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Pacific Coast Highway, Day 7: Fort Bragg to San Francisco

This is Mendocino.


Does it look familiar? If so, you might be a Murder She Wrote fan. (I KNEW it!) For as long as the series ran, this town doubled as the fictional Cabot Cove, Maine. The hubs was outraged by this information. (“What? They lied!”) If it makes you feel any better, the town was founded by a group of New Englanders who ran aground while searching for San Francisco. The wooden clapboard construction everywhere really does look like a small New England town. With palm trees.

As the road headed inland, it became dotted with vineyards. Here’s a drool-worthy picture for my wine-loving friends.


It’s unseasonably warm right now which raises the risk of wildfires. Add that to the list of things that could kill us. With earthquakes, tsunamis, and mudslides, the tally stands at four. After the spectacular beauty of this morning’s drive, I finally understand why people are so willing to risk what seems like certain doom in order to live here. (Almost.)

We stopped to stretch at a bakery in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Boonville.


They had a selection of baked goods, local cheese, and organic eggs. ($6 a dozen.) Also this interesting soda for the hubs.

I finally understand the dry heat thing. Back home, it’s the same temp as it is here, yet we’re only using the vent in the car and not the AC. The humidity is so high in Ohio that as soon as you step outside you feel like you’re covered in a fine layer of syrup–sticky and slightly damp all over. It’s nice here; I could get used to this.

Mark Twain said that, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” But that’s not true today. It’s nice and warm with no fog.

That is not the Golden Gate Bridge. Turns out there are a few bridges that span the bay, all equally beautiful but none as orange as the big one. The first thing I noticed about the city was the size. It’s huge. It makes Portland and Seattle look like the town where we live–tiny. We decided not to try and navigate ourselves, so we ditched our car at the hotel and hopped on BART. BART is the bay’s version of a subway. Here’s the view from our local station.

Astute observers will notice this is the same A’s stadium that was the sight of the ’86 World Series, interrupted by an earthquake. We also drove across the bridge that collapsed. Good times.

Here comes the BART.

No matter the city, subways all manage to smell the same–like human misery.

Next we took a cable car.

To the Ferry Building.

The Ferry Building. Oh, oh, oh, The Ferry Building. Imagine every wonderful and delectable food, all stuffed into one architecturally pleasing place, and you have The Ferry Building. I want to go to there. Every day.

They had everything, including tasty salted pig parts.

Whenever I’m in a new area, I try to embrace the local food. Does anyone know what San Francisco is famous for? Rice? No, that’s just for commercials. Seafood? Perhaps. The correct answer is chocolate.

The two big names in chocolate here are Scharffen-Berger and, of course, Ghirardelli. These two started out small and local but have grown huge, which is a shame. The reason it’s a shame is because of what happened in 2006. You probably had no idea anything happened in 2006. Only diehard foodies like myself paid any attention, but that was the year chocolate died. You see, like many things, our taste for chocolate grew exponentially after WW2. All those soldiers returning home after tasting European chocolate spread the word, and America’s chocolate craze was born. But supply couldn’t keep up with demand. There were two choices: raise prices or sell cheaper chocolate. Guess which one we chose? The FDA began allowing chocolate manufactures like Hershey and Nestle to use PGPR, an emulsifier that takes the place of more expensive cocoa butter. The chocolate your kids are eating is not the same chocolate you ate as a child; their chocolate is stuffed with chemicals and lacking real cocoa butter. High-end chocolatiers use real cocoa butter; that’s why they’re more expensive. So while Scharfen-Berger and Ghirardelli have followed in the footsteps of their more populist brethren and started using PGPR, there are plenty of small chocolatiers who don’t. (Europeans don’t, either. I never realized how great the disparity was until our German exchange student tried Hershey’s and spit it out.)

That place had a milk bar. I expected their chocolate milk to be the best in the world. It wasn’t. But the sign was cute.

Next we ambled into Chinatown.

The streets were mobbed not with tourists, but with Chinese people buying fish, fruit, and vegetables from the open-air markets. It was like a feeding frenzy, which makes me think they probably buy things as they need them each day. Everything was fresh, even if I had no idea what most of it was.

Chinatown eased into Little Italy with lots of open-air coffee shops and cafes. The scent of fresh bread and pizza slipping through the windows was enticing, but nothing could divert us from our goal of Fisherman’s Wharf.

This is one of those must-see tourist areas, the one place our hotel shuttle driver told us we had to go. It was properly crowded with tourists, but it was also properly beautiful with kitschy souvenir shops and seafood restaurants juxtaposed with sparkling views of the bay.

Located here is Boudin Bakery.

They make bread in the shape of turtles and alligators.

But that’s not why they’re amazing. They’re amazing because they’ve been using the same sourdough starter since 1849. If you’ve ever had one of those Amish Friendship Bread starters that you had to take care of, then you know what a feat that is. Think about it. Feeding that dough every single day for a hundred and fifty years. Stomach flu? Who cares? Feed the starter. Family member died? Doesn’t matter; got to feed the starter. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

This is just one of the beautiful buildings on the wharf.

Hey, did you know there’s a National Park here? In the middle of the city. Right here on the wharf. These things are everywhere. Help me. Yay!

I joke, but it was a very nice visitor’s area, and my daughter’s favorite stop of the day.

I wanted to eat in the Mission District, but we were weary. So we stayed put. A friendly local helped us find a suitably tasty seafood place on the wharf. It was hidden behind most of the others.

Scoma’s was pricey, but so was everything on the wharf. The scallops were suitably tasty. And for dessert? What else?

The sundae was much like our day in San Francisco–expensive, but sweet and full of possibility.

*We did not ride a trolley car. The line was long, the price expensive, the ride short and not child friendly. I took a picture, though. Maybe I’ll post it some other day.


About vanessagraybartal

Author. Eater. Wife. Mother. Not necessarily in that order.

2 responses to “Pacific Coast Highway, Day 7: Fort Bragg to San Francisco

  1. Valerie Harrintgon ⋅

    I had a dream last night that we were traveling somewhere and stopped for you and Chris. When you got back in the car you had a very expensive box of ghirradelli. Then I read this post. Maybe I’m psychic..

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