city but the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was my favorite by far. We were there just in time for the Edvard Munch exhibit which was AMAZING. I found myself crying as I walked through. My favorite exhibits of all time have always been retrospectives. It’s the most intimate way to learn about a person, to watch their art develop throughout their lifetime, and boy was Munch an interesting person. The permanent collection was fabulous as well, but I was very much aware of how few women artists they showcased. There were entire rooms on Gerhard Richter (which I admittedly loved, particularly his portrait Lesende) but all the female painters, including Kahlo and Alice Neel, were lined up together in the back of the figurative section. Typical art world.
A San Francisco must that definitely lives up to all its acclaim. If standing in the wake of Ginsberg, Kerouac, and other Beat generation legends doesn’t do it for you, City Lights is generally a good bookstore in itself. I’ve always judged great bookstores by organization and charm and City Lights has both. It’s filled with staff recommendations so browsing is much easier and the walls are lined with old posters and San Francisco history. Definitely venture upstairs to the small poetry room - it is City Lights after all. I left with Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country & Other Stories by Chavisa Woods, Widow Basquiat by Jennifer Clement, and Hick Poetics edited by Shelly Taylor and Abraham Smith.
San Francisco has a lot of tea houses - and a large Japanese immigrant population. Get the best of both worlds at the Japanese Tea Garden adjacent to the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. I felt like I had appeared in Kyoto overnight and the art history nerd in me was freaking out over the ryoanji-like zen garden and the replica pagodas. It’s lovely just strolling through the twists and turns of the small park, but sitting down for a cup of sencha beneath the native Japanese trees is a must.
If you’re an art and design nerd like me this place will be heaven to you. It’s a gorgeous store just filled, floor to ceiling, with every book on art, architecture, and design you can think of. The owner is very nice and will talk to you about whichever book you’re looking at. We had a fun convo geeking out over mid-century brutalist architecture and I left with this utterly fascinating book on Soviet bus stops (definitely worth a Google if you don’t want to buy the book itself).
We stumbled across this quaint little spot while shopping in the Hayes Valley. It’s designed to evoke, well, the 20th century and is filled with gorgeous velvet seating, marble tables, delicious-looking slavic pastries I could not pronounce (though I tried), and coffee about as good as San Francisco could do (I’ve yet to find some to rival my hometown’s Onyx brand). A good stop for breakfast or a mid-afternoon coffee stop.
9. Point Reyes National Seashore - Estero Trail
Okay all of Point Reyes was the perfect escape after a week in the city. The Californian countryside is insanely diverse and the hiking out there was breathtaking. My favorite part of Point Reyes, however, was Estero Trail. The landscape changes so quickly on this 8 mile hike. You start out in these bucolic fields of wheat, through a windswept forest, over an estuary, straight through a couple cow farms, and onto a rocky beach. We actually ate our sandwiches from Inverness Market with a couple of cows. It was the perfect ending to the trip and I 100% recommend it.