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Another Magical Visit to SF Plus Palo Alto, Big Sur and Carmel!

Another Magical Visit to SF Plus Palo Alto, Big Sur and Carmel!

Sep 27th, 2009, 12:10 PM
  #1  
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Another Magical Visit to SF Plus Palo Alto, Big Sur and Carmel!

It’s hard to believe that after not ever visiting Ca, this was my third trip in eleven months. Sometimes life is very good! I orchestrated this trip because ds is beginning grad school and I suggested spending a few days in SF together and then dropping him at school. When that was agreed to, I suggested to dh that we continue to the Big Sur area for some r and r. And voila, a vacation was born. Of course, as soon as I booked the flights, ds decided to go cross country with his roommate and two other friends, visiting college friends and his brother along the way. This somewhat not well organized adventure gave me more than a bit of angst, tried to keep it to myself and prayed that he would get to SF to meet us on the evening of Sept 8th. He did – safe and sound! – so on to the trip.

Dh and I flew out of JFK on Virgin America on an early evening flight – uneventful and landing at SFO one hour early (how is this even possible?). We got our luggage and a cab and connected with ds by cell; I was happy to hear that he was in North Beach having a late dinner. It was almost 10pm and we told the driver to make a stop at Borders in Union Square on the way to our hotel, the Hyatt Regency (Embarcadero). I was determined to get the ‘Stairways’ book that Stu had recommended which was not available in NY. Dh waited in the cab and I was literally in Borders not more than a minute! With book in hand, we checked in to the Hyatt and got a room on the 14th floor with a view of water and the left half of the Ferry Bldg.

Day 1 – Wednesday Sept 9th

We had tickets to Alcatraz and headed over to Boulette’s Larder. It was a beautiful day and we sat outdoors. Breakfast was overpriced with a limited selection, but delicious. We walked to Pier 33 and boarded the ferry. (Just a digression here. When I was printing all my tix, confirmations, etc at home the day before departure, I made the horrifying discovery that somehow I purchased Alcatraz and King Tut tix for the same time and day (Thurs). I really couldn’t believe my eyes. I called Alcatraz tickets immediately and I know I sounded so distressed. The young man was very nice and rebooked us for the day I thought I purchased and a disaster was averted!)

We all enjoyed Alcatraz much more than expected; the audio tour made the whole thing meaningful. I would recommend this even though it wasn’t in my top 10 things to see on my previous visits. The weather was nice, but quite breezy and we returned on the 12:30 ferry. We had lunch reservations at nearby Butterfly. As we approached the restaurant, I had some misgivings (tourist trap). Its location makes it a tourist destination and there was an employee outside handing out free dessert tix! But, the meal turned out to be delicious. We shared some duck spring rolls, kalua pig with butter lettuce cups and shanghai garlic noodles. Ds and dh had fried red snapper sandwiches and I had a caramelized shrimp with green papaya salad. We ordered way too much food. The apps were twice the portion of what we would get for that price in NY. Who knew? Ds and dh ate half their sandwiches and it was impossible to order the free crème brulee!
(btw, Kal had recommended this restaurant for my trip last March. Thanks Kal – a real good one!) www.butterflysf.com

We then walked over to Pier 39 to see the famous sea lions. And they were there is all their glory basking in the sun. Next up was Stairway Walk #4 in Russian Hill as recommended by Stu. We took Bus #47 to Russian Hill and walked a few blocks to the starting point at Polk and Greenwich. In retrospect, this was not a good thing to plan after flying in the night before. All of us were quite tired and I was the only one enthused. Some of the streets were quite challenging especially in the hot sun. What I liked best were the staircases and walkways that seemed private. It felt like you were in a special secret place. My two favorites were the peach colored house with great outdoor space in a garden off the tiniest walkway (Macondray?). You actually walk up and back down this walkway. There happened to be some workers who were hauling 60 lb bags of cement to a house near the top. I did not envy their jobs!
My other favorite part of this walk was on a special section of Vallejo St – the block of gorgeous old historic homes that just oozed history – Laura Ingalls Wilder visited her daughter who lived here and one house was designed by Julia Morgan (Hearst Castle). What a beautiful place to live. After we took the Vallejo Stairway downhill (we were ¾ done I think), the troops were ready to rebel. Walk #4 was over for us. I hate to quit, but we had been traipsing up and down since early am and I was tired of listening to some snide remarks. Truthfully, I don’t do well flying east to west and it takes me awhile to finally get a good night’s sleep.

