More About San Francisco

San Francisco has been a lively place since the 1849 Gold Rush turned sleepy Yerba Buena into the City and County of San Francisco in 1856. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 1847 and 1870, the population of San Francisco increased from 500 individuals to 150,000 inhabitants.

Currently, there are more than 800,000 who call San Francisco home. And more than 15 million people visit The City every year. Everyone needs something to do.

Here are a couple of stories I wrote for the Bay Area News Group about activities to be enjoyed by visitors and locals.

Relive Flower Power in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood

By Carol Blackman
Oakland Tribune Correspondent

This story was first published by the Bay Area News Group and appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times and Oakland Tribune – 06/20/2010.

T-shirst at Haight Ashbury

Photo courtesy of Pam Brennan

If the names Joplin, Hendrix, the Dead and Chocolate George spark a glimmer of recognition, you’re in luck. Forty-three years after “The Summer of Love” in San Francisco, you can brush up on your local history with the Haight-Ashbury Flower Power Walking Tour.

The tour is led by Izu, who prefers to go by only the one name. She meets our group of eight at the corner of Haight and Waller streets, better known the world over as the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The 2 and 1/2-hour walking tour begins across the street from Kezar Stadium and includes information about the neighborhood’s Victorian heritage and stories from the “cradle of hippie culture,” says tour owner Pam Brennan.

That culture is prevalent throughout the neighborhood, even at the historic San Francisco Fire Department Truck Station No. 12. The building was a barn that housed fire equipment pulled by horses. Today, the modern fire station is around the corner, and as Izu points out, “This is only place in the universe where the fire trucks have Grateful Dead, also known as The Dead, stickers on their trucks.”

Much has changed since the turn-of-the-20th century. The first Chinese laundry built outside of Chinatown is now a Bikram Yoga studio, and what began as the Shrader Creamery was used as the Hare Krishna Temple in 1967.

Izu talks about the “Hippies Human Be-In” on Jan. 14, 1967. Thousands of people heard Dr. Timothy Leary encourage everyone to “turn on, tune in, drop out” with the help of the psychedelic drug LSD.

Sharing group experiences and exchanging information was an important part of Hippie culture. Izu stops the group to point out a telephone pole painted dark brown. The paint is covering hundreds of staples used to hold notes and flyers about events.

“This was our precursor to the Internet,” Izu says.

Haight-Ashbury was a haven for infamous people, and Izu knows where each of them once lived. There’s the house where Charles Manson recruited young people to join his cult in 1967. Next up is the home where ballet dancers Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn were arrested for smoking marijuana after a performance at the Opera House.

Perhaps the most notable residents in 1967 were the band members of the Grateful Dead. Now a restored Victorian home, painted purple, the house once sat across the street from the headquarters of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang.

The story goes that when Chocolate George was killed, the gang crossed the street to ask The Dead to play a concert for their dearly departed member. “Who is going to say no to the Angels?” Izu says. Chocolate George’s wake concert was held on Aug. 28, 1967 in Golden Gate Park.

Walking down Ashbury Street toward Haight Street, we stop at a building where singer and songwriter Janis Joplin crashed with singer and songwriter Jimi Hendrix.

When we reach Haight at the corner of Ashbury, we snap pictures of the famous pair of street signs. The San Francisco Department of Public Works has vowed that these signs will be the last erected — visitors often steal them, Izu explains.

Finally, we arrive at the Psychedelic History Museum in a restored Victorian house on Ashbury Street. The museum is open only in conjunction with the tour.

The dining room table is full of books about San Francisco in the late 1960s. The walls of the room are covered with photos of the “Summer of Love” characters.

Fittingly, Izu concludes the tour by reading a quote from social activist Abbie Hoffman — a quote that hippies of all ages still believe, “We are here to make a better world.”

To learn more about the “Haight-Ashbury Flower Power Walking Tour,” check out www.haightashburytour.com.


San Francisco Chocolate Tour Simply Divine

By Carol Blackman
Contra Costa Times Correspondent

This story was first published by the Bay Area News Group and appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times and Oakland Tribune – 10/30/2009.

