San Francisco, California
This was probably our most spontaneous trip to date. It was my brother’s birthday in two weeks and he had been mentioning that he may moving back to the east coast in the near future. After searching for what felt like last minute flights, we were able to snag some of the last seats leaving Thursday night after work and coming back Monday. On previous trips, we have taken advantage of all the places around the city- Russian River Valley, Napa and Sonmoa Valley, Palo Alto, to name a few. Our goal of the trip was to focus on the things in the city, assuming that trips to SF with a free place to stay were numbered. With a bit of a delayed flight on Thursday, we got to my brother’s place right before midnight.
For as many times as we have driven past the Muir Woods (mostly on our way to wine country), we have never visited and we knew we wanted to make this a priority on this trip. Since we read that it is a very popular hiking area, we decided to go first thing Friday morning.
Wanting to take advantage of every minute of sleep due to our late arrival Thursday night, we needed a quick breakfast before we got on the road. Jane on Filmore was a favorite on our last trip and fit the bill for close and quick.
- My brother ordered the smoked salon platter (with toasted homemade seeded rye bread, sliced red onion, tomatoes, cucumbers, capers and cream cheese, served with a small salad) top left
- Kevin ordered the avocado mash toast (avocado, cracked black pepper, soft boiled egg, pickled shallot and jalapeño on house sourdough) top right
- I ordered Jane’s homemade granola (fresh berries, organic Straus yogurt, honey) bottom left
- We also split the cinnamon raisin toast (Cinnamon raisin bread toasted and topped with honey whipped cream cheese, cinnamon crunch and honey) bottom right
Completely stuffed, we called a car to take us roughly 20 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge through the windy mountain side to the entrance of the Muir Woods. While we could tell the first parking lot was already full at our arrival at 9AM, it did not feel crowded. We asked for advice on the most scenic trail, since we allotted a few hours to hike, and we were told to take the Canopy Trail (while warned for guests getting stung by wasps/yellow jacket) would be best for us. We spent two hours admiring the massive redwoods that surrounded us. The Canopy Trail took us high above the ground level where we could get sweeping views of the redwoods. Of the three types of redwoods, the ones that reside in The Muir Woods are the coast redwoods, the tallest of the redwood species. Some areas you could really image the scenes from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi being staged here (ewoks!). We also learned some fun facts about the trees!
- While coast redwoods can get over 300 feet tall and over 25 feet wide, their roots only go up to 12 feet below the ground but extend out over 50 feet wide to support its height by intertwining with neighboring redwoods’ roots
- Redwoods get over 50% of their daily water supply from the fog, which is why they thrive in the bay area, and collect the fog through their canopy leaves and needles that allow the water to drip from the top of the tree all the way down to the ground floor
- The red tint that gives the redwoods their namesake comes from the presence of tannins (yes, the ones found in wine)
- The tannins are a natural insect repellent and since there are little insects around the trees, birds do not congregate in redwood forest very frequently
- The bark of the trees retain moisture that protect the tree from brush fires
- These trees date back to the dinosaur age (some redwoods are over 2000 years old)!
The entire park was beautiful and I wish we had more time to explore more of the map!
As warned, we had no service when we decided to call a car to come pick us up. The crowd at the entrance had multiplied dramatically and the traffic jam around the parking lots was way out of hand. Holding our phones up and walking around as if we were searching the sky with a metal detector, we eventually grabbed a weak signal that allowed us to open the app to call the car. While it took the car awhile to get us- which was a given since the traffic around the park was insane- we were lucky to have a wildly entertaining car driver that took us back to the city.
After a fun and exhausting morning, we wanted to relax so we picked up sandwiches at Limoncello a few blocks from my brother’s place. The sandwiches were stuffed and very filling. We also had left wine with my brother from our recent trip where we visited Arista vineyards so we opened the bottle of Zinfindel- such an impressive bottle! My brother recently bought Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 for the Nintendo Switch so we spent our lunch break eating Italian sandwiches, drinking Sonoma wine, and playing video games- all our favorite things! (PS Kevin loved Splatoon 2 so much he ordered it so the game was waiting for us when we got home! We have Splatoon for WiiU so I was not expecting to be impressed- so fun!)