So it was back to the hotel for a little rest. We walked to California and took the cable car, sitting on the outside – not my favorite location I learned, particularly on that street! That was the street I nearly had a breakdown on while driving last October and attempting several times to make a right turn! The cable car conveniently terminates across from the Hyatt.

Dinner was at La Mar Cebichiana Peruana nearby on the Embarcadero. It was a great choice. The restaurant is attractive with a nice vibe. I wasn’t starving after the big lunch so I just tasted one of the two cebiches that the guys shared to start. I can’t recall tasting better tuna anywhere. The other one was halibut. For the entrée, I had cau cau: roasted scallops and tiny clams with mint, sweet peas and corn risotto. It was also delicious and beautifully plated. Can’t remember what kind of fish dh had, but ds had lomo saltado which is Peruvian style stir fry of beef tenderloin. We were entertained by details of ds’ cross country trek. Let’s just say it’s not my TR to write, but we were thoroughly engrossed – what an adventure – all 4200+ miles of it (obviously not a direct route)! Then the three of us walked back to the hotel tired, sated and happy, ending our first day in beautiful SF! http://www.lamarcebicheria.com/web/index.php

(Another digression: I had told dh and ds about the recent discussion here on Fodors about the homeless in SF. Interestingly, dh said that he remembered seeing a lot of it last fall. Somehow I didn’t. Anyway, we decided that when we had leftover food (from our over ordering!) we would have it packed up and offer it to a homeless person. We didn’t need to go far. There were two guys who seemed permanently camped out in that area between the Hyatt and the Ferry Building. Twice that first day, they were happy to take our food!)
Centralparkgirl is offline  
Sep 27th, 2009, 06:58 PM
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Day 2 Sept 10th

This was another early morning and up next was the King Tut exhibit at the De Young museum in GG Park. While the guys were getting ready, I walked around the corner and picked up some bagels and stuff from Noah’s Bagels and brought it up to our room. We then caught the #21 bus across from the Hyatt on Market and took it to 7th Ave. It was a short walk into the park to the De Young. We all enjoyed this exhibit although I suspect that this exhibit was quite different from the original back in the 70’s. Half of this exhibit was devoted to artifacts from Tut’s ancestors. There were many wonderful artifacts displayed including an amazingly well-preserved chair (with woven seat) that belonged to his grandmother!

We then ascended the tower to check out the view. Wow! The glass walls were fantastic especially on a gorgeous day like the one we were experiencing – azure skies and bright sun. But where was the GG Bridge? How could we walk over it that afternoon if we couldn’t see it? Well, this was my first experience with the micro-climates of SF. I had beginner’s luck on my other two visits and began to believe that fog was a figment of someone’s imagination! Now I knew better.

We did not have a plan B, but developed one quickly. We took the #21 bus back and got off not far from City Hall. We stumbled upon Citizen Cake and had a quick lunch. We then walked over to City Hall for the 2 pm tour. This turned out to be an excellent idea. We were the only people on the tour and our guide, Howard, was terrific. He was extremely knowledgeable about the history, art, architecture, rebuilding and renovation of City Hall. We spent almost an hour and a half with him. We had access to the chamber that the supervisors meet in, but we didn’t see the Mayor’s office because he was in it. While we were there, we saw several brides and grooms posing for pictures on the impressive interior staircase. It was a great tour in a jewel of a building.

Correction: on the first day, we took bus #41 back to near the Hyatt after walking down hill quite a bit. We took the California cable car after the City Hall tour walking up Van Ness.

Dinner this evening was at Perbacco which was a short walk from the hotel. I had read so many recs for this restaurant and it didn’t disappoint. We shared a small salumi, burrata with heirloom tomatoes and arugula, seared squid with preserved lemon and a market salad. The first three were delicious; the market salad was bland. We then had pasta: tajarin, pappardelle and garganelli. All were scrumptious followed by a peach tart and sorbetto. At one point the owner stopped by saying how good it was to see us (as if we were there the week before). Either he’s very friendly or had been sampling the delicious vino! http://www.perbaccosf.com/
We walked back to the hotel. End of another great day!
Centralparkgirl is offline  
Sep 27th, 2009, 07:18 PM
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hee hee, we experienced the exact same thing with the fog. In Golden Gate Park the sky was gorgeous deep blue, and I couldn't wait to get over to the golf course trail and Baker Beach area for great photos of GGBridge, but the fog was thick and we could not see a thing!

