Paris by the Bay

I wrote this for The Girls Guide to Paris in 2010, but it was all still true last week…

French lilacs for a scent of Paris.

When San Francisco grows up, she wants to be French. Yes, I know the city has an extraordinary Italian food, an Asian museum, a historic Jewish community and a rich Latino heritage. But Italians, Asians, Jews and Latinos have all lived in San Francisco since it frst sprouted, while the French, well, the French culture was imported to The City by locals.

Take the building that houses city hall. The 1915 architecture was inspired by Mansart’s Invalides, in Paris. The Legion of Honor, a fine-arts museum that houses a monumental Thinker, by Auguste Rodin, and a series of works by Monet, is a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur, also in Paris. And if you’ve ever had San Francisco sourdough, you know that it is a cousin to the French pain au levain.

The French feel so at home in SF that there are two private schools where they can ensure a French education for their children. An entire community has grown around the French Even the most traditional raclette can be had at the 24th Street Cheese Shop.American International School on Oak Street, in Hayes Valley, where you can head to Tartine Café Français to savor a proper café crème and a real tartine while French teachers, high-school students and moms chatter away, the melody of the language transporting you back to the Seine, before a stroll past French-inspired art, antique and gift shops on neighboring Hayes Street. San Francisco is an ideal destination for those needing a quick Paris fix without the hassles of trans-Atlantic travel. My favorite Paris-like neighborhood is Noe Valley. A bit off the tourist trail, in the sunniest part of the city, Noe Valley has a cheese monger, 24th Street Cheese Company; a butcher, Drewes Bros., a bistro, Le Zinc; and two bakeries featuring French-style breads, Noe Valley Bakery and La Boulange.

For culture, the Alliance Française is a dynamic center that has a library, holds art exhibitions and offers classes on topics like cinema. You can also find reading material from the Continent downtown at Café de la Presse.

If all of this has you craving a proper confit, there are numerous French restaurants in the city, from the formal and very elegant Fleur de Lys to the casual, incredibly authentic Butler and the Chef. There is a small alley, Belden Place, with so many French restaurants that it has become famous for its Bastille Day block party, where “La Marseillaise” is played so loudly that you think you really are in Paris. Pinch me.

Tartine Café Français  / 244 Gough Street. / (415) 553-4595.

24th Street Cheese Company  / 3893 24th Street / (415) 821-6658.

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