San Francisco – my favorite city in the USA!

Pardon me for the lack of posts, the summer weather has been very distracting and I’ve taken two separate week long trips to Europe recently, there will be many posts and pictures to post soon. Hope that everyone is having a nice summer so far (if you’re in the northern hemisphere that is). Last month I revisited one of my second homes for the first time in a few years: San Francisco.

Landing in SFO

Landing in SFO

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Hubby in front of a cute house in Cow Hollow

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Magnificent colors of San Francisco

We arrived the weekend before pride weekend so the vibe was getting really hyped for that, in fact in San Francisco they have dubbed the entire month of June “pride month”. Its reputation as the gay Mecca is so felt that you almost can’t tell the difference since every day feels like a part of pride month.

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Street art in the Mission

Rekindling with some of my favorite things in San Francisco was a true joy after years of absence. Some of those things include the nightlife, the stunning architecture, the scenic walks, the beautiful parks, and of course….the food. Some of my favorite spots in the city from previous visits include Japantown, the Castro and the Mission. In Japantown you can enjoy the architecture in the peace plaza, a video store with hundreds of Japanese anime selections, delicious sushi places including a cute place where little sushi boats pass by seats at the sushi bar (beware, it gets addicting and the bill adds up), and even Japanese crepes! The Castro has great gay bars and restaurants and the famous Castro theatre. The Mission has great places to sample Mexican and Salvadorian food, go to brunch along Valencia, and sun tanning in Mission Dolores Park is a must-see for anyone on their first visit.

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Mission Dolores Park aka “gay beach”

On this visit, I got to see some of my friends whom I haven’t seen in years! My friend Christian who recently moved from New York picked us up at the airport and showed us his area called Visitacion Valley, owing to San Francisco’s Spanish influence. It’s a quiet area in the southern part of the city filled with Chinese families, quaint houses, and scenic views at McLaren Park.

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View of Visitacion Valley

McLaren Park

McLaren Park

Even though I spent a whole month in 2011 exploring the city, I still hadn’t seen everything so I decided to get a new orientation for the city. San Francisco is pretty easy to circumnavigate by foot or bus, but some things are just out there are hard to get to. Thanks to Christian, we were able to visit some of San Francisco’s harder to reach points. We started with the gorgeous Twin Peaks, arguably the best scenic view of San Francisco. It’s located in the southern part of the city, and affords panoramic views of multiple angles of the city. You have to fight your way through some tourists to get a good picture, but it’s well worth it.

Christian & I with a view from Twin Peaks

Christian & I with a view from Twin Peaks

For lunch, we met with my friend Katie who is an Oakland native and checked out the cleverly named SoMa SteEat Food Park, where you can get really fresh food of any sort of ethnic variety at a reasonable price from the numerous food carts or a few sit-down places. I tried the paella spot and the Burmese cuisine, both very good choices.

Stack of logs for the brick oven pizza spot, now that's fresh!

Stack of logs for the brick oven pizza spot, now that’s fresh!

We proceeded to check out the Richmond District, where there isn’t much to see per se, but along Geary Blvd there’s some nice architecture in the form of Russian churches and dozens of restaurants and coffee shops. We got a refreshing bubble tea at Infini Tea, which has a wide variety of flavors of milk tea spanning from quirky to conventional. They even have a happy hour for discounted teas and quick snack foods. Afterwards, we made our way to Sutro Baths at the end of the Outer Richmond District along the Pacific Ocean. In its heyday in the 1890s, Sutro Baths was the largest indoor swimming complex in the world, with natural pools of salt water that were fed by the ocean during high tide. There were also many cultural exhibits, and the creator of the baths even made a railway to increase visitation to the baths due to its isolated location along the sea. It was wildly successful up until the Great Depression and after years of decline it was mysteriously burnt down, arousing conspiracy theories. The ruins remain beautiful and protected by the National Park Service, and it’s a great way to spend a few hours exploring the sea caves, walking along the ruins of the baths, and hiking up the trails with incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge by the cliff sides.

Christian was a bubble tea virgin!

Christian was a bubble tea virgin!

