Tag Archives: bay area

Top Five SOMA Bars for Happy Hour

Whether you’re capping off a hard day at work or catching up with family and friends, you need to check out these SOMA establishments. This diverse downtown neighborhood, located south of Market Street, is frequented by tourists, tech workers, baseball fans, and business people. Out of all the dive bars, sports hangouts and upscale watering holes, here are the top five SOMA bars for happy hour.

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Off the Beaten Track: San Francisco’s Hayes Valley

‘Great Adventure’ is painted in giant marquee letters on the side of a Victorian mansion on the corner of Hayes Valley’s Octavia and Page Streets. This Ben Eine mural is a constant reminder of the district’s steadfast spirit. Since suffering a crucial blow from the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and subsequent fires, the community has continued to surmount itself. Bold entrepreneurs moved into the area after big-scale renovations had tidied up the neighborhood. Now, twenty-five years later, a unique ambiance has spawned with exciting shops, mural masterpieces, food truck dining, blossoming public gardens, and a relaxed atmosphere. Hidden away in the shadows of Civic Center’s domes, Hayes Valley has risen to contain all ingredients that make San Francisco so special.

When approaching the neighborhood from the east, coming from City Hall, picturesque Linden Street offers the prettiest entrance. Rather than lined-up cars, planters dominate this lively alley. Appropriately titled ‘While You Wait’, a monochromatic mural by Zio Ziegler offers the perfect distraction while waiting in line for Blue Bottle Coffee. Stashed away in a garage, this coffee hut is believed to have the best coffee in town. The New Orleans-style iced coffee, in particular, gloriously kick-starts your morning. The stretch of greenery that lies ahead is Patricia’s Green, the epicenter of neighborhood life. When sun bathing on the park’s lawn, give in to one of Smitten Ice Cream’s many surprising flavors. How about brown cinnamon shortbread or strawberry white balsamic for a change? Consume your icy delight away from local razzle-dazzle in the narrow public gardens flanking Octavia Street. Quoting one of the sayings painted on pieces of wood, ‘let your thoughts pass thru you like wind’ when you perch down on a bench in these fenced botanical retreats. Pass through Page and Laguna Mini Park and zigzag up to Koshland Community Park before fueling up in Samovar Tea Lounge. Sumptuous lunch dishes along with artisan teas are guaranteed to provide you with the kick of energy needed to further explore Hayes Valley.

Hayes Valley

Photo by Flickr user: Charles CC2.0

Tree-topped Hayes Street accommodates the area’s trendiest stores. One of the most notable ones, Flight 001, is a traveler’s Valhalla. Decorated to look like the inside of an airplane, this swanky shop sells everything from international power adapters to stylish travel bags. With branches in major cities like Tokyo and New York, setting-up shop here demonstrates the upturn of Hayes Valley as an up-and-coming destination. Styling the city’s most fashionable residents, Undefeated has a diverse selection of the coolest sneakers, clothing, and caps. Shop for vintage one-of-a-kind items and apparels at Reliquary, just around the corner. This neighborhood trump feels both enchanting and unhurried. Comic book nerds and aficionados meet at Isotope on Fell Street. More than just a comic book store, Isotope is also a place for art, workshops, and relaxation. Chill out on one of their comfy sofas with a graphic novel in hand while discussing the latest adventures of Spider-man, Batman, and the X-men.

Just as diverse as the district’s shopping scene is the munchscape, ranging from casual eateries to posh diners. On sunny afternoons people line up for one of the many food trucks that cruise the city. Within these mobile mini-kitchens talented rookies and established chefs cook up the most delicious meals for the most satisfying prices. Baking a mean Arugula pizza, Casey’s Pizza truck has been spotted regularly on Saturday afternoons. Derived from ‘mazza’, meaning small dishes of appetizers in Arabic, Lebanese corner restaurant Mazzat serves hummus and tapas-like dishes. Every morning, grandma prepares fresh meals for the day, making this family-enterprise highly authentic. Souvla on Hayes St. is the newest addition to the exclusive Greek dining scene in San Francisco. In this rather modern walk-in, a communal table for twelve replaces the typical ramshackle seats that one might expect in traditional Greek diners. With all those enticing fragrances, choosing between pork, chicken, or lamb (or veggie) has never been this hard. No place else screams bearish German food like Rosamunde Sausage Grill in Haight Street, just west of Hayes Valley. Head here for a hearty sausage on a bun or gigantic burger, only served on Tuesdays. Expect little space to maneuver yourself to the counter as this joint is gaining popularity.