Dinner: Mama Ji’s
I really wanted dumplings on this trip so we budgeted the dinner slot today. My brother had been to Yank Sing with rave reviews, but in searching for the menu we noticed that the place closed at 3PM. We learned quickly that the legitimate dumpling locations did not partake in dinner servings of dim sum- it is a brunch/lunch affair. Optimistic that there may still be hope, we made our way to Mama Ji’s in hopes that their dim sum menu would be observed. We were unfortunately out of luck as the dinner menu was mostly covered in spicy sichuan food. I could not eat most of the menu items so I think had we confirmed that dim sum would not be served, we would have found another option. My brother and Kevin got chicken and fishes dishes that they found to be good. When we left, there was quite a line of people waiting to be seated so they place must have some following.
Before ending the night, we walked around the Castro District and stumbled upon Hot Cookie, where without consulting the group I immediately got in line for a ginormous cookie. With our warm freshly baked cookies in hand, we made our way back home for some more Nintendo and sleep.
My brother’s birthday! We planned lots of fun and yummy things for his birthday before ending the night by celebrating with his friends.
aina was recommended to us on a previous trip but we were unable to make it there. Seeing it appear on multiple top brunch pages, I figured this would be a great new place for us to visit. No reservations are taken for the brunch slot so we knew an early arrival was key. aina opened at 9AM and we got there at 8:45AM to an already long line. We tried to count heads to the number of tables to see if we would make the first seating and it was a close call. As we slowly made our way to the front of line and witnessed the tables filling up, I was worried we would have to wait and it would interrupt our plans for the rest of the day. Fortunately, we grabbed the last table (it was outside- we were fine with that!) and with warm beverages in hand, we were fine to sit outside. Looking at the menu, it became clear the decision on what to get was going to be challenging- I cannot recall a time where I was stuck between more than two options on what to get- everything looked amazing. Since we did not know what a lot the traditional Hawaiian terms for the dishes meant, we were googling images to help us decided and we were even more impressed with what we saw. We decided to get the three dishes that we were all most excited to try so we didn’t have to miss out on trying anything.
- We started with an order of the Malasadas (portuguese style doughnuts, coconut sugar, filled with guava custard) and one order of the Spam Musubi (boston bibb lettuce, stone valley farms whole hog spam, kimchi, short grain rice, egg yolk furikake) because we had to try spam! top left
- I ordered the Chicken Katsu (chicken, rolled omelet, vadouvan carrot purée, udon noodles, aïoli, katsu jelly, grilled seasonal greens) botttom left
- My brother ordered the Kalua Pork Belly (stone valley farms pork belly, slow poached eggs, short grain rice, miso roasted brentwood corn, herb salad, gochujang aioli) bottom middle
- Kevin ordered the Kalbi Loco Moco (slow braised kalbi short rib, smoked honshimeji mushroom jus, sunny side up eggs, heart of palm pico de gallo, cilantro, short grain rice, pea tendrils) bottome right
- And because we adored them so much, we ordered another round of Malasadas to end the meal top right
Everything was beyond incredible- easily one of the best brunches we have ever had. First off, the Malasadas were amazing! Light dough filled with tasty guava custard- I can understand why these are so popular here. We ordered the spam dish more as a novelty but we were blown away by how flavorful it was prepared. My dish of the Chicken Katsu- the chicken was thin and encrusted with flavorful batter that gave a crispy texture. And the sides of the noodles and omelet were equally tasty. The pork belly just melted in your mouth and the short rib was so tender and bursting with flavor. We enjoyed every ounce of food that was put in front of us. Well worth the wait and the accolades that it has received. Highly recommend this place!
Since we had not been to the Dogpatch before, we took some time to explore the area before making our way to the Mission district to Urban Putt. I found Urban Putt on several websites as a fun local spot- it is an indoor 14 hole mini golf course that also has a bar with plenty of draft options and food (yes, drinking on the course is permitted at designated times). We grabbed drinks and our putts for over an hour of innovative holes. I cannot remember the last time I went mini golfing but this course was really fun with a lot of creative twists on traditional mini golf.
