San Francisco

A Day of Eating Cheap in San Francisco

A Day of Eating Cheap in San Francisco

San Francisco is a great food city. There's plenty of Michelin-starred restaurants helmed by celebrated chefs. Locally sourced ingredients feature heavily on most menus, and you can find excellent examples of cuisines from all over the world there. It's a city where like to spend money on food, and dining out is a form of entertainment. But is it possible to eat well and cheap in San Francisco?

Winter in Henry W. Coe State Park

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Henry coe state park 2

What do you do when you think you're coming down with a cold? Rest in bed, put on Netflix, get a bowl of chicken soup? Maybe. Do you know what I do? I get my boyfriend out of bed at 7:30 am and tell him we're going on a hike even though my throat is sore and that soreness is working its way into my ears. Body aches? Check. Tickle in the throat? Check. But the sun is shining and I want nature.  

Henry Coe state park 4

I thought Henry W. Coe was beautiful in the fall with rolling hills and the foliage, but this late winter/early spring border time the rain creates hills with a neon Crayola spring green velvet fuzz. Grass is not just a well trimmed lawn. It's flowing green sprinkled with the silver locks of an aging death metal singer. Trampled with mud and soggy with run off from the impromptu creeks. Scratchy stiff stalks buzzing with bees.

Oh, the bees. As much as I value those black and yellow deliverers of honey and beeswax, they mildly terrify me when they are anywhere above the knee, which is why I screamed when my hand grabbed one from my hair. I will probably never live that moment down nor the later one when I requested my boyfriend remove a bee from my sleeve and had to look away when he did so.

trail wash out

The rain brought many surprises: washouts, bees, and seven salamander friends. In the redwood forest, I normally count banana slugs as a hiking ritual but Henry W. Coe is not their habitat; however, it is the home of salamanders. Initial salamander, we thought, must have been a rogue. Kicked out of the creek side congress, it sought higher and dryer ground away from the rain swollen torrents. But no, this was a community exodus. First among seven sighted salamanders, it was a leader guiding its compatriots to comfortably moist freedom.

The trail leaves the creek side and salamanders as you progress back toward headquarters. Meandering away and from the California black oak and ponderosa pine studded hillsides, run off cross-hatches the trail making what would be a rather mediocre dry weather trail into something fun and muddy.

SF Bay Trail: Mountain View to Newark

I've got a new obsession. I get these about every month or so, have a few of them going like juggling balls in the air. Right now these are going to all the California State Parks, hiking the Pennine Way in England (random, yes), and biking the San Francisco Bay Trail. Two of these are tenable, I think you can guess which two, and one of them is not as easy to accomplish. Currently, biking the SF bay trail is part of my warm up for my 50 mile charity ride in late June. So far, the most we've done in a day is about thirty-three miles. I have a ride planned for this Saturday that will be about forty-four miles from Mountain View to the Alviso Historic District and around the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. But enough about the rides I have planned. Let me tell you about the ride we did last Sunday.

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Mountain View to the Dunbarton Bridge

We started around 10 am in Mountain View near Rengstorff. We rode along the San Francisco Bay Trail until around East Palo Alto where you have to take surface streets for a bit. This is very easy riding. The trails are mostly flat and paved pedestrian-bike paths or low traffic neighborhood streets.

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The Dunbarton Bridge

I love Dystopian fiction and film. As you make your way up the Dunbarton Bridge, the views are straight from The Road  or an American re-telling of Mad Max: gray salt marshes, crumbling train bridges, and burned out tires stuck in mud. The only visible life are the thousands of birds that call this wildlife refuge home.

The ride up the bridge is challenging if you're not in great biking shape. It is a steady climb and the path is narrow. You have to dodge the stray pedestrian or biker coming from the other direction (there is only one side of the bridge that allows pedestrian travel). In typical self-absorbed weekend rambler fashion, we nearly hit a family that could not hear us yelling repeatedly to move because we were coming down the hill and fast.

The ride back on the bridge was tougher going; the wind had picked up and we were riding straight into it. I distracted myself from the difficulty by watching the shifting currents and trying to figure out what in the world was going on with those train bridges.

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Dunbarton Bridge to Ricepaper Café

Departing from the bridge, we rode along a rather bumpy asphalt road near the salt marshes near Coyote Hills Regional Park and the San Francisco Bay Wetland National Wildlife Refuge. The wildflowers were in full bloom and there were baby geese, so fluffy! We got ourselves lost in a residential neighborhood in Newark trying to find a Vietnamese sandwich shop and eventually found ourselves at the American-Filipino restaurant Ricepaper Café. The food here is tasty, cheap, and plentiful, plus the guy running the place was incredibly nice and showed us pictures of the pork belly they were making for special order. I ordered pork with garlic rice, sunny side up egg, and a side salad. The boyfriend ordered salmon with garlic rice and a side salad. The pork was incredibly tender and the side salad had a tasty dressing. We also shared pork bao which were good, but could have used more vinegar.

San Francisco: Sutro Baths and The Cliff House

One of my favorite sights in the city are the Sutro Baths. The first time I came across the Sutro Baths my friend and I were exploring the city at night and had driven to the Cliff House. From the Cliff House we were able to see crumbled walls through the fog. Not being familiar with the area, I had no idea what I was looking on. We explored for a few minutes, but didn't get far because it was quite dark, foggy, and there were a few people who looked like they were shooting up. This was my third visit to Sutro Baths and it was an incredibly beautiful day in San Francisco. It was one of those rare days where the entire bay is clear and you can see for miles. We started with the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japantown, watched a taiko performance, and ate takoyaki. After exploring around Fort Mason for a bit, we got an Uber to the Cliff House to see the Camera Obscura.

camera obscura
camera obscura

Camera Obscura

The Camera Obscura is a free standing room shaped like a giant camera behind the Cliff House restaurant. It costs three dollars per person to go in. It's a cute little tourist attraction that allows you to watch the action on the beach as it happens in real-time. It's pretty trippy to watch seagulls get really close, but after a few minutes I got nauseous.

Sutro Baths

Sutro Baths 2
Sutro Baths 2

The Sutro Baths were a large privately owned swimming pool complex near Seal Rock, built in the late 19th century. It is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The pools struggled to stay open for years before burning down in 1966 due to arson. While the facilities were operational, they included: 6 saltwater swimming pools, one freshwater pool, a museum, a large amphitheater, over 500 private dressing rooms, and an ice skating rink.

We explored the ruins, met a 10-month-old German Shepherd puppy, and enjoyed the breezy sunshine.

The Cliff House

The Cliff House is a restaurant perched on a cliff north of Ocean Beach.The building went through five iterations, the most current a 2003 renovation to look like the 1909 building. It houses both a bistro upstairs and a more formal restaurant with a bar downstairs.

You can't beat the views from the downstairs bar and I'm sure the upstairs is just as spectacular. We sat at the corner of the bar where we received excellent service. We treated ourselves to the crab cake appetizer and an order of truffle french fries. The crab cake came with a lightly dressed citrus arugula salad which cut through the fried richness of the crab. The truffle french fries were some of the best fries I've ever had. Though the Cliff House is a pricey establishment, the food is good, service excellent, and the views unbeatable.