Acknowledging the great marriage between sausage and beer, next-door Toronado allows you to bring in your grilled meat. Their infamous selection of beers and divey vibe make this place one of the Bay area’s finest beer bars. If you’ve become intrigued by San Francisco’s street art scene don’t forget to take a quick peek at the mysterious ‘Two Beauties’ mural on the corner of Steiner and Haight Streets. For tall mugs of German beer, descend back to central Hayes Valley’s Biergarten. The dozens of picnic tables, alongside the shipping containers that house the bar and kitchen, are packed with people looking to spend a carefree, sunny afternoon. Cross the Atlantic in the belly of a pirate ship in Smuggler’s Cove. Looking like the set of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, this tiki bar serves up great cocktails and ensures a fun time. One of the lesser-known music venues, Rickshaw Stop, is the go-to place for live music of your favorite indie band or underground DJ. This venue on Fell St. gives you the opportunity to see up-and-coming acts before they go viral.

If it’s department stores, Michelin stars, and nightclubs that you’re after, you came to the wrong place. But if you are looking for trendy shoes, finger foods, and happy-go-lucky drinking, Hayes Valley will win you over. The neighborhood’s unconstrained atmosphere provides a breath of fresh air compared to downtown’s fast pace. Together with the community’s appreciation of innovative ways of living, this completes the recipe for San Francisco.

Berkeley: Home of the Organic Food Movement

Gina Caruso is a holistic nutrition consultant from Berkeley with a passion for delicious organic food. Below she tells us about her favorite places to grab a bite in Berkeley.

                In choosing to eat local, organic, and sustainable foods, you will not only avoid consuming harmful pesticides, hormones, pathogens, and other contaminants, but you will also support your community and environment.  These ideals have emerged over the last thirty years, and continue to resonate with the people of Berkeley, CA.  Supporting local farms and bringing organic foods to its residents, the Berkeley community is home of the organic food movement, benefiting the health of its inhabitants, the community as a whole and working to bring fourth education and advance sustainable practices.  In Berkeley, you will find a wide range of restaurants aimed to fill the tastes and needs of all individuals, ranging from fine dining, to ethnic, to vegetarian, to budget culinary gems.

Fine Dining

The North Shattuck area of Berkeley, CA has been popularly known as the “Gourmet Ghetto” since the 1970’s because of its concentration of innovative restaurants.  Founded in 1971, one restaurant famous for pioneering California cuisine is the legendary Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, located in the heart of the Gourmet Ghetto.  The restaurant downstairs is open for dinner Monday-Sunday by reservation only.  It offers a fixed dinner menu consisting of three to four courses.  The menu changes every night,  based on changes of the season.

Photo by Flickr user marioanima CC 2.0

Photo by Flickr user marioanima CC 2.0

The Chez Panisse Cafe, which opened in 1980, is located upstairs, and offers a moderately priced , a la carte alternative menu.  The menu changes daily, inspired by local farmers markets.  Through its locally sourced fresh ingredients, as well as it’s intimate relationship with local suppliers, Chez Panisse continues to be a pioneer in California cuisine, striving for environmental harmony and delicious flavor.  Visiting foodies will not want to miss a meal here.  Be sure to make reservations at least 1-2 weeks ahead of time.

Photo by Flickr user star5112 CC 2.0

Photo by Flickr user star5112 CC 2.0

Revival Bar and Kitchen brings high end American cuisine to the center of downtown Berkeley.  Building relationships with local venders, Revival Bar and Kitchen ensures to serve the finest quality local, sustainable, farm to table cuisine.  Pairing with biodynamic wines from local wineries and seasonal organic cocktails, their high end American cuisine is sure to be a wonderful dining experience and is a must stop while in downtown Berkeley.

