Growing Up in San Francisco Was a Treat, But Visiting Is Better

By Nina Willdorf
November 10, 2005
Jonathan Sprague
The city is a lovely place to spend a weekend--even for a native. My challenge has always been figuring out exactly where to leave my heart

Much to my chagrin, the neighborhood I grew up in, Glen Park, was one that nobody had ever heard of. Everyone from my classmates to taxi drivers would all ask the same question: Is that in San Francisco? At which point, I'd defensively mutter something about how there's even a BART station there! One of only eight subway stops in the city! For the record, it's just over the hill from Noe Valley and next to the Mission District.

As clichéd as it sounds, my parents bought their house (which they still live in) using a beat-up GM van as the down payment in the late 1960s. Today, Glen Park is having quite a moment. In a city of impossibly quaint neighborhoods, Glen Park tops them all. The main intersection, Chenery Street and Diamond Street, claims a hipster lounge (Red Rock), a midcentury furniture store (Modernpast), and a popular restaurant called Chenery Park--where Madeleine Albright recently dined on catfish and pâté.

I find this all bemusing and pretty exciting, as if a childhood friend were named host of the Today Show. I come back to town a couple of times a year to visit my family; while they grumble about the way things were, I delight in what things have become. At longtime Glen Park fixture Higher Grounds, I'll watch the conflux of skater teens, high-techies, and young families (sometimes I think my parents are the only people over 50 in San Francisco). The owner/chef, Manhal Jweinat, has run the humble little café for as long as I can recall; he juggles orders, froths milk, and delivers omelets at a frenzied clip. I always felt sort of bad for him, until I saw him peel off in a Mercedes once. For some reason, that said it all about Glen Park today.

Glen Park has a couple other decent cafés--in San Francisco, killing time over coffee is a way of life--but as a teen, the whole point was to get away from my parents. I discovered Farley's, in Potrero Hill, one summer when I was living at home and interning at San Francisco magazine. It has a newsstand with a killer selection, and the staff didn't mind if I flipped through a stack without buying.

When I started exploring the bar scene, I gravitated toward the Mission, favoring divey joints like the 500 Club. To the tunes of Creedence Clearwater Revival on the jukebox, my friends and I would play pool with disaffected boys. Around that time, I built up my Led Zeppelin collection at Amoeba Music. Along with the Zeppelin came used Levi's, which I'd score at thrift stores in the Haight. Buffalo Exchange was reliably well-stocked.

The Mission still has dives, but it's now also buzzing with boutiques and fancy restaurants. Which all seems rather funny, when I remember getting stopped by a cop while walking down Valencia Street with a friend from grade school; he ordered us to get home safe--immediately.

I suppose, in my own way, I've also gentrified--now I like to buy my clothes new. I go to Hayes Valley, which, like New York's NoLita, has become a haven for sweet little shops, something San Francisco had sorely lacked. I've yet to find a shoe store with a better selection of flirty Italian heels than Bulo.

And there's always a new restaurant I'm eager to try--especially if my folks are paying. We celebrated my father's 60th birthday at Quince in Pacific Heights, over locally raised duck and fruity pink champagne. It was at once elegant and relaxed. Even the fanciest restaurants here don't try to put on too many airs.

When I'm paying, I go to the taquerias. San Francisco burritos are a delight: fat, fresh, and around $5. There are so many good, no-frills joints that it's hard to choose. But the grilled chicken/black beans/salsa/sour cream combo (they're made assembly-line style) at La Cumbre, in the Mission, is my first stop.

The most exciting news has been the renovation of the historic Ferry Building. It's still a working terminal, but it's also become a culinary hub. Inside, it has the look of a glass-ceilinged European train station. Dozens of stalls hold outposts of organic farms and upscale cookware stores. There's casual fare, too: take-out spots where local workers pick up lunch.

Last time I was in town, my mother and I met for grapefruit-and-jicama salads at the Slanted Door, a stylish Vietnamese restaurant looking out on the Bay Bridge. There's never a table available; it's far too popular. But there always happen to be two seats at the bar.