Upon exiting Urban Putt, Kevin noticed a star in range on his google map from previous trips- Humphry Slocombe ice cream shop, known for their Secret Breakfast flavor. While we were far from hungry, it never seems to stop the dessert impulse. It was well worth a scoop of the rich and interesting flavors! Kevin got the Malted Milk Chocolate, I got the Peanut Butter Fudge Ripple and my brother got the Cinnamon Tres Leches. Nothing like pregaming dinner with dessert!
We headed back to my brother’s place to freshen up before dinner. I had want something fancy, like a tasting menu, without the city prices. I had found Trestle as one of the “best deals in the city” that offers a three course prix-fixe menu for $35 per person. Guests are given the choice of two options on the prix-fixe menu for an appetizer, entree and dessert with an addition pasta dish for $10 if desired. We arrived for our 5:30PM seating into an intimate rustic space. Our menu for the evening was our choice of the following:
- Cucumber salad with Shishito peppers, burrata, and cripsy quinoa (my brother) middle left
- White bean soup with braised lamb, dill yogurt, and fried rosemary (myself, Kevin) top right
- Sweet corn risotto with rock shrimp, chorizo crumble, and Jimmy nardellos (shared) middle middle
- Puttanesca Bucatini with spicy tomato, Kalamata olives, and Boquerones (did not order)
- Crispy-skin trout with candied coriander, toasted almost, and charred lemon (myself, my brother) middle right
- Roasted pork loin with broccoli di Cicco, crushed potato, and Worcestershire Jus (Kevin) bottom left
- Green Tea Custard with Honeydew, Almost Dofu, and Black Sesame Soil (my brother) bottom middle
- Mississippi Mud Cake with Candied Pecans, Marshmallow Ice Cream, and Toffee Sauce (myself, Kevin) bottom right
We started with a bottle of 2014 Rosso di Montalcino (top middle). Between the three of us, we sampled almost every menu item which worked out well so we all got to try everything. Each dish had a distinct flavor so there was lots of varied in the seemingly small selection. At our waiter’s suggestion, we ordered one of the pasta dishes to share instead of each of us ordering a separate pasta. We opted for the Sweet Corn Risotto that I think was the favorite among all of us- it definitely was my favorite dish! I also love dishes with sweet corn but the combination with the shrimp and chorizo crumbles was delightful! I also very much enjoyed by Mississippi Mud Cake! We all really enjoyed our meal (as well as the company and conversation) at this meal so I was happy that my brother had a special day with us.
Tonight we went out to celebrate both my brother and his co-worker’s birthday alongside their friends. We have had the great opportunity on these trips to get to know my brother’s friends (all the past escapes rooms are great bonding exercises!) so it was enjoyable to catch up with everyone.
Our first stop was Soda Popinski which far exceeds expectations from the outside- at least for us. This bar features numbers older video game consoles- including Nintendo 64, NES, and Sega Genesis, and an arcade PacMan. Several large TVs were mounted around the bar for patrons to play on and for spectators to enjoy over their drinks. In addition, the bar feature a very popular drink wheel- you pay $11 to spin the wheel and whatever it lands on is what it gets you- my brother’s co-worker spun and got the prized bottle of champagne! Not bad for $11. It was comfortable when we arrived at 9PM and by the time we left after 11PM it was very difficult to move and wiggle our way out of the bar.
Karaoke is a tradition with this group and based on the stories we have heard, it was one of the things Kevin and I were looking forward to. We made reservations at Town Music Karaoke for a private room and arrived just before midnight for our karaoke session. Did I mention it is also BYOB? Very convenient! As we navigated the expansive and rather unorganized assortment of songs to choose from and deciphering the program itself to start the music, our first duo took the “stage” and started the night. We all took turns as the night progressed- I do not think we left until at 3AM and my grandma self felt every minute. We (or I since Kevin didn’t see to appear tired!) were still jetted so it was really like 6AM EST- so this night was equivalent of me pulling an “all-nighter” which for those that know me, know that it is an impossible task. Needless to say, I was certainly less involved as the hours went on as I felt my body drift to sleep on the couch while the group sung their hearts out. This was out first time participating the karaoke and I think given the right circumstances (not in the wee hours of the morning), Kevin and I would do it again. I did not know that places like this existed! I always assumed karaoke was done at a bar or with a stage- having your own room to “privately” make a fool of yourself is quite appealing!
