San Francisco: Fake Tales

So turns out, good weather is exceptionally rare in San Francisco? You wouldn’t know that from the week I spent there!

Thanks to Comp-A-Tent and Enviu, whose plastic waste competition we had finished second in back in April, I was off to spend a week in San Francisco, of which only 2 days I was working – score!

Fake Tales of San Francisco

Checked out #chinatown today – digging the lanterns on set-perfect American #fireescapes

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Arriving just in the mid afternoon, as per, I had my bags searched before popping out the other into San Fran, the air con working a treat I thought, until I saw the doors open – shit, San Fran is chilly!

Taking the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) up the peninsula, everything was going ticktyboo as I got off and found myself, not surrounded by skyscrapers, but definitely not surrounded the the low rise grandeur of European cities, but in a cacophony of buildings; of varying styles, heights, colours.

And maps, San Fran, you need to sort out your maps! One by the station is not enough to get dazed travellers to their hotel. A lesson proved by my 20 minute adventure East rather than North to my hostel!

Arriving at Green Tortoise, the good news was there was a free dinner that evening! Also turns out everyone was going to Burning Man – amateur I thought to myself, at missed opportunity,

Quick shower, and my Chinese room mate and I were down in the kitchen, eagerly assisting… The chef, splashing garlic butter all over some baguettes like badasses.

My stomach filled, filled with pasta salad and garlic bread, I promptly got tired, and went to bed!

Oh, to the Island

It was tour day! After a few games of pool, I was off to Pier 39 for my tour around Alcatraz and then the redwoods of Muir wood!

Back and forth I went until I was finally on board the boat, and passing the sea lions on our way out of the harbour towards the Rock, Alcatraz.

Then we turned to the left – turns out we were heading to the Golden Gate Bridge! The orange expanse grew as I learnt all about its history.

That #goldengatebridge!

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In short;

  • It’s pretty tall
  • Pretty long
  • There was fierce opposition to its erection
  • They installed a big net to catch workers who would otherwise have fallen to their death
  • It caught 19 workers, who called themselves the ‘Half way to Hell club’
  • It’s pretty big

Next stop Alcatraz! Who knew, you have to book super early to actually set foot ON the island! So around I went instead.

Searching for a property – great views #alcatraz

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In short;

  • It has no fresh water
  • Nobody ever escaped and lived
  • The Indians (of the native American kind) occupied it, using an old treaty law about being able to
  • use unused federal property
  • They stayed for a few years
  • It incarcerated some very dodgy sounding geezers
  • Al Capone had syphilis and it made him mad

It was great tour, a lil breezy and lots of photo opportunities!


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Next stop, Muir woods! Purchased by the Kents in the early 20th century, they wanted to protect the woods from being felled, and eventually gave it to the government to become a national park.

The trees are so straight, their thick outer bark sounds hallow when knocked, and helps protect it from forest fires!

After being one with nature, the final destination was Sausilito.

If was alright, full of food joints, but with a nice view of the city across the bay.

Whistle stop view of the bridge from a hill top vantage, then back to finish my day true American style – an In-N-Out burger.


Another sunny day in San Francisco, and over breakfast I settled on my day plan – first stop, the San Fran Museum of Modern Art.

But as my gf frequently reminds me, the straight line is the most boring route to a place, so I took the long way round via the old ferry port building and all the way down to Bay Bridge.

The SFMOMA, San Fran Museum of Modern Art, was refurbed back in May 2016, it has 7 floors of exhibition from Picasso, to a work on Syrian civil war phone footage to typeface and interfaces.

Being a designer, the exhibition of typography, from the Munich Olympics ‘72 branding, to the clean development of the Swiss style and Helvetia, the barely legible psychedelic posters of the 1960s into the Apple era and the personal computer.

Typeface to Intwrface exhibition @sfmoma

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Later, exploring the Nob Hill area (lol) I came across a wonderful new life discovery.

Diving into a deli, turns out it had a Vietnamese influence, tempting me with a Vietnamese coffee to compare to the ones we make at music festivals. Turns out a Vietnamese sandwich exists! This beauty takes your sandwich filling, and drops it onto a delicious mix of sweet, tangy, pickled carrots and radish – heavenly!

Hopwater on Bush street was the meeting point of the evenings entertainment, a modern bar with heavy wooden interior, delivering local/American beers and ales to a diverse audience, with delicious fries!

Work work work work work

The day had arrived! It was time to partake in the Enviu/Think Beyond Plastic start-up accelerator. The entire reason for my trip to San Fran, which thankfully I was able to pad out with travel either side.

