Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cuoretourismo in San Francisco

During my trip to Tuscany last spring, I was inspired by the idea of "cuoretourismo" or "heart tourism." Heart tourism is meaningful tourism -- it's getting as close as you can to the authentic heart of the land and people where you are traveling. During my week in Tuscany, we met with a local fisherman who was integral in protecting the wildlife of the Ligurian Coast; we broke bread with a family that has been making olive oil for 200 years; we cooked dinner in the wood-fire brick oven of a Tuscan neighbor. Since I got back from that trip, I've been seeking more and more local experiences like those I shared in Italy.

One group of heart tours that have been on my radar lately are the Local Taste of the City tours here in San Francisco. The company was founded by Tom Madin who has been leading tours of the Bay Area for over a decade. There are 3 tour options: North Beach (Little Italy) Chinatown or the Night Tour. Each 3-hour guided walking tour will take you to local restaurants, bars, coffee shops and bakeries that are long-standing institutions of the city. My brother's visit this weekend was the perfect excuse to try one of the tours. We opted for the North Beach Tour on Sunday morning.

The 3-hour adventure through my favorite neighborhood completely exceeded my expectations. We started the morning at Cafe Roma, where we learned how coffee is roasted and what prompted Italians to flock to Northern California at the beginning of the century. Later we moved on to a Ligurian bakery, we were snacked on fresh foccacia bread right out of a 135 year-old oven. We nibbled on homemade macaroons, dipped sour dough bread in local olive oils and savored salty mortadella at a family-run deli. In total, we went to over 10 local businesses, from truffle/chocolate shops to the cafe where Francis Ford Coppola wrote "The Godfather".

Almost all of the businesses we visited were family-owned and had been run by the same folks for decades. It was truly an honor to be allowed behind the scenes and get a glimpse into their world -- a world where food, drink and family are the priorities in life. This tour showed me a side of San Francisco I hadn't seen before - a side I'm going to seek out and cherish in the days ahead.

No comments: