My bay area top 10

I know my bay area travel guide is insanely long, so I thought I would do a shorter post on the essentials — what I would recommend you do if you only had a short time here. So here goes:

1. Golden Gate Bridge. Why? Because it just is San Francisco. If you’re lucky enough to see it on a clear day with sailboats all around, it is truly spectacular. As someone who lives here, I can tell you that it is as cool now as it was the day I got here. I would recommend seeing it from the Crissy Field area, or driving across to see it from Marin County.

2. The Ferry Building. Not just for the farmers market, which happens Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, but for the assembly of bay area foodie culture. Some of the best restaurants, food shops, and bakeries, are housed here. You can get coffee, breakfast, and a few gifts to take back with you. Plus, a clean bathroom!

3. North Beach. This may warrant more than one slot, but it is my favorite neighborhood in San Francisco, and you can walk there from the Ferry Building/Fisherman’s Wharf area. Tour Coit Tower for a view of the city, explore the Italian restaurants and beat culture on Columbus Street, check out the Zoetrope building, shop on Grant Street, then follow it into Chinatown. You can go to Lombard and see the crooked street, too.

4. Dim Sum in Chinatown. You really should eat Chinese food while you’re in San Francisco, and dim sum gives you a chance to try as many different things as you can fit in your belly. Here are some places you might want to try.

5. The Mission. This neighborhood is best known for Mexican food, especially burritos, but we like to go here for two reasons: Tartine bakery for morning buns and huge lattes, and Bi-Rite Creamery for the best salted caramel ice cream you’ll ever have. If there’s a line, wait in it. These are not to be missed!

6. Chez Panisse. Moving on to the east bay, you don’t want to miss your chance to eat at this legendary restaurant. If you can’t get reservations or can’t afford to go for a fancy dinner, opt for lunch at the cafe instead. It’s still a really special experience. And while you’re there you can check out the rest of the gourmet ghetto.

7. Bette’s Oceanview Diner. Bette’s is that place we take everyone who visits because it’s so consistently good. You do have to get there pretty early to get a table, but it’s so worth it. And you can always check out the 4th street shopping district while you wait. At Bette’s, the coffee is strong, and the food is creative, filling, and so, so good. Go for sourdough pancakes on Mondays.

8. Shopping in Rockridge. Berkeley is kind of scattered in terms of shopping districts, but if you start on College Ave. just south of downtown, you can follow it all the way to Rockridge in Oakland and find some great shopping and restaurants along the way. Rockridge is that neighborhood where you would definitely live if you could afford it.

9. Little Star Pizza. Of all our go-to restaurants, Little Star is probably our favorite. It’s actually deep-dish pizza, but with kind of a bay area twist (cornmeal crust, not too gigantic, house-made this and that). I think it’s fantastic, some of the best pizza out there.

10. Bakesale Betty. Let this be your excuse to come to the Temescal neighborhood (aka hipster paradise) in Oakland. Bakesale Betty is known for the tastiest chicken sandwiches, which you eat outside on vintage ironing boards.

San Diego

For the last part of our trip we headed down to San Diego. Though it was pretty chilly, we went to the beach (Mission Beach) so Mike could get a surf lesson.

The other guys in his group were actually traveling members of the Rock of Ages cast. I can’t imagine how you could spend much time in that freezing cold water, even with a wet suit, but Mike said it wasn’t bad.

I just hung around the beach and tried to soak up the sun.

For lunch that day we took a recommendation from one of Mike’s coworkers and went to South Beach Bar & Grill for fish tacos.

Though I don’t think they needed the cream sauce on top, I really liked the teriyaki marinade on my mahi and the salsa fresca. I’ll have to remember that when we make fish tacos at home.

For dinner we went to Toronado, which is known for its beer selection. I don’t have any photos of the food, which was really good comfort food type of stuff, but Mike did snap a photo of their huge list of Belgians. I’m not a huge beer drinker, but I do really like Belgians.

