Tuesday, December 1, 2009

San Francisco - 6 year anniversary trip

The husband and I really enjoy taking the stress out of each anniversary. Instead of getting gifts for each other, we go on a mini-vacation every year on our anniversary. No cards, no flowers, just time to ourselves in a fun location. Since our anniversary is in November, this could be tricky with weather, but in 6 years, we have had pretty good luck as far as this is concerned. For our sixth anniversary this year, we went to San Francisco. I know many Bay Area visitors like to tread off the beaten path and do different things than the traditional. We decided to REALLY live up the touristy life. We stayed in the Fisherman's Wharf area (at the Holiday Inn), and although it was a little noisy, it was a great location for us considering the activities we wanted to get in. We have spent some time in San Francisco before, but it has been very limited (once for a visit to my husband's grandparents, who no longer live in the area, and once for, of course, a bike race). Since we had seen the famous seals at Pier 39, we stuck to the back side, which was more peaceful, and checked out the boats as the sun set before eating dinner.

We ate dinner at a restaurant that we lovingly refer to as having the best clam chowder ever. Fog Harbor Restaurant at Pier 39 is where we ate 4 years ago after a bike race that left the boys starving. By the time we had fought traffic, found parking and eventually found a restaurant, we were ALL starving and ate at the first restaurant we found. The clam chowder tasted spectacular, and we've always wondered whether it was because we were so hungry or the soup was really that good. I'm happy to report that we really enjoyed the soup! My sea bass was pretty good, but husbands Ahi dish was spectacular. I think I just need to realize that I have to order Ahi wherever I go. It is so good.
The next day, we had an all day tour (through City Sightseeing) booked for Muir Woods in the morning and wine tasting in the afternoon. Unfortunately, it rained for the entire morning, so Muir Woods was a little chilly and I didn't get very many pictures in an attempt to protect the camera. The pictures I did get were awesome. I highly recommend this National Park, and it is so close to the city, I'm surprised more people don't go here. We trounced around for quite a while getting soaked, but there was something very peaceful and romantic about doing this visit in the rain. I'm sure the park would have been much more crowded if the weather was better.
After catching a bite to eat in Sausalito (we ate at a dive restaurant called "Seven Seas," and the service was comically bad!), we hopped on the afternoon bus to wine country. We stopped at a small winery called Homewood first. We're glad this one was first, because while the wines weren't all that great, the taster was hilarious and drunk (he drank with each group, and we were the fifth of the day), so it relaxed our group and helped us to get to know each other. Homewood only distributes out of the winery - they have no website, and they don't distribute to stores or restaurants.

Next up was Viansa, which I had been to before with one of the other Platinum Cycling wives while our husbands were preriding on our last visit. I really like this winery. Although they are huge, they have a lot of food to sample in addition to their wines, and I think they did a good job making their location interesting and beautiful. We bought 3 bottles of wine, 2 bottles of Pinot Noir and 1 bottle of an Italian white varietal called Arneis, which is light and crisp. Unfortunately, the taster included two bottles of Syrah instead of the Pinot. The husband was so upset and was getting very worked up about this mistake, so I made a couple of phone calls to get the bottles replaced before we left on Sunday. Viansa was so helpful and not only shipped us the two bottles of Pinot, they asked us to "Find a good home for the Syrah." We also really liked the Syrah, so that wasn't a problem for us!

The last winery was Jacuzzi, a very new winery by the owners of Kline. Mr. Kline married into the Jacuzzi family (yes, really, the hot tub people) and thought it would be cute to create a winery that paid homage to that history. We bought two bottles here - A red called Barbera and a dessert - a late harvest Aleatico. The great thing about this Sonoma wine tasting experience was that two of the three wineries we went two had Italian varietal focuses, which we don't have as much in the Santa Barbara wine country, so it made it extra special. We also appreciated not needing to drive; since we are from Santa Barbara, we know how dangerous tasting and driving can be. We ate dinner this night at Cioppino's on the wharf. Recommended by our concierge, but not recommended by us. This seemed to be a standard case of recommending a restaurant that gives the hotel coupons, even if they aren't good. Oh well.

The next day, we hopped on the first morning boat to Alcatraz. We could have stayed here for hours longer. We're really into that kind of history and architecture. The cruise over has great views. There isn't much to say about Alcatraz except - you need to go. Even those folks who don't like the traditional touristy things in San Francisco recommend this one. It is really cool.

After Alcatraz, we walked all the way down to the Ferry Building Marketplace. I could have spent a long time there, but by this time, the husband was starving and frightened by "The foodies - They're EVERYWHERE!" He was not a fan of this humungous mall of food. A normal mall has the Gap and Macy's; Ferry Building has a caviar store, a mushroom store, and our favorite: "The house of smoked pork products." I'm really glad I went there, even if we didn't stay long. We returned to our hotel via old fashioned street car. It was only a couple of bucks and was money well spent! After we rested for a bit, we headed over to Ghirardeli Square, where we enjoyed a delicious hot fudge sundae at the Ghirardeli store (there is not a factory here anymore, just a store and a mall of non-chocolate stores). I also bought a couple of Kara's Cupcakes, since I've heard good things about them. We ate those when we got home, we were pretty full by this point! After Ghirardelli, we decided to hike off some calories by walking up to the top of the famous section of Lombard St. What a workout! No need to run stadiums if you live in this city, just walking the streets is quite the burn if you are walking in the right directions! We walked down and then headed out to dinner at a place recommended by the Kara's Cupcakes clerk called Pompei's Grotto. The food here was quite good and I appreciated the "whole food" nature of the entree I had (Fish, roasted potatoes, and sauteed veggies). The service, again, was comically bad. The husband and I giggled throughout the meal at our server, who seemed to genuinely dislike people.

Sunday morning we had the pleasure of eating at Mama's on Washington Square, a recommendation from my sister-in-law. The restaurant opens at 8:00 to a large line. The staff is on their game and knows how to turn this line very quickly. We were about 30-40 people in when we arrived at 8:00 exactly. You get a good look at the kitchen operations just prior to ordering, and it was fascinating to see this diner (which I usually think of as dive operations) running as a fine kitchen would be run, with Soux Chefs and everything. As I said, the staff is really on their game. The restaurant specialty is French Toast, and they make it with fresh homemade quick breads such as Banana Nut and Cranberry Orange bread. The husband had the french toast sampler and I had the Cinnamon Swirl Chocolate French Toast with fresh berries. So amazing I almost forgot to take pictures. I promise the presentation is better than this! The best part of this restaurant was the friendliness of both the patrons and the servers. We found out that our server had not only lived in Santa Barbara previously, but she was originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan, which is where my husband went to college. We about fell over! Nearly all the customers were cheerful, sharing tips on what to order next time, and chatty. It was what a local breakfast joint should be, and it was surprisingly, the best restaurant of our trip. After this, we were well fueled for the long drive home!

This is a long post, but I figure since I was so busy in November (only home for one weekend!), I would make these posts a little longer than usual!

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