A Perfect Organic Weekend in San Francisco

See the tents lined up on the right of the building?

It was a perfect weekend in San Francisco. No rain, no wind, no fog, and loads of sunshine – a pretty rare occurrence in the City by the Bay, especially in April. Since San Francisco is such a progressive city, my friend and I wanted to experience what it had to offer in terms of living a sustainable and organic life. In some cities that can be hard to achieve, but in this city, it feels like a way of life.

Our trip started at George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch, which is tucked away in the hills of Lucas Valley in Marin County. (By the way, Lucas Valley is not named after George. It was named after a 19th century rancher named John Lucas.) I grew up in Marin and worked at the ranch right after I graduated from college. I helped catalog all the costumes, props, artwork, and models from the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies for the Hata International exhibition in Japan. (How lucky was I?) I miss driving up that winding country road everyday. It’s so beautiful.

When I got to the ranch, I met my friend and we took some pictures by Lake Ewok (the site of company canoe races on the 4th of July) and bought some gifts at the Skywalker Ranch General Store (the only item in the store that you can buy online is the Skywalker Vineyards olive oil).

The organic garden has gotten so much bigger since I worked there. The chefs use the fresh produce at the restaurants on the ranch.

On the way out, I felt like such a city girl pulling over to take pictures of the wild turkeys that roam the property. I was warned to not to get too close because they can get a little surly if you get in their way. I totally get it, so can I!


The view from our room at Hotel Vitale.

We left the ranch, headed into the city, and checked into the Hotel Vitale on the Embarcadero. This waterfront hotel is a San Francisco Green Certified Business, which means the hotel meets high environmental standards (for example, all the linens are laundered with green cleaning products). I love it because it has a stunning view of the bay and it’s a short walk to the Ferry Building, which is one of my favorite places in the city.

After we checked in, we drove to a little neighborhood restaurant called Octavia. It is owned by award-winning chef Melissa Perello. She’s dedicated to cooking seasonally-driven cuisine, and spends most mornings at the farmers market buying food from local artisans and organic farms. We had a great view of the kitchen from our table and I was mesmerized by the chefs. They put so much care into every plate.


All the market tents are lined up to the right of the Ferry Building.

The next morning I got up early and walked to the farmers market next to the Ferry Building. It’s right by the bay and I could smell the crisp sea air as I shopped for flowers and produce. This would have been a perfect place to use my new gorgeous reusable bag, if only it fit in my carry-on! Almost all the venders are either certified USDA organic or use farming methods that exceed the USDA’s standards. According to CUESA, the nonprofit that runs the market, “It is renowned throughout the country as one of the top farmers markets to visit.” It’s one of the best I’ve seen. The quality and selection was incredible and the wildflower bouquets looked like someone had just handpicked them from a nearby meadow. The organic pastries made by Frog Hollow Farm’s bakery made me wish I ate sugar and gluten. It was a lovely way to start the morning.

We drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and started our journey to the Zen Center’s Green Gulch Organic Farm in Mill Valley.

On the way, we popped into Good Earth Natural Foods in Mill Valley to pick up drinks, lunch, and snacks. The market is an independently owned grocery store that is ultra committed to sustainability. Good Earth Natural Foods is a Certified Green Business of Marin County and has won Pacific Sun’s Best of Marin “Best Business That Promotes Going Green” seven times.

In July 2013 Good Earth was recognized as one of North America’s “Diligent Dozen GMO Right To Know” grocers for actively working toward GMO-free product lines, pressuring food manufacturers to transition to non-GMO ingredients, informing consumers about Genetically Modified Organisms, and labeling products in which they may exist so that customers can make informed choices. – Good Earth Natural Foods

All the produce at Good Earth Natural Foods is from local farms. Almost all (99 percent) of their prepared foods are organic, including the food at the bakery and cafe, and over 95 percent of the groceries on the shelves are organic. The flower arrangements are put together like little works of art. This is not your run-of-the-mill Whole Foods Market!

The Zen Center was established in Marin County in 1962. Today, it’s one of the largest Buddhist sanghas (community of monks, nuns, novices, and laity) outside Asia. The center offers daily meditation, monastic retreats, classes, lectures, and workshops. The nice lady at the Information Center told us that if we really wanted a proper introduction to the Zen Center, we should go to the Sunday meditation and Dharma talk. There’s a lunch afterward (the only public lunch the center offers), but it was Saturday and we came to see the organic farm. Next time.

The Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm is a large organic garden and farm within walking distance of Muir Beach. They have masterfully incorporated the farm into the natural ecosystem, so the two are in perfect harmony. This is organic farming at its best.

Our effort at Green Gulch is to awaken in ourselves and the many people who come here to the bodhisattva spirit, the spirit of kindness and realistic helpfulness. This is how we offer our understanding of Buddha’s Way. – Green Gulch Farm

We walked back to the car to eat the lunch and snacks that we picked up from Good Earth Natural Foods (the apple,-ginger-lemon juice was addicting! I got more on the way back to the hotel) and then we drove to Muir Woods, which was only ten minutes away.

Muir Woods National Monument is an old-growth redwood forest. The average age of the coastal redwoods is between 600 to 800 years old. The youngest redwood is 200 years old and the oldest is 1200. It’s an utterly peaceful and awe-inspiring place.

The Japanese believe that the forest can heal. They call spending time with the trees Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.” The healing power of the forest was studied by the Japanese government in the 1980s and became a “cornerstone of preventative health care and healing in Japanese medicine.” I shared more about my experience with forest bathing in a previous post about Big Sur

The conservationist John Muir wrote, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home. Wilderness is a necessity.”