  • Farley's 1315 18th St., 415/648-1545
  • Higher Grounds 691 Chenery St., 415/587-2933, cheese omelet $6
  • Chenery Park 683 Chenery St., 415/337-8537, catfish $14
  • La Cumbre 515 Valencia St., 415/863-8205, burrito $5.15
  • Quince 1701 Octavia St., 415/775-8500, roasted duck $25
  • Slanted Door 1 Ferry Building No. 3, 415/861-8032, jicama salad $8
  • Shopping

  • Buffalo Exchange 1555 Haight St., 415/431-7733
  • Bulo 418 Hayes St., 415/255-4939
  • Modernpast 677 Chenery St., 415/333-9007
  • Amoeba Music 1855 Haight St., 415/831-1200
  • Nightlife

  • 500 Club 500 Guerrero St., 415/861-2500
  • Red Rock 699 Chenery St., 415/333-3030
  • Plan Your Next Getaway
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    Athens, Georgia

    When Michael Stipe wrote "Shiny Happy People," the R.E.M. front man, a former University of Georgia art student, must have had Athens in mind. The 100,000 residents have a number of reasons to smile: The indie music scene Athens is the southern seat of independent music, with R.E.M. playing the part of local boys made huge. It all started in 1979 at Wuxtry Records, where Stipe was a regular and Peter Buck a clerk (197 E. Clayton St., 706/369-9428). They then picked up their other two bandmates, also UGA students, in Athens. R.E.M., the B-52's, and Widespread Panic all played the 40 Watt Club early on in their careers. The club has changed locations a few times; the latest venue, where Sufjan Stevens recently performed, has a tiki bar (285 W. Washington St., 706/549-7871). A bulldawg with spirit Sanford Stadium--despite its 92,746 capacity--sells out well in advance for big football games. Scoring a ticket is tough without an alumni connection, though it's not impossible; scalpers usually hang around outside. The university's athletic teams are known as the Georgia Bulldogs, and locals twang it out slowly and proudly, spelling it "dawg" on T-shirts. The school mascot, Uga VI, is the latest in a line of English bulldogs. Uga and his ancestors have gained national renown as the stars of a 2004 "dogumentary" called Damn Good Dog, which chronicles 48 years of beloved Ugas--trotted out at the beginning of each game--and the Savannah family that has cared for them. (It's pronounced uh-guh, by the way.) Spirits with bite The signature drink at the Manhattan Cafe, a cool dive downtown, is Maker's Mark and Blenheim's spicy ginger ale (337 North Hull St., 706/369-9767). On occasion, aspiring rock stars, emboldened by one too many, play the room. Food for the people Dexter Weaver has been behind the counter at Weaver D's, a soul-food restaurant east of downtown on the North Oconee River, for 19 years (1016 E. Broad St.). Weaver is marvelously predictable. After he takes an order for plates of fried chicken, mac and cheese, or warm apple cobbler (platter with two sides $8), his favorite thing to say is "Automatic for the people." The phrase--a promise for quick service--went national when R.E.M. got Weaver's permission to use it as the title of the band's 1992 album. A liberated tree A white oak on Finley and Dearing streets is known as the Tree That Owns Itself. In 1832, the professor who owned the land deeded the tree--and some land around it--to the tree. When the oak was uprooted in 1942, the Junior Ladies' Garden Club planted its replacement, which the nice ladies continue to keep well-watered today. Many green acres - NO LONGER OPEN Grand Oaks Manor B&B, five miles outside of town, is an impressive 1820 antebellum mansion on a 34-acre estate (6295 Jefferson Rd., 706/353-2200,, from $129). The full breakfast, included in the nightly rate, regularly features caramel apple French toast and is served in proper southern style--on china, of course.