Photo courtesy of Ray Rippee

Photo courtesy of Ray Rippee

Take a few San Francisco history lessons, add some artisan chocolates and you have a sweet way to learn about sites in the city. With the “San Francisco Gourmet Chocolate Tour,” you can nibble your way through facts about the Ferry Building, the Barbary Coast, Union Square and Market Street.

Andrea Nadel, President of Gourmet Walks, meets our tour group at Justin Herman Plaza and gets down to the business of chocolate.
“The most expensive chocolate I know about is $2,600 a pound. It contains French truffles. But all chocolate starts with harvesting pods like this one.”

She hands over a cocoa pod to pass among ourselves. Then she explains the detailed process that takes the beans inside from pod to crushed “nibs” to cocoa powder or cocoa butter and eventually chocolate.

Sensory pleasure

Nadel seems to know as much about San Francisco’s history as she does chocolate. She shares a little of that knowledge on our walk to the Ferry Building – “Our ferry terminal used to be the second largest terminal in the world before car traffic, “ she tells us. “Only London’s Charing Cross was larger at the turn of the century.”

At the Ferry Building, it’s back to chocolate. First up: Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, founded in 1996 in Berkeley.

Because there will be tastings at each stop, we are told we do not have to eat everything that is offered but can bag samples to enjoy later. One visitor from our group smiles. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

We quickly learn from Cy Olney, Scarffenberger’s manager, that tasting is an art. “Use all of your senses, sight and smell, and notice how the bar snaps apart before tasting for the unique flavors,” he says. We find tasting notes on the wrapper of the “Anniversary Bar” indicating that the flavors include “berry, finishing with hints of cinnamon and black tea.”

Next Up: Recchiuti Confections (also in the Ferry Building), created by San Francisco-based master chocolatier Michael Recchiuti. In addition to sampling the best selling truffle, “Fleur de Sel Caramel,” we taste truffles with lavender, ginger and candied orange peel. The best treat is a seasonal specialty, only available at the shop, called “Harvest Whoppie Pies” – two packaged carrot cake cupcakes, frosted with butter cream and “enrobed” (that means covered) with 64% cocoa content dark chocolate.

Flavorful experience

We take a momentary history respite as we walk down Market Street, learning about trade during the Barbary Coast days, as Nadell guides us to our next stop. Fog City News carries 200 chocolate bars, and four are presented to us for a blind tasting.. We guess at the variety of flavors, but one is so unusual, no one can identify the taste.  Owner Adam Smith surprises us by revealing that the chocolate is made with goat cheese.

Next we cross Market Street to the Crocker Galleria and enter the Leonidas Belgian Chocolate shop. Here we taste a rich hot chocolate drink as we rest for a few minutes. Before leaving, everyone chooses a truffle, called “pralines” here. Leonidas is best known for its pralines with 80 choices. As we step back outside, we notice The Dental Suite across the street. Coincidence?

We continue on to Sutter Street and Teuscher Chocolates of Switzerland, which has a large window display featuring whimsical animal characters that contain chocolate candy.

“The Swiss eat more chocolate per capita than anyone else in the world,” says Nadel. We do our best to even the score with three sample truffles, including one with hazelnuts called “Giandua.”

Grand finale

Once more history accompanies us on our walk, this time toward Union Square. Turning on to Maiden Lane, Nadel explains how brothels once lined the road, then known as Morton Street, in the Gold Rush days. Today, it is a premier shopping area and on a direct path to San Francisco’s original chocolate shop.

Ghirardelli on Stockton Street is one of four Ghirardelli stops in San Francisco, where Dominigo Ghirardelli turned from the gold fields and other business ventures to his chocolate empire, opening his first shop in 1852. At Ghirardelli we sample 86 percent and 72 percent cocoa content bars.

Then it is on to our final stop, CocoaBella, in the Westfield Shopping Centre. The shop offers 180 chocolates, including a “PB&J” truffle with peanut butter and strawberry jam in a milk chocolate shell.

As the tour wraps, Nadel shares some parting advice. We have to preserve our treats, and she explains that chocolate bars can be stored for weeks in a refrigerator to prevent that chalky color change called “bloom.”  But specialty truffles, she adds, usually have no preservatives and so they need to be eaten within a week. No problem.

To learn more about the Gourmet Chocolate Tour or other culinary tours of The City, check out www.gourmetwalks.com.