San Francisco Book Destination

261 Columbus Avenue at Broadway, San Francisco

It all started with a postcard from my World’s Greatest Bookstores postcards. I also had a vague memory of going to City Lights Books when I was in high school. Once I arrived at City Lights, I realized that I may not have shopped here, and confused it with Clean, Well Lighted Place for Books. Alas the latter has closed.

The view of the Ferry Building from Sens restaurant, a mediocre mediterranean restaurant.

I drove to San Francisco to meet friends for lunch. I chose a place at Embarcadero Center 1 and planned to leave my car and walk to City Lights with a quick stop at the Allbirds store.

The neighborhood of Columbus at Broadway is still full of character, including the shady nightclubs I remember walking past in my youth on the way to see the play, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. The alley next to the bookstore is named after writer Jack Kerouac (one of the many streets named for authors in a map Bikes to Books: A literary cycling tour of San Francisco”)

IMG_8049The store was busy! And jammed with books and staff picks everywhere. I could have spent so much more time there. Sadly I couldn’t stop thinking about the traffic congesting on I-80 while I browsed. So I made a bee-line to the cash register and asked the bookseller if they had Don’t Speak. He was so good he read my mind and said, “You might mean Say Nothing.” Yep, not the No Doubt song. He had several copies behind the counter.

IMG_8050I enjoyed the walk back to the parking lot where it only cost $35 to get my car out of the parking lot after 3 hours. Ouch. Then I began the crawl out of the City. On my way in, it took 1.75 hours to drive from Sacramento to San Francisco. On a Friday afternoon it took 3.5 hours. That’s when I remember why I don’t go to San Francisco more often.




International Book Buying

I discovered Hatchard’s via a collection of postcards of The World’s Greatest Bookstores.

I feel much better about my propensity to buy too many books when I am traveling after hearing one fellow bibliophile call it patronizing the arts. Yes, I am a patron of the arts. And it is much easier to tuck a beautiful special edition of The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield in your bag than a painting or sculpture!

The collection includes a postcard featuring Moe’s in Berkeley. I look forward to exploring this bookshop!

My Auntie J and I volunteer to send postcards to potential voters to encourage them to be a good citizen. She found a box of The World’s Greatest Bookstores. There are 50 featured, and one is for Hatchard’s in London. I’d somehow never heard of it or been there.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid looks like an opera house more than a bookstore! A reason to go to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I love Foyle’s in London. It is popular with television writers too and appears in the Netflix adaptation of Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Christopher Foyle in Foyle’s War is named for the bookstore. It didn’t rate a postcard though.

The bookstore on the left is Alabama Booksmith from Birmingham, Alabama. The Hatchard’s postcard is on the right.

I have only been to a couple of the book shops featured: City Light Books in San Francisco, The Strand in New York City, Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee and Powells Books in Portland (as often as possible). With bookstores in Goa, India and The Bookworm in China, I can’t commit to visit them all. One thing I can safely guarantee, I will always return with more books in my bag than when I left home.

Cooking Lessons in Southeast Asia


Cooking classes are a great way to expand your cooking repertoire and learning new skills. I’ve taken classes in Sonoma, California and in my hometown. My son Tevis Spezia took it to a new level when he spent 4 months in Southeast Asia. He took two classes–one in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and one in Hội An, Vietnam. He found both of them on Trip Advisor, which is his go-to when he’s looking for interesting activities when traveling.


Tevis’ interest in cooking started with lessons from me for he and his friends Jenn and Heather. He quickly expanded his abilities past easy enchiladas and pasta sauce. While he lived in San Francisco he cooked dinner every week with a group of friends with a range of cooking experience. He tried a lot of new recipes and learned new skills.

“You can only go on so many walking tours and see so many museums, so I thought I’d try a cooking class.”  The Chiang Mai class included pick up and drop off from his hostel, and a shopping excursion at the market. Then they went to the farm kitchen for meal prep.



Tevis did feel like the odd man out in Chiang Mai as it was all couples except him. He did suggest the class to his dinner party friends Alison and Craig who honeymooned in Thailand. His experience in Vietnam was different–there was a mix of singletons and couples. He even ended up mopeding to the next town with someone he met in the class.

In Vietnam they spent more time in the markets shopping and even traveled part of the way by boat. Then they returned to a classroom kitchen in town. They made this specialty rice cake and crepe like pancakes used to roll up with different fillings. Tevis’ favorite recipe and one he’ll make again was the fresh spring rolls. They also made pho, but Tevis didn’t see the point in making pho when you only had to walk a few steps to find phenomenal pho made from a family recipe. And it was all so cheap (about $1.50 a bowl). Even in Boston, where he lives now, he’s more likely to buy a bowl a pho at a restaurant than make it himself.