All that forest bathing made us hungry, so we couldn’t wait to get to Berkeley for dinner at Chez Panisse CafeAlice Waters opened Chez Panisse in 1971 and the Cafe at Chez Panisse in 1980. She’s a chef, author, and outspoken advocate for cooking with locally grown, seasonal, and organic food. My hero.

Alice and Chez Panisse are convinced that the best tasting food is organically and locally grown, and harvested in ways that are ecologically sound by people who are taking care of the land for future generations. For over 45 years, Chez Panisse has invited diners to partake of the immediacy and excitement of vegetables just out of the garden, fruit right off the branch, and fish straight from the sea. – Chez Panisse

I love Alice for this line on her menu alone:

We ask that you refrain from using your cell phone or computer at the table. – Chez Panisse

The avocado dressing on the Little Gem salad was without a doubt the best dressing I’ve ever had in my life. It sang in my mouth. I don’t have any pictures of our meal because. . . see quote above.

On Sunday, our last day in San Francisco, we wanted to get up early and get to Plow before the long lines started for brunch, but that so didn’t happen. (The owners of Plow buy food from local and organic farms for their popular breakfast spot in Potrero Hill.)

So, we decided to walk to Chinatown instead. Chinatown has nothing to do with our organic weekend, but it’s worth including. I hadn’t been there since I was a little girl and I wanted to see it again. We stopped in for dim sum at a little hole-in-the-wall place that had a line of locals outside at 11am (always a good sign). I had completely forgotten how good authentic Chow mein is. It’s not greasy, and it doesn’t taste like soy sauce. I haven’t eaten the real deal since I was a kid. One bite and all my memories came rushing back. We sat on a bench in an alley and devoured it!

I’d never been to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Chinatown (fun fact: fortune cookies were created in San Francisco, not China), so we stopped by and came up with some funny custom fortunes to put inside our cookies to give as gifts. Then we walked by Tin How Temple, one of the oldest still-operating Chinese Tao Temples in the United States.

We walked back to the hotel, checked out, and drove to the Mission District. It was such a beautiful day that we decided to ride bikes when we got there, and Mission Bicycle Company was the place to get them. Each of their bikes is “designed by its rider and then built by hand.”

There’s a strong Latino culture in the Mission District, a neighborhood named after Mission Dolores, which was built in 1776. But it’s also becoming a hipster haven due to the “affordable” rents. The invasion of dot-com companies in the city has caused rents and property values to skyrocket, leading to citywide gentrification.

We rode our bikes down several alleys known for their incredible murals. San Francisco has always been a city rooted in political awareness, tolerance, and activism. The influx of big tech companies with deep pockets is a point of contention for many of the locals who have been pushed out of their communities to make way for high-salaried employees. The murals depict that resentment as well as a wide range of other social justice issues.

BI-RITE MARKETThe weather was so warm that we had to stop and get some water at Bi-rite. It’s the small corner store of your dreams. This independently owned store’s mission is to make communities stronger through food. They are a San Francisco Green Business and a Certified B Corporation, which means they are dedicated to solving social and environmental problems.

Food is what we get our nutrition from. It’s literally the cornerstone of health. Bi-Rite goes the extra mile to make sure its customers get the very healthiest food possible. Of course everything at Bi-Rite is organic (most of the produce is from their own organic farms) and each product on the store shelves were hand-picked for “the story behind it.” 

The fish isn’t just wild, it’s handline caught! And it doesn’t end there. . .

We smoke our own salmon and bacon, whip up hummus from Mom Mogannam’s recipe, and make risottos from scratch for our nightly to-go dinner menus. Mom Mogannam makes our homemade jams from the fruit she grows in her Placerville orchard. – BiRite

Did I mention they’re also a creamery & bakeshop?

We make our own marshmallows for our Rocky Road. We roast organic bananas for our Roasted Banana. We harvest honey from hives on the roof of the Market for our Honey Lavender. – BiRite

I could go on and on, but at this point they can just drop the mic.

After a day of riding around the Mission, we stopped by Dandelion Chocolate, a bean-to-bar, small batch chocolate factory. It was the perfect place to pick up some gifts at the end of our day. Dandelion’s chocolate contains just two ingredients: beans and organic sugar (they also have a 100% cacao bar for those who don’t eat sugar). The beans are the highest quality and come from all over the world, but their sugar comes from one place: Brazil. It’s grown by Native’s Green Cane Project. Native is pioneering a new and more sustainable approach to farming sugarcane. The project seeks to preserve, revitalize, and restore the land rather than deplete the soil and destroy the biodiversity on the farm.

The project also became the first certified organic sugar plantation in 1997. It is now the largest organic agricultural project in the world. – Dandelion Chocolate

We grabbed a couple bars and headed to the airport. It was time to fly home. Boo.

Skywalker Ranch, Skywalker Ranch Road, Marin County
Hotel Vitale, 8 Mission Street, SF
Octavia, 1701 Octavia Street, SF

Ferry Building Farmers Market, One Ferry Building #50, SF
Good Earth Natural Foods, 201 Flamingo Road, Mill Valley
Zen Center & Green Gulch Farm, 1601 Shoreline Hwy, Muir Beach
Muir Woods, 1 Muir Woods Road, Mill Valley
Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

Plow, 1299 18th Street, SF, CA (we didn’t make it there)
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, 56 Ross Alley, SF
Tin How Temple, 125 Waverly Place, SF
Mission Bicycle Company, 766 Valencia Street, SF
Clarion Alley Mural Project, SF
Balmy Alley, 50 Balmy Street, SF
Bi-Rite, 3639 18th Street, SF
Dandelion Chocolate, 740 Valencia Street @18th, SF

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