San Francisco, California
Back from another trip visiting my brother in SF! We love going here, for both the city and the unlimited activities in the surrounding area. Since we have visited several times, we try and do a few new thing on each trip out there while keeping it affordable.
We arrived very late Wednesday night after rushing straight to the airport after work and while we were exhausted (it was almost 3AM EST when was landed), we were happy to have the entire day Thursday (previous trips we took the first flight out on Thursday morning and did a marathon day).
Since my brother’s car was out of commission, we rented a car through Turo (used to be Relay Rides when we used previously) and picked it up for two days of exploring.
We stopped by a local cafe, Jane’s, for coffee and what was meant to be a small breakfast. We each ordered one of their long list of “toasts” and while we shouldn’t have been surprised, the toast was enormous. My brother and Kevin each got the avocado toast, which had to have had over an avocado mashed up on sourdough bread over an inch thick and hard boiled egg- commenting that they easily could have split the toast. I got the cinnamon raisin toast that had honey cream cheese topped with cinnamon on cinnamon raisin bread.
Beer: Russian River Brewing
Kevin’s recent brew obsession took up north of the city on Thursday. Overly stuffed, we had plenty of food to absorbed the beer at our first stop of the day. We drove about an hour to Santa Rosa for an 11AM open time of… Russian River Brewing. We, among other avid beer fans, awaiting the opening- surrounded by empty growlers ready to be filled with liquid gold. While we had no issues getting a table at 11AM, the place was packed within the hour. A wide array of beers to sample that was presented on a cart for 18 samples identified by their bottle caps- brilliant idea! While I am not a beer drinker, Kevin and my brother enjoyed a sampling of many beers and a few glasses while we munched on cheesy garlic dough.
Our next stop in Sonoma was a 30 minute drive to a small production vineyard, Arista. While we have done a full day in wine country each trip out to SF, we kept this brief. I found this vineyard through simple searching and reviews so I was really hoping this one would be enough to carry us through our typical three or four vineyard trip. I was disappointed to learn that unlike Napa, Sonoma requires reservations for all tastings so killed the spontaneous/little planning approach we had adopted for this trip. When we arrived, we were quickly greeted and poured a limited rosé made with Pinot Noir grapes. While waiting for other guests, we walked the premise that was surrounded by Japanese gardens. To our happy surprise, the other group was a no show and we had a private tasting with Dave of four wines: Gewürztraminer, two Pinot Noir varietals, and Zinfindel.
The rosé was floral on the nose, but dry and refreshing on the palate. The Gewürztraminer had high acidity but balanced out with natural sugars from the grape and had notes of citrus. The Sonoma Pinot Noir had that classic “Pinot funk”, as I like to call it, on the nose but interestingly had toasty and smoky notes- overall well balanced and my favorite of the tasting. The Russian River Pinot Noir felt like it had higher alcohol, but was lighter and not as forward as the first Pinot, but had more complexity in its flavors. The Zinfindel resembled as smoky and spicy version, as opposed to some of the fruitier ones I have had, with that deep purple color. It was easy to tell that each wine is hand crafted with attention to the balance of the individual wine. There is a one year waiting list just to get on their distribution list at the 5,000 case a year producer.
We headed back to SF around 4PM and ready to eat. My brother recommended a recent sushi experience for us at Tataki. We made in with a few minutes to spare for the happy hour menu and took advantage by ordering a few sushi rolls which had a “melt in your mouth” quality to them- I do not know what they do to the rice but it was delightful! We then ordered the scallop and octopus Tataki plates (top right) followed by the Nigiri Enthusiast plate of cuts (bottom right) with some wasabi sandwiched between the fish and the rice. As all of my friends know, I am highly sensitive to spicy foods so when I took a bite and wondered why I was going through the roof, I figured it out fast!
Dessert: Salt and Straw
Kevin and I have a strict rule when on vacation- always ice cream. We rarely break this rule. So when my brother mentioned a new, but very popular, ice cream place opened we were already there. Salt and Straw, made famous by their Portland location, draws bug crowds for their ice cream. A secret we seemed to discover (when we went back the next night) is there is a freezer with all the flavors in pint sizes and you can skip the long line by entering on the right hand side of the door, grabbing your pint, and expressing to the register. More ice cream and faster!
Kevin grabbed us tickets at the renowned comedy club, Cobb’s Club to watch Tom Papa’s crowd work for the evening. Phew- a very full day, as always!
Breakfast: Sweet Maple
We had made attempts on previous trips to make it into Sweet Maple but seemed to arrive to a mob of people waiting outside to get in. Hoping to make it in on a early weekday, we were pleasantly surprised to have a 10 minute wait for a table! We got ourselves situated as we explored the massive breakfast list. My brother and I both got breakfast sandwiches on ciabatta bread (along with what felt like an entire bag of salad) and Kevin got an omelette- I do not think there were any wrong decisions on this menu. We also got an order of what Sweet Maple is known for- their Millionaire Bacon drizzled in maple syrup!
