Starrs' California coast trip report

Mar 18th, 2008, 02:24 PM
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Starrs' California coast trip report

Just got back from a FABULOUS trip to the Left Coast. The two SF GTGs were FABULOUS. The rest of the trip was as great too! I've been to CA several times so this is not the typical trip. Don't use my routing or timing as a guide, but I'll try to toss in some tips that may be helpful for others planning trips in the future.

Night 1 - late night arrival from the Right Coast

Travel Tip #1 - just take a cab
I used BART later in the trip but STRONGLY believe its worth the time, money (and lack of aggravation) to just walk out the door and grab a cab to your hotel. Of course, I feel that way about Paris too
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Mar 18th, 2008, 02:35 PM
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Day 1 - my solo day in SF

This was my first "real" vacation in a long time, so I decided I was going to approach it differently than usual. Two of my best trips have been to Paris and Ireland when I was relaxed enough to let things just HAPPEN. To trust in...serendipity? So, I decided that I would use this plan (or lack of plan) for this trip too.

I do believe in research and knowing what I'd like to do...I just waited to make decisions and to relinquish control as much as possible.

Travel tip #2 - important to me - choose a hotel with internet access

I won't even mention the name of my first hotel in SF. Rates were sky-high for my dates and Friday night was sold out almost everywhere. I tried Priceline. I tried my usual favorites. I decided to trust a tripadvisor review and try a new place with decent reviews.

The problem? They had not adjusted my arrival date and were not expecting me on my arrival date. They had a room for me that night, but no non-smoking rooms for the rest of my stay (although I had the confirmation with the no-smoking quarantee. It was late. I checked in. I was miserable in a smoking room. I was miserable in a noisy room. I was miserable in a room with sporadic internet signal.

I called my favorite - the Kimpton group to see what rates were available at some SF hotels. My favorite was 1/2 the price originally quoted. I called my hotel front desk to make sure I could cancel the rest of my reservation and then booked the new room.

The next morning I called my new hotel to ask when I could check in. They said immediately. I said "NOW?!?!?" The answer was "yes". I didn't even shower. Brushed my teeth, pulled my hair back and called the front desk to ask for a cab.

At 7:30 am I was checking out! To go to ...(drumroll, please)...the Hotel Monaco!

It was hard getting a cab at that time of morning. The front desk guy called twice. The sweet guy finally went out to the street and hailed one himself (it took almost 20 minutes). Settled in with my luggage and was quickly delivered to my nirvana.
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Mar 18th, 2008, 02:50 PM
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Travel tip #3 - just book the Monaco

I cannot express how wonderful it was to arrive at my blissful hotel! "Hello, Miss Starrs". "What can we do for you, Miss Starrs?" "Would you like a goldfish delivered to the room, Miss Starrs?".

Gorgeous room. Wonderful amentities - tv, cd player, etc. L'Occitane Verbena toiletries. Yes! This is a sign all is right in my world. The first time I discovered L'Occitane's verbana scents was at the Four Seasons Hualalai on the Big Island. Long soak in a deep tub getting rid of all the crud from the smoking room. Leopard print room waiting in the closet. Perfect internet access for checking email and travel info. Movies available that you can start and finish later. Ahhhh!!! I just took some time to enjoy it all.

When I stirred again it was to dine at the Grand Cafe. The theme of this trip was to "do something different". So, instead of my usual breakfast items I ordered their omelet.

Ahhhh, the Omelette aux Champignnons et Epinards! Pure bliss!
The description was "mushroom, spinach, & gruyere cheese omelette, smoked pepper and scallion potato cake". Sounds good. The omelette was amazing (that word was chosen on purpose). The different mushrooms in the omelette were exquisite. The cheese was incredible. I'm not sure what the fruit preserve served was exactly, but it was divine. All is right in my little travel world

I got my first hint of my hotel booking problems. My neighbor was a man in scrubs. He joined to greet others at another table (his salmon dish looked wonderful). It turns out that 33,000 orthopedic medical professionals were in town. Oh, well. Someone (or lots of someones) must have cancelled their reservations because I'm back in the Monaco for 1/2 what they quoted before I left home.

Travel opinion - Splurge a little in the cities and make up the difference in other locations. The Monaco made the trip soooo much better!

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Mar 18th, 2008, 02:58 PM
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Great report, Starrs. I'm looking forward to the rest.
I also love the L'O verbena. Even DS commented that he liked the smell of the shampoo when he tried it at the FS. Luckily we have an L'O outlet nearby.
Birdie is offline  
Mar 18th, 2008, 03:01 PM
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I used the internet to finalize how I would spend the day. I had grabbed a city booklet as I left the other hotel and noticed an ad for a walking and tasting tour of SF.

