Off the Leash
I buy it. For every friend with a kid, I have about 20 with a dog. Maybe that's just the crazy un-marriageable crew I run with, but from the Mission to the Marina, it's hard to get down a sidewalk without maneuvering past every shade of pup. They're hanging out at the park, they're chilling in front of restaurants, and they're slobbering on your new shoes on the J-Church.
Walking around San Francisco, it's easy to assume that dog guardianship in this city is an off-leash walk in the dog park. However, having recently apartment hunted with my pit bull Hazel, I find the city less than accommodating when it comes to my longtime companion. This was the catalyst for starting to explore every asset of living with Fido in San Francisco. From basics like finding apartments and riding Muni to the less crucial but still delicious act of dining with your pooch, I set out to see how San Franciscans do it, doggy style. I know, gross.
First order of business: Find a dog-friendly apartment within our city limits. Naturally, the first place I looked was Craigslist. Hey, if Craig can get a hooker to bring you ice cream at 4 a.m., surely he can find an apartment for me and Hazel. However, the findings for large rentals that allow dogs in desirable-to-me San Francisco neighborhoods (read: the Mission) were very limited. And by very limited, I mean nonexistent.
After exploring the slim pickings on Craigslist, I checked out San Francisco SPCA's list of pet-friendly apartment buildings. Most of the places on the list are mega complexes, so be prepared to live amongst the plebes.
After thoroughly investigating the offerings on both sites, I decided the logical move for us was across the bridge to Oakland. How sad is that? Yes, you can get lucky in the city and find a fabulous apartment where you and your canine companion can live in peace but you're gonna have a better chance in our outer boroughs. Not only was Hazel welcome in most apartments in the East Bay, quite a few landlords and property managers gave her treats and scratches. While visiting one apartment in West Oakland, the landlord actually got down on the carpet and rolled around with her, his small face so very close to her big gaping mouth. It was wonderful.
If you're too scared to venture outside the city limits, I suggest asking around, posting ads at hippie co-ops like Rainbow, and getting very familiar with the terrible web design of Craigslist. This apartment ain't coming easy. My takeaway: When you add in the fact that Hazel is heavier than 25 pounds and a pit bull, finding a dog-friendly apartment in SF is like hunting is like trying to find a needle in a haystack made of porcupines and rhinoceros shit. Seriously unpleasant.
After the disappointment of searching for an apartment, I needed a walk along the water to calm my nerves. What's the use of living on the coast if you can't see the g-d ocean? But getting from the Mission to Ocean Beach without a car is no easy feat. Unless you have exercise anorexia, I can't possibly see why you'd want to walk your crazy ass all the way there.
Instead, I opted to call a cab. During my first call, I didn't mention that I had a dog with me. Big mistake. The Luxor cab slowed down but never stopped and I was able to see the driver visibly recoil at the sight of my double-XL dog. Then, like the Road Runner fleeing from Wile E. Coyote, the cab sped up at a comical rate and left us in the dust. Charming.
I called again and specified that I had a dog "the size of fat Oprah" with me. I waited approximately 30 minutes until a cab arrived. The driver was actually very friendly and even had a blanket on the seat for Hazel. What service! I could get used to this. Except that, holy crap, taxis are expensive! Arriving at the beach, I cleaned out my future child's college fund to pay the nice man, and I told him to invest some of it – it's a good time to get into stocks. Buy low, sell high!
The next day, I decided to try my hand at riding Muni to the beach. First order of business, I had to gear up Hazel to properly ride the bus; that meant buying a muzzle. It's bad enough to deal with people who normally cross the street to get away from my dog, but it's a total nightmare when she's rocking the Hannibal Lecter. Le sigh.
We arrived at a stop for the 48 at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday – you can't ride Muni during peak hours with your dog. Waiting for the bus, I dug full fares out of my purse for both of us. Oh yes, dogs pay the same price. As the 48 pulled up, I got in line to board. As I stepped inside to pay, the driver took one look at my dog and said, "You know you got to pay full price for him too." And I replied, "Yes, I know. And my dog is a she. Her name is Hazel!"
Your ass will be asked to exit the bus and then invited to never return.
With that, the driver turned around, surveyed the empty bus, and asked me to wait for the next one because this one was too full. Knowing better than to sass again, I exited the bus and waited for the next 48. And waited. And waited. On my 75th birthday it pulled up. Praise be. I kept my mouth shut and boarded. There I was, riding Muni with my dog! At a non-peak hour! For full price! And she was muzzled!
After exploring apartment hunting and conquering the transportation experiment, I felt that Hazel and I deserved brunch, because that's how San Franciscans reward themselves.
Our first stop was Duboce Park Cafe for a pre-brunch smoothie. This place should be called "Dog Park Cafe" because, holy shit, SO MANY DOGS.
I found a seat on the outdoor patio, and noticed how perfect it was for people- and dog-watching. It's also a place to enjoy one of the best smoothies in town. Normally, I am not a smoothie person. I like to eat my calories, but hot damn, the Face Lift smoothie packs enough energy to get my ass up the Church Street hill (read: Everest but worse) and to our next brunch destination, Atlas Cafe.
Actually, walking up that hill would be really out of the way to get from Duboce Park Cafe to Atlas, but you should do it, fatty!
By the time we got to Atlas, I was ready for brunch part deux. Ignore everything I said above about the smoothie being filling – Hazel and I were both desperately in need of sustenance. Luckily, I had some Buddy Biscuits for her and a wallet full of cash for me. Hazel and I parked it in Atlas' excellent back patio, where I had a mimosa and the amazing no-cheese pizza made with yams, mushrooms, and tofu. Hazel indulged in as many biscuits as her little doggie heart desired.
The only word to the wise here is to make sure to check Atlas' website to see if any bands are playing when you and your dog plan to be there. We were there on a day with bluegrass – Hazel and I are not fans. If there is one thing to make my dog turn psychotic, it's a jam band. Seriously, stop the insanity! Nevertheless, we left Atlas full and satisfied, and decided to call it a day. After all, tomorrow was dinner at Zazie, and we had to be prepared.
For my next meal with Hazel, I wanted to get fancy, so I made a dinner date for us at Zazie in Cole Valley. Every Monday night, dogs are invited to dine with their human companions on the restaurant's heated patio. Delightful.
When we arrived, the hostess greeted us with a biscuit and a smile. So far, so good. Making our way to the patio, I could tell we fit in. Canines of every shape and size lounged under heat lamps, like Cleopatra after a feast of young boys. I ordered the extremely tasty Mediterranean plate, which left me completely stuffed.
Finding it hard to move, Hazel and I lounged in the warmth of the patio, lying on our backs and exposing our bellies to the world. Perhaps one of us ate too much and was doing this unintentionally. Whatever, if you've got it, flaunt it!
So there you have it. In SF, it's nearly impossible to find an apartment with a dog, fairly hard to find a ride with a dog, and very easy to dine with a dog. To make the first two feats a little less stressful, check SFMTA's website for tips on riding Muni with a non-service animal and SF SPCA's list of pet-friendly apartments .
To further de-stress, bring along your furry friend for patio dining at Atlas Cafe and Zazie, which offers $10 off Tiera Zinfandel on Bring Your Dog to Dinner nights. Zazie also hosts special one-off doggy-friendly dinners featuring multicourse menus with proceeds going to local dog rescue groups. Reservations are highly recommended.