Half Moon Bay
Our day trip was exploring Half Moon Bay which was about 45 minutes south of San Francisco. We got the chance to drive the coast on Route 1 which did not disappoint. The town of Half Moon Bay reminded us of Cape May, NJ- shore town with boutique and mom&pop stores. We stopped into a few stores such as the bakery, and strolled the streets before we drove to the Half Moon Bay State Park. It was a blustery cold day so we were not expected to stay terribly long so we were a little put off by the $10 car fee since it was clearly not a day to be on the beach and no one was there, but I get it- they have to keep the beach clean. We decided to head back earlier then planned and get a head start on Cinco de Mayo.
Dinner: El Techo
In all out trips out to SF, we had not yet had Mexican food- which all the locals claimed to be out of this world. Was Cinco de Mayo the best day to decided to try this? Probably not, but we gave it a go anyway. The recommended spot was El Techo in the Mission district. As we got out of the car for the 4PM open time, we noticed a long line had already formed down the block. We quickly got a place in line hoping we would make it in the first round of customers since it was still before 4PM. After they gradually let people in a few at a time, we made it up to the roof top bar with about a 20 minute wait. And as soon as we got out of the elevator, we knew instantly why there was a line- the place had such an amazing vibe- on the roof top overlooking the skyline of SF, music going and drinks flowing. Did I mention happy hour was from 4PM-6PM? We felt like we hit Cinco de Mayo jackpot. We had a a continuous flow of food and drinks – gauc, chips, empanadas, tacos, sangria, margaritas- we couldn’t put things in our mouths fast enough as we continued to order. Spending time here was definitely one of our highlights.
After dinner, we walked around to some of the well maintained parks in the city, which I think is one of the reasons we continue to return. The city has a comfortable vibe of an urban lifestyle but with all the perks of living the a city. After watching locals with their dogs all trip, my brother brilliantly took us to a dog park where we sat (and digested) watching the puppies play and made friends with the bulldog, Kramer.
Yes, we returned to Salt and Straw on our walk home and grabbed the express pint- skipping the line but not skipping the delicious ice cream we got to enjoy on a couch in pajamas.
Breakfast: Elite Cafe
We left Saturday as our chill in the city day- there is so much to see and do in the city that I love leaving at least a full day on our trips to SF for the city. Breakfast was around the corner at Elite Cafe, which fashioned all of our favorite things- Gatsby decor, jazz music, southern comfort cooking. I could have eaten here every morning- we got an order of beignets to share, I got a biscuit breakfast sandwich, Kevin for the hash and my brother the scramble of the day which was sweet corn and asparagus. This is what we love about traveling- discovering these little gems that are scattered throughout the world!
We strolled the hills of SF, gawking at the billion dollar houses by the marina, as we casually made our way to our activity of the afternoon- an escape room. We have done multiple rooms and have always done one when we venture out to SF as the rooms are far more advanced than the ones we have done out east. We decided this time, with the help of my brother’s co-workers (we were a total group of 10), to try one of the top rated escape rooms in the county: Palace Games. After completion (yay!) we were able to see why it was so well regarding! As opposed to other rooms we have participated in, this one does not require a game master as the room will do all the interactions for you, so it is much more technologically advanced than games we have done. Very fun and creative- will definitely return to try their other room, and currently building a third!
The group swung by Sessions at the Presidio for drinks and some food to debrief the escape game and catch up since we have had the pleasure of hanging out with my brother’s friend on multiple occasions (and in multiple countries!). Not wanting this to be the “last meal” of the trip, we ordered small plates instead of filling up so we could squeeze in one last meal while on the west coast. This place had an extensive drink selection- including craft beer, tap wine, and cocktails.
Dinner: Una Pizza Napolenta
One of my brother co-workers recommended this dinner spot- Una Pizza Napolenta. You walk in and it’s quite interesting how simple the concept is. White walls with a few scattered frames, perhaps a max of ten tables, and a large brick wood burning pizza oven in the middle with a server that houses the ingredients. Four pizza variations are on the menu and they are open until they run out of dough. Definition of simple ingredients making outstanding food.
You guessed it, the rest of our pints from Salt and Straw.
Wine Bar: WineJar
Not wanting the trip to end, we added an extender by grabbing drinks at a wine bar down the street, WineJar. As we sat down in a booth, we noticed how a few of our randomly favorite things began to pop out- a nice wine selection, classic rock music on, and Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring playing on the TVs by the bar. A relaxing and entertaining end to our evening.
The end of another quick trip to SF. We grabbed breakfast at The Grove down the street, which we visited on previous trips, for a quick and early bite before heading back to the airport for the long journey back to Jersey.
I love that every time we visit, there is an unlimited amount of options to make each trip new in so many ways. I am always amazing at how much we can fit into a day when we aren’t working! Part of me would love to shake it up a bit and try living out here if only for a year or two. How do you separate the vacation mentality from the everyday work mentality? Is the allure because we associate it with always fun and delicious food or could there be grounds for more? Have any of you made a big jump like that and followed dreams rather than held back by risk aversion?