California 2018: Day 6

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Armstrong Redwoods

I spent the day among the redwoods and along the coast today. After a rejuvenating ten hours of sleep, I went for a non-sugary breakfast (I know, what’s wrong with me?!) at the hotel and then set out for Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve in Guerneville. I have been to Muir Woods before, and Armstrong Redwoods has the same beauty without the crowds. There are several trails you can take, but I settled for a loop walk on a couple of shorter trails. I am always amazed by the sheer size of the giant trees and the knowledge that those same trees have been in the same spot for centuries.

After my walk through the redwoods, I headed for the Sonoma coast. As is often the case, the coast was shrouded in fog. I drove the short distance between Jenner and Bodega Bay before turning back inland to Sebastopol. Not being a wine drinker, I had found a winery in Sebastopol that also makes their own cider. I enjoyed a nice afternoon in the garden at Horse and Plow with a cider flight and charcuterie plate.

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Horse and Plow, Sebastopol

Back to the hotel for a quick swim, and then I hit KIN for dinner. Golden State Cider and mac and cheese made for a nice dinner, but let’s be honest… it was the incredible baked hot chocolate that I was really there for!

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Baked Hot Chocolate (KIN, Windsor)
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California 2018: Day 5

Off to wine country! In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably start off by saying that I’m not really much of a wine drinker. It’s not that I don’t enjoy wine occasionally (remember how much I enjoyed the prosecco in Italy?), but it’s not my drink of preference. That being said, wine country for me is more about the atmosphere, vineyards dotting the hillsides, and good food. I’ve been to Napa a couple of times before, so this time I decided to head to Sonoma Valley.

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Golden Gate Bridge

I picked up the rental car bright and early and immediately crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and headed north. I have nothing against public transportation, but after navigating around a huge city and relying on buses for four days, it was so nice to get in the car and drive myself. First up was breakfast at Whisk and Skillet in Mill Valley. I chose this place because it was right along the highway and because they have cinnamon roll French toast. Imagine my disappointment to get there and find out they were out of it. I settled for plain old brioche French toast, but it was so boring I only ate half of it. Chalk that up to a breakfast first for me. Clearly “second breakfast” was in order for today. (If you’ve never had second breakfast, you’re missing out. It is my own way of squeezing in not one, but two breakfasts in one day. Pretty much any excuse will do. I can rationalize anything.)

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Sonoma Mission

When I finally reached Sonoma, I found a parking spot by the square and wandered around for a bit. I visited the Sonoma Mission and Barracks, stopped for a wine tasting at Highway 12 winery, and had second breakfast (a scone and Italian soda; again unmemorable… it’s clearly not a good day for food). Since my admission to the mission also got me into Vallejo Home, I stopped there before heading north to Windsor. I didn’t select Windsor because I loved the town, but because I had points and could use them at a hotel here. It’s between Santa Rosa and Healdsburg, so it’s convenient to most of Sonoma County.

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Tilted Shed Ciderworks

Before I got to the hotel, I stopped at Tilted Shed Ciderworks for a cider tasting. It is a small cider operation that has a storefront tucked into an office building/industrial area just off the 101 freeway. I got to taste 6 different ciders and the people were super nice. It was 100 degrees, so after that I beelined it to the hotel and headed for the pool. After a quick swim and some reading by the pool, I had dinner at KCs American Kitchen by the Windsor town green. There was a nice covered patio and a breeze was finally blowing, so it was a perfect night for al fresco dining!

California 2018: Day 4

I spent most of the day today at Golden Gate Park. It is larger than Central Park in New York City, and is dotted with museums, gardens, and other attractions. Of course, that wasn’t my first stop of the day. I first feasted on deep fried French toast and “Millionaire’s Bacon” (thick-cut bacon caramelized with brown sugar and hot pepper flakes) at Sweet Maple. It felt like a must-try, but the French toast far outshined the bacon. It should probably be noted, though, that I’m not much of a bacon person in general. Then it was off to the Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park, followed by Stow Lake, Strawberry Hill, the Rose Garden, and the Conservatory of Flowers. My favorite by far was the rose garden, where hundreds of varieties of roses were all in beautiful bloom.

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Golden Gate Park Rose Garden

I took a bus from the east end of the park all the way to Ocean Beach at the western end. I didn’t feel like lunch today, but saw a Safeway across from the bus stop and decided a soda and yogurt would make for a good midday snack. Lo and behold, I found a “Share a Diet Coke with Laura” bottle and had to buy it. Along with Tillamook marionberry Greek yogurt. I brought it across the street to the beach and enjoyed my “lunch” watching the waves crash onto the sand.