Eager to hear more...
4sharie is offline  
Sep 27th, 2009, 09:29 PM
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What a wonderful trip and a wonderful trip report! Can't wait to read more
starrs is offline  
Sep 29th, 2009, 01:39 PM
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Thanks 4sharie - enjoying your TR very much too!

Day 3 Friday Sept 11th

Our last full day in SF started with another trip to Noah’s for takeout breakfast. This was the day that we were going to do our first SF City Guides tour. We chose the 10 am ‘City Scapes and Public Places’ (highly recommended by Stu, yk and DebitNM) and it was just wonderful! We walked to the meeting place on Market at Montomery. Our guide was Jay who is terrific. I heard about him and his dog on another thread. When I walked up to him, I said hello, looked at his dog and said, ‘He looks just like a Norton.’ Jay smiled, but it didn’t throw him! I told him his dog is famous on Fodors. The tour was about two hours long and covered very interesting buildings, roof top gardens and beautiful interiors that we would never know about on our own. I loved every minute of it. Jay was very knowledgeable about architecture and city ordinances as well. I agree with DebitNM that I will do more of these tours in the future.

Today was also the day for our first dim sum lunch in SF at Yank Sing in the Rincon Center. We walked over and they couldn’t locate our reservation. They seated us promptly anyway. And then the siege began. Before we had napkins on our laps, there was cart after cart competing for our appetites! We had a nice selection that included Shanghai dumplings, Har Gau dumplings, snowpea shoots dumplings, baked pork buns, chicken lotus root cakes and more. We started with a glazed walnut salad that was incredible. Next time, I want my own! We ended with sesame balls. It was a very delicious lunch!

While we were there, we stopped at the post office; I needed some stamps and ds cashed a money order that he was probably carrying around forever. We decided to attempt a visit to the GG Bridge even though we weren’t 100% sure of the fog situation. We walked over to the #1 – California bus and took it to Park Presidio where we picked up the #28 to the bridge. When we arrived at the bridge, it felt like it was 20 degrees cooler and it was quite windy. The bridge had a bit of a finger of fog going through it, but was mostly clear. We spent some time there and walked down to a lower area. It was too cold and windy so we did not go all the way to Ft. Point. That and a walk over the bridge would have to wait for a warmer, clearer day on another trip.

We returned to the hotel and I changed clothes for dinner. I headed over to the Ferry Bldg to meet sf7307 for a drink. It was a lot of fun to meet a Fodor internet buddy for the first time! We sat outside where it was now suddenly warm and gabbed away. Dinner on our last night in SF was at Boulevard and sf7307 walked me over. In a few minutes, I met dh and ds. We had eaten here last October and loved it. There are some restaurants with great spirit; some with great food. And some have both. Boulevard is one of those restaurants that you know you will have a great evening in and the anticipation is part of the enjoyment. When I made the reservation, I requested a table in the back with a view of the bridge. I was surprised how accommodating they tried to be. They had a table with immediate seating with partial view or we could wait a while for a table with a better view. We chose to be seated. Dinner was delicious. Ds and I started with the ahi tuna nicoise and dh had the crispy soft shell crab. (Delicious, but this tuna did not come close to the tuna at La Mar!) We then became carnivores. Ds and I both having the Lamb T-bone and dh the Pork prime rib chop. Dessert was wonderful: one huckleberry tart with cinnamon crust and fleur de sel caramel ice cream and a layered mocha chocolate cake. The cake was dark, evil and spectacular with all sorts of great accompaniments!

A walk back to the hotel and the end of our last evening in SF…….more to come.
Centralparkgirl is offline  
Sep 29th, 2009, 03:06 PM
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The City Guides tour sounds wonderful! Wish we would have had time for one of those.

Yes, it's definitely cooler at Ft Point! It was fascinating to have fog/blue skies, wind/still air, too hot (take off layers) /too cool (put layers back on) all on the same day!

Sounds like a whole lot of good eatin' went on!
4sharie is offline  
Sep 29th, 2009, 05:37 PM
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4sharie - My 'weather experiences' on my other two trips were so different. It is amazing! The eating was so good, I gained two lbs, but it was worth it!
Centralparkgirl is offline  
Sep 29th, 2009, 05:41 PM
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Sounds like you had a simply wonderful time! Glad you did City Hall tour, we enjoyed being the only 2 people on our tour as well. We saw lots of weddings, as we were there the day before Valentine's Day [which was a Saturday, and I figured City Hall was closed.]