I didn’t ask if he’d take another cooking class on future trips, because I knew the answer! Tevis’ Chilean cooking class is featured in next blog post.

Thanks Tevis Spezia for sharing your experience with Adventures of American Julie.


San Francisco Hilton Blues

I am a Hilton Honors member so it pains me to use my points and have such a rocky start to my stay. I drove up to the front of the Hilton near Union Square and the Bellman accepted my bags. Then I walked across a giant ugly lobby doing a great imitation of 1970s SFO to a 4 person deep line at the HHonors counter–a large group of airline employees queued with one woman handling all the requests at 10:30 p.m. I had checked in on-line but that apparently does not speed the process. I actually do not know what the advantage this option is to me.

20151207_230507Then I had to drive around the block to the parking garage in Tower 3 and spent 20 minutes winding my way up to the 10th level to park. Then find my way back to Tower 2 through the Lobby Level, then go up to level 14 to my room.  By now it is 11:00 p.m.

As I enter my room the phone is ringing but the light next to the door does little to illuminate the interior. However, I am in a room equipped for the hearing impaired so a bright light is flashing in tandem with every ring of my phone and it is blinding. I fumble to turn on the light and the switch on the side nearest the door does not work. I simultaneously try to answer the phone and neither of the 2 lines connects me. I call the front desk because I suspect it was the Bellman calling. The first attempt lands me on hold hell. In the second attempt the front desk clerk says he will check and call me back. “No, no I will wait on hold! I do not want to experience that light flashing in my face again.” It was that disorienting.

While I wait for the Bellman to bring up my bags I grab a glass and collect some tap water. There seems to be a film on the water, so I rinse the glass and try again. The water is almost milky white. I show the Bellman when he arrives and he agrees that it is strange. He offers to send up some water and I decline since I want to go to bed. There are two bottles of water, which I generally prefer not to use for ecological reasons, but tonight I am thankful to have as a back up. I send him off with a glass of water to show his supervisor.

I lose the back to my earring down the sink and I take out the plug and I can see the back of the earring but cannot reach it. This is not on Hilton Hotel–it is just how my night is going. My other back to my earring also falls onto the carpet and this draws attention to how old and worn the furnishings are–circa 1980. The beds look naked. I always thought the Hilton chain had a pecking order: Hampton Inn, then Garden Inns, and so on to the top HILTON. Alas all of the Hampton Inns I have stayed from San Diego to Des Moines have been more elegantly appointed than this hotel.

Finally I decide at least I can watch the Tonight Show since I am rarely up this late. Hah! Either the television or the remote is broken. I called the desk and again demurred at the idea of someone coming up right now to fix it. I wanted to get in my jammies and get in bed.

I can hear two men having a conversation next door and there is consistent traffic noise even on the 14th floor. I thought I was so clever using my points for a 2 night stay while I am in San Francisco for training. This is an inauspicious beginning.

San Francisco on a Beautiful Day is Amazing

San Francisco Embarcadero near Ferry Building
San Francisco Embarcadero near Ferry Building

Good directions on waterfrontI drove to San Francisco to meet up with friends from Auckland on a particularly spectacular day. The sky was a stunning blue and the sun was shining warm–almost hot. This kind of summer day is a rarity in the City (just ask Mark Twain). We agreed to meet at the Ferry Building Marketplace for lunch.

We looked at all of our options but on a busy weekend the lines were long at the oyster bar and other restaurants. We bought sandwiches at Cowgirl Creamery and found a picnic table near the bookstore and enjoyed our lunch. Celebrity Cruise Ship

We walked down the Embarcadero toward Pier 39. We passed the Exploratorium on the waterfront and Coit Tower on the hill. I said my goodbyes at the Celebrity cruise ship and my Kiwi friends kept going to shop at Pier 39. God willing, I will see them in January.

Coit Tower on the hill
Coit Tower on the hill

As I drove back to Sacramento I sighed at the traffic that gets worse every year. It was great to be rewarded for my effort with great weather and great friends.

Off the Beaten Tourist Path in San Francisco: Golden Gate Park

Most visitors to San Francisco flock to Union Square, or Fisherman’s Wharf. I get why people spend their first visit to San Francisco riding a cable car or cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge or walking from Ghiradelli Square to Pier 39, or shopping at Union Square. In San Francisco, there is so much to do if you are willing to spend a little more time and go off the crowded tourist path. (And please do not call it “Frisco”; if you must shorten “San Fran” is okay. “The City” is what locals call this beautiful place.)

