We jut finished our yearly pilgrimage to Fairfax,CA, a sweet little hamlet up from San Francisco where my sister-in-law, Val, and her partner, Jane, live. Usually this is a trip for the kids and me. But this year, Pitts rode his motorcycle from Dallas, through New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada all the way to California to join us. That’s right, my husband is willing to drive through Death Valley in July to be with me. All kidding aside, he had a beautiful ride and I was so happy to hear that distinctive engine rolling up to the house.
Jane and Val plan for us. I must always get off the plane looking a little harried. Because, they map out the hour drive to their home with the goal of setting the children free on a beach at the first possible moment. I don’t care how awesome your kids are. After 3 hours flying and 2 hours at the airport on the front of the flight, kids need to get their sillies out before someone gets hurt. Last year we planned a few stops after the beach. This year, knowing from experience that Ford would be soaked from head to toe within ten minutes on this chilly morning, we just embraced the sand fully. The kids rolled up their jeans, chased the surf and seagulls and buried themselves in the sand. Hello ocean. Nice to see you again, old friend.
Within an hour we were crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, which is now a ritual that I look forward to with glee. I never cross without taking photos of the towering and plummeting cables. I am always struck by its grandeur and its strength, and how it looks so very different every time I cross. Sunny, socked in, drizzly, partly cloudy, she always puts on a tremendous show. I take too many photos.
I’m never the driver, so every time we go over the bridge I’m sticking my camera out the window and pointing up or backwards or sideways. Some of my favorite photos are pure luck. I just click away and see what turns up. Some are a little more purposeful. But all of them make me happy.
And one more for good measure. Then I’ll stop…that is until you get down to the other iPhone shots.
Our first order of business in Fairfax was to stop at The Garage. Val and Jane have created a shop with other artists in a classic old gas station which was sitting dormant right on Sir Francis Drake Blvd. The owners of the building are community oriented folks and agreed to rent the neat old digs for this community art purpose. It is part gallery, part vintage shop, and part community meeting spot. I am a bit jealous of the whole thing, really. But, on the upside they have been selling my t-shirts and cards like hot cakes out there, helping keep our little pie project afloat.
[The Milo triplets…I mean the puppies. These guys were darlings. But one of the other doggies, a distinctive and disarming fellow named Beckett, stole our hearts. And, he ended going home with our friends Michele and Maisy as a foster dog.]
So I was very anxious to see the place and meet some of the other artists. Two of my favorite artists in residence, so to speak, are Nate and Monika of Parallel Print Shop. I have a real weakness for letterpress and they do spectacular work.
The following day, The Garage hosted a flea market, The Fairfax Flea, which was great fun. I usually don’t want to stay at a flea. One looks. One picks. One buys. One moves on. But here, they have brought in music, and a non-profit dog rescue group called The Milo Foundation, a henna artist, a camera obscura, and other vendors that make you want to sit down and just enjoy for a bit. Speaking of fleas and such, this should give you the tone of our whole week. When you let your kids be responsible for most of their own packing, you need to expect some hiccups. In this case the hiccup for my son was no pants…none except the trashed beach pants that he wore on the airplane. No need to worry though, we hustled up to the goodwill and scored several pairs of shorts and a spanky pair of khaki trousers for $6 total. And on top of that, I grabbed a tarnished, unloved, and forgotten leather belt and sterling and turquoise belt buckle that polished up to a shine for…$4.99. It is my new favorite thing. You have to watch out for me. I can walk into the world of thrift and vintage shops…never to be seen again. I should have a GPS tag surgically inserted under my skin like they offer to dogs, so my family can find me.
[Some of the Smiling Dog Studio goods. Jane solders these great pendants which encase a fortune in glass. And I love the glass Buddha Pendants, too. See that PIE shirt? That is a baby pie shirt in size 2. Cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Email me if you need one, as they are not in the ETSY shop yet.]
There are always a few beach runs. This time we went to Stinson Beach again, and a tiny bay side beach called Heart’s Desire. Stinson is big, with rolling waves and life guard towers. Heart’s Desire is a tiny little spot tucked in the National Forest that was custom made for a family with tiny kids. It is more like a lake shore, really, except with tides. Whereas the beach at Stinson is deep, some 50 yards from the entry to the water, at Heart’s Desire the beach itself is no deeper than 15 feet from the start of the sand to the water in most spots. And the sand meets the tree line abruptly. Instead of swimming, my kids scurried up a hole in the bushes where a conclave of children were already chattering away in the trees and bushes like little birds. They picked wild huckleberries off of bushes and we could hear fierce negotiations over secret passwords and membership procedures and leader elections. They decided on a free for all, totally inclusive society, where one person got to be called president as an acknowledgement of coolness, and nothing more. In lieu of being called president, which honor went to his sister, Ford declared that he would like to be called “Steve” in this society, because he figured that also was quite cool.
[Left: Prepping to make veggie tacos at the house. Right: A gift from the garden, Scott and Herb brought me this giant bowl of tomatillos fresh from their garden. I’ve never seen anything so gorgeously green.]