Now, I LOVE the tours and have recommended them many times on this board. There were some "stamps of approval" on the ad. I trusted them. Big mistake. The tour was awful. I would blame it on the guide and caution others but I think he is the only guide. We spent 45 minutes at the first stop - a coffee shop. He talked on his cell phone. He disappeared for a while. He returned to talk about roasting and grinding coffee beans. The folks on the tour started giving one another "uh-oh" looks.

We averaged 1 stop per 1/2 hour. The tour was PAINFULLY slow. The guide was painfully unprepared. I can only guess that friends had been associated with the stamps of approval. One cute couple was starting their trip with this tour and the young man wondered aloud what he had gotten himself into. We did see a couple of neat things - a brick oven in a bakery you would not ordinarily see. But, very little food and late in the tour. The "last straw" was his taking us in a church as a funeral was ending. He had just a few lame comments to make (as they were removing the flowers in front) and then...walked away to talk on his cell phone! In a church! With family members still milling outside. We ALL were aghast. I'm not sure if he read the body language or not. Then, he reconvened us... on the steps headed outside...but still IN the church building...and will a BIG smile and a chipper voice started with "ANOTHER FUN TIME TO COME TO THE CITY IS DURING THE XYZ PARADE...". Starrs had had enough. I interrupted and asked if we could go OUTSIDE the church before he talked about wild and crazy parade participants. The man was clueless. It was a waste of a lot of money and the afternoon. Everyone expected that based on the price and the ad that we would be full from the tour. Not. It was a very, very bad tour.

Travel tip #4 - take another tour
maybe one of these - san francisco city walk
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Mar 18th, 2008, 03:18 PM
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Travel tip #5 - Buy 1/2 price tickets for a show from the Union Square kiosk

During my long soak in the tub, I perused the Living/Entertainment sections of the paper to get ideas. I got all excited at all the play options in one section...and then realized it was from the New York Times. I got up, dripping water all over the room to get the SF paper. With a bit of disappointment I settled back in my verbena soak, and then found... Cybill Shepherd! She was closing a preview show that weekend. My wonderful internet access confirmed that tickets were available at the 1/2 price booth so, the evening's plans were made!

Now, Cybill Shepherd is just inches away from being my BFF. The only problem is...she's just not met me yet. But, IF she DID, I am SURE we would bond immediately. I've liked her since her cover girl days, through the Last Picture Show and Moonlighting and The Yellow Rose of Texas, etc, etc, etc.

Front row center. Half price. One woman show. Pretty good show (I hope it's tweaked before it opens at home in a few months). Mere feet away from my BFF who doesn't know it yet. It was a very nice evening.

The show ended fairly early because there was no intermission - and I was starving because the tour guide didn't feed I stopped at a diner on the way "home". Remember the exquisite breakfast? Well, dinner was a BLT. Okay. Sue me. I like BLTs. And, a soda...with free refills! (current thread topic). Diner food and I like diner food.

I head home to the bliss of the Monaco. Oh! I forgot. I had stopped by earlier in the evening during cocktail hour to grab a glass of wine and have my cards read (tarot). I will be changing jobs soon and will be very successful financially - in case you were wondering. And, when I got back to my room, my goldfish had been delivered. I named her ...(any guesses?)..."Cybill".

Starrs is officially a happy girl. A good first vacation day. The bliss of the Monaco. Slightly scented with verbena. A nice play. Time to unwind with a movie...and more internet time... and try to stay awake. My solo portion of the trip is about to end.

DF's flight arrives. Cab to the Monaco. He is very happy with the accomodations. He is hungry. He wants company at the restaurant. I take him to...the diner! I have a chocolate milkshake. It's vacation. I don't care
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Mar 18th, 2008, 03:30 PM
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DF is here to help his DD plan her wedding. But, I'm not sure how much planning is going to get done because future SIL's movie is premiering this weekend. Actually, a documentary and it opens in 7 cities. Future SIL is headed to NYC, Chicago and somewhere else for those openings. Partner is doing the celebrations and Q&A's on the Left Coast. We need to get up early to get to Berkeley. The movie starts at 12:30 but the festivities start at 10:30. Argghh. Neither of us are morning people. We renegotiate the meeting time and do breakfast in SF first. I steer us away from the Grand Cafe because it can be pricey, so he steers us to Max's. The Grand Cafe would have been a much better choice. About the same price and much nicer.

Here's the link to the Grand Cafe -

Check out the website. The place is beautiful and the food is wonderful!

Back to the trip. We took BART to Berkeley. Easy peasy.