San Francisco Golden Gate Park Map

One frustration is finding parking. My Plan A to participate with my Brompton on a locally organized “Tweed Ride” was derailed by my inability to find parking. So I rerouted to Golden Gate Park. Over the years I have visited the San Francisco Botanical Garden, the DeYoung Art Museum multiple times and the Japanese Tea Garden and Conservatory of Flowers at least once. I parked my car and unpacked my bike and set out to find some new-to-me areas of the park.

Children's playground at Golden Gate Park

Parking at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday was not easy to find–luckily Ivy is compact. The first place I cycled  to was the Lawn Bowling Club of San Francisco. I turned to investigate and discovered a complex of tennis courts and then a children’s area. There is an extensive playground, a carousel and a hot dog stand with ice cream. Perfect for an outing with your kids or a first date.


I continued pedaling around and enjoyed the car free streets on Sunday. I especially liked watching the dads teaching their kids to ride bikes. I just gave a grown-up friend a lesson in riding a bike so I watched with curiosity. How is the learning process different for children? The main thing I noticed is that adults feel foolish using training wheels, so we compensate by lowering the seat so the learner can touch the ground easily with their feet and scoot along until their sense of balance allows them to begin pedaling. Both kids and adults need a lot of encouragement.

Youngster learning to ride a bike

Autumn and spring are the best times of year to visit San Francisco. The weather is usually beautiful. On this Sunday, there were many people jogging, and even more people riding their road bikes. Or push your kids in a stroller on the car-free interior streets and spend a day at the playground and carousel.

Tiburon: More than a Saucelito Alternative

Last month when the rest of the nation was in the grip of the polar vortex, I found myself driving across the Golden Gate Bridge on a glorious blue sky day.

Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge in winter (ha!)

My beautiful friend Ray was visiting friends in San Francisco for the weekend and called me to join them for lunch in Tiburon. I used the jaunt to the Bay Area to take care of some bike business and so found myself crossing the Golden Gate to get to Tiburon in Marin County. The mid-day traffic was moving and I was making good time, so I pulled off at the popular vista point on the Marin side of the bridge. Every family visiting San Francisco that weekend seemed to be here to take photos. It was worth the effort navigating a parking space.

Continuing on past the turn off to Saucelito, I was not sure how difficult it was going to be to get to Tiburon, yet I was thankful Ray did not choose a restaurant in Saucelito as the last couple of times I have tried to drive through I have been caught in seriously slow traffic on the main drag.  Soon enough I was zipping down a beautiful road that hugs the bay to Tiburon.

What a gem of a place! I passed a large gathering of bicyclists to park in the public parking (not free). We met up at Guaymas Mexican restaurant next to the ferry terminal. We could watch people coming and going from our outdoor table. Climate change stinks except when you can eat outside on a winter’s Saturday and worry about getting a sunburn.

Tiburon, California in Marin County
Tiburon, California in Marin County

The food was good. The company made the lunch great. We had fun talking and trying each others food. I asked about all of the cyclists and Ray and friends explained that a lot people ride from SF, across the bridge to Tiburon and then take the ferry home. Brilliant.

Afterward we walked around the corner to Caffe Acri for a coffee and dessert. Perfect accent to a beautiful day with my beautiful friend Ray.

Attending Storylines Conference, GW

Quakers of old said “God willing” after stating plans as a reminder to the speaker and listener that we do not control the future–it is in God’s hands. Bringing it up to date…GW in social media parlance.  I recently made reservations for two big events in February and I am looking forward to both, GW.

The view from St Heliers Bay in Auckland, New Zealand
The view from St Heliers Bay in Auckland, New Zealand

First, I am traveling with my mom and her friends to New Zealand. I do not want to tell you their age, but I am happy to admit I am 51, so you can do the math. It is a great honor to share my favorite people and places in New Zealand with my mom and her crazy (in a good way) friends, and to see new places. As soon as I hit the tarmac in San Francisco, I will drive them home and then meet my daughter at the airport to fly to San Diego for another kind of adventure.

Sarah Harriet and I are registered for Donald Miller’s Storyline conference at Point Loma College in San Diego. I am excited because if Air New Zealand is on time, and Southwest Airlines are faithful, then I will be sharing dinner with Donald Miller and Anne Lamott.  My daughter is looking forward to the Ben Rector concert on Friday (guess I will learn about a new artist).

I first enjoyed Donald Miller’s blog, then his personal growth tool, Storyline 2.0.  I have also tried his time management tool, and that has not been so helpful. All the same, I am looking forward to recovering from my jet lag in this high energy, positive spirit-filled conference, GW.