March 2009 San Francisco Trip

Robert had a conference he had to go to for work in San Francisco, and it happened to be my spring break from school, so we jumped at the chance for a family vacation somewhere generally sunnier and warmer than Boston at this time of year (it’s been a loooong, snowy winter, and we were just glad to be going somewhere with no giant slush puddles at the corners).

So, early Saturday morning, Robert, Marcus, and I headed to the airport and flew out. (At left, Marcus in his carseat in the airport.) Marcus was great on the flight; we’d flown once before with him, to New York at Thanksgiving, but that was a very short flight and he was so young that he mostly just ate and slept around the clock then (and indeed, that was how he passed that entire flight). This time, first of all, the plane was filled to capacity, but we were lucky that the woman sitting next to Robert was a very kind, understanding woman who had five children and thirteen grandchildren of her own. She announced that she loves all babies, but that this baby was particularly good—she declared him the best baby she’d ever seen on a plane, one of the happiest babies she’d ever seen, and a baby so good that we “hit the jackpot with him.” Apparently a friend of hers used to say that people should toss away their first baby—first babies are always bad, you practice on them and they’re whiny and terrible—but keep the next ones. Well, our Marcus (Robert’s seatmate declared) was so good that—wait for it—“he could even be a second baby!” This is all to say that our baby was generally quite happy on the plane, only fussing a little when he got tired and couldn’t quite find a comfortable spot to sprawl out. Robert pointed out that if even Marcus thinks there’s not enough legroom on airplanes nowadays, then the airlines have really gone too far. The six-hour trip went well, in a series of nursing sessions, naps, and exuberant playtimes. Being lifted up above the level of the seats to flash giant grins back at everyone in rows behind us was an especially good treat, we discovered.

We had carried on all our luggage and then gate-checked our carseat and the Go-Go Kidz wheels, and those were ready and waiting for us as we got off the plane, so we made a quick exit to the cab stand, and we were shortly at our hotel downtown. The conference was at the Stanford Court Hotel on the very top of Nob Hill, at Powell and California, and the hotel was really lovely—very friendly, helpful staff, and oddly beautiful front doors (frosted glass with pastel-colored circular inlays). We were able to get into our room right away, even though it was only noon, and there was the crib we’d requested and king bed all ready and waiting. The large, carpeted floor space also served as a great play space for Marcus, and even though the bathroom was a little small and blah, we really loved the room.

After a short rest, we headed out to enjoy the day, with Marcus in the wrap. We walked down to Montgomery and Market and hopped on the BART to 16th and Mission, because John had recommended a creperie, Ti Couz, in the Mission District. It was just a few blocks from the subway on the other end, and sure enough, they had fabulous buckwheat crepes. Robert had a ratatouille and cheese crepe and I had the most amazing shrimp and mushroom crepe, with a “seafood sauce” that tasted like a lovely lobster bisque poured over the top. Heaven! The place was bustling but not jammed, and there was a nice mixed crowd of couples, families with kids, and groups of friends. Our dessert was a stop at a taqueria back down 16th toward the BART station, which we had walked past on our way to the restaurant; it just looked fun, and a taco, flauta, chips, and alfajor later, we decided it was indeed a winner (quite literally: the signs above their extensive salsa bar informed us that they’d won first prize in the salsa competitions at the California State Fair for many years). Marcus happily had a couple fingers-ful of refried beans and then sucked and gummed at a radish slice for several blocks on the walk back to the subway. As always, our baby attracted an adoring audience wherever he went.


We just sat in the sun for a few minutes outside the BART station and relaxed, enjoying the nice weather and crazy people (we felt quite at home—when a slow-speed chase among two quasi-homeless people in wheelchairs broke out just behind us, it was as though we were right back in 1-bus territory again), and then took the subway back to Market and walked back up the entire hill from Market to California. I wasn’t thrilled about the hill climb—walking down it was terrifying enough, actually, and I was sure that we were on a 60 or 70-degree slope, about to plummet to our deaths. Climbing up it was just hard work, and I was already very warm (Robert had worn his jacket, but Marcus and I, both jacketless, were keeping each other warm and sweaty even before the climb started), so I made Robert stop and rest every block or two, but we got up there and collapsed in our room. Around 7:00 we contemplated going back out for supper, but we all just gave up and fell asleep instead.

At 3:30 in the morning, our bright-eyed boy woke up cheerfully, perfectly on time for Boston. You could almost see his little mind processing things: this is the time I usually wake up [true; he always wakes up between 5:30 and 6:30, ready for the day, unless he’s sick]; it’s darker than usual; everyone’s still sleeping; huh, but this really is the time I usually wake up. . . .  We plied him with a diaper change and then it was back to bed with a toy, and sandwiched in between two sleepy, ignoring-him parents, he fell back asleep—probably after we did, but with a minimum of unhappiness, so that was fine.

