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Archive for the ‘San Francisco’

AATF trip to San Francisco

August 03, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: San Francisco, Tours in California No Comments →

After its convention held July 2-5 in San Jose, the American Association of Teachers of French proposed an optional escorted tour of San Francisco for 2 days. French Escapade was selected to organize the excursions for 20 participants.

Here are samples of our visits:

  • Walk on the Golden Gate


  • Visit of Viansa Winery in Sonoma county / Picnic and Wine Tasting

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  • Dinner at Daily Grill by Union Square, San Francisco


  • Night stay at Park 55, downtown San Francisco


Here are some testmonials from participants.

“The trip was great, interesting. We managed to see a lot of San Francisco in a couple of days. The tour guides were nice and had a lot of knowledge about the region.” Maria M., Attachée culturelle adjointe, Consulat Général de France, Houston, TX.

“I have only praise for our four guides.  As you know, we had two guides on Sunday, July 5, and two others on Monday, July 6. We got to see a lot in S.F., both on Sunday afternoon and on Monday morning.  The Sonoma wine country was quite lovely.” Robert S., UTC, Tennessee

“It was excellent.  This was my first visit to San Francisco and to the Sonoma Valley, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.” Sister Mary Helen . Philadelphia, Pa. 

For customized tour of San Francisco and its area , contact us at

San Francisco: a floating city?

March 13, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Customs and Traditions, San Francisco, Tours in California, history No Comments →



                                       San Francisco skyline and Bay Bridge  from Treasure Island

Before 1776

The Ohlone Indians had settled on the coast between Big Sur and the San Francsico bay where they could  take advantages of the geography and the mild climate of the area: the fog that temperates the forests, the fresh and salty water mix that diversifies the water fauna and flora and the fact that the isthmus was narrow and therefore protected them from intrusion.

Many European explorators had indeed sailed by it without seeing it in the 16th century. Sir Francis Drake was to land at Point Reyes instead. In 1769, it was Gaspar de la Portola who first mentioned the bay, which was settled by a handful of Europeans in 1776.


1848 -1951

The Gold Rush fostered a demographic explosion of the city (from 1,000 to 25, 000 people over a year). Even though some newcomers arrived by land, most came by boat and many ships did the journey around the Cape Horn or from Panama. Theses 49ers would land in the Yerba Buena cove, and stay there because both passengers and crew would leave the vessels to reach the Sierras in search of Gold. The bay was soon packed with deserted boats : in the summer of 1850, it was recorded that 500 ships were anchored in the cove.                                

Many of these abandoned ships were then used as shops, saloons, hotels or abodes; some buildings were also erected in between on piles. Other vessels were broken apart and the wood and metal used to build houses. The city passed many extension bills to turn the floating city into land; as a result, the whole area was filled with sand and by the end of the 60s, the area almost looked like any other districts. However, many houses were built on ship decks and you just needed to visit the cellars  to find out! A seawall was constructed around the new area and is approximately the limit of the Embarcadero boardwalk. North Beach was not a beach anymore!

Old and recent excavations or construction works have unearthed some of these historical ships, the most famous one being the Niantic, excavated in 1977 (part of it buried under the Transamerica Pyramid).



                                                                        Golden Gate bridge

Fishermen on the wharf

When the Gold Rush started to decline, Californians turned to fishing. The salmon was an important trade as well as crab. A large Chinese community arrived and developed  an important fishery by the bay, and would sent back to China dry fish, shrimps  and shellfish. In the 1860s, Italians immigrants settled in the Norhth Beach district. The first wharf dedicated to fishing was built in 1884. However in the 20th century, pollution struck the fishing industry hard , especially regarding oysters and salmon. In the 30s, the sardine fishing industry boomed, and continued until the early 50s.



                                                            Oysters served in San Francisco

The fishing industry today

The fishing activity includes fish processing located on Pier 45. San Francisco is regarded as the fish capital of the West coast: the most important sport fishing is salmon catching, but it is now limited due to a lack of fish returning to spawn new generations. The famous dungeness crabs are still caught by the San Francisco fishermen.



                                                               Californian fishermen’s cabin

More services today                                                                                                             

The port of San Francisco stretches over 7.5 miles along the bay and offers  cargo services, a cruise dock, a fisherman’s wharf for commercial and sport fishing,   and many passenger ferry services to Alcatraz, Sausalito and Oakland.  The  cruise industry welcomes 200,000 passengers every year mainly sailing to Alaska and Mexico.

Useful links (click on title):


                                                    On a tour of San Francisco : view of the piers

Video links (click on title):

8 of my favourite things to do in and around San Francisco

February 13, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: "How to" Tips, San Francisco, Tours in California No Comments →


  san francisco   nobhill

   2 views of the city in February: one from Corona Heights and the other from Nobhill .

San Francisco is an endless source of entertainments: top-notch shows, fine dining experiences, national events and amazing places to discover. Open any tourist information guides or surf the net, and you will find tons of things to do in San Francisco. But do they tell you  everything ? Not really!

Many delighful places are well-kept secrets by locals. If you want to discover the city and its surroundings in depth, it  means that you really have a “French Escapade” spirit: travelling to meet locals and  get authentic experiences .

Of course, when I have guests in San Francisco, they always get a thorough tour of the city, with all the historical background they can handle: they cannot leave without  seeing the Golden Gate bridge, walking on the Piers, strolling in Chinatown, biking in the Golden Gate park or going to a show.

