Elena Bowes

New York-London travel writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

It’s Way Out There in the Outer Sunset

May 10th, 2015
The Sunset - halfway between San Francisco and Hawaii
Wanderings: US

The San Francisco I grew up in looked nothing like today’s youthful, beaming, booming city full of people who look like they have a plan. They’re busy and productive and happy.

The old San Francisco  in the 1970’s and ’80’s was a sleepy town with little traffic, a few good restaurants (French and Italian), and Union Square was about the only place to shop. If I told people  that I was from SF, they’d ask me about the gay Castro, or maybe some religious cult or nudist beach. No longer.

Last weekend I was in the Bay Area for my cousin’s wedding. Every time I visit my hometown I get nostalgic. So it was with surprised relief that I rediscovered the Sunset, a part of town that has barely changed over the years.

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I visited this forgotten foggy tip of the city on the suggestion of my old college friend Tom (pictured below with my friend Isabelle who came along for the adventure).

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We drove out past the avenues with the sunshine behind us and the vast coast ahead. The Sunset is still populated by an interesting mix of surfers and multi-generational, immigrant families. It looked just the same to us.

Seal Rock is still there.

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And so are the surfers…

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And the weird vegetation that thrives in the Sunset’s cool microclimate.

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But if you dig a little deeper there are some interesting new shops and places to eat. Isabelle and I began at Woodshop, a collective of 4 craftsmen where the makers are as easy on the eye as their creations. Here’s Josh Duthie and Luke Bartels, two of the foursome. Josh reinvents old chairs and Luke makes furniture from locally salvaged hardwoods.

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Danny Hess (who wasn’t there) makes beautiful custom wood surfboards, skateboards and hand planes for body surfing. The shop isn’t really a retail shop so you need to either bang on the door or book an appointment.

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Luke wrote down on a spare piece of wood everything we should see in the neighborhood.  All the action happens on a few streets, namely Noriega and Judah between 45th and 46th streets. Streets are organised alphabetically so navigating is simple.

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Trouble Coffee and Coconut Club is  a small, odd coffee shop credited with starting the $4 thick-sliced toast craze that’s been covered by NPR, the New Yorker and the Guardian (i.e. prepare for expensive toast to pop out of London toasters soon).

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Journalist John Travois wrote a touching article about Trouble and how he started out cynical but after meeting Trouble’s tattooed, Bipolar founder Guiletta Carrelli – who opened the cafe to save herself – changed his mind.

The brief menu features “Build Your Own Damn House”, which consists of a cappuccino,  a whole coconut and a fat piece of cinnamon toast. No cell phones are allowed in the shoebox-sized spot with its extremely limited menu, space, and seating  (i.e. a piece of driftwood outside.) And yet, people love it.

Mouth-watering cinnamon and peanut-butter slices of toast are stabbed with a butter knife to make the butter drip inside the bread.

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Other popular foodie highlights include the crowded Devil’s Teeth where the most popular dish is the Breakfast Sandwich comprised of scrambled eggs, cream cheese and bacon.

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Or on a cold foggy day, take refuge in the all-wood Outerlands restaurant. Delicious food and cocktails, says my local on the spot – Tom who loves to surf and lives nearby on Ocean Beach.

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No visit to the Sunset is complete without a stop in a surf shop. Check out Mollusk Surf Shop with its handmade boards, art, photography and cool t-shirts.

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I like the new San Francisco, but I miss the old one.

May, 2015