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Surprising San Francisco: Interview with Marie-Joëlle Parent

by The Storytellers MTL

Being a great source of inspiration through her unique background, her boldness and her work, we were really happy when Marie-Joëlle Parent accepted our proposal for an interview about San Francisco. Prolific author and founder of the 300 reasons to love series, accomplished journalist and innovative creator, MJ is an authentic talented woman. From Quebec to New York to California, Marie-Joëlle is a modern globetrotter who knows how to immerse herself in local culture like no one else. Citizen of the world, she knows how to find the most amazing secret places that will be the highlight of your memorable getaway.

Sharing the same name and a passion for travel, I’m not shy to say that this is one of my favorite #girlboss! Discover her more through her love for the fabulous city of San Francisco in this exclusive interview!

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What kind of traveler are you?

Adventurous, curious and hyperactive. When I arrive in a city, I want to see everything. I walk all day long. I also like to discover a new city by bike. It’s the best way, in my opinion, to be effective. I prepare a lot before a trip, I read a lot of articles about the place, I consult blogs, Instagram and Pinterest, I save places in Google Maps. I want to know what are the hidden treasures. I’m lucky to have a network of friends who have traveled a lot so I rely on their recommendations.

Once there, I like to lose myself in the streets, talk to people, ask them what are their favorite places. I want to feel like a “local”. I like to meet the characters who animate a city and give it its soul. I take a lot of pictures and I love to share my discoveries on social media.


Name a fun fact that most people don’t know about your journey as a traveler.

I was a model from the age of 17 to 21 during my studies. It allowed me to travel everywhere and discover places I would never have been to, such as Dubai, Beirut or Istanbul. I spent 4 months alone in Germany to audition all over the city while I didn’t speak a word of English. It forces the resourcefulness.


What is your favorite secret location in San Francisco?

I always thought there were two cities in the United States where I would live without any doubt: New York and, on the other side of the continent, San Francisco. After 9 unforgettable years in New York, I am now in San Francisco since last October. My favorite place is in the western part of the city, the one that runs along the Pacific Ocean. At Land’s End Park, we find the ruins of Sutro Baths, an impressive indoor pool complex designed by the German immigrant Adolph Sutro, a millionaire who made his fortune in the mining industry and who was mayor of San Francisco at the end of the 19th century. There are only a few concrete walls and stairs, a tunnel and a stretch of water left, but it’s easy to imagine how enchanting this place was. I like to sit by one of the little wall while fixing the ocean, it seems like a lost paradise.


Which local dish is your favorite and where can you taste it?

Settling at the small counter of Swan Oyster Depot in the Nob Hill neighborhood is the ultimate San Franciscan experience. We eat oysters, shrimp salad, lobster, octopus, scallop sashimi, smoked salmon, or their specialty, the Dungeness crab. Regulars know that you must also ask for the crab back to soak your piece of sourdough bread in the delectable fat of the crustacean. Enjoy it all with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and let yourself be soaked in the charm of the place. We chat with the friendly waiters and we admire the many yellowed photos on the walls. It’s rare to find a more authentic place. Open for over 100 years, this establishment is still popular, so expect a line up. It was also one of Anthony Bourdain’s favorite places :(.


Describe a typical day in your favorite city.

On Saturdays or Sundays, I like to start the day with a walk to Crissy Field, the former airfield on the edge of the Bay with views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The whole city seems to walk his dogs there, a real canine paradise. I then stop for brunch at Rose’s Cafe in Cow Hollow. Then, I go to one of the many farmers’ markets in the city. In the afternoon, if I feel like it, I try a new yoga class. The ClassPass app allows me to try a lot of different workouts. In the evening, I open a good bottle of Pinot with friends in my backyard overlooking the Bay Bridge or I try a new restaurant.


What is your favorite neighborhood and why?

North Beach! It’s a traditionally Italian neighborhood, where the Beat Generation hatched in the 1950s. There are still some authentic characters, especially at Caffe Trieste, one of San Francisco’s last bohemian bubbles. It’s also the oldest coffee shop in the city and the oldest espresso bar on the West Coast. Founded in 1956 by an Italian immigrant, it has since served as a social club for writers, poets and artists. Francis Ford Coppola wrote there some parts of The Godfather. His portrait is hanging over the mosaic table, where he has worked on the screenplay.


What do you prefer to photograph in SF?

In New York, I especially like to photograph New Yorkers, but in San Francisco, I’m rather attracted by the architecture which is very diversified, the landscapes and the incredible flora. It’s mostly the colors that attract me.


How would you describe this city in one word?

It’s impossible! But the first word that comes to mind is contrast. Contrast between millionaires and poor people, between a city rich in history and a city that already has a foot in the future, between startups and mega companies, between hot and cold temperature in the same day, between sun and mist, between ocean and mountains, between old hippies and young techies …

When I think of San Francisco, I think of its pleasant pace of life, the sound of foghorns guiding the boats in the thick fog coat, the crazy wind that starts to blow around 2pm in The Mission, the tablecloth fog that rushes down the hills west of Divisadero Street, close to nature, eucalyptus forests in the middle of the city, blooming staircases at random, Art Deco buildings and Victorian homes, to the creative energy of its inhabitants and their obsession with costumes and organic products … The San Franciscans are at the forefront of the green movement, digital discoveries and just about everything, in fact. They are militant, progressive, passionate, supportive, dreamers, pioneers and artisans. And they are inhabited by their city. Here, the locavore movement has been raised to the rank of religion.


What is your favorite time to be in San Francisco? Why?

The months of September and October because they are the hottest. Summer isn’t in June or July in San Francisco, but rather in September and October. The fog is mostly formed in the early summer, when the cold current from the Pacific Ocean comes into contact with the warm air of the Central Valley of California, hence the expressions May gray and June gloom. In the early morning, the city is plunged under a thick misty mantle that normally dissipates in the afternoon, before returning at the end of the day.


Name an overestimated place of the californian metropolis.

The Fisherman’s Wharf! DO NOT GO THERE. It’s the equivalent of Times Square, but in San Francisco. It’s filled with tourists traps.


What amazes you the most about SF?

The different views from the top of the 49 hills of the city. The topography is impressive. I always wonder how they could build these beautiful houses in the middle of the slopes. I am also amazed by the fog, that an Internet user has nicknamed Karl. It’s a character of the city! From Corona Heights Park (with breathtaking panoramic views of downtown San Francisco and Sutro Tower), the fog sheet sweeps over Twin Peaks like a cozy blanket.


Did you fall in love with Marie-Joëlle Parent’s crush on SF? If you’re you planning a getaway this summer, make sure to get your copy of 300 reasons to love San Francisco. Her book is on sale in any good bookstore and brand new titles are being announced really soon, stay tuned!

You can also follow Marie-Joëlle’s adventures on Instagram for a daily dose of inspiration.

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