Thursday, July 19, 2012

2012 Recap: 3 Days in San Francisco!

Pier 39 Sea Lions
At the end of May/beginning of June, I spent 3 full days in the Bay area being a tourist and attending a friend's wedding in Pleasanton.  Traveling from the east coast to San Fran isn’t so bad, as long as you don’t have any layovers and don’t mind being in a plane for 6 hours and can bounce back pretty quickly from jet lag.  Fortunately, I am ok with long flights.  I have plenty of books downloaded on my Kindle to keep me entertained.

Now, if you know me, you know that I am not the type of person who will just show up somewhere new and see what’s going on.  I have a planned itinerary that has been revised over and over again until it is perfectly coordinated with geographic and personal preferences.  Some people may think I have a bit of OCD, but when you take as many short trips as I do, you learn that a lack of planning usually means missing out on seeing something exciting! This trip was no exception.

Thursday morning started at Fisherman’s Wharf.  Parking was much easier to find that I anticipated.  There were street meters that were good to several hours very close to the area.   Early in the day, Pier 39 was pretty quiet.  Not too many people are out and about looking for the sea lions at that time.  I got some great pictures without having to fight for a spot to sit and watch the marine life.

Locked up in Alcatraz
Around 11 am, I got in line for the Alcatraz Ferry.  I bought my tickets way far in advance and had my printed voucher with me.  It was a good thing too because the tour was completed sold out until the following Sunday.   The ferry ride only lasted about 10 minutes and was pretty calm considering it was so windy on the bay.  Jackets or wind breakers are a must in San Francisco, even in the summer!  I am very glad the audio tour was included in the price of my ticket, but to be honest I did fast forward through it a bit.  There were way too many people staring at one cell, I just couldn’t stand behind them for such an extended period of time.  I mostly walked around on my own while listening to the man speaking in my ears.  I am glad that I went, but I was hoping for something a little creepier… is that weird?  I wanted a genuine spooky experience.  Maybe I should have gone at night.  Hmm, next time!

I went back to the hotel near the airport for the remainder of the afternoon.  Weirdly enough, I found an incredible, but totally random/ seafood distributor/lobster roll vendor on the side of the road where I had lunch.  I know that sounds odd, but my bf had been staying in the area for a few days prior to my arrival and swore that he had eaten there several times without getting sick.  We went back into the city for my birthday dinner at Gary Danko.  Holy deliciousness!  All I have to say is make your reservation months in advance, and prepare to be treated like royalty! I wrote an extensive review here on Yelp if you are interested:
Friday morning, I made my way across the Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Woods.  This is where I made my first mistake in planning.  I scheduled in time to stop at Vista Point on my way to Muir Woods for some awesome photo ops, but unbeknownst to me, there is a very dense fog that completely covers the city (including the bridge) in the morning and there is no possible way to get a good photo until the fog burns off.  So, no nice photo on Tina standing by the bridge…sadness L  Ah well, that just meant I got to Muir Woods a little earlier. 
Muir Woods National Park
If you get car sick, or motion sickness, or anything even remotely like it, DO NOT drive to Muir Woods from SF.  It is a beautiful national park with huge redwoods, but you are seriously driving like a crazy person around sharp curves and possible falls to your death up sides of hills.   By around 10 AM, the park was already packed and there was no parking anywhere.  I lucked out and found a spot just as someone else was leaving, but if I didn’t, I’d be walking for at least a mile to get from my car to the park.  The walking paths were incredibly well maintained and the enormous trees provided much needed shade.  There are three paths varying in length, but I only had time to do the short one because I wanted to make sure I had all afternoon to get my wine on in Napa.  I wish I would have had more time there to do the longer trails.