Sutro Baths from above

Sutro Baths from above

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Ocean views from Sutro Baths

My friends Juan & Kevin hosted us for the weekend in their apartment in Nob Hill, and they showed us some cute little spots in the neighborhood. We had dinner at the Bell Tower, which was very good considering that I usually don’t go for bar food. Also, the staff is beyond friendly and the service was excellent. Another amazing place we ate at that weekend was the Pancho Villa Taqueria right on 16th Street down the block from the BART station in the Mission District. The lines are really long, but the authenticity of the food and the quality of the ingredients are unbeatable, even to Mission standards.

Cute houses in Nob Hill

Cute houses in Nob Hill

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Kevin, me, Juan and hubby at The Bell Tower

Kevin, me, Juan and hubby at The Bell Tower

Juan & Kevin & Mexican food <3

Juan & Kevin & Mexican food ❤

Also while I was in town I had the pleasure of seeing Beach Blanket Babylon, a San Francisco staple. It’s the longest running musical revue in the world complete with an over the top performance with highly extravagant and detailed costumes and wigs. I’m lucky enough that my host is in charge of the entire wigs department so not only did he hook us up, but he gave us a tour backstage and a behind the scenes look of the wardrobe department, where we got to meet some of the actors before the performance. It’s an experience definitely not to be missed as the show is highly entertaining and extremely unique.

Back stage at BBB

Back stage at BBB

Wardrobe at BBB

Wardrobe at BBB

The remainder of the trip was spent just leisurely strolling the streets for beautiful houses and buildings in the gorgeous areas of the Nob Hill, Cow Hollow, Telegraph Hill, and North Beach. I’d definitely recommend doing most of San Francisco by foot since you’ll pass by so many unexpected treasures that way. The buildings are ornate, detailed, and colorful, and every street looks different. And of course, the San Francisco hills, fog, street cars and view of the bay add to the dramatic effect of this gorgeous one-of-a-kind city.

Coit Tower

Coit Tower

Old theater in the Mission

Old theater in the Mission

Street art in the Mission

Street art in the Mission

More street art in the Mission

More street art in the Mission

Have you ever been to San Francisco? What are some of your favorite experiences you’ve had here?

Queens Pride in Jackson Heights

New York City is quite the destination during gay pride season, seeing as there’s not only a pride festival for each individual borough, but also Harlem as well. My personal favorite is Queens Pride, since not only is it in my all time favorite NYC neighborhood but it’s a very unique setting. Jackson Heights masters the art of gay neighborhood bars and clubs, with a really fun-loving Latino crowd. I’ve been going to these gay bars since 2008, and it’s one of the few places that haven’t been tainted by gentrification, brunch culture, and circuit parties in NYC. That is not to say that it doesn’t get crowded and crazy, I’ve had many fun nights here partying. But the people who go are what really make it special. It’s a mainly low-key Spanish speaking crowd in bars that have drag shows in Spanish, and all types of Latin music. It’s definitely fun to check out if you’ve never experienced it before.

My husband & I at Queens pride

My husband & I at Queens pride

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Various hilarious and creative costumes in the parade

Take the E,F,M,R, or 7 train to 74th Street and Roosevelt Avenue to arrive in Jackson Heights. The pride festivities consist of:

  • a parade (that marches down 37th Avenue, 1-2 blocks north of the subway),
  • two main stages with drag shows, dancing & singing performances, and a ton of street carts and vendors (concentrated on 37th Road, 1 block north of the subway),
  • the bars and clubs are spread out but mainly on Roosevelt Avenue in a 12 block radius.

In the parade there are familiar faces (the famed Miss Colombia who appears at just about every parade in NYC), local politicians, and various cultural groups from all over the city – many catering to different groups of color (LGBT North Africans for example), The choices for gay bars include Hombres Lounge (younger crowd, hookahs available), Friend’s Tavern, The Music Box, True Colors (all neighborhood bars, the first 2 having outdoor space), and Club Evolution (3 bars and ample space to dance and socialize). Besides the gay choices, there’s tons of Latino sports and dive bars to hang out at, all very reasonably priced. Queens pride tends to get crowded, but nowhere near as crowded as Manhattan and unlike on Christopher Street there’s much more space for movement in Queens.

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Perfect plumage

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The famed Miss Colombia

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Eat your heart out Lady Gaga circa 2010 #queenswhorecycle

Where Carinval meets Pride!

Where Carinval meets Pride!