We felt like Toronado was the kind of place where we’d be regulars if we lived there. Overall, though, I didn’t connect with San Diego the way I did with LA. People always say such great things about SD, so I expected to love it. I think maybe we just need to spend more time there (when it’s warmer!).

Anyway, some other sights we explored while we were there:

The border fence. Unfortunately the park right near there was closed.

We did go across the bridge to Coronado and walked along the beach for a while. Part of the beach is on the naval base and there’s an airport landing strip so close that planes just zoom overhead.

We got some history lessons in Old Town San Diego.

For lunch that day we had the most amazing tacos from Tacos El Gordo in Chula Vista. I can’t even explain what was so good about them, they just were.

My favorite were the spicy pork tacos (far left in the photo above). They’re made from meat that’s shaved off a big rotisserie, kind of like a gyro.

I’ve never had so much love for a man in a hairnet.

Our hotel was pretty close to the Torrey Pines State Reserve, so we explored that a bit.

The geology along the beach was some of the most incredible I’ve ever seen. The beach was just covered with all sorts of interesting looking rocks, some with shells stuck inside, some lava rocks, some petrified wood and sandstone.

Not that we needed to do anything to appear nerdier, but we had a really good time just picking up all the rocks and trying to figure out what they were.

Curlews looking for goodies.

Our last adventure was to the Green Flash Brewery, which was recommended by a lot of friends. We thought we were just going for a tasting where maybe a few other people would be there, but it turned out to be like a huge happy hour party.

I was feeling a little sheepish, as I was wearing slightly ripped cargo pants and a fleece jacket amongst people still in their work clothes, but I think it’s the kind of place where everyone fits in. And, as a bonus, they had food trucks outside. Score!

We tried a couple different types of pierogies with a garlic dipping sauce that were really good.

The perfect end to a foodie-centric vacation, I’d say!

The OC and Catalina Island

For part 2 of our trip, we went to Irvine to visit my sister and her boyfriend. And of course Vladmir.

He has decided to take up crafting.

And the elusive Jezebel.

Some of Mike’s coworkers, who have an office at the Orange County Register, took us out to lunch at a Venezuelan restaurant. I’d never had arepas before. They’re basically sandwiches with slow-cooked meat inside.

We also had plantains on the side, which came with sour cream and crumbled cheese for dipping. I don’t have a photo, but we all ordered frothy juice drinks that were really yummy.

Oh and I can’t forget that we went back to Sam Woo’s for Chinese food. This time they brought us a 5.5 pound lobster (!!) and four of us managed to eat the whole thing.

Mmm, pot stickers.

But what we really wanted to do while we were in the area was visit Catalina Island. You have to take a ferry there, which takes about an hour. We got lucky and found a groupon for half-price tickets.

It leaves from Newport Beach. Arrested Development fans may remember this area from the frozen banana stand stuff. I was totally going to get one for that reason, but then I realized I did not actually want to eat a frozen banana.

There’s always money in the frozen banana stand!

Though it was pretty cool that day, we at least had sunny weather.

We were thinking of going parasailing when we got there, but then we noticed this.

Yes, that’s a submarine that you can actually ride in. Well, it’s a semi-sub that only goes down 100 inches. But we had to do it!

So we took the 45-minute underwater tour. You basically buy shots of fish food that you shoot into the water and swarms of fish come up to the windows.

At one point we saw this mass of glowing jellyfish that was pretty cool.

Catalina’s pretty overrun with tourists (and surprisingly, spring breakers), but it’s also really beautiful.

After lunch we went on a little hike up to the nature center.

On the way we saw a woodpecker on this tree that was absolutely stuffed with acorns.

Then we came upon this little rock maze.

At the nature center we learned that someone brought bison to the island a long time ago for a movie and they have been there breeding ever since. Weird!

It was great to just relax in the woods up there. And Mike had a good time bird-watching.

One funny thing about Catalina — everyone who lives there drives a golf cart. Or some kind of miniature vehicle. We saw two vintage mini Land Rovers that were so cute.

At 4:30 it was time to get back on the ferry and head back.