Not kicking off until 5pm, I headed off late morning, choosing the 4 mile walk from uptown, through downtown and into the unknown of Mission District.

Some things that struck me were the general lack of supermarkets, like Tesco Express, replaced I think in part with drugs stores with lots of food, and surprisingly few 7/11 type stores.

As I headed out of downtown, the city wifi disappeared, the buildings became frequently lower and squatter, until I passed under a road and stepped into an area much more akin to a ghetto.

Missions street, a wide street, with brightly coloured, but aged buildings, had something of an Art Deco air, a 1930s seaside vibe, marked occasionally with tall, 1950s diner type signage denoting a theatre or hotel.

Along the street were a number of people pulling trollies and suitcases packed with goods. Shop signage had a duality of English and Spanish, and English was no longer the predominantly heard language.

Checking out #clarionalley murals

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The area is also home to Clarian Alley, filled with political graffiti art murals, perhaps showcasing a slow boil anger of the contrast between those that have, and those that have not.

Or maybe it’s a place bears pooped rainbows – you decide!

#clarionalley political statement, or bear pomiting?

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Arriving at the event space / accommodation, because yes, it was an all in one, it was actually an artistic house that had the air of a converted barn-church, with big industrial kitchen out back, strange art installations and spaces, the upstairs decked out in double bed futons and chairs.

Waking after a quick nap, the show began.

Plastics Waste Accelerator

Compared to the Plastic Fantastic finals, which was an intense 3 days of developing the business, meeting industry experts and constant pitch improvements, that had secured us the place on this programme, the speed was casual.

Turns out everyone else had prepared pitch decks for the day’s 5 minute pitch, whilst I was about to do my first solo pitch without a single image!

The feedback was positive, new ideas for the business were shared and they loved my story!

The group was made up of mixture of NGOs looking to spin out products to catch microfibres, systems to reduce and encourage non-use of plastic bottles and even teams looking to industrialise and scale their production of new bio-polymers.

Food was shared, drinks were popped, and I look forward to the next few months of weekly meetings and lectures.

Final Few Days

PANIC STATIONS!!! Turns out I have nowhere to stay for the next 2 nights, without shelling out over 200 bucks!

A quick shout out in Facebook from one of the entrepreneurs saw me staying in apartment about 3 blocks from the micro-brewery were sat in, having lunch!

I’m saved!

Good morning San Fran! Beautiful view from the apartment

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The apartment had a great view, but a strange outer gate that only works if the owner has mobile reception to let you in from her phone… And she’s camping for the weekend…

So I stayed in Saturday night, enjoyed the peaceful time alone and ordered an UberEat – curry of course, and upon its arrival carefully held open the gate, reaching the width of the pavement to collect it from the car.

I also couldn’t find the light switch, and ate in the warming glow of my iPad!

Park Life

The haunting thought of not being able to get back into the apartment meant I carried with me the bare minimum I’d need to get to the UK – money and passport – and set off for a day of parks.

After touring Valencia and Mission street for an hour, looking for an appropriate brunch venue, ideally one that had the mythical bottomless mimosa (a drink that turns out to be just buzz fizz), I settled on the first cafe I had seen, no more than 25m from the apartment.

But oh boy, what an insight into Mission Life! Read about THAT, here.

A breakfast of ice coffee and waffle – who did I think I was? The queen of bleeding Sheba? – soon saw me settle into Doleres park, an area much known for its open markets and free roaming capitalist and entrepreneurial spirit.

Set in the middle of an otherwise residential area, Doleres transforms at least a few blocks into rolling green hills, home to a large play area, tennis courts and hundreds of people with blankets!

Given that it was Labor Day weekend, the park soon filled up, and the small stage had bands celebrate the weekend musically.

Getting started on some design work, when done I found a good few hours had passed and I was burning! The park had wifi so I was easily able to plan my route to…

Golden Gate Park

Eventually I figured out how the trolley system works. What’s a trolley I hear you ask? It’s a bus, a regular bus, only it uses over head cables – what I’d call a tram!

After a terrifying journey up a massive hill, snaking our way both up and down, we passed through the hippy area of Hait street, buildings painted in bright colours, with collage and montages, that through out an air of Camden high street and I made a note to visit it at a later date.

Turns out Golden Gate park is HUGE! Like 4 miles of park before hitting the Pacific Ocean, filled with full width winding roads, a Japanese tea house, dense tree covered areas, and small gorges of open grass, on which were hordes of American celebrating the long weekend.

What I thought was just a phenomena of living in Japan, the bbq beach and park parties, is actually an American tradition! Suddenly KJ’s preparedness for such events, from beersbi to flip cup, made sense – he too was from California! And with the dominance of Americans on the JET program, all was made clear.

