A Bit of Italy in San Francisco

October 8, 2019

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While visiting family in the USA, I took a detour to see my good friend, Jan, and her husband, Dave, in San Francisco. If you haven’t been to San Francisco, it is a multi-cultural, historical city where you can experience the food of the world and much of its history. And then there is Alcatraz.

People like Al Capone were incarcerated in Alcatraz Prison. You can take tours of The Rock as it is called. I did not do that on this visit but have in the past. It is well worth it for history buffs.

Jan and I caught up on the changes in our lives while visiting Fisherman’s Wharf and tasting unusual drinks, including the Shark, shown below.

We visited the historical spots where Jan and Dave enjoy food and friends, such as The Buena Vista Bar known for its Irish Coffee.

Made by a professor of adult beverages.

The Buena Vista is not a typical tourist bar—the locals frequent it. You share tables with strangers and enjoy the coffee and the ambiance. 

We did participate in a few touristy things. My favorite was visiting the “Painted Ladies”, the treasured row of Victorian homes superbly displayed in multi-color.

I loved the detail on each façade and the different styles.

Even the neighboring apartment complex was gorgeous.

It reminded me of home, of Chiavari, where Victorian and Art Nouveau homes abound.

Even local streets boast lovely ladies like these.

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We also visited the Mission District and the Mission itself.

The Mission High School is where Carlos Santana attended and now he helps fund it today.

All the detail on the school reminded me of Italian detail—we are all Latins after all.

But the highpoint of my visit to San Francisco, besides time with my friends, was visiting The Italian Area of San Francisco, The North Beach Neighborhood. 

We began our day there at The Park Tavern, next to the Italian Athletic Club. Our brunch and conversation was so good I forgot to take photos of the incredible meal we shared. 

We were surrounded by local Italian businesses such as Mamas.

People line up for hours to get in for breakfast. 

Pizza and pasta places abound.

My favorite place which, unfortunately, was not open was a Ligurian Focaccia Bakery.

Next visit I will be sampling their Focaccia to see if it really is Ligurian. You should check it out too! Closed on Sundays.

Italian-Americans have played a big role in the growth of San Francisco. After Italians began to settle and gain some financial benefits of living in northern California, they attempted to buy homes and apartments but were denied loans. That situation changed when Amadeo P. Giannini opened The Bank of Italy in the heart of San Francisco in 1904. He hoped to assist working class Italian-Americans and others find their American Dream. His banking business did so well, they expanded to other locales. It eventually merged with Bank of America in Los Angeles and became the Bank of America of today. 

Many famous people came from San Francisco. Joe DiMaggio whose popularity assisted other Italian-Americans to become more accepted in the USA is probably the most famous. His first marriage took place in Saints Peter and Paul Church in North Beach.

Its style is reminiscent of churches in Italy.

Another Italian innovator in San Francisco’s economic development was Domenico Ghirardelli, the founder of Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. He was born in Liguria, very near where I live, and first traveled to South America before settling in San Francisco. 

His Ghirardelli Chocolate is one of the largest chocolate companies in the United States. Ghirardelli Square has been declared an official landmark in the city. We walked the area where we tasted Balsamic Vinegar, visited a cheese school and enjoyed the fountain area.

Our favorite shop was an artsy jewelry shop called Mashka. (www.mashka.com).

The creative display techniques of Mashka, the artist, grabbed my attention from outside. 

I loved how she displayed her creations on women in artwork. And nearly every piece of her work that I saw was stunning, creative, unusual and mystical. Check them out on-line or when you visit the city.

San Francisco is NOT Italy. Yet the culture, the salty air, and the people soothed my homesickness. I miss Jan and Dave. I hope to see them again sooner than later. Ciao ciao, I miei amici!

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