On Thursday I learned the difference between getting to know a city yourself and learning it from someone who grew up there. My friend Brian is in town this weekend and we had arranged to get together on Thursday-- he arranged for a mutual friend to join us. Johnny grew up in The Sunset and has spent his entire life in San Francisco, and so he got to be in charge of the day. It was impressive.


We started the day off in Chinatown. I've spent a lot of time there, actually, and thought I knew it pretty well, but wow. We started off on the tourist drag, but then quickly moved just a block or so away and found a ton of fascinating things. The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie factory in Ross Alley is one of the oldest fortune cookie manufacturers in the country, and one of the few that still makes them by hand. When you walk in they pull a disk off of the press before it gets shaped, still hot and a little bendy, to give to you. You can watch the entire process-- there's a little machine that drops dough onto flat circles which are then covered with other flat circles and run through a quick little cooking thing before being pulled off by a woman who uses a little metal rod to bend them into shape and then stuffs a fortune in. It smells lovely! Right next door is Enko's hair place, which is also a music room, and was featured in The pursuit of happyness.


Then we went off to the Exploratorium, stopping at that fabulous building with the furniture stuck all over the outside. The Exploratorium is a lot of fun, tons of things to play with, water and sand and magnets and perception tricks and the like. One of the coolest was a set of two 'mirrors'. The first was just a normal mirror like I use every day. The second was actually a double mirror that shows the way other people see me. It was EXTREMELY disorienting, because my head looked all lopsided to me-- my hair was wrong, my smile was wrong, everything was just a little off. Very cool. On the way back to Chinatown for lunch we stopped at the lobby of Industrial Light and Magic in the Presidio, where they have the original Darth Vader and Boba Fett costumes on display, plus a bunch of awards and whatnot. Then off to Sam Wo, which is a tiny little hole in the wall restaurant with fabulous food. It's open from 11 to 3a.m., and you enter through the kitchen. The entire place is very jury-rigged, with light switches on the ceiling and very linoleum walls, but it's also very cool. Apparently there used to be a famously rude waiter there, who would decide that you shouldn't get what you ordered. We stopped into the Buddha Bar after that, and visited the Ma-Tsu Temple.


Then we went off towards Golden Gate park. It was too icky to walk across the bridge, but we visited the wave organ, which is built on a jetty made with pieces from an old cemetary. Then we stopped at a couple of pretty views in the park and the Cliff House and Sutro Baths. the pictures of the old Cliff house and of the baths are astonishing. In late Victorian and Edwardian times the area must have been an incredible visit.


Johnny had to go at this point, so Brian and I went to Union Square to wander a little more. We stopped at the Ghirardelli store, where they give out free samples, and I tried their new white chocolate vanilla bean flavor. Not a big fan, although it's a great idea! Then we wandered up past the Zoetrope Cafe which has Francis Ford Coppola's sound mixing studio upstairs to the City Lights bookstore, a beatnik center, before eating dinner at The Stinking Rose, a garlic themed restaurant. It may sound like too much, but if you like garlic the Stinking Rose is not to be missed. It's the first (and indeed, only) place I've ever seen 'bagno calda', which is a warm dish of roasted garlic cloves soaking in olive oil, meant to be spread on your bread like butter. It's amazing, but incredibly garlicky! We ended up at The View on top of the Marriot, where they have a list of gourmet bottled water for as much as $15 a bottle. We went with artesian water from the Andes, although we were tempted by the Speyside Glenlivet, which is apparently what they use to make the whiskey.


Almost none of these places had I been to before, and now I wonder where else Johnny would have taken us if we'd had more time. It's amazing how true it is that you don't do the tourist things in a place you live. I guess I just figured I'd find things like this as I went along, but how much nicer it would have been had I known of them from the start. I'm really resolved to look up little things like this in London now so I don't miss out on them too!
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