    Monk See, Monk Do: Staying at a Korean Temple

    As the nighttime thrum of crickets rises and falls on Ganghwa, an island in the Yellow Sea 25 miles west of Seoul, I'm summoned by a wooden percussion instrument to peel myself up from my padded mat and prepare for the morning's chants. I clumsily suit up in the cotton "dharma clothes" that have been provided (rough cotton pants, T-shirt, and smock) and wonder if a monk brushes his teeth before chanting. I decide he does. I also decide that 3:40 a.m. is far too early to wake up when one is on vacation. In an effort to learn about an important part of Korean culture, I've signed up to be a monk for a day at Lotus Lantern, a monastery that's home to international monks of Jogye, the main order of Korean Buddhism. An influx of visitors for the 2002 World Cup prompted the South Korean government to ask temples to open their doors--and they've stayed open, thanks to popular demand. Currently, 43 temples welcome overnighters, and five offer translation services in English ( describes each one). There's a participating temple in Seoul, but Lotus Lantern is the closest one in the countryside; it's an hour's trip from the Seoul subway, which includes a $4 bus and a $5 taxi ride to the grounds. Although the programs differ slightly from temple to temple, most last 24 hours, start in the afternoon, and are designed to introduce visitors to the basic tenets of Buddhism. Following the morning wake-up call, we drag ourselves into the Buddha hall, filled with hundreds of paper lanterns lit by electric bulbs. I kneel with a handful of fellow travelers behind three monks leading a ceremony called yebool, in which they chant a rhythmic chain of devotional sutras, broken by repeated bows. Guests are given a phonetic transcript to join in, but I choose just to listen to the monks as they cycle through a mantra 108 times; it takes about 20 minutes, and I pass the time by awkwardly mimicking their bows. The monks fold their mats and turn off the lights. We return outside to the darkness, underneath a blanket of stars. It's a little past 4 a.m. Perhaps sensing my grogginess, Ok Kyung Chang, the Lotus Lantern's director of temple stays, reminds me why we're up at such an unfortunate hour. "The mind is at its clearest, its most focused," she says. And thus, it's a perfect time for juaseon, or sitting meditation, the next activity. In another hall, we're instructed to sit in the lotus position, facing open windows that look out at the forest. Time passes in silence. I can't claim enlightenment--a determined mosquito blocks my path--but nevertheless I feel at peace. Outside, the dawn sky has brightened over the rice paddies. Then we eat. The three-meal temple diet consists mainly of organic vegetables grown on-site and prepared simply, with soy sauce, sesame oil, and seaweed, and served with kimchi and rice porridge. The quarters are about as austere as the food. Rooms are outfitted with traditional Korean bedding: a yo, a padded mat, and a begae, a firm, husk-filled pillow. In the early afternoon, we're guided through a traditional Korean tea ceremony called da-do; monks believe tea sharpens the mind for meditation. We learn the method of preparing Korean green tea at the correct temperature--slightly warm--and are taught the etiquette of serving and drinking. Each cup is taken in three sips--one each to observe color, fragrance, and taste. And since work is an important part of the monk's day, after having our tea we'll be asked to pitch in with garden chores (today's duty: picking red peppers). Between ceremonies, we can walk around the mountains or meditate in one of the halls. I use the time to talk with the monks and my fellow visitors. While some travelers may find a stay understimulating, Karla Vogelpohl, visiting from Germany with her husband, relished the real-life encounter. "A friend in Korea knew of our interest in Buddhism and suggested we come," she says. "We feel integrated here, like we're not seen as strangers." 011-82/10-8739-3858,, $38.


