Tales of the City: A Summer San Francisco Must List


Need some classic SF? Head to the Castro for a movie and some live organ action!

Looking hot at 41, San Francisco Pride again rules June – this year’s theme is “In Pride We Trust” – with the annual celebration and parade taking place the 25th and 26th. Of course, every day is a special, super queer occasion in “The City,” with its progressive people and businesses, thriving queer culture, amazing food, and no shortage of musts. Indeed, here’s a handy-dandy guide to some of your freshest, sassiest, and most delicious S.F. to-do’s when in town for Gay Pride, its concurrent Frameline, aka the Cannes of gay film festivals, the world premiere run of the eagerly awaited “Tales of the City” musical (currently scheduled through July 24th), or any other time of the year.


Pride is San Francisco is a 360 experience. Get ready…


If you’re planning to use SF public transport and spend some time in museums, the CityPASS (which is also available for a number of other North American cities including uber-gay meccas New York, L.A., Toronto, Philadelphia and is partnered with the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association) is a good idea, affording unlimited Muni and Cable Car rides plus prepaid and discounted admission to numerous attractions. You can buy it online at www.citypass.com/san-francisco.

The legacy of iconic lesbian writer Gertrude Stein (who coined “a rose is a rose is a rose” and was partnered to Alice B. Toklas, to whom a certain widely-known pot brownie recipe is attributed) is being honored in two separate museum exhibitions. Housed within Daniel Liebskind’s striking 2005 building, the Contemporary Jewish Museum hosts “Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories,” a “biographical exploration” of the icon’s many identities. This museum is an underrated gem, and its gift shop a broad wellspring of items classy, educational, and tongue in cheek ironic/kitsch.

The second Stein exhibition, including work by well-known friends and contemporaries of Gertrude and her relatives, “The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde,” occupies San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). Again, you’ll want to make some time for the gift shop, and probably the Rooftop Coffee Bar, which serves artful pastries inspired by the likes/work of Jeff Koons and Mondrian (with a side order of outdoor sculptures). A few additional programs and exhibitions are also taking place in other Bay Area districts and venues this summer, which are listed at www.sfmoma.org.

This past January saw the GLBT History Museum open its doors to much community fanfare, and its main exhibition, “Our Vast Queer Past: Celebrating San Francisco’s GLBT History,” is slated to run through December 2011. Yes, it includes some original Harvey Milk paraphernalia, while the website boasts some online exhibitions.

Telling TALES: Friends Brian Hawkins (Patrick Lane, far left), Michael “Mouse” Tolliver (Wesley Taylor), and Jon Fielding (Josh Breckenridge, far right) convince Mary Ann Singleton (Betsy Wolfe) to not move back to Cleveland in “Tales of the City.” Photo by Kevin Berne.
And the long awaited and much anticipated musical of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City – with libretto by “Avenue Q”’s Jeff Whitty and music by Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears and John Garden – officially made its world premiere on May 31st at the American Conservatory Theater and is set to play through July 24th. Clearly, summer 2011 is truly a magical – and Miss Madrigal – time to be in the Bay area.


San Francisco is a foodie’s delight, no small thanks to the incredible array of high-quality, often organic and sustainability-minded product that grows within the Northern California region and forward-thinking chefs. You can find many award-winning, locally crafted goodies – including sweet tooth pleasers like Kika’s Treats Caramelized Chocolate Covered Graham Crackers – at the Bi-Rite Market, just a short walk from Castro Street and Mission Dolores Park… not to mention indulgent sister ice cream venue, Bi-Rite Creamery.


Bi-Rite Creamery has got the scoop. For reals.


Indeed, ice cream appreciation has been taken to a new level in S.F., and Bi-Rite Creamery and Humphrey Slocombe are amongst the best, offering up rotating, ever-changing daily line-ups of inventive, unique, and wholesome varieties. Balsamic Strawberry, Brown Sugar with Ginger Caramel Swirl, Butter Beer, McEvoy Olive Oil, and Cucumber Ice Milk as but a mere sampling. You may have to wait in line, especially during weekends, but that’s part of S.F. culinary culture – waiting in line is expected, a part of the experience, even looked forward to. A social occasion. Don’t be surprised by around-the-block queues at the likes of Ike’s Sandwiches (the city’s most ballyhooed sandwich shop, located just off the Castro) and chatty folks itching to make new pals.

Oh, one other dessert heaven before we move on to the savory: Tartine Bakery. Its array of sinful tarts and cakes is complimented by hot pressed sandwiches and Four Barrel’s organic coffee.