Glad you liked the Cityscapes tour too! Too funny about Jay and Norton. They are infamous here on Fodors!

Deb
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Sep 29th, 2009, 05:48 PM
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Deb - my new motto is, 'There's nothing like a good docent!"
Centralparkgirl is offline  
Sep 29th, 2009, 05:58 PM
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and I gained 3 lbs!
4sharie is offline  
Sep 29th, 2009, 06:02 PM
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weight gain on vacations don't count.

cpg and 4sharie,
enjoying both your t.r.s very much.
i remember the night of the thunder and rain very well.
i woke up terrified that it was another earthquake.
having lived in s.f. for almost 30 years, i had never experienced this kind of thunder and lightning.
did you bring it with you??
abranz is offline  
Sep 29th, 2009, 06:35 PM
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OK - I will address the thunder now. I woke up - and remember, it's the middle of the night; I'm in a dark hotel room; I'm very tired (I'm up since 4:30 am the day before because of the time change) and finally in a dead sleep; I'm a NYer and it was 9/11 when I went to sleep. I have NEVER heard anything that loud! There was no lightning and it was so loud that I swear I didn't know if it was an attack or an earthquake or what. I was freaked out. Dh woke up and said it's thunder. It took several minutes for my heartbeat to get back to normal. I did not go back to sleep!

Don't you people have lightning with your thunder so one can distinguish between a storm and the end of the world?

My next installment will be light-hearted again!
Centralparkgirl is offline  
Sep 29th, 2009, 06:54 PM
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Oh this is just too funny! It didn't scare me... I was just lying there thinking about Fodor's... talking to myself in my head at 4:00 am, "Okay, on Fodor's they said Sept/Oct is the best predictible weather with NO rain, but I just heard thunder. They also said if it rains, it's usually at night. Bingo! Just a passing night storm!" Back to sleep...

DH didn't believe me the next morning that I heard thunder because he looked out the window and it was dry! He said it must've been an airplane (we were in San Bruno next to SFO). I said, "I know what an airplane sounds like and I know what thunder sounds like! This was thunder!" We went back and forth for a while, then finally turned on the TV, and they were talking about the Hurricane and the dry lightening that had the potential to spark fires.

Then my heart sunk that we were in for a bad weather day. It was gray, but at least we never got wet.

Funny to hear everyone else's reports of it!
4sharie is offline  
Sep 29th, 2009, 07:50 PM
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<<>>

OMG, you have no idea how guilty I felt when I heard the thunder. All I could think of was Janisj and me telling you you didn't need to bring an umbrella, because it NEVER rains in California in September. Well, I have lived here 36 years and I swear, this is only the second time in all those years that we have had rain in Sept. BTW, we did see some lightning!
sf7307 is offline  
Sep 29th, 2009, 07:57 PM
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LOL - I swear to you that I wanted to use the hotel computer to post this question: "Now that I left my umbrella home, why aren't those wonderful fodorites meeting me at my hotel with an umbrella?"

And it rained in Palo Alto too, but I'm getting ahead of myself!

The funny thing is I made ds take an umbrella on his cross country trip - and he NEVER uses one. I happily used it! So glad to hear you experienced a little guilt (LOL).
Centralparkgirl is offline  
Sep 29th, 2009, 08:01 PM
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So glad to hear you experienced a little guilt
sf7307 is offline  
Sep 30th, 2009, 01:47 PM
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"Don't you people have lightning with your thunder so one can distinguish between a storm and the end of the world?" - naaawwww, we do all we can to confuse our visitors
Dayenu is offline  
Sep 30th, 2009, 02:39 PM
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CPG~It sounds like a wonderful trip. That same thunder is startling to us here in SF. I heard it and thought..that sounds like thunder. I subsequently thought, being a city girl, "no must be an explosion". I loved the thunder. I wish there was lightning.

We experience the end of the world as the Earth moving big time.
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Oct 1st, 2009, 11:08 AM
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Dayenu - confused is putting it mildly to what I experienced in the middle of that night!
Centralparkgirl is offline  
Oct 1st, 2009, 02:43 PM
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We were in LA on 9/11 for my sister's 60th birthday party. We missed the thunder & rain.

I also thought about all of us locals advising CPG to leave her umbrella at home - so some guilt here too.

Beautiful day here today !!!

Stu Dudley
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