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Land’s End, San Francisco

After lunch, it was a quick stop at the Dutch Windmill, then a bus ride up to Land’s End. I have seen plenty of pictures from Land’s End, but getting to the lookout was a bit more complicated that I expected. I think I took the wrong path. Anyway, I asked a couple of guys how to get to the labyrinth, and they sent me across the golf course and down a “hidden” trail covered in sand to the top of the stairs down. In hindsight, there was a paved path that most other people seemed to arrive on. Anyway, I made it safely down and the lookout was just as impressive as I’d hoped. In one direction was the Golden Gate Bridge, while the other direction had rocks and sea stacks with a small beach and thunderous waves. Getting back up from the lookout involved taking a path that I assumed would bring me back to my starting point. After about 25 minutes of trail walking along the cliffs above the water, I eventually arrived at a road. Looking at the map, I discovered I didn’t need to go back to my starting point after all. Just a couple of blocks away was a bus that would carry me right back to my hotel!

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Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco

I could have fallen asleep when I got to my hotel. That’s how tired I am. Instead, I decided some food would likely give me a second wind, so I headed up the street to Il Casaro in the Italian North Beach section of town. There I ate a quattro formaggi pizza with prosciutto that was amazing and reminded me of the pizza I had in Italy a couple of months ago. The second wind didn’t really materialize, but I had enough energy to keep going for a couple more hours. I went back to Fisherman’s Wharf after dinner to look around the souvenir shops and was hoping for one last cable car ride, but the wait to get on was much too long. I ended up taking a bus back to my hotel instead. I’ve enjoyed San Francisco, but I am ready to leave the city and head to wine country for the next few days!

 

California 2018: Day 3

Despite being just a 30 minute ferry ride from San Francisco, I felt like I was transported back to Italy when I visited Sausalito today. I had been there before, but I think it was just a quick drive through that time. Today, I took the 10AM ferry after enjoying delicious lemon ricotta pancakes at Plow in the Potrero Hill neighborhood. Stepping off the ferry was like stepping into a different world. Gone were the crowds and noise, replaced with hillside homes reminiscent of the Mediterranean and quiet waterfront sidewalks.

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Sausalito Waterfront

Sausalito is a relatively small town, so I grabbed a map and set off on foot to explore. I walked south along the waterfront before finally turning back to town to check out the little shops. I don’t think I’ve ever had Dungeness crab, but it caught my eye on the menu at Scoma’s and I knew it would be the perfect lunch. It actually tastes just like snow crab, and was just as messy, covered in garlic and olive oil. The panoramic view of the bay only made the experience better. After lunch, it was back to the little ice cream shop I had passed for a Hawaii sea salt and caramel cone.

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Scoma’s, Sausalito

I took the ferry back mid-afternoon and decided it was a good time for a rest at the hotel before heading out again. As you might know, I love the beach, so a trip out to Baker Beach seemed like a good way to end the day. Baker Beach is a great place for late afternoon/sunset pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge. I had been there on my last trip to San Francisco and was glad to go back. The beach is about half mile long, but I ended up doing a lot more walking than I was planning on. I walked the length of Baker Beach, including dipping my feet in the Pacific Ocean (brrrrr!), then took the Sand Steps up to the coastal trail. It was only 0.8 miles from there to the Golden Gate Bridge, so I figured, “why not?”. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful walk high up on the cliffs above the crashing waves. Once I reached the bridge I figured I might as well walk on it, so I walked out to the first tower and back. By then I was tired, so I managed to navigate the buses back to my hotel. My three days’ lack of sleep is definitely catching up to me!

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Golden Gate Bridge from the Coastal Trail

California 2018: Day 2

Chinatown. School of Rock. Cable cars. Cider bar. Those things pretty much sum up my first full day in San Francisco. I made it until 7PM last night before crashing, and slept moderately well until 3 o’clock this morning. It is probably worth noting that the last “meal” I ate (a piece of sourdough bread with havarti) was at 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon. So not only was I wide awake, my stomach was in desperate need of food. Fortunately, I had saved my Biscoff cookies from the plane, so there I was at 4AM… munching on cookies in bed and watching the Bachelorette. Crazy, I know.

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Mama’s on Washington Square

Once I finally got up and ready, I was off to load up on carbs and sugar enjoy a proper breakfast. Mama’s is a popular local breakfast/brunch spot a few blocks from my hotel. It probably goes without saying that I spend a lot of time researching breakfast spots before every trip I take. Sometimes, there are only a couple of places I really want to try; other times, like this, I could easily spend a couple of weeks hitting all the local breakfast places that sound appealing. But I managed to narrow down my list before I left home, and Mama’s did not disappoint. There was already a line out front when I arrived shortly before 8 o’clock. They let just a few people in at a time and you order at a counter before they seat you. I had hot chocolate topped with a mountain of whipped cream and apple pan dore (sourdough French toast topped with apples and lemon butter sauce)…. amazing! I counted just 13 small tables, so it’s not surprising they stagger people coming in.