Breakfast: The Elite Cafe
Needless to say, everyone slept in Sunday morning. Regretfully, I wanted to hit another hot brunch place in the city, so starting the day at 11AM was not ideal to get into any of the popular spots. Fortunately, The Elite Cafe, a favorite on a previous trip, was around the corner from my brother’s place and did not have a wait. I adore the decor in this cafe- Gatsby like with tones of black, white and gold and a southern inspired menu. I ordered the breakfast biscuit with fried ham, cheese and a sunny side up egg (comes with chipotle cheddar and creole mustard but I cannot handle that!) with thick homemade biscuits and Kevin and my brother ordered the eggs benedict with ham hock, poached eggs, hollandaise topped on an english muffin. We also ordered beignets to share- one never says no to having freshly made beignets! Having a solid breakfast turned my frown upside down and we were ready for our day.
We had never been to AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, and ironically our Philadelphia Phillies were playing away games this weekend! (Couldn’t have planned that if we tried.) From what we understand (not following baseball too much recently- have to go out of your way to follow sports when you cut the cable cord), both these teams are the worst in their league so lucky for us we were able to find very affordable seats with a great view. Since the stadium is right by the water, we anticipated a drop in temperature and dressed accordingly. We found our seats at the stadium by the third base line and quickly learned that a mild ocean breeze with the sun beating down on our seats was making it a bit uncomfortable given our outfits. After watching a few innings, we decided to walk around the stadium. I had read that ATT&T Park was known for their food and drink selection so we enjoying exploring the numerous stands and stores- they even had a CREAM and Ghiradelli ice cream stands! We ended up doing one big lap around the stadium, stopping periodically to watch an at bat. Walking along the water was such a cool feature for this stadium- they even keep track of how many “Splash Hits” they have had! There were tons of standing room areas by the water and would definitely consider buying standing room only tickets if we were to return here for a game. We ended up staying for the entire game (Phillies won so an added bonus) and then made our way to the Mission district.
Dinner: El Techo
Kevin has become quite friendly with a man our age in finance from Italy (perks of social media!) and on our first trip to Milan we had the pleasure of meeting him one night for dinner. In an ironic alignment of the universe, he and his girlfriend were visiting America for the first time and their first stop over this very weekend was in San Francisco. Crazy! We naturally had to make plans and they insisted on local representation so we immediately recalled our time at El Techo on our last trip. This would give us a beautiful view of the sky line and offer a variety of authentic cuisine for our Italian friends in a tapas styled way. We ordered a number of items off the list- including a pitcher of margaritas. Some of the favorites included guacamole, empanadas, fried plantains, and fried chicken. It was so fun to hear how they were liking their time in SF and they were continuing to explore several national parks- including Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Zion. They will see more of the country than we have! Definitely lights a fire for us to see more national parks. We really live in a very fortunate time where we can stay connected with people across the global and when the stars align, moments like this can occur.
Since Game of Thrones had been available to watch for several hours (pacific time!) we said goodbye to our Italian friends and swung by Salt and Straw on our way back to my brother’s place for dessert- cannot end the night without dessert. The line was still just as long as we recalled, wrapping around the building but knowing our secret *wink*wink*, Kevin walked in and headed to the fridge, grabbed a pint, and paid all within two minutes- best FastPass ever! The three of us and my brother’s roommate all watched probably the worst episode of Game of Thrones to date but that is another story.
We had an early flight back home so an airport breakfast was in order as we flew under the solar eclipse path of totality. The most we saw was one side of the plane the sky got dark while the other side of the plan remained light.
Another quick trip that enabled us to discover new things around the city. We finally got the opportunity to tour the Muir Woods and I highly recommend it for anyone visiting the city. We also got to try some new delicious restaurants and I feel like that path is endless. And this was our first time at the baseball stadium! I know there is still many undiscovered things that I look forward to adding to our San Francisco repertoire with whatever time my brother has left in this wonderful city.