San Francisco is the best city in the world for vegetarians. I’ve said that previously about Chiang Mai in Thailand which certainly is an excellent budget option, but on our third visit to San Francisco in July we were reminded what a gourmet heaven it is. It’s an amazing place for anyone to eat. The city has easy access to quality, locally grown, organic ingredients. Its food scene is diverse with cultures from all over the world represented. And it has a population who loves to eat, and who cares about the quality of the ingredients they are consuming. Add to that a sizeable vegetarian community and world class chefs who cook creatively without meat, and it really is a vegetarian paradise.
On a summer morning the Golden Gate Bridge was immersed in thick fog, its iconic red rails barely visible. We drove into the void, surrounded by the thick haziness, unsure what we’d find ahead of us. Exciting as it was it didn’t bode well for the start of our road trip, yet only minutes later we emerged into the dazzling sun of Marin and left San Francisco’s cool summer behind. We headed up Highway 101 and in less than an hour reached the historic town of Petaluma, the starting point for our trip to Sonoma County.
Our day of wine tasting began in a barn and ended in a Tuscan-style mansion. We met an artisan wine maker who has been practicing sustainable farming since before it had a name, and toured a winery whose wines have appeared on White House menus. Sonoma is diverse—from the approaches of the winemakers, to the soils in which the vines grow, to the micro-climates created by the cool fog from the coast and the heat of the sun further inland.
It was a moment of perfect travel serendipity. We were following the Sonoma cheese trail just north of San Francisco and after picking up some excellent St George cheese from Joe Mato’s farm we drove into the nearby small town of Sebastopol for bread for our picnic lunch. We were heading to the Village Bakery but we overshot the turn-off and drove down a residential street to turn around. Luckily that street was Florence Avenue which we discovered isn’t your average suburban street.
Most visitors to San Francisco don’t make it over to the East Bay. Oakland is seen as dangerous, far away, or just a suburb of San Francisco. It took us until our third visit to the city to finally listen to Oakland’s raving fans and head over there—a whole 13 minutes away on the BART. Oakland is growing in popularity as many San Francisco residents flee the ridiculous rent prices in the city, and we discovered that it has a unique character of its own. There are diverse restaurants, a thriving art scene, a lake in the middle of the city, and best of all, unlike San Francisco, it gets a summer. It’s amazing how just crossing the bridge makes all the difference as we fled San Francisco’s fog and peeled off our layers as we explored sunny Oakland.