We got up for the day around 7:30, then, thrilled that he had slept so long after the time change and all sorts of schedule upheavals. By 9:00 we headed out for the day, walking a few blocks to Stockton and then exploring Chinatown, which was busy on a nice sunny Sunday morning with people shopping and eating. We stopped in a few markets and bought cheap delicious mangoes and avocadoes and some dried mangoes, and then went into one of those take-out dim sum places and got a dumpling and a bao. We wandered into ABC Bakery and Café because we thought it was another take-out dim sum place, actually, and we wanted to make a progressive breakfast of it, but the bakery front turned out to reveal a crowded back room filled with loud old Chinese people having breakfast. We joined them—we were outliers in many senses, but with Marcus we managed to match everyone as far as the noise level went. Robert changed a diaper in the women’s bathroom, and we ate congee and noodles and then walked down to the Muni station to hop on the Third Street line to go meet Lara for lunch at The Ramp near the AT&T stadium.

Lara and Wei had just gotten engaged last weekend, so we admired her ring while they admired our baby. (The ring was shinier.) We had a great brunch/lunch sitting out on a dock over the water—Robert had huevos rancheros, I had a shrimp tamal topped with black bean sauce and crab salad, and we shared a beignets with hot chocolate. (At right, Lara, Wei, Marcus, and I; at left, Robert and Marcus at The Ramp.)

After lunch we headed back to the Muni, and I fed Marcus on the Muni platform (after another excellent diaper change by Robert—I would seriously enter him in a baby Olympics event of quick, efficient diaper changes in nonstandard places) and we took the light rail to the historic streetcar and took that to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. It was too sunny of a day not to join the other tourists gazing across the water at Alcatraz (and Angel Island—how have I never been there? The sign called it “the Ellis Island of the West Coast”—I have got to go!) and then gawking at the sea lions. I found a shady spot to nurse Marcus, and then we walked over to the Powell-Mason cable car line and took that back to our hotel, thereby avoiding climbing Nob Hill on another hot afternoon.


We had a low-key couple hours in the room, napping and relaxing, before Robert got dressed up for the first conference session. Marcus and I went down with him to the reception to say hello to a few people I know from other such events, and then Robert stayed for the dinner and talk while Marcus and I went out to dinner. We took the California cable car line from right in front of the hotel to the end of the line, just a block from the Ferry Terminal, and ate at Taylor’s Automatic Refresher; Robert and I had eaten at the original location a few years ago when we were in Napa Valley, and I figured this was as good a spot as any for me and my baby, alone, to grab a meal. It was perfect, actually—nearly everyone there (at 6:30 on a Sunday evening) had one or more children, and I actually saw another woman nursing her baby in the restaurant without a giant “Hooter Hider” shield (it seems unheard of in Boston for people just to nurse normally). I had a vanilla Coke, sweet potato fries with a lovely garlicky sauce, and a fabulous rare burger with bacon, blue cheese, barbeque sauce, red onions, and a fat onion ring. The service was great, and Marcus (in the wrap) was distracted enough by my left hand rattling some of the wax paper my burger had been wrapped in to let me eat with my right hand. I didn’t even drip barbeque sauce on my baby! (He’s definitely had things dripped on him before, all right.) After that, it was just two blocks back to the cable car stop and a five-minute ride back to the hotel. Marcus went to bed at 8:00, and Robert got back just before 9:00 from the talk.

Monday morning Marcus and I joined Robert for the breakfast buffet at the conference, and then we relaxed a little in the room before leaving for our planned activity—a jaunt to Japantown. We took the 38 bus down Geary over to Laguna, and we stopped at Soko hardware for Japanese herb seeds, Benkyodo for delicious soft fresh mochi (peanut butter, strawberry, and chocolate-marshmallow are my favorites), and a Japanese supermarket for some futo-maki, fresh wasabi root, salmon onigiri, and other snacks. We got back to the hotel just in time to meet Robert for his lunch break; after a mochi appetizer, we took the cable car down California to the Ferry Terminal again and got lunch from Out the Door—beautiful crisp imperial rolls, a nice bao, and a lovely, perfect Vietnamese sandwich on superior bread. We ate in the sunshine on the water, picnic-style, with Marcus sporting the sun hat I had to buy him because his stocking hats were a) making him sweat too much in the heat and b) not shielding Vampire Baby’s face from the sun. (At left, a family shot during lunch; Robert looks funny because he’s concentrating on his sandwich. Yum.)

Robert had afternoon conference sessions, and Marcus and I had an afternoon nap, followed by an appearance at the nice post-session buffet (Peking duck sandwiches, shu mai, and har kao at a catered hotel buffet? Tasty indeed). We rounded out our supper with the Japanese snacks in our room and called it an early night.