Photo by Flickr user Sharon Hahn Darlin CC 2.0

Photo by Flickr user Sharon Hahn Darlin CC 2.0


The Cheese Board Collective is the world renowned home of the pizza of the day made from the freshest local ingredients available, open for lunch and dinner five days a week.  Located on Shattuck Avenue, in the heart of the Gourmet Ghetto, people line up around the corner to taste the pizza of the day.  The collective also includes a cheese store, bakery, and espresso bar offering close to 400 hundred different cheeses, as well as an extensive selection of freshly baked breads and pastries.

Also located in the Gourmet Ghetto, is Grégoire’s Restaurant.  Founded in 2002 by French chef and owner Grégoire Jacquet, it has transformed the traditional carryout food, bringing to Berkeley the first high-end artisan takeout restaurant.  Well known for their crispy potato puffs ($4.50), the menu changes monthly providing seasonal, gourmet and budget friendly cuisine.




Cafe Gratitude is one of a chain of restaurants that that brings to patrons a holistic dining experience unlike anything else.  Their menu items are listed in the form of affirmations, helping to encourage employees and customers to affirm the great qualities that lie within themselves.  The seasonal vegan menu is 100% organic with produce from their own garden, ever expanding to satisfy every dietary need. Enjoy a wholesome meal paired with a glass of homemade organic wine and end with a delightfully tasty, raw dessert, all made fresh daily with gratitude.

Potala Organic Cafe offers a vegan/vegetarian menu, featuring only the freshest, organic and seasonal ingredients.  The menu changes daily, offering simple meals with no added seasoning, a la cart items, and medium meals for lunch and dinner, seven days a week.

Photo by Flickr user sherrymain CC 2.0

Photo by Flickr user sherrymain CC 2.0


Ethnic Cuisine

Razan’s Organic Kitchen features burritos, international wraps, and combo plates, offering a wide range of ethnic cuisine, using 100% organic ingredients.  For a quick bite on the go prepared with fresh ingredients, visit Razan’s  in downtown Berkeley.

Bacheesos is a family-owned business, serving fresh Mediterranean cuisine, providing well balanced, local, and organic meals to the bay area for the past 10 years.  The restaurant offers a full menu service, in addition to its lunch buffet ($7.99) and weekend brunch ($8.99).

Finfine Ethiopian Restaurant is another family business in Berkeley, serving recipes that have been passed down for generations.  Combining a fresh approach to Ethiopian cuisine with tradition, this restaurant serves only the finest local and organic ingredients,  guaranteeing its customers a truly unique experience.



Chez Panisse and Chez Panisse Cafe http://www.chezpanisse.com/intro.php

Revival Bar and Kitchen http://revivalbarandkitchen.com/

The Cheese Board Collective http://cheeseboardcollective.coop/

Grégoire’s Restaurant http://www.gregoirerestaurant.com/

Cafe Gratitude http://cafegratitude.com/

Potala Organic Cafe http://potala.us/

Razan’s Organic Kitchen http://razansorganickitchen.com/index.html

Bacheesos http://www.bacheesos.net/index.html

Finfine Ethiopian Restaurant http://finfine.com/

Chinese New Year Parade: a colorful cavalcade through downtown SF

When I arrived in San Francisco, one of the first things I noticed was the huge Chinese community. In my home country–France, Chinese people represent a very small part of the population, but here in San Francisco, they form the biggest immigrant community. Chinese-Americans represent more than 21% of the city’s population. Chinese culture was so foreign to me; all I knew about it was dragon puppets and sticky rice! Naturally, I was very curious to learn more, so one day I decided to visit Chinatown.

Sentinel building. Photo by Laura Damase

Sentinel building. Photo by Laura Damase

Located right in the heart of downtown and covering 1.34 square miles, this area is an important part of San Francisco. In fact, it is the largest Chinatown outside Asia, and the oldest in North America. When I ventured to Bush and Grant streets, I found the grand entrance to this famous neighborhood. I walked through its lovely gate, which is the only authentic Chinatown Gate in North America. Upon entering, I was surrounded by indecipherable Chinese characters, small stores, typical tiny restaurants and stalls selling fruits I didn’t even know existed. Behind their little windows, bakeries offered the best prices on fortune cookies–my favorite! This day, I literally felt transported to a land that is over 6000 miles away from the City by the Bay. Afterward, I realized that was nothing compared to what I was going to see later during my stay in this incredibly diverse city.