After that we did some damage at the mall in Costa Mesa. We have really tried to be thrifty about clothes the past couple years, but after a while you have to restock. Right, mom?

More coming about San Diego…

Road trip: Los Angeles

Not to be confused with the real one. 

It’s about time we got down to LA, right? We finally had the time, money, and organizational skills to plan a trip to the LA area, so that’s what we did for our “spring break.”

Last time I was driving through on my way to Orange County, I noticed the gorgeous Pyramid Lake area. So I suggested to Mike that we camp there the first night to get in a little nature before we surrounded ourselves with Bentleys and Botox.

This turned out to be a bad idea for several reasons. First, even in southern California it is frickin’ freezing at night. Like actually 30 degrees. So we froze our butts off in our little tent.

We also got to listen to our fellow campers screaming about Jager shots all night. Fun times. And most importantly, that night turned out to be one of the ones when KU was playing in the NCAA tournament, so we actually went to a barbecue restaurant in Santa Clarita for a few hours to watch the game. So much for nature.

Rock chalk!

On the plus side, Rattler’s BBQ was really good, and KU won the game. I also discovered a new food —tri tip, which I did not realize was a big thing in SoCal. It’s like somewhere in between steak and brisket, and it’s really good.

In the morning we woke up to the sound of dozens of quail wandering around our campsite. They’re actually really interesting looking birds, and we saw lots of them on our trip. But we had to get moving onto the city, so we headed into LA in search of coffee and breakfast. It was about that time that we discovered that our first neice, Grace, was born that night while we were freezing in our tent. Welcome to the world little lady!

We also discovered that Proof is an amazing place to have coffee and breakfast.

Proof was one of the restaurants I learned about from Joy’s blog. Every pastry there looks divine, and we sampled the quiche and a morning bun. Highly recommend!

So appropriate that there really is a Bentley sitting there.

Next we decided to do some exploring by car around Beverly Hills, various other neighborhoods, and up to Mulholland Drive. We bought a cheesy star map, saw the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air house, etc. etc.

By lunchtime we decided to head to the beach in Santa Monica. To me it is exactly what I think of when I think LA. Brightly colored, beachy, full of palm trees and people on cruiser bikes.

It was the perfect place to do this.

Mike found this Italian deli pretty close to the beach where we got some yummy sandwiches.

Bonus points if you can tell what’s wrong with this picture.

And we continued our good eats that night when we went to Berlin Currywurst in Silver Lake. (Which is a super cool neighborhood, by the way). Apparently currywurst is a foodie trend I have not kept up with, because we saw at least two more restaurants that had it in LA. But we finally tried it.

It’s basically sausage cut up into chunks and covered with a curry sauce. You pick it up with a little toothpick thing. We also got seasoned fries that you dip in mayo, just like you would in Europe. What’s not to love about that?

Also in this neighborhood we saw an Isetta parked on the street.

We finished our night with Intelligentsia coffee, which is seriously intense! I thought Blue Bottle held the title on coffee snobbery, but now I’m not so sure. The people were really nice, though. In fact people generally were nicer than I expected. I actually loved LA. We both did. It’s got a huge personality, and so many different things going on. It surprised me, in a good way.

The next day we decided to pack in as much sightseeing as possible since we had limited time. The weather was a huge fail — cool and rainy, at times even pouring — all day and night, but we made the best of it.

Before the rain had a chance to get going, we went to the Hollywood farmers market. It’s a great size — just enough vendors to find everything you’d want. If I lived around there I’d definitely go regularly.

We got to try another new food, these Thai coconut pancakes. They remind me of Dutch poffertjes, but with coconut goo in the middles. Very yummy.

Best part? The little leaf boat they come in.

We had a so-so pupusa (I’m about to give up on finding a better one than the ones at the Des Moines farmers market), but then Mike found this killer blue corn tamale.

And my favorite part was the Carmela ice cream truck. I got a real education from the guy working there about all the natural goodies used for their flavorings.

