THE BLOG

A Weekend With Gertrude Stein In San Francisco

Sep 19, 2011 | Updated Nov 19, 2011

Los Angeles offers a wealth of easily accessible travel destinations for weekend escapes. From Palm Springs with its stark desert landscape and breathtaking purple sunsets to the vineyards of Paso Robles, from the beaches of Santa Barbara to those in Cabo, from the casinos of Las Vegas to the slopes of Lake Tahoe, there's a destination for every mood and budget.

But the most obvious weekend getaway, San Francisco, the city that is most often compared to Los Angeles -- "We have the best food! No, we do!" -- is a place I rarely visit. That changed a couple of weeks ago when I headed up north for my birthday.

San Francisco does not have balmy LA weather; the fog often sits on the hills and socks the city in. When same fog delayed my plane a couple hours, I amused myself by trying out my new Panasonic Lumix camera -- the one with the Leica lens. I love it! Check out the picture I took with one of the other grounded passengers.

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Stevie Wonder and the author

That evening we ate in one of Stevie's favorite restaurants, the very popular NOPA. It's the kind of place where the waiters wax poetic about the provenance of an egg or a beet. The food was delicious and three hours flashed by as we ate flatbread with spicy fennel sausage, eggplant, gruyère and olive tapenade, homemade pappardelle topped with nine-hour Bolognese and a seared duck breast with faro. For dessert we ordered sopapillas with cinnamon caramel sauce, but as our fabulous concierge at the Four Seasons, Joe Paybarah, had called ahead and told the manager it was my birthday, we were also the recipients of a butterscotch icebox tart with pecan whiskey caramel -- sporting a candle, of course.

We drove back to the Four Seasons, ideally located on Market Street on a hill overlooking the bay, using the GPS on our rented Nissan Leaf, a very cool, totally electric car with a range of 100 miles. The Four Seasons offers one of the few Leafs for rent in the city; when you arrive back at the hotel after tooling around the city, the valet just plugs it in. We debated going for a nightcap at the Fifth Floor across the street at the Hotel Palomar, but our beds beckoned and we wanted to get up early the next morning to work out at the Sports Club LA, located in the hotel and free for hotel guests.

Sunday we went to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to view The Steins Collect. The Steins -- writer Gertrude, her brothers Leo and Michael, and Michael's wife, Sarah -- all American expatriates living the bohemian life in 1920s Paris -- were among the first collectors of avant-garde painters like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.

The amazing exhibition also included works by Cézanne, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec and featured a vintage home movie of the construction of the house Sarah and Michael commissioned Le Courbusier to design and build. The Steins lived there with another couple in a communal setting. Gertrude Stein, who lived as an "out" lesbian with her lover Alice B. Toklas, ended her life speaking to neither of her brothers, nor Matisse, who said Sarah was the one with the taste in the family.

By the time we got to SFMOMA, we felt like Stein aficionados, having gone to the Contemporary Jewish Museum the day before to see Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories, an exhibit of rarely seen archival material on Stein's lifestyle, personae and relationships and the influence and inspiration she provided to generations of artists in many fields.

Though both Stein exhibits have ended, you can see amazing works by Gertrude's favorite artist at the architecturally dazzling de Young Museum, which presents an exhibition of more than 100 Picasso masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso in Paris.

Thirty-six hours breezed by. On Sunday the weather was beautiful, so after an elegant brunch at Prospect of deconstructed fig tarts and lox and rare organic eggs (no, really, as Gertrude Stein would say, "an egg is an egg is an egg"), we walked along the bay.

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Then we wandered through the Farmers Market and, since we were in San Francisco for the weekend, caught the cable car up to Nob Hill. Then it was time to grab the BART to the airport -- simple and cheap! -- and head back to LA.