But that wouldn’t be enough to feel like you have had a unique experience. So follow me!

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                  Jackie, your San Francisco guide on French Escapade Tours in California.

Here are some of our favourite special outings:

  • Spend an afternoon at the Kabuki bathhouse in Japan Town: the ambiance is utterly relaxing, the massages exquisite and the whole atmosphere will regenerate your energy for weeks ! Great staff too!
  • Cross the Bay Bridge for a Soul food experience in Oakland; a few blocks away from the London’s Square, you will find Nellie’s soul food restaurant. Good food, very nice welcoming staff .
  • Attend a sing-along show at the Castro theater. Not only the place is a unique architectural building (read post from February 2, 2009) but the audience at the Castro theater (both adults and children) are wonderful! Their interaction with the movies in sing-alongs is a source of a real pleasure. I never want to miss a show!
  • Visit my favourite giftshop, far away from main tourist traps. It is located at the foot of the Golden Gate bridge, at the end of Crissy Fields, out of reach of big chartered buses. They serve snacks and coffee, have many picnic tables around the shop with a breathtaling view of the bridge and the city.
  • For a good little urban hike, I suggest walking from the Castro district all the way up to Corona Heights. Great view of the city and the financial district! Then, if you have the right itinerary, you will be able to walk down flights of stairs, along beautiful gardens and hide-away mansions.
  • Our second favorite hike is along the cliffs between  Lincoln Park and the Presidio, with spectacular  views of the Golden Gate bridge and the Pacific ocean. Very gentle hike all the way to China Beach.
  • If you want to discover Chinatown with a genuine flavour, avoid Grant Avenue and walk up Stockton instead, along the well-stocked grocery stalls displaying the weirdest roots. Do not hesitate to visit a Chinese herb stores offering  the wildest drugs meticulously sorted out in im pressive rows of drawers and jars. A visit at the Chinese cookie factory can also be a fun experience.

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                          Some goods displayed at a Chinese grocery store in Broadway

  • I could go on and on, but I will finish this top-8 chart, with Pacific Grove, a wonderful place to escape the busy city life. My friends Carmen and Candice introduced me to this peaceful town next to Monterey, and if you are looking for a perfect hide-away, that’s a great place to go to !

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                         Inns along the coast in Pacific Grove, with romantic view on the ocean.

Useful links:


Photo credits: French Escapade (except for the 2 pictures about the Castro Theater)

A Historical Theater In Gay San Francisco

February 02, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Art, San Francisco, Tours in California No Comments →

The Castro Theatre was built in 1910, and originally  located at 479 Castro Street . In the mid 1920s, a  larger Castro Theater was built at 429 Castro Street, its current location, only a few doors up from the original theatre. Its facade was ornated in the   Spanish Colonial Baroque style , just like the basilica in Mission Dolores.

The architect in charge was Timothy L.Pflueger who also worked on Oakland’s Paramount theater, among others.

It officially opened to the public on 23 June 1922, showing the Paramount release Across the Continent (1922), starring Wallace Reid.

Today, movies are still played at the Castro theater, but special events are real treats, such as sing-alongs , festivals and concerts, as well as charity events that are taking place there from time to time. The interior decoration and the Wurlitzer pipe organ  played on special events give the whole atmosphere an exquisite ambiance and make you travel back in time.

In January 2008, when Gus Van Sant shot his movie Milk, dedicated to the memory of Harvey Milk, assassinated in San Francisco in  , the neon lights were renovated on the theater’s marquee , and the facade  repainted.

Yearly  events:

Current programming:

Coming soon:

  • February 6: Midnites for Maniacs
  • February 7: Scary Cow Festival
  • February 15-26: Milk
  • February 27-March 5: Amarcord
  • March 23: Petula Clark
  • April 8 – 13: Mamamia sing-long (I’ll be there ! I love sing-alongs and Abba! What a treat!)

For more details, visit


French Bread in San Francisco

January 11, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Food and Recipe, San Francisco, Tours in California, Worldwide No Comments →


If sourdough is said to have appeared as early as 1500 BC in Egypt, and was widely used in the Middle Ages to make bread, it was brought to California during the Gold Rush, and became one of the city’s landmarks thanks to  Isidore Boudin, a French baker from Burgundy who settled in San Francisco during in1849. Growing from 1,000 to 20,000 inhabitants in 2 years, the population needed food, especially staples such as bread, and the city counted some 60 bakeries in 1849.

But what is sourdough?

In San Francisco, sourdough refers to bread  that is baked using wild yeast from a dough or batter, with a long, slow rising process so that it develops a characteristic sour flavour. By adding flour and water to it, this starter dough can be kept indefinitely, which was very convenient for the gold miners. Some pioneer stories mention people wearing the dough in a bag around their neck to keep it warm and favor the bacteria culture.

Today, San Francisco is still famous for its sourdough bread, and even the 49ers mascott’s nickname is Sourdough Sam. Boudin is still baking its famous bread in the city at many locations: Market street, Geary Boulevard, Fisherman’s wharf… San Francisco sourdough is particularly tangy and is well appreciated with seafood, clam chowder or chili.

If you come to the city of hills, you can’t miss it!

San Francisco Tours

For information about tours and vacation packages in San Francisco and California,  check .

French Escapade offers now a great variety of visits in Northern California, from privately guided custom tours to pre-established tours.

All pictures are from the Boudin bakery ’s website .