And don’t get me started on the food. Jackson Heights is the most diverse zip code in the world, the population being mixed Latino from the Caribbean, Central America, and South American, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and a sprinkling of old-school Italian and Russian communities. Needless to say, it’s a festival in one of the most ethnically blessed neighborhoods ever, the options are unlimited. Colombian empanadas, tacos, momos, curry kebab, rice & beans, and Thai fried rice are just some of your choices here. These are some of the many reasons that I’m proud to show off Queens, and I’m ok with most people living in NYC thinking that it’s lame here since it keeps a more authentic feel to what it means to be from Queens.

Have you been to Jackson Heights? What about Queens pride?

Way uptown: the unknown part of Manhattan

I’m a New York native, which in NYC is hard to come by. I’m from a boring suburb on the Queens/Long Island border. What I find to be the best part about this city is that you can go to a wide variety of different neighborhoods depending on what you’re in the mood for in terms of vibe, food, nightlife, or anything really. You can go months exploring what the different areas have to offer.

An area of the city I enjoy but don’t visit enough is way uptown in Manhattan. Spanning the area of 155th to 220th street, you have the areas of Washington Heights and Inwood. Washington Heights hails the biggest Dominican population of the city, and also being the area with the highest foreign-born residents in all the five boroughs. Inwood is a much quieter area at Manhattan’s northern tip with a mixed Dominican and Irish population.

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Beautiful apartment building in Inwood

A trip all the way up the A or the 1 train rewards you with fine Dominican cuisine, world class museums, rowdy Dominican bars that party hard, tranquil nature, unbelievable views of the Hudson River, The Bronx, and New Jersey.

I visited The Cloisters a few weeks ago, which is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art perched atop a hill with excellent views over the Hudson River. The museum is dedicated to medieval art and architecture, and it’s quite a collection. The admission is suggested, so you can give what you wish and there are also packages you can buy with tickets to the regular branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and other NYC attractions.

The Cloisters

The Cloisters

The Cloisters

The Cloisters

Afterwards, my companions and I had a nice feast at Dyckman Express Restaurant, a no-frills Dominican restaurant right off of the 1 train stop for Dyckman. Top-notch quality Caribbean food which is very fresh and the price is right. The cheese and crab mofongos are delicious and the perfect texture. For those you don’t know what mofongo is, it’s a Caribbean (mostly Puerto Rican) masterpiece of mashed plantains with spices and either a tomato or garlic sauce. The avocados, fried cheese, sweet plantains, cassava, fried, rice, and beans are also big winners. There are also plenty of other options on this street as well as further down Broadway in the 160s.

cheese mofongo & fried cheese

cheese mofongo & fried cheese

Finally, we strolled down Broadway uptown to Inwood Park, a magnificent park that shows the true diversity of New York City since it’s nature with a much quieter atmosphere than Central Park. The views from Inwood Park are not juxtaposed by tall skyscrapers, but rather a creek and a bridge that takes you from Manhattan to the Bronx. The only sound you’ll hear in certain parts of the park are the gentle glide of traffic over the bridge, and in other parts you can almost achieve perfect silence. Kind of eerie thinking you’re still in Manhattan. In fact, one of my best friend’s grandfather experimented with sustainable living off of nature in this very park and managed to do so for about 6 years without rejoining the rest of society. A true example that a New York City experience can be anything you choose.

Inwood Park

Spuyten Duyvil creek at Inwood Park

Other points of interest in the area include the oldest house in Manhattan, the only lighthouse on Manhattan isle, and a bar with a relaxing atmosphere on the river. The Morris-Jumel Mansion is open to visitors Tuesday-Sunday; it’s the oldest house in Manhattan on Jumel Terrace in between 160th and 162nd streets. I have yet to visit, but it’s on my list. Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse, aka the little red lighthouse, is in Fort Washington Park almost directly below the George Washington Bridge in the heights. It’s a nice, short hike down to the river to see the lighthouse, you can’t go inside but it’s a pretty sight when placed next to the bridge. Finally, go on a hot summer evening and enjoy the ambiance of La Marina, a bar and restaurant with outdoor seating with great views of the river and the George Washington Bridge in the distance. It is located at the west end of Dyckman Street on the Hudson River, drinks and hookahs are available.

Little red lighthouse under the bridge

Little red lighthouse under the bridge

Have you visited Inwood or Washington Heights? What did you like when you went?