Burlingame Beckons – Burlingame, California, USA

Burlingame Beckons
Burlingame, California, USA

Miss Cleo moved her slender legs and delicate feet in time to the music, her tangerine gown swaying as she skipped from side-to-side to the beat of the Gypsy Kings.

“We thought she was a boy when we got her, but then she laid the most beautiful eggs.”

Anna, the sales assistant, told me that in between dance steps, the dainty orange canary chirps her heart out for anyone who’ll listen, all day, every day. While the heady aromas of freesias, lilies and gardenia candles washed over me, I perused the over-stuffed shelves of leather-bound gift books, pastel-colored blankets, kitchen aprons with English Rose print, and silk cushion covers.

I was in Willa, one of the numerous eclectic gift stores located in Burlingame, a small town located ten minutes drive south of San Francisco International Airport.

Artsy Store Front
Artsy Store Front
Burlingame was 97 years old on June 6, 2005. Incorporated in 1908, following the 1906 earthquake, when the tranquil, rolling hills of the San Francisco Peninsula attracted many individuals from the very uneven, hilly, and much-devastated San Francisco. It gets its name from Honorable Anson Burlingame, the U.S. Minister to China in the mid-1800s. On a visit to see the then-landowner William C. Ralston, founder of the Bank of California, Burlingame was so impressed by the lush landscape that he chose 1100 acres to use after he retired. In honor of the Minister who had been appointed to office by President Lincoln, Ralston named the new town site “Burlingame.”

Finding parking was a bit of a problem. I’d managed to snag a spot opposite the library, a few minutes walk from the main drag, but having spent well over 45 minutes in Willa, I needed to rush back and “feed” the meter, or move. A pesky traffic cop hiding around the corner put a stop to the former. Since there’s little crime in Burlingame – compared to other Bay Area towns – I guess the poor guys have to do something to keep busy.

I circled tree-lined Burlingame Avenue twice at the self-imposed speed of five miles per hour, and eventually found a space on the east side of California Street, in the train station parking lot. Cal Trans has trains running to and from San Francisco’s 4th Street Station to Burlingame every 30 minutes or so.

During my seven years in the Bay Area and multiple visits to the town, I’m still not tired of it. There’s always someone to watch or new shop to peruse. I love San Francisco, but Burlingame has an air of sophistication I don’t feel when I’m in the city. There are no run-down, closed-up premises, graffiti or storefront damage. It’s a busy, spotless, and affluent neighborhood, with friendly dog-loving residents.

My goal for the day was to walk the whole length of Burlingame Avenue with Chester, my miniature schnauzer.

A hand-blown Chihouli-like glass flower arrangement in Pot Pourri caught my eye. Home and gift store Pot Pourri has been open and located in the same spot for eight years. I used to live five minutes walk away and in 18 months never once stepped over the store’s threshold.

“People don’t tend to come this far up the street,” a staff member told me.

Spiffy Store Front
Spiffy Store Front
It seems the majority of visitors to Burlingame come as far as the traffic lights at the Primrose Road junction, and then turn back again, every few paces stopping to window-shop in Banana Republic, Pottery Barn, The Gap, Sharper Image, Enzo Anglioni, Books Inc., Paper Caper, or Luggage Center.

In the far back of Pot Pourri, to the right hand side, I could see smoke rising. Since no one panicked or ran to grab a fire extinguisher, I decided to investigate. A large mist-fogging fountain acted as the main centerpiece for the multitude of other fountains that took up approximately 20 percent of the store’s floor space. Bubbles gently spluttered all around me while the water calmly flowed through the various fountain systems, washing over stones, pebbles and bamboo shoots. I couldn’t quite decide if I want to close my eyes, sit and “ohm” for a while, or run to the bathroom and pee.

When visiting Burlingame, I’m reminded in some ways of the town where I grew up in England, which is ironic because Stafford is a working class town that’s pretty far from affluent. But each store is small and specialized. And unlike crowded city department stores where I’m unable to find exactly what I’m looking for, all I have to do is ask. The shop assistants and residents are friendly, welcoming, and knowledgeable.

For lunch I opted for Italian at Café La Scala with its sidewalk-seating area and overhead canopy. The sun was blazing and temperatures were already in the 80s on this spring day. Back in San Francisco it was cold and windy, with the fog being drawn from the Pacific Ocean lying to the west. Along with an ice-cold glass of California chardonnay, I ordered grilled shrimp, creatively displayed around a bed of mixed greens and Spanish tomatoes lightly dressed in balsamic dressing. Chester happily chewed ice-cubes under my seat.

Mothers marched past with strollers and toddlers in tow. A group of nubile schoolgirls wearing gray pleated skirts that barely grazed their rear ends sauntered by me giggling behind their raised hands, no doubt talking about the teenage boy walking several paces ahead of them. He flicked his blonde hair away from his face, pulled his shoulders back and looked straight ahead, focusing intently on the group of boys at the end of the block. Thank goodness the days of puberty are behind me.

Plaza de Paws
Plaza de Paws
Across the street at Copenhagen Café and Bakery, there were three dogs joining their owners for lunch at the sidewalk seating area. I could also see dogs of all shapes and sizes being led in and out of all the stores along the avenue, including Plaza de Paws, the boutique store for companion animals that sells, amongst other things, “Chewy” Vuitton furry purses and Jimmy “Chew” fluffy shoes.

Afterwards, I picked up a latte at Starbucks and grabbed a sidewalk seat at the busy intersection.

“How could you not love this place?” said a local when I enquired as to why he lived in this small town. “I mean, there’s something for everyone, the weather’s perfect – most of the time – and it’s within spitting distance of the airport.”

And, at 11 p.m. on a weekend, if anybody is anybody, they’ll apparently be hanging out on the corner of Lorton and Burlingame Avenue, at Starbucks.

I headed back towards California Avenue by way of The Black Sea Gallery and managed to pick up a queen-sized Burgundy red-wine velvet quilt cover with gold embroidered edging. It was a bargain at 75% off the original sale price. I unfortunately couldn’t afford, or fit in my car, the queen-sized bed that would have gone very nicely with it.

Before getting back into the car, Chester got a quick run around Washington Park, and we then started making our way back home. The wind had started to pick up; the tall Eucalyptus trees lining the sides of the railway track had begun to shed their winter bark, throwing it out across the street in front of my path. Now it felt more like spring.