Despite the weather I ended up getting a strawberry-buttermilk ice cream sandwich, one of the best I’ve ever had. Bi-Rite still hold the title of best ice cream in my mind, but this was pretty close.

By then the rain had started falling, but we trekked up to Griffith Park to see the observatory. On a better day it would have been a great place to hike, but we pretty much just wanted to see the place where the famous scenes with James Dean were filmed.

You can also get a great view of the Hollywood sign up there.

Next we needed another indoor activity so we headed to the La Brea tar pits museum. For nerds like us it was a lot of fun.

In addition to all the fossilized bones (which they constantly remind you are not dinosaurs!), they also have a big glass room where you can watch people cleaning tar off new finds.

Yikes! Also, did you know there existed huge ancient sloths?

After that we had to find another place to watch the next KU game, so we actually stumbled on The Counter, which is right across the street from the museum.

It’s a build-your-own-burger place with a big bar where you can watch big-screen TVs. I loved it. I thought the food was excellent, and I liked that you could get half sweet potato fries and half onion rings (or other ‘fring’ combinations).

KU won again, so we were very happy. That night we met up with my college friend Tanner, who works for Entertainment Weekly. It was awesome to catch up with him in his very cool West Hollywood house.

I think we managed to squeeze everything we possibly could into those three days. But there’s more! We actually went to Orange County after that so we could take a trip to Catalina Island. And then we went down to San Diego for a couple days. But I think I will save those for other posts because this has gotten crazy long already.

Road trip: Orange County

Believe it or not, in all this time I’ve lived here I’ve never actually been to LA. And since my sister lives in Orange County, I decided it was time to head to SoCal and visit her. My mom flew out for the weekend so we could have our girl time.

Vlad-y cat.

Megan and her boyfriend Matt have the sweetest orange cat named Vladmir. I’m allergic to cats and don’t usually like them very much, but he charmed me and snuggled with me at night.

We actually ended up saving LA adventures for another trip and mostly stayed in Orange County. One of our favorite pastimes is shopping, and man were we in the right place for that. I haven’t seen such a sea of shopping since I was in Las Vegas!

But first we actually headed to Pasadena for a little thrifting. My mom did some research and found out that the Rose Bowl flea market was going on during our trip.

It is absolutely huge, so we braved some intense traffic and finally made it there. We knew it was going to be good when we saw about a million hipsters streaming out of there carrying tables, chairs, and all sorts of cool stuff.

My mom got a nice hat and (my favorite!) blue dots Pyrex bowl. She also got the green mixing bowl to complete her Pyrex set.

Post-shopping we filled up on yummy Chinese food at Sam Woo’s. It was the first time I’ve actually gotten to have the full experience of sharing a bunch of dishes at a table with the lazy Susan in the middle. We were even able to polish off a four-pound lobster!

Later on Megan showed me how to make the yummiest cookies, which I will share with you soon.

After some more shopping at one of the most epic malls I’ve ever seen, I had to head home. I missed my puppies, and I wanted to have a little Valentine’s Day dinner with Mike.

I had a blast though, and can’t wait to go back and put on my tourist hat. I also have a loooong list of LA restaurants to explore. Recommendations are appreciated!

Road trip: Point Bonita lighthouse

Mike had a three-day weekend and the weather was unseasonably warm and pleasant (well, 65 degrees instead of 55), so we decided to get outside on Saturday. It kind of turned into a things-we-can’t-believe-we-haven’t-done-yet trip. But we just went with it.

Greatest. Sign. Ever.

Our destination was the Point Bonita lighthouse, which is pretty close to the Golden Gate bridge in the Marin headlands. We were hoping for a nice hike with some picturesque views, and that’s exactly what we got.

After a short hike you walk through this creepy tunnel to get out to the lighthouse.

When you emerge you find yourself on this beautiful point with waves crashing up against the shore.

You can’t actually get to the lighthouse because of construction, but you can get close enough to see it.

There were all sorts of plants just growing right out of the rocks there.

And next to the trail, daffodils!

Nearby there’s an old fort you can climb around.

