Dateline: San Francisco, 4/15/08
It started with an email from Starbucks. They were planning "something big" in San Francisco. They didn't say exactly what the "something big" was, but it was related to the introduction of their new Pike Place Roast. I doubted that the Starbucks event was worth a trip into San Francisco, but it seemed like a good excuse, because I don't get in to the City as often as I would like. And it would be a different way of accomplishing my (almost) daily walk, which is usually in the hills near our house.
I decided to take CalTrain, which involves less driving than BART. All I have to do is drive the three miles to downtown Redwood City and park in the all-day lot. The downside is that the CalTrain station is far from downtown San Francisco. It's very far south of Market, and those SoMa blocks are long. I thought I would go to General Bead, which is also south of Market, although pretty far from CalTrain. I also remembered Blue Bottle Cafe, recently opened by a local coffee roaster, which features a $20,000 coffee brewing machine.
At General Bead, most of the merchandise is behind the counter, with one sample of each item on the wall. Each item has a number; you make a list of what you want and the staff retrieves it for you. On my first visit, when I really didn't know what I was doing with beading, I didn't like this system. This time I found it an efficient way to shop. I soon had a list of several items, mostly clasps (which I find almost as interesting as the beads themselves). Upstairs there are bargains which are on the shelves for customers to browse. There's also an amazing inventory of glass buttons, which I sometimes use as clasps for bracelets. I could have bought a lot more, but I somehow limited myself to the scrumptious assortment above. (The one on the lower left features a cat.)
When I left General Bead I was ready for lunch. I looked at the map and found that I was within walking distance of Blue Bottle. The decor was modern and minimalist, with stools and counters instead of chairs and tables. The Machine looked like a chemistry lab, with beakers of water and coffee. I was in luck; they sold sandwiches. A lot of good cafes sell only pastries, which is not good if you want to have lunch. (Jim and I are always on the lookout for breakfast places that have both good coffee and more than just pastries. Usually places that have good breakfast food, like eggs and pancakes, have lousy coffee. Our favorite exception is Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, which has excellent coffee, food, and pastries. That's why we go there for breakfast almost every Saturday. But I digress.) I felt like having a cold drink, but I also wanted to try Machine coffee, so I asked and was assured that the iced coffee came from The Machine. The iced coffee was nice and strong, and the egg salad sandwich was good, and small enough to justify having a snack later.
I was starting to wonder whether I wouldn't get to the Starbucks event at all, which would be ironic. But I left Blue Bottle a little after 1, and the event was scheduled until 2:30. Since I was now close to Powell and Market, I decided to walk the rest of the way to Justin Herman Plaza. There I saw a Starbucks tent which contained Starbucks furniture, including several of the purple easy chairs they often have in their stores. They were giving away cups of Pike Place Roast and also small bags of Pike Place beans. I sat in a purple chair to rest and to drink my coffee, which was not hot enough. The Pike Place coffee is, of course, not strong enough for me, but I do find it smoother than other Starbucks coffee and it doesn't have that burnt taste.
After my coffee break, I took the short walk to the Ferry Building, first browsing at the craft tables across the street. A lot of nice jewelry, which I'm no longer very interested in buying now that I can make my own. At the Ferry Building I had my snack, a cup of Ciao Bella gelato.
The walk from the Ferry Building back to CalTrain was a lot longer than it looked on the map. Somehow streets I had never heard of kept appearing between streets with more familiar names. I walked up and down a hill on Harrison St., not very steep by San Francisco standards but it felt steep to me because I had been walking all day. As I walked I revised my train plans from taking the 3:07 to the 3:37. I started to regret my decision not to take a bus. I arrived at the station 5 minutes late for the 3:07. But there was good news: A special baseball train (for people going home from the Giants game) was scheduled to depart before the 3:37, and to go express to San Carlos, the stop right before Redwood City. This cut the train trip, which normally takes close to an hour, in half.
To sum up the day: A very nice day in the City, a lot of walking, good beads and coffee, and the Starbucks event was the least of it.