I must say that one of the great things about the beaches in and near Marin County are the great little towns you pass along the way. Many of the towns along the coast were once train stops. Val and Jane live on the main thoroughfare from San Francisco north, and you pretty much stay on that road from Fairfax to the beaches. Along the way are Point Reyes Station, Bolinas, and other little coastal jewels. Toby’s Feed Barn was the most charming spot in Point Reyes Station. It is a family owned feed store, to be true. But it also has an attached gift store and art gallery space and a coffee shop, and is a little mini-farmers-market, too. There are Japanese lamps in the hay loft and a nice man parked on the porch and started playing a guitar. Rocking chairs and benches invite you to sit for a bit before you decide where you should wander next. We wandered nearby for lunch on our way to Heart’s Desire and ate a very pleasant lunch al fresco with happy bees buzzing in the abundant flowers all around us. We ordered a few high minded things that were more gorgeous than anything. My daughter sucked down a half dozen raw oysters before the plate hit the table and I found myself coveting my son’s serious looking hot dog, knowing I could never come up with a story good enough to make him trade for my wild mushrooms on toast which looked spectacular on paper and in person but were, in reality, perched on a boring and un-moist, if not dry, brick of brioche. Not the right choice. Ok, it was quite good despite that, but I still found myself wanting the dog. Being in the epicenter of all things fresh and local and sustainable and green, one can get carried away looking at the menus and ordering high minded things and using terms like “al fresco” when a hot dog on the patio is really all your soul needs.
And soul needs are really the point of this trip. We visit Jane and Val as the summer begins to draw to a close, when my maternal stamina is starting to wane, and I need to be around my creative sisters. So, much of this trip was spent in Fairfax, in the backyard, watching the kids swim and talking business and creative processes. We ate pizzas from Mauro’s, a fantastic Fairfax pizza joint, and we walked in the evenings up to The Fairfax Scoop to eat cone after cone of stupendous (and seriously under-market price) small batch ice cream. Yes, one evening, we even had seconds. You don’t know love from your kids ‘til you tell them to line back up at the ice cream parlor because mom and dad need another round…so to speak. My, how time flies.
Last year, Lily led us to Chinatown. This year, she led us to Japantown. The bookstores, stationery stores, and hardware stores sucked us all in. It was great fun, and we only saw a small part of it. Japantown needs another visit. In fact, the bookstore Kinokuniya Book Stores deserved a day all to itself. I couldn’t read anything, but I oddly wanted to buy everything. The magazines alone were stunning. The food books were inspirational. We ate a great lunch and wandered through Soko Hardware, which again, is deserving of several hours on its own.
We didn’t make it to Tartine this time but we did luck out in that a highly recommended bakery called Craftsman & Wolves is now located just steps away from the neatest store in all of San Francisco, Paxton Gate. We didn’t actually eat there, to be honest. But I went in and was amazed at the lovely spot. I stood out like a sore-unhip-thumb. Had I been without the kids I probably would have taken an hour to taste every last thing in the store, so lovely was the display.
Valerie was dying to take Pitts to Paxton Gate knowing he would love it. Pitts did, indeed, love it and figures that if mounted game trophies, collected rattles and turtle shells, and prolific Staghorn ferns are all you need to be successful as a curiosity shop, he’s all set. Though we both understand that taxidermic proclivities are not so rare in Texas and are not about to bet the farm, so to speak, on opening a shop that specializes in such things. But, wow, is it a cool store. Pitts tends to gravitate to natural curiosities and Paxton Gate is stuffed to the gills with them. They have mineral specimens, fossils, butterfly specimens, terrariums, carnivorous plants, succulents, books, octopi in jars and a very convincing unicorn by the front door. It is not to be missed if you are in the Mission district. The city is a big mix. There is no bigger mix, actually. There is a little bit of everything in San Francisco. I believe that the history and community in the Mission and the Castro are really something to behold and there is not a block of the city that is not historically interesting. The Presidio is one of my favorite areas, and seeing all of the houses along Ocean Beach makes me daydream about what it must be like to don a wetsuit and run down the block hauling a surfboard to dive into that frigid Pacific Water. It is hard for me not to imagine as I travel, where my kids would be able to go to school, where we might live, and how we might fill our days.
But we will not fill our days in an uppity French macaron shop that won’t let a kid use the facilities after his mom has bought three totally lame “cookies” for $12 to try to secure that privilege without coming off as one of the vagrants or whomever they are trying to not serve. Of that I can assure you. I do leave San Francisco happy, thrilled in fact, but still not understanding what the big damn deal is about macarons (and I don’t mean the good coconut kind). And I still don’t get how any business that sells nothing but macarons (and I don’t mean the good coconut kind), even with gorgeous white marble fixtures and chirpy hip salespeople, can survive more than a few weeks, particularly if they tick off the mothers. The photos of the jelly beans and cupcakes shown are from a different macaron shop two blocks away called Miette. They diversified smartly with a wonka-esque selection of candy and cupcakes. We bought Sweet Tarts. We didn’t ask to use the restroom there, thankfully. A restaurant nearby actually allows customers to use the facilities. How novel. This is why I do not write a mommy blog, though. I could truly go on for 3000 words about businesses that do not offer up the bathroom to customers. Care to know why Starbucks is so successful? Good bathrooms.
[We planned strategically on the way to the airport to have time for breakfast at Louis’ by the Sutro Baths ruins…great pancakes…even better view.]
But, hip hip hooray for Blue Bottle Coffee and wonderful bakeries and curiosity shops and Japantown. You have all shown off your town’s gifts again to a grateful traveler. And, the beaches north of San Francisco and up the coast are beauties with drives that rival the destinations. But as my son Ford stated eloquently the last night at The Scoop, the best things about California are 1) my aunt Valerie’s house, 2) the Fairfax Garage, 3) the Fairfax Scoop, and 4) the Fairfax Variety Store. And he is right. We could have never left Val and Jane’s house or a one mile circle around it, and been just fine.
[Left: The Bridge, one last time; Center: a bit of concrete that I found to be lovely; Right: The view of the Sutro Bath ruins from a table in Louis’]
Pitts hopped back on his motorcycle and headed back towards Texas. As we flew home on Saturday, I guessed we were passing him from above somewhere around Denver. These weeks always end, sadly. But before I leave I’m always starting to daydream about what we will do there next summer.
Thanks Val and Jane for another wonderful visit.