There’s actually quite a bit of military history in that area. If you’re nerdy like us, you can read all the signs about it.

Or just enjoy the views.

After that we decided to drive around a little more and we discovered all of these scenic overlooks where you can get great photos of yourself with the bridge in the background.

After that we were like, why don’t we get even closer? So we crossed the bridge into San Francisco and started walking from the marina to the base of the bridge. It was at this point that I started saying I can’t believe we haven’t done this before!

There’s a great beach full of kids and dogs. Then there’s a marsh full of shorebirds to watch.

And as you walk along the path (this is the Crissy Field area), the views just get better and better.

We just happened to be there around sunset so the light was amazing.

Once you get to the base of the bridge you can go inside Fort Point and see more military displays.

Or you can go straight to the top, where you are basically underneath the Golden Gate bridge.

Even though we were pretty exhausted from all the walking, we walked alllll the way back to our car, enjoying the sunset.

We were definitely feeling very lucky to live in the bay area. Next time maybe we’ll even walk across the bridge!

There are actually a lot more things I still want to explore in the city. Sometimes it’s fun to just play tourist.

Christmas in the heartland

I was pretty worried that our plan to fly to Kansas City, have our parents shuttle us to Wisconsin, and then fly out of Minneapolis was going to be a disaster. We do have a history of traveling in winter and getting stuck in snowstorms. But thanks to unseasonably warm weather (sadly, no white Christmas for us), we got to every stop without a hitch. And we had a really great time seeing family and friends in the Midwest.

First stop was my family in Kansas. We decided to make prime rib for our almost-Christmas dinner, and it was fantastic. We rubbed the roast with a paste of olive oil, cracked peppercorns, thyme, basil, sea salt, rosemary, and crushed bay leaves. It created a really flavorful au jus in the pan, too.

Apparently in our food coma we neglected to take any more photos, but we did also have a yummy seafood dinner with my dad and stepmom, bubble bread and Frenchiladas (stuffed crepes covered in cheese) with my aunt and uncle, and a lot of flipping through old photos and chatting with grandmas for geneology research.

I’m very excited to start using this bad boy, an enameled cast iron dutch oven that was a gift from my parents.

And these cookbooks. The Paradise Cafe was an institution in my hometown, Lawrence, before it closed.

I forgot to mention that the night before we left for our trip, I started feeling just awful. I think all the stress of Renegade and making last-minute orders caught up to me. So the entire trip I was hoarse and coughing, but I powered through!

Charlotte and Charlie rode along with us halfway to Wisconsin. I made them matching outfits for Christmas and they were so cute.

They’re even starring in their own 2012 calendar!

Everything normally covered in snow was dry and brown, but I still enjoyed the scenery.




If you look closely you can see people ice fishing on the lake.

Once we got to Wisconsin, we did all the Wisconsin essentials.

Drove a big truck.

Ate sausages and cheese curds.

(It was at this point that I lost all willpower to resist sausage logs, Chex Mix, and cookie trays for the rest of the trip.)

We watched cardinals perch on Mike’s parents’ Cadillac of birdfeeders.

Had a Paul Bunyan sighting.

Tried on Stormy Cromer hats.

And mourned the lack of snow in the yard.

In Minnesota we met up with friends and did the Minnesota essentials: walked on a frozen lake, played a bird identifying board game, and ate pickled herring (well, Mike did).

Mike got to hold baby Maya and learned that babies love beards!

I was definitely ready to get back to my house and my doggies, but I had the best time catching up with everyone in our hometowns.

Now that we are completely stuffed to bursting, we are going to wish 2011 farewell with a shrimp ring and ring in 2012 by starting a cleanse. Happy New Year!

Road trip: Rockaway Beach

This was kind of an early birthday treat. Mike found this little beach in Pacifica that was the perfect place for a sunny day picnic. The waves were probably the biggest I’ve seen so far here, so there were a lot of surfers in the water. I put my feet in for just a little bit, but it was freeeezing!

Road trip: Coppola winery

We had some visitors last weekend — my dad, stepmom, sister