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California Street Cable Car

How can you come to San Francisco and not take at least one cable car ride? I bought a 3 day transport pass, which includes cable cars, so I hopped on one and headed for Market Street on the Powell-Mason line. Once there, I meandered my way up through Chinatown. I stopped at the Tin How Temple, a Buddhist temple on the fourth floor of a tall, narrow building. No pictures allowed inside, but it was a really neat place. Next up was the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, tucked into a tiny shop on Ross Alley. Along with free samples, you can watch the cookies being made (and fork over $0.50 for a picture!).

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Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

I hopped back on the cable car after that and stayed on to the top of Lombard Street (the so-called “crooked street”). I snapped a few pictures at the top before walking down the hill. It was quite chilly – only about 55 degrees and windy – so I’m glad I made a last-minute decision yesterday to bring a jacket. From there, I trudged uphill to tiny Macondray Lane. I thought I might have the wrong spot because what was supposed to be a tree-lined cobblestone street was nothing more than a plain old road. I stuck with it, though, and found a small sidewalk at the end of the road leading to the lower part, which is indeed a tree-lined brick walkway lined with homes and gardens. A pretty escape from the bustle of the city. By then I was hungry again. I’m not normally a lunch person, but I sought out another Boudin cafe for a sourdough grilled cheese with brie, havarti, sliced apples, and fig jam. I wish I could say it was more memorable than it was.

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upcider

Next up: the theater. I saw that School of Rock was playing at the Orpheum Theatre while I’m here, and having never seen it, decided it would be a fun afternoon. And it was. It was definitely not my favorite musical (save that for Les Mis), but it was good and I enjoyed the music. My last stop of the day was at upcider, a bar that specializes in ciders from around the world. I ordered a flight – yes, an entire flight – of cider and two sliders. It probably goes without saying that after that, I was done for the night. One last cable car ride brought me within a couple of blocks of my hotel and now I’m settled in for the night.

California 2018: Day 1

The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, sourdough bread… what’s not to love about San Francisco? If you didn’t guess already, this is where I’ll be spending the next few days. I have been here twice before, but my last visit was in 2011. I was originally going to go to Iceland this week, but a combination of things kept that out of the running for this summer. Shortly after I decided to skip Iceland, I watched a movie that showed the San Francisco skyline and next thing I knew… the trip was booked!

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Golden Gate Bridge from Coit Tower

My day started around 3:15 this morning, and I’ve been going strong ever since. My Uber driver this morning was an 8th grade math teacher, so the 5AM trip to the airport was actually quite enjoyable. After an uneventful 6 hours in a metal tube, my second Uber experience was quite the opposite. It started with the driver swearing at the woman he almost hit when he pulled up to pick me up and continued as he swerved in and out of traffic for 30 minutes. Safe and sound and out of the car at the hotel, I dropped off my luggage and started my trek around San Francisco.

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Pier 7, San Francisco

According to Google Maps, I put about 6 miles on my sneakers today. I walked from the hotel to the Ferry Building and generally followed the Embarcadero to Ghirardelli Square before walking back to the hotel. Along the way, I climbed the Filbert Steps to Coit Tower (I have no idea how many steps there are – and Google is no help on this one – but it’s easily in the hundreds!), visited a few sea lions at Pier 39, had some traditional San Francisco sourdough at Boudin Bakery, and wandered along the waterfront. To say I’m exhausted tonight is an understatement! It’s only 6PM and I’m ready to curl up in bed and catch up on the Bachelorette! 🙂 I’m hoping for a good night’s sleep so I can hit the ground running in the morning!

Charleston 2018: Day 2

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Charleston, SC

Music and food. Two things that don’t require sunny skies and thus a recipe for a perfect overcast day in Charleston. There was actually a little sun first thing this morning before the clouds won out. I took advantage of the clear skies and went for a long walk before brunch. Speaking of brunch… Poogan’s Porch is a true southern experience, set in an 1880s Victorian home with porches overlooking Queen Street. While the porch was tempting, it was much too humid to dine al fresco today. I had a table on the first floor of the main house where I feasted on a homemade biscuit with honey butter, pulled pork eggs Benedict, and a mimosa. Another A+ meal!

After that, it was a music-filled afternoon. I enjoyed music from the Charleston Symphony Youth Orchestra, the Charleston Children’s Chorus, and the Chattanooga Boys Choir, all excellent (and free!) concerts. By the time the third concert was over, it had started raining. I took the free DASH shuttle back to my hotel and got ready for dinner. Dinner tonight was at McCrady’s Tavern, a historic tavern where George Washington once dined. The food was okay, not great, and paled in comparison to last night’s amazing meal. I had thoughts of heading someplace else for dessert, but the fact that my dress was already soaked from being out in the rain and my raincoat was doing little to help, I decided to just head back to my room and call it a night. Luckily, I have a few shows saved on my DVR that I can stream from home. 🙂

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Window Boxes – Charleston Historic District