Home > Events > San Francisco (Day 15): Drifting North-West

San Francisco (Day 15): Drifting North-West

10 December. Index.

The night before, I’d planned to go through photos and write about my day, but I ended up falling asleep with jacket and socks on. Fortunately, I didn’t oversleep by much the next morning. I travelled to the city by BART, as I did the day before.

My first stop for the day was Sightglass Coffee. It had recently moved into the rather spacious premises it now occupies, which, in addition to containing the cafe, are being used for roasting and coffee workshops and the like.


After looking up some directions online, I set off from Sightglass. Whereas I’d drifted northeast the day before, today I intended to drift northwest in the general direction of Golden Gate Park. After a while, however, I noticed that was off course by some distance: I found myself in the City Hall district instead. This turned out to be a welcome detour, in the end, because of the architecture. The capitol itself was quite a beautiful sight in the late-morning sunlight. I also found the San Francisco Symphony’s concert hall in the neighbourhood.



After this, I corrected course and set off again. Somewhere along the way, I ducked into a small pizza place, where I had possibly the greasiest large slice of pepperoni pizza I’ve ever had. I might have thought it terrible if I’d been less hungry.


I corrected course at the pizza stop, and I reached the east end of Haight Street not long after the pizza stop. The first shop I visited had started as an internet-only outlet and had just recently moved into the premises. On sale were shirts, books, and art by Alex Pardee and Dave Correia. I ended up getting an Alex Pardee shirt which had the art on the front and some back-story on the inside. The image on the shirt-front was based in a longer story which had been shown in an exhibition in 2011.

It was still just late morning when I left the shop. While looking up directions earlier in the day, I’d found that Japan Town was not far north from where I was, so I decided to take a detour there for lunch proper. I’d first heard about San Francisco’s Japan Town from Abby’s sister (see Day 13), and subsequently looked it up. One lead I followed up on was the Japanese supermarket, which was interesting to me because it was reported to have a good hot food counter.


I got myself some comfort food in the form of oyako-don, which came well-seasoned with seaweed strips.

Another attraction I’d looked up was a mochi shop that had apparently been in business for many years, and which produced some authentically good mochi. One fact that wasn’t mentioned in the reviews I saw online was that the name of the shop, ‘benkyou-do’, translated to something like ‘study hall’, which kind of explained the design style of the place, which I might describe as being rather simple and utilitarian, and somewhat classic because of that: wood furniture, counter/display of durable glass, fluorescent lighting, clean white walls.


I picked up some of that mochi.

What I discovered I didn’t see any students inside benkyou-do, nor, for that matter, anyone who wasn’t gray- or white-haired, including the man at the counter. More generally, I noticed that most of the folk who lingered in the shop or in the square outside were elderly Japanese people.


After leaving Japan Town, I made my way back down to Haight Street to see the rest of it. Inasmuch as it was less hipster (like, say, Valencia) than out-and-out hippie, it was quite a contrast from Japan Town. The Haight-Ashbury corner near the west end of the street was more commercial, but most of the middle stretch smelled faintly of stale smokes. One of the shops I went into down that middle stretch was an anarchist bookstore. There were anarchist or otherwise politically radical books and tracts on many of the shelves, but what I ended up buying was some regular old fiction from a prison reading programme. (The book in question was ‘Your Republic Is Calling You’, by Kim Young-Ha.) From what I understood, the books were circulated through prison libraries, with the stock being renewed from time to time. I don’t quite understand how the rest of the programme works, but in any case it entailed the old books being sold for a dollar or two each.

As I moved west down the street, the shops got gradually more hipster-ish (my powers of description are evidently flagging; I wish I had more pictures of this part but, on the day, I was quite tired by this point too), but with a darker, at times macabre, tone. Whereas Paxton Gate on Valencia was colorful and had bell-jars of herb plants, mounted moths and butterflies, and taxidermied animal heads, the shop of trinkets and odd things on Haight that I remember was decorated in black, and stocked shrunken heads and what appeared to be the skeleton of a baby siamese twin; I didn’t stay long.

The west end of Haight Street was on the edge of Golden Gate Park, but was still a mile or two from the water’s edge. I needed to get back to a BART station, though, and the sun was lowering. I walked up a small hill near the park’s edge to see what I could, then caught a bus back east to the BART line.

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  1. 6 April 2014 at 5:33 am

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