    Save the Date

    Nov. 1: The Dresden Frauenkirche Destroyed by the British Royal Air Force in World War II, Dresden's historic chapel has finally been rebuilt. (Britain donated the golden cross atop the dome.) Consecration services begin on Sunday, Oct. 30, but the celebrations climax on Tuesday with an All Saints' Day mass at 10 a.m. and unescorted tours from noon to 5:30 p.m., free. Nov. 1: Melbourne Cup The annual horse race, held at Melbourne's Flemington Racecourse, is so important to Aussies that teachers have been known to wheel TVs into their classrooms so students can watch. In fact, the day is a holiday in the state of Victoria. The main event begins at 3 p.m., but arrive before noon for Fashions on the Field--a beauty pageant that's nearly as popular as the race itself., $50. Nov. 6: Athens Classic Marathon It's not just any marathon--it's the original marathon. In 490 b.c., a messenger ran the 24 miles from the village of Marathon to Athens, spreading the news of the Greek victory over the Persians. He certainly couldn't have imagined that 2,500 years later, more than 3,500 runners would follow in his footsteps (plus an additional 2.2 miles). 011-30-210/935-1888,, free. Nov. 8-15: Pushkar Camel Fair Every November, the town of Pushkar, India, attracts more than 200,000 people (and over 50,000 camels) for a week of livestock trading, camel races, and festivities, including Rajasthani folk dancing. If you want to see camel trading at its peak, you should arrive a few days early., free. Nov. 11--13 Los Angeles International Tamale Festival Carlos "The Tamale Man" Melgoza will try to break the record for the world's longest tamale--the current record is 40 feet, 10 1/2 inches--during the inaugural tamale festival in Los Angeles. Purchase spices and cornhusks in the festival marketplace and experts will teach you how to make your own. 323/223-7469,, free. Nov. 13: Andy Warhol/Supernova: Stars, Deaths, and Disasters A major exhibition of Warhol's photo-silkscreen paintings--including iconic images of Marilyn, Liz, and Jackie--makes its first stop at the recently expanded Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (through Feb. 26). Also on display will be his "car crashes": news pics of accidents, manipulated on canvas. Next up: Chicago, March 18-June 18; Toronto, July 8-Oct. 1. 612/375-7600,, $8 (free Thursdays 5-9 p.m. and the first Saturday of every month). Nov. 18-19: 36 Hours of Keystone To kick off the ski season, Keystone, Colo., opens its slopes for 36 straight hours, from 8 a.m. Friday to 8 p.m. Saturday. For $36 per person per night, you can stay in a two-room suite at the River Run Village (based upon four-person occupancy) or a double room at the Keystone Inn. 800/468-5004,, 36-hour lift ticket $55. --David LaHuta


    Turkish Hostels Are Going to New Heights

    The backpacker set is nesting in large numbers on the southern coast of Turkey. Amid beautiful beaches and ancient Lycian ruins, the port town of Olympos has several tree-house hostels that find hard-partying travelers lurching up ladders to get to bed. "It's a little bit Robinson Crusoe, a little bit Gilligan's Island," explains 21-year-old Australian Zoe McDonald. The rickety pine affairs, with crooked walls and asymmetrical stairs, cost under $20 a night, including breakfast and dinner. Even in the height of summer there's usually plenty of room for impromptu arrivals. Anyone with designs on a particular hostel, however, should reserve in advance online. Kadir's is the most social, with a raucous nightly bonfire at an open-air bar. Forty shacks, some sleeping as many as 10 guests, are built around trees, and can be up to 40 feet off the ground. (Kadir's also has on-ground cabins and bungalows with bathrooms.) Staff and former visitors have given the tree houses names, such as the Betty Ford Center. With space for 450, Turkmen Tree Houses takes Kadir's overflow. It uses the term "tree house" liberally: The buildings are aboveground next to tall pines or on large trunks--they don't wrap around them. Each sleeps two to six in actual beds, not just on mattresses on the floor. Saban Pension has 12 tree houses with room for only 100--which means a shorter buffet line, if nothing else. It's by far the most mellow: Most guests spend their days playing cards under lean-tos or on the nearby beach. The 25 tree houses at Bayram's, which tower over orange groves, look like log cabins on stilts. A resident DJ spins Turkish rock while guests take the on-site Blotto Bar's name very literally. --Rich Beattie   Kadir's Tree Houses 011-90/242-892-1250,, from $11   Turkmen Tree Houses 011-90/242-892-1249,, from $16   Saban Pension 011-90/242-892-1265,, from $15   Bayram's 011-90/242-892-1243,, from $15