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Family SF Outing: Haight Street and Panhandle

When we drove into the city to see the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit last weekend, I wanted to go a few hours early to hang out in The City. It’s something we haven’t done as a family since Covid started and I really, really miss it!

Driving over the Bay Bridge from our East Bay home, if there isn’t terrible traffic, I’m always surprised to remember just how close we live to San Francisco. In times past we usually took BART or the ferry there to avoid parking hassles, but really, we can drive there in under half an hour on a good day. Despite being Memorial Day, there wasn’t much traffic Monday. A good day.

As always, we spent our transit of the Bay Bridge yelling at the kids: “Look at the boats! Look, there’s Alcatraz!” Our kids, who have had the privilege of growing up here, glanced up from their phones.

Our plan was to find a parking spot somewhere between the exhibit at Van Ness/Market and Haight/Ashbury. That way we could spend some time wandering Haight Street’s shops, get some takeout, have a picnic on the panhandle of Golden Gate Park, and walk to the exhibit.

What actually happened is that Erik found a parking spot right on the pandhandle near Masonic, which worked out even better. We warned the kids not to leave any bags in the car, lest we get smash and grabbed, and strolled over to Haight Street, debating with the kids how long it had been since we’d been here. I said 10 years, Nutmeg said “a couple of years ago.” Pretty sure I’m closer to right; we haven’t been to Haight Street in at least five years.

In the Haight, I always look at all the old houses and apartments and think about the regular people who lived there in the late 60s when everything started going crazy. San Francisco was so much more a working class city then. It must have seemed like such a pain in the ass to the families with kids, just trying to get to work and back and pay the rent, when their sidewalks filled up with runaway teens and longhairs on drugs setting up free markets. I get a lot of my mental imagery about the Summer of Love in the Haight from the documentary Following Sean. (Highly recommended!)

We strolled past shops displaying tie-dye and Janis Joplin posters, chatting about how funny it was now that it’s the 2020s that this whole street as a tourist area is commemorating something that happened over 50 years ago. It’s only slightly different than it was back in 1999 when Erik and I first visited here as newcomers to the Bay Area, when the Summer of Love was only 30 years in the past. I think there are more non-nostalgia related shops now, like the adorable little Japanese shop we popped into (which I can’t find the name of), and the Burton store with its natty outdoorsy stuff. (I heart my Burton Flight Deck roll-aboard!)

When I was a teen, my friends and I were obsessed with 60s styles, so I would have been all hearts coming out of my eyeballs for the tie dye and the vintage rock posters and head shops. My teens walked right past these. We all enjoyed exploring one of the many vintage/thrift clothing stores, but there was just one store that got the girls really excited to shop: Mendels, which was originally a paint and flooring store when it opened in the 1960s and is now an art supply and sewing shop, still run by the original family. I never remember noticing this shop before, even though it’s been right there between Ashbury and Clayton since the late ’60s. Pebbles used some of the money she’d brought to buy a blank journal, and Nutmeg made a beeline for the fabric and notions section at the back of the store. She needed a zipper for the dress she made for Pebbles’ eighth grade promotion ceremony.

They had a lot of really cute fabrics! We bought a bunch of remnants for Nutmeg’s quilting habit and, on my part, hope that someone will make me a cute throw pillow. (I’m the one in the family who doesn’t sew.)

After spending way too much time in Mendel’s, we thought we’d better get food and get going. We hit up Gus’s Community Market, where we were able to buy a loaf of fresh bread, a can of wine, a bottle of lemonade, Morbier cheese, a poke bowl, chicken tenders, strawberries, brussels sprouts salad and something called Greek zucchini pie that I grabbed at the last minute. They warmed up the chicken tenders for us. All this rang up to over $60, kind of a lot for a grocery store picnic, but probably less than we would have spent for five people if we’d gotten takeout. We had leftovers to bring home too. The store was a bit too crowded for the kids’ comfort, since they’ve barely been anywhere with Covid and two of them are not fully vaccinated yet. So as soon as they picked out what they wanted, Erik and the kids waited outside while I completed the purchases.

The panhandle of the park was a perfect picnic spot. Plenty of families, clean — despite the fact that we couldn’t see a trash can anywhere — and with the perfect amount of shade from the big trees. There was enough space for us to spread out and not worry that other picnickers were too close when we took off our masks to eat. We grabbed our picnic blanket from the car and chowed down.

All in all, a perfect foray back into the City. I would have loved to stay longer and explore more than three blocks of Haight Street, especially more of the used clothing stores, but — combined with the Van Gogh exhibit — this was more than enough being out and about for the kids. Next time we go to SF with them, I really want to visit the de Young. But before that, we’ll have an adults-only city trip: Erik and I have tickets to see our beloved Cubbies play the Giants tomorrow, and we’re planning lunch at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market before the game.

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