Dessert gets arty at the SF MoMA cafe.

Hot dogs receive the artisanal slow-food treatment at Show Dogs, located along a still colorful strip of Market Street (read: dwelling ground for bona fide eccentrics, including, at the time of our visit, a dead ringer for the late Michael Jeter’s mustachioed, draggy character from The Fisher King). Even the mustard is made in-house. Scrumptious varieties, served on incredibly soft, perfect rolls, include lamb and pork Merguez with fig chutney, mustard and arugula; wild boar sausage with house roumelade; Bombay chicken with mustard, apricot gastrique, and arugula; and a pickled hot link with Crater Lake blue cheese sauce. Gluten-free onion rings made with buttermilk and rice flour, and BBQ fries. Meanwhile, the addictive onion rings are gluten-free – made with buttermilk and rice flour – while several vegetarian options are available.

The website for Bay Area Vegetarians includes a “Veg Food Finder” section, so you can seek out vegetarian/vegan/v-friendly venues by area (or city-wide). Included amongst its roster is the 31-year-old Greens, which overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge and Marina (where a trio of sea lions – one white, one grey, and one black – chill out on the docks and occasionally acknowledge diners’ stares and waves with eager nods and barks).

Everything at Greens is fresh. Seriously fresh.

The space, a converted warehouse, is relaxed and rustic, and the crowd cool, progressive, and very family-friendly, and everything on chef Annie Somerville’s daily menus is sourced and scavenged from Marin County’s Green Gulch Farm (Greens and the farm are both part of the Buddhist S.F. Zen Center): there are no storage refrigerators in the kitchen, so everything is prepped daily and the lucky staff bring home leftovers. On the night of our visit, fresh spring rolls, served cold and raw, not fried, proved super tasty, and we loved the Gratin Provencal, a circle of Japanese eggplant, herbs, cheese and fromage blanc custard. The vegan German Chocolate Cake was awesome and ditto for the Chocolate Fondant Cake. And wine selections are, largely, organically farmed.


Greens’ chef Annie Sommerville

With a dominating emphasis on “raw/live” organic fare, Café Gratitude takes its vegan-ness to a whole new (and, for some, laughably flaky) level. Menu items bear New Agey titles like “I Am Fabulous” (lasagna), “I Am Passionate” (pizza) and “I Am Warm” (Miso soup). Don’t dare guffaw at or mock these titles though – I merely asked a waitress “does anyone refuse to say these names when ordering because they think they’re ridiculous?” and she shot vegan, organic daggers at me before responding with a chilly “NO.”

Warm and welcoming, Wayfare Tavern – opened and personally manned by Food Network’s Tyler Florence in 2010 – brings old school San Francisco into the present via updated takes on classic turn-of-the-20th-Century Bay Area dishes and Victorian-era cocktails. The interiors fuse dark, cozy lodge style with modern bespoke bistro design flourish and a bright, open kitchen, while the menu changes with the season: spring’s highlights included California Burrata (warm braised mustard greens, grilled sourdough, lemon & olive oil), Berkshire Pork Hash, Dungeness Crab Louis Salad, and a goat milk based Gooseberry Cheesecake with a goat milk caramel. These creations are fresh and rich yet, miraculously, not heavy, and the service pleasantly attentive.

With its enormous Asian population, San Francisco is one of the few American cities where you can find authentic Southeast Asian cuisine (as well as Korean, Chinese, Japanese, etc). The Tenderloin’s Lers Ros makes no compromises with its fiery, delectable Thai fare. And Vietnamese venue Anh Hong is much beloved for its “7 Courses of Beef” menu.

Of course, since wine country is just nearby, you can make easy day trips for tastings and lunches. Livermore Valley’s Wente Vineyards hosts some pretty big name evening concerts: Liza, fresh off a knee replacement (and justifiably hopped up on painkillers – hallelu!) appeared last summer, while 2011’s line-up includes Tears For Tears (Sept. 8th) and Miss Diana Ross (Sept. 14th)!