Food vendors on the street. Photo by Laura Damase

Indeed a few weeks later, I read on the Chinatown website, “Saturday February 15,Th 5pm, Union SquareThe Chinese New Year Parade will go from Market Street to Powell, then Kearny to Colombus. “What is that?” I wondered. I had no idea what to expect, but reading that people were coming from all over the world for this celebration, I really didn’t want to miss it.  Nowadays the parade is a major annual event in the Bay Area. The parade began more than 150 years ago to when the first Chinese immigrants arrived here in 1848. At that time, the California Gold Rush attracted a mass of Chinese people to the area to work as gold-miners. The parade quickly became a way for them to celebrate and share their culture.

UC Davis Marching Band at the Chinese New Year Parade. Photo by Laura Damase

UC Davis Marching Band at the Chinese New Year Parade. Photo by Laura Damase

On the day of the event, I arrived just on time, right when the first loud firecrackers were lighted to announce the celebrations launching at Union Square. A vast crowd was already gathered and I understood that being on time only means accepting to stand behind people who arrived hours in advance. As soon as the first trumpets sounded, the processions began without interruption. From the beautiful dancing girls to martial arts groups, the parade was so varied! It included stilt walkers, boy scouts and church groups, all smiling and holding huge flags, wearing costumes and uniforms. I also saw glimmering classic convertibles with politicians who greeted people and waved while passing the crowd. High school bands marched down the street, preceded by big banners announcing their arrival,  as well as lion dancers and acrobats.  Suddenly, loads of floats passed in front of us, all impressively decorated with glittering paillettes,  painted flags and with amazing imagery of dragons, every single detail of the floats was resplendent. Some floats were quite long, beautiful and moved slowly. Other floats carried wonderful women who posed like movie stars in their incredibly refined dresses—they looked perfect! I noticed a common theme among the handmade paintings and statues that decorated the floats . . . horses! Everywhere, of all sizes, all shapes, all poses imaginable, horses. Why? Well, in China, the horse is the symbol for 2014. In fact, this animal is a part of the 12-year-cycle of animals in the Chinese zodiac, which is also associated with one of the five elements. 2014 is the year of wooden horse, which in Chinese culture means good luck and prosperity. The wooden horse, also, should make people who are born this year more likely to be energetic, bright and intelligent.

2014 is the year of the wooden horse. Photo by Laura Damase

2014 is the year of the wooden horse. Photo by Laura Damase

But let’s go back to the parade! A few minutes past 8pm, the dragon I was anticipating finally arrived. With a big head and long red and yellow tail, it was even more impressive than what I was expecting. When I saw it emerge from the well-known Sentinel building corner, I imagined it was going to be very long. In fact, I had the feeling it was just never-ending. Like a snake, it twirled from one side of the street to the other, in a crazy dance.  At this point, the parade truly looked like it may never end; a whirl of participants continued to walk in front of us. The parade proved to be amazingly diverse with more than 100 groups marching. After the dragon, the cutest part came: kindergarteners! Riding in wagons or proudly walking, they were wearing traditional makeup on their eyes and very sophisticated outfits. Some of them were dressed in traditional silky red tunics trimmed in black, with thin belts tightened around their waists. Other kids wore a very traditional Chinese outfit, called a Hanfus, which is also red, but with many other different colors! Their outfits boasted shiny beads and lovely embroideries that formed gorgeous geometrical patterns. The color gradients in the patterns were so elaborate that they almost looked unreal. Right above those pretty ensembles, their sweet little faces were capped by Phoenix crowns–colorful hats covered by stones and strands of beads.


Kids participating in the parade. Photo by Laura Damase

Kids participating in the parade. Photo by Laura Damase

On my way back, I finally realized how big the event actually was: hundreds of pedestrians were walking around the closed streets, holding balloons or sparklers. In fact, almost 1 million people were celebrating the Chinese New Year in San Francisco on this Saturday . . . and it doesn’t include those who watched it on TV!