The drive through Sonoma to Napa was really breathtaking.  There are vineyards everywhere you look and wonderful photo ops of the famous wine country.
  • Our first stop was for some food at Rutherford Grille.  Conveniently, it is located in the parking lot of Beaulieu Vineyards - our first wine trail stop!  While the food at the restaurant was delicious, BV really let me down.  There were 3 people working behind the tasting bar and they all barely paid any attention to me.  For such a high tasting cost, this is not worth it. 
  • Stop 2 was at Robert Mondavi. I love their wine, even back home, so visiting the vineyard was a treat!  There was a pretty long line in the tasting room, so I decided to go into the reserve tasting room to try some of their more exclusive wines.  The man working that room was so personable and willing to give great recommendations.  I ended up buying two bottles of the reserve fume blanc to take home with me.  Also, if you do a tasting, you can purchase a ridel wine glass for $5.
  • Tasting at Beaulieu Vineyards
  • Last stop was at Domaine Chandon for a sparkling wine experience.  Of all the vineyards, this tasting room most closely resembled a lounge/bar.  You could order glasses or a tasting menu from the bar or from couches nearby.  We did the premium tasting menu and had a dozen oysters.  Everything was delicious and I highly recommend making this one of your stops.  The grounds are gorgeous! I purchased a bottle from here for a special occasion back home (still waiting for that to happen).
On the way back, I stopped off to visit some family friends and did not make it back in town that night to do anything exciting.

The next morning, bright and early, I awoke to go explore the Union Square and downtown areas.  My day started with a trip to Starbucks and waiting in line for a solid 20 minutes to ride the cable car.  Was it worth it?  Yes!  This was a totally cool experience, and I bought my round trip ticket right there on the car.  I rode it all the way down to Hyde Street Pier.  From there, I explored the pier and did some shopping in Ghiradelli Square (yum!).  You can get some pretty cool pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge from here.  On the way back on the cable car, I did jump off a few times to explore the cable car museum, lombard street, chinatown, and some other small shops.

Riding on a Historic Cable Car

That was really the end of my day until I needed to get ready for the wedding.  I enjoyed the way the city was completely walkable and I never needed to call a taxi.  I also enjoyed how there were separate neighborhoods, each with a distinct charm.  I imagine I only a portion of the city and would love to go back and see the rest one day!

Next trip... Maui, Hawaii!

Every year I try to plan several smaller, long weekend vacations and one big, exciting vacation!  Last year, my big trip was to Egypt.  This year, I am going to Maui for a week of fun and sun.

My itinerary is jammed with fun activities, but I did manage to schedule beach time as well!  Some of the highlites of our upcoming trip are:
  • Hiking up Haleakala (dormant volcano)
  • Exploring the upcountry (vineyard, lavendar farm, and goat cheese dairy)
  • Surf lessons
  • Luau
  • Snorkel Trip
  • Pineapple Plantation Tour
  • Helicopter ride
  • Searching for waterfalls and black sand beaches in Hana
I will be sure to write about how everything goes when I get back.  Aloha!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

2012 Summer Day Trips: Chatham, Cape Cod

While most of my blog posts have to do with long vacations, I occasionally find a local gem nearby that I want to write about. 

Taken From
One Saturday toward the end of June, I woke up bright and early to travel down to Chatham for a day trip with friends.  To my surprise, there was no traffic at all!  I think I lucked out because everyone must have been preparing for 4th of July and not traveling the weekend before.  We arrived at Chatham Bars Inn around 10 AM, and as expected, the room was not yet ready.  The real reason we came so early was to use the pool, beach access, and other facilities.  The concierge happily directed us across a foot path to the pool where a cabana boy set up a section of lounge chairs with towells and an umbrella.  The pool was not too big, but plenty big for the number of guests that were there.  There were employees around to take drink orders as needed, but not in an overwhelming - in your face - fashion.  The view of the beach was gorgeous as well.  We decided to stay at the pool, but I can agree that the service was just as good on the beach.  Around lunch time, we placed orders for lunch.  The lobster roll was delicious, and served with a side of watermelon slices.  Absolutely perfect for a hot summer day.  Around 5pm, we checked into the room.  The quaint, but very tasteful, oceanside room was located right on the bluff overlooking the water.  Adorable little bunnies scattered about on the lawn hiding in shadows cast by the large adirondack chairs.  This is a great escape for a staycation on the Cape!

Before dinner, we strolled into town stopping at the shops along the way.  There is some incredible art to be found down there!  Lots of galleries and local jewelers ready to make a memorable piece for you or your home.  Dinner was set for 6 PM at Del Mar. I am told that arriving any later chances a 1+ hour wait by the bar before you are seated, and no, they don't take any reservations.  We were seated right away and had our drink orders in immediately.  The service was good, and the food was delicious.  I love lobster ravioli, and they have it available as an appetizer or entree portion.  Yummy!  Everyone else was satisfied with their food as well.  The atmosphere was great and I can see how this would be a fun place for drinks later at night.

*Special Thanks to Nuala for catching my errors!