Chilling in the west side of #sanfran during #laborday last weekend

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There was something warming, comforting to the scene; the sun getting low in the sky, illuminating the light mists that hung close to the tree tops, marquees lined with gold, the dull bass tones of loud-speakered music and groups of adults cheered a successful cup made in a distant game of beer pong, kids running round in a game of tag and dads stand next to roaring bbqs, beers in hand with women gathered around preparing tables and the cold goods, lines of brightly coloured coolers partnered with THOSE red cups of every American movie (I awesome to disguise the fact their drinking alcohol in public places). It was s scene that brought back a longing for times passed in Japn.

Reaching the ocean, my legs were getting more than a bit tired, but the far out sea and white sands called me over, frame by the rugged grassy/rocky of the coast line that pulled back memories of walking along the algae in Portugal, or long ago gladiators movies when they reached the sea. Yet behind me stood a mile street of forest clean, bound in by houses and the city either side; a piece of nature, enveloped by man.

After sipping on a Pepsi (a full 359ml, instead of 330ml) and contemplating the world, I headed back the way I came, tracing the outer perimeter of the park, and calculating that my budget could stretch to another trolley bus to speed things along.

Returning, I jumped off at the hippy heaven Hait street, the time of day perhaps stripping it of its vibrant life as the transition from day life to nightlife slowly transitioned, and I found myself passing through residential areas then bars, on repeat until I hit a familiar part of downtown San Fran, and turned right to head back towards Mission District and my temporary apartment – anxious that I may not be able to get past the metal gate that served to defend the interior of the complex…

Unexpected Friends

I get back to the apartment, and by some miracle, the buzzer works and I’m let in! I take the lift, slide the key into the apartment door, and step inside to music.

And lights.

Turns out Ny-Anne’s come back from an unsuccessful camping trip a day early! We have a bit of a chat, but it’s getting late and soon we’re headed to bed – separate beds.

Final Day, Final Frontier

It’s my final day in San Fran, and I don’t fly out until the evening, so I have full day ahead of me! Though yesterday I was ready to head home, an invite to go hiking and an invite to a bbq have me in high spirits!

Fully packed, I say au revoir to the apartment, and make my way on the BART across the bay to Oakland, get picked up and taken to Dry Creek Pioneer Park.

It’s gonna be an intense day of hiking with 2x 2 years and a 1 year old.

I am, of course, also with their parents, one of who ran the accelerator event for which I had come to the US for, the others her friends.

Once again I was astonished by the proximity and size of the nature relative to the city, a complete escape possible without having to travel out of the suburbs!

Though despite this proximity, it was apparent that everything in this part of the state was unwalkable, designed for people with cars – every shop was huge, the car park even bigger, and not a single, small retailer any where near the actual houses – very bizarre!

By now the day was pressing on, and I was keen to reach this BBQ!

Alas, by the time I had the address, travelled from Oakland to Missision District, walked to the apartment, got inside, found the right floor and climbed the stairs to the rooftop, I was not only sweaty and needed changing from my sports gear, but also had only 45 minutes to enjoy myself, and Mara, who had invited me, wasn’t even here yet!

Thankfully I was given s beer, she soon arrived, and I commenced merry making with my two tall boys (568ml cans of beer).

Regretfully the time flew and I was running back down the street to the BART station, the echoes of ‘security takes 2-3hours, and today’s a holiday’ ringing in my ears my only encouragement!

Loving the late night city lights in #sanfrancisco

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Turns out San Fran is no different to London, with essential maintenance being done to the track, and there being a replacement bus service…


I took the time to Tarzan these facts to a couple of Japanese girls with suitcases who looked a very confused everyone was getting off, squeezed my way on a bus, and tapped a guy on the shoulder who was checking the cost of an Uber to the airport and agreed to split it with him.

I felt truly America. – an Uber!

Turns out, I needn’t have rushed. Zero line on the check-in, a 15 minute security line (they use the full body scanners!) and the only hiccough was when the passport and boarding pass women refused to believe my passport photo was me – imagine if I had had my full beard!

My driving license has the same photo, so that was no good she said, so what allowed me to LEAVE the United States was my 16-25 photo railcard – thanks National Rail!

Coming Home

It was probably a lovely flight – I slept for 8 hours, watched an hour of Deadpool, and I was back on UK soil.

Where was my welcome party?

By J.Molkenthin

James Molkenthin is an enthusiastic and energetic British Designer, with a background in Graphics, Website and Product Design.