Travel tip #6 - just ask
My earlier attempt at BART wasn't as simple. To join the tour, I was instructed to take the cable car from Powell and ask to get off at Union Street. The line was way too long. Before I grabbed a cab, I went into the BART station just to ask. There was really no good way to use BART to get to where I needed to go, but the nice man left the information kiosk to even point me in the best direction to catch a cab. I am always reminded how nice people are when you just ask for their help.

Travel opinion #2 - consider cab fares a part of the travel budget. I STRONGLY believe in this. My vacation time is worth a lot - and the time saved is well worth the money IMO. And, the views of the city out the window when your feet are tired are just lagniappes IMO.

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Mar 18th, 2008, 03:35 PM
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I loved it.
Loved walking around.
Loved trying out LucieV's favorite coffee - Peek's (I steered DF from the Starbuck's, LucieV).
Loved the Shattuck theatre.
It turned out we had about an hour to kill after all. We wandered around and I decided to get my eyebrows waxed. DF wandered alone. I loved the clinician, her exotic accent, her attitude and her technique "It's all in the RIP!".

We wandered around together a bit more and then returned for a wonderful movie and he left a very proud (almost) FIL

Next stop, Chez Panisse for a late lunch.
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Mar 18th, 2008, 03:36 PM
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Great report Starrs. Love your descriptions: the omelet; the tour. Really fun to read.
tuscanlifeedit is offline  
Mar 18th, 2008, 03:45 PM
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This sounds a bit familiar, hmmm?

You are being so ambitious! I am taking the easy way out right now and just posting pictures on here. Trip report will follow, but may not match yours in such spendid detail.

More, please!
DebitNM is offline  
Mar 18th, 2008, 03:52 PM
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My pictures are up on one website, but I'm doing an edited version for a link to here
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Mar 18th, 2008, 04:31 PM
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Hi, starrs!

Great report! The report sounds just like you! I can hear you speaking! Terrific! Please keep it going!
easytraveler is offline  
Mar 18th, 2008, 04:42 PM
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Hi there starrs, I am so enjoying your trip report as although we had a lot of time together I didn't really hear about all of your activities. Love your style of writing also! And I so agree with you regarding taxis. I always look at the expense of taxis as money well spent. I can imagine the Monaco seemed like paradise after your horrible room the first night.

LoveItaly is offline  
Mar 18th, 2008, 04:50 PM
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Great report, it sounds like a wonderful trip, thanks so much for sharing with us. ***kim***
kimamom is offline  
Mar 18th, 2008, 04:50 PM
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Starrs - trust me - next time take a FREE SF City Guides tour.

My wife led the "Victorian San Francisco" tour this past Sunday, and one person on the tour had already done 15 other City Guides tours. At least this "other" person must think the tours are worthwhile. My wife got a round of applause after her tour on Sunday.

Also - my wife & I were having a "flight" of wines at one of our favorite restaurants in the Noe Valley on Saturday night (Incanto). Someone walked up to us and asked if we were Mr & Mrs Stu Dudley. It was Cabovacation - another Fodorite - she recognized us from the pics easytraveler took & posted from the GTG. We chatted for awhile, and I told her she should attend the next GTG.

Great report !!!

Stu Dudley
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Mar 18th, 2008, 05:09 PM
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Fantastic report...I felt as if I were there with you. And I know the city well, staying there several weekends a year.

(errr...I think you mean "Peet's" coffee. Good, yes? I have some in my kitchen right now.)
jtrandolph is offline  
Mar 18th, 2008, 05:16 PM
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Ah, yes, Peet's--someone at my school sent E-cups of Peet's to everyone on the staff. Nice way to face the State budget cuts!
TrvlMaven is offline  
Mar 18th, 2008, 05:19 PM
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Wow! So many typos! Leopard print ROBE in the closet...PEET's coffee... other mistakes too. I'm gonna hear it for sure

Forgot the links too -

starrs is offline  
Mar 18th, 2008, 05:24 PM
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Yes, y'all are right. Peet's! I knew just typing too fast and not proofing. I'm afraid I'll stop if I don't just type - maybe that's a good thing

Yep, TrvlMaven, I sent LucieV one about a year ago. I lots some kind of bet on here (was it about antique sewing machine?). It worked out to be a good deal though. She said the deal was that she was picking up my check at the GTG. I don't remember that, but what a sweet deal!

BTW, I'm not a big coffee fan so I ordered their equivalent of a Starbuck's vanilla bean frappachino (probably misspelled) but DF loved his coffee - and his DD met us there and told us we made a good choice. I was so proud of my SF (well, Berkeley) coffee shop wisdom. This site is SO handy!
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Mar 18th, 2008, 05:28 PM
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Thanks, folks, for the nice comments. Much appreciated. Feel free to start an email campaign to Cybill to let her know she's missing out on a potential BFF

Back to the report...
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