Besides food, local goods are also found in the form of everything from ‘zines to clothing to wallets fabricated from old birdwatching book pages at the Mission District’s D.I.Y. shop/gallery Needles & Pens. Up-and-come neighborhood Hayes Valley – dotted with sweet cafes, restaurants, and one-off specialist shops like Isotope Comics – is a must-stroll for its Nancy Boy store. The owners, gay couple Jack & Eric, stock a line of their own body and bath products, aromatic home items, and deco furniture – they give Jonathan Adler a run for his aesthetics. Their Invigorating Body Wash is a sparkling, minty affair (Stephen Colbert is a fan), and their silky Signature Shave Cream has garnered international awards. Prices are shockingly fair – $18 for the latter, $16 for the former – and the products bear humorous (and socially-aware) text like “Tested on Boyfriends – Not Animals.” Fortunately for addicted out of towners, you can order their entire line via website.

And let’s not forget Castro Street’s shops: De La Sole Footwear packs a smart, expertly curated selection of men’s and women’s sneakers and footwear culled from across the globe. Nonstop compliments on your “kicks” from friends and strangers alike come free with every purchase.


It’s a deeper shade of sole, maybe, at De La Sole Footwear?


SF serves as home base for two of the country’s most LGBT-supportive, socially responsible, pet-friendly, and progressive boutique hotel chains – Kimpton and Joie De Vivre – and each boasts properties catering to a wide range of budgets and aesthetics.

Located on the corner of the attraction-filled Union Square neighborhood’s 4th and Market Streets, Kimpton’s swank Hotel Palomar overlooks the pride march route – be sure to book a Market Street side suite. The rooms are super comfy, and its Fifth Floor restaurant, featuring chef David Bazirgan’s New American-by-way-of-European-technique-and-international-flourish cuisine, is a real delight.

Just a few blocks North, bordering Chinatown and just across the street from an Urban Outfitters – where you may want to pick up a last minute hoodie for those distinctively chilly summer nights – is a youthful, funky, and very much eco-minded sibling property, The Triton. On an episode of “My Life on the D-List,” Kathy Griffin designed one of its “Celebrity Suites”: they also include rooms tricked out by Haagen-Dazs and Jerry Garcia. Complimentary fresh chocolate chip cookies, beverages and other goodies await in the lobby, while there’s a nightly free wine hour.

Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco is also located in this neighborhood – its spacious, dramatic Grand Café Brasserie & Bar serves a solid brunch – and so is the brand new hotel family addition, Sir Francis Drake, which takes its name from the 16th Century British sea captain, yet is utterly contemporary in style and amenities: in-room spa services, laptop-sized room safes, and restaurant Scala’s Bistro, featuring cuisine by Top Chef contestants Jennifer Biesty (Season 4) and Tim Nugent (Just Desserts Season 1).

Joie De Vivre’s 171-room Hotel Adagio also boasts a Union Square address and a blend of European/Mediterranean influence and contempo amenities, including comp wi-fi. The Embarcadero’s Hotel Vitale is super nice and features a lovely spa, while mellow Japantown’s 218-room Hotel Kabuki works the Japanese flava – it feels like an old school Tokyo businessman’s hotel. Kabuki’s O Izakaya Lounge flaunts a touch of Asian pop style and really yummy small plates: be sure to try the home brewed sangria and refreshing Shochu cocktails. Nearby sibling Hotel Tomo! Is totally pop (and super budget-friendly), with urban, anime-inspired décor and vibe.

And those with kids/babies may want to opt for Laurel Inn, a motor inn turned ultra-comfy boutique property boasting studio apartment-style rooms, just steps from stroller-heavy Laurel Heights (the de facto baby-hood) and a straight shot down to Castro Street via the city’s excellent public transport system – there are bus stops for numerous lines just outside.


San Francisco’s Official Tourism Website


San Francisco Pride


Tales of the City

Contemporary Jewish Museum
736 Mission Street
(415) 655-7800

151 Third St.
Tel: (415) 357-4000

GLBT History Museum
4127 18th St.
Tel: (415) 621-1107

Anh Hong
808 Geary Street
Tel: (415) 885-5180

Show Dogs
1020 Market St.
Tel: (415) 558-9560

Lers Ros Thai
730 Larkin St.
Tel: (415) 931-6917

Tartine Bakery
600 Guerrero Street
Tel: (415) 487-2600

Wente Vineyards
5050 Arroyo Road, Livermore
Tel: (925) 456-2300

De La Sole Footwear
549 Castro Street
Tel: (415) 255-3140

Nancy Boy
347 Hayes Street
415 552 3636

Sir Francis Drake Hotel
450 Powell St.
(415) 392-7755

Hotel Adagio
550 Geary Street

Hotel Kabuki
625 Post Street
(415) 922-3200

Lawrence is a New York-based travel and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Time Out New York and The New York Post.