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Destination Inspiration: Samovar Tea Lounge

Samovar Entrance

After coffee at Blue Bottle and lunch at La Boulange during our afternoon in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley a few weeks ago, we didn’t think things could get any better–until we walked into Samovar Tea Lounge.

With its Zen Valley location just half a mile from the other Hayes Valley places we had just visited, we set out on foot to walk off our pastries and lunch and experience a little bit of the neighborhood. What we discovered when we arrived was a tea shop–actually a tea restaurant–that was just up our alley.

Samovar Teas

Food and Beverages

The only thing we regret about our visit to Samovar is that we arrived with full stomachs. Our time in San Francisco was limited, so we packed in as much fun as we could. But that meant not leaving enough room to sit and have a meal at Samovar. If we had, Daytona might have ordered the Russian Service with tagarraon-marined beets, smoked salmon and horseradish, devilled egg with caviar, and other foods served with Samovar’s smokey Tolstoy’s Sip black tea ($24). Then again, perhaps she would have chosen the Japanese Service or Moorish Service–they all sounded delightful. Sarah might have chosen the English service with a 3-tiered platter of goodies and the Breakfast Blend black tea ($24).

Though we couldn’t stay to eat, we did make a point to get to know the teas, spending some time with the servers to pinpoint the perfect ones for us to bring home as memories of our trip.

Samovar Tea

Location and Atmosphere

Located at the corner of Page and Laguna in a micro-neighobhood they call “Zen Valley,” and near the San Francisco Zen Center.

Across the street from some lovely classic San Francisco homes, including one that sold in 2006 for $2.3 million.

Samovar Building

Samovar Neighborhood

Writeability and Purchased Presence

Discreet is best if you’re coming here with writing in mind. Leave the laptop behind, and use your time for contemplation while sipping your tea or to celebrate successes with your writing partner.

Samovar Interior

Price: $$$

The various services, with food and tea, range from $19-24.


You’ll need to find street parking, which, on the day we were there, seemed like it would have been easy enough. However, even if you have to walk a little, enjoy the classic San Francisco architecture you’re sure to see on your way.

Samovar Sign

Writer’s Tip

Word on the street is that some of the Bay Area’s greatest minds have gathered at Samovar to brainstorm or share a cup of tea with comrades. Consider sitting a while with friends, soaking in the zen and do a little brainstorming of your own. Bring pieces to critique, or simply enjoy a meal together after a long day of writing.

Find It

Samovar Tea Lounge – Zen Valley location
297 Page Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Samovar Californian Persian

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Destination Inspiration: Blue Bottle Coffee, Hayes Valley

Blue Bottle Coffee and Pastries

We’re excited to kick off the year with a special Destination Inspiration series focused on San Francisco. We ended up in the Bay Area together on a whim over New Year’s weekend, and couldn’t resist checking out some of the best pastries, coffee, and beer the area has to offer. On our first outing into San Francisco (we were staying with Sarah’s parents in Castro Valley), we headed straight to Blue Bottle Coffee in Hayes Valley. Though headquartered in nearby Oakland, Blue Bottle has a number of locations in San Francisco and New York.

Slow Coffee Zombies Sign

Blue Bottle Line

Food and Beverages

Blue Bottle Coffee has built its empire upon, well, coffee, and though we live in Seattle–a city known for its coffee–the cappucinos at Blue Bottle are probably the best we’ve ever had. Surprisingly, the pastries are–at the risk of handing down too many declarations that sound like hyperbole–undoubtedly the best  we’ve ever had at a coffeeshop.

The olive oil shortbread had all the elements of a classic shortbread–rich, buttery flavor with a crisp but tender texture–along with the savory touches of Eatwell Farms rosemary and Stonehouse olive oil. The stout coffee cake carried the deep flavors of beer through its tender and moist crumb that was accented with oats and currants. A pecan-caraway streusel finished it off with pleasingly complementary textures and flavors.

Had we visited again, we would have also tried the sesame absinthe cigars made with St. George absinthe and Stonehouse olive oil, and the snickerdoodles with Spanish saffron and Tahitian vanilla, among other pastries. It’s a good thing they recently released a book that, while primarily about coffee, contains an impressive selection of recipes, including all the treats we just mentioned. The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee: Growing, Roasting, and Drinking, with Recipes is available at the store and online.

Blue Bottle Pastries in Hand

Location and Atmosphere

The Blue Bottle location in Hayes Valley is like a little hole in the wall that everyone knows about. The kiosk itself is a re-purposed garage with a finely manicured curbside and is tucked in the folds of an otherwise typical ally. It has just enough room for a lovely pastry case, the necessary espresso machines, a counter and the line that seems constantly formed in front of it.

Blue Bottle Alley

Writeability and Purchased Presence

As a walk-up coffee bar in an old garage in a former alley, there’s no place to sit at this Blue Bottle location, but to be honest you don’t really need one; less than a block away you’ll find Patricia’s Green, a little urban park on Octavia Street that’s just right for creative inspiration. On a side note, there’s amazing inspiration to be found in the history of Patricia’s Green and the amazing woman it stands for as a memorial. You can check it out at

Price: $$

Be sure to bring cash or check. The pricing is very reasonable with coffee starting around $3 and generously sized pastries beginning at $1.50.

Blue Bottle Counter

Blue Bottle Pastries


Parking is always a little challenging in San Francisco and the streets near Blue Bottle are no exception. There are a few streets nearby that have free 2 hour parking, but bring money for the parking meters just in case you can’t snag a spot there.

Writer’s Tip

Bundle up on a sunny winter day and get a coffee and some pastries at the kiosk, then head over to Patricia’s Green. Settle in on a bench to enjoy your treats and let yourself daydream and brainstorm as you watch the world pass by. Jot down observations, thoughts, ideas, and reflections as they come to you, and try to bring a little of this creative and happy state back to your writing space back home.

Find It

Blue Bottle Kiosk, Hayes Valley location
315 Linden Street
San Francisco

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Writing as an Excuse to Explore

Worthy Brewing Construction Site

Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird, “One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.”

I love that! From the writing that Sarah and I do for Destination Inspiration–which takes us to coffee shops and restaurants from Seattle to San Francisco–to The Flying Salmon, the Pacific Northwest travel blog I write for Wanderlust & Lipstick, I have to get out and explore my little corner of the world. I can’t stay home and watch the world pass me by–I have to get out there and experience it, and then share that experience with you.

I agree with Anne, that it is one of the greatest gifts about being a writer. Don’t you?

Image shows Sarah in an interview during our beer-tasting trip to Bend, Oregon, last summer.