On Tuesday Marcus and I slept in while Robert went to breakfast and his morning sessions, and then we went back to the Ferry Terminal for their farmers’ market. (I do realize there are other destinations in San Francisco, but this is something of a locus of good food.) Beautiful dried white nectarines, garlicky roasted almonds, fresh cheese curds, great Acme sourdough rye bread, a nice organic roasted vegetable tamal, and some nice organic local mandarin oranges—what a haul! We took the cable car back to the hotel (thank goodness for our discounted rate which included three-day Muni passes) and met Robert for lunch, diversifying the conference boxed lunch with my offerings—delicious.

After a few afternoon talks, Robert was done with business for the trip, and he and I and Marcus met up with Mona and took a streetcar over to dinner at Absinthe with her. We shared some garlicky escargot, and Mona had pork confit, while I had risotto-style farro, Robert had braised lamb shanks, and Marcus gnawed on a lamb bone Robert carefully cleaned off for him. It was an upscale place, but noisy enough that some exuberant baby noise just got lost in the shuffle for the most part, and the food was really amazing. We took a bus back to the Westfield Mall and had some Beard Papa creampuffs from their food court for dessert, and then it was back to the hotel to call it a night. (At right, Mona holds Marcus, who is about to make a lunge for whatever on the table looks tasty--you know, silverware and all.)

Wednesday, our last day in San Francisco, was pure fun. We had a 10:20 flight back to Boston that night, and Robert had arranged for a free 6:00 late check-out for us, so we really had the whole day ahead of us. We started with a Japanese buffet breakfast at Anzu in the Hotel Nikko, a short walk away. Ah, fish, rice, and miso soup—what a way to start the morning! Our destination for the day was the California Academy of Sciences, since their brand-new museum housed a planetarium, an aquarium, a natural history museum, and a four-story rainforest exhibit underneath one (living!) roof. Very, very cool museum. We took Muni over and got a discount on admission, and we did everything—Marcus and I napped during the planetarium show, and then he actually had a snack during the tail end of it. We ate lunch in their great, gleaming cafe—Vietnamese rock shrimp vermicelli bowl and a chicken bao—and finished off the day by letting Marcus play in their beautiful preschool play area. (At left, Marcus studies the museum map, plotting our route.)


While waiting for the Muni return trip, I proved my people-person-ness by making Instant Friends (my gosh, I’ve become my parents!) with a dermatologist from Arizona, her husband, and her three-year-old son. I had this woman’s life story before the cable car even arrived. That was good, because it left me free to continue my conversation with her, over a now-waking Marcus, when it arrived, and focus my conversational attention on an older Latina woman and her granddaughter. Baby conversation in Spanish somewhat taxed my skills (for the life of me I couldn’t manage to say “He wasn’t ready to wake up yet,” but I managed to say that he slept for too short of a time, and that seemed to work). An Italian tourist on the cable car back to the hotel was so entranced by Marcus, and sold on the way I held him in the wrap, that she took my (and baby's) picture, even!

After five hours at the museum, we only had a short time back at the hotel to nurse and pack, and then we took a cab (where else?) back to the Ferry Terminal so Robert could eat at Taylor’s too. I had their basic cheeseburger with the garlic-parsley fries, and Robert had fried fish tacos. Marcus was a little overtired and shrieking, but no one seemed to care. From Taylor’s we took a cab straight to the airport and checked in early for our flight. My plan had been to let Marcus fall asleep around 8:00 in the wrap and sleep straight through boarding, etc., but for awhile that didn’t look like it was going to happen; the harsh airport lights kept our baby super awake and super unhappy. I finally hit on the idea of the sunhat, and after I plopped that on his head, he fell asleep in the wrap immediately. I left him there, sunhat and all, through boarding and take-off, just shifting him slightly to nurse at one point. (At right, our boy shows off his new skill--hat-removal--before we headed over to the airport.)

Once we were all on the plane and the lights were off, I moved him out of the wrap to let him curl up and stretch, and since we had an empty seat next to us, Marcus and I slept very happily for the entire flight. Robert, who never sleeps on planes, stayed true to form. Just before we landed in Boston, I started gently encouraging Marcus to wake up, figuring that that was better than an abrupt, startling unanticipated wake-up. He stood up on my lap and gurgled and cooed softly, upon which the people in the row ahead of us turned around and exclaimed, in the words every parent must long to hear, “Oh wow—we had no idea there was a baby behind us! He was so quiet!”

We hopped a cab home and immediately got in bed, where Robert got a two-hour nap. Marcus had a little trouble adjusting to the time change in this direction—he was fussy and couldn’t seem to fall into a deep sleep for his naps the day we got back—but otherwise he was a fabulous traveler.

Good trip, little boy—we can’t wait to share many more with you!

Postscript: a short video of Marcus playing in the children's room of the science museum:


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Created: 3/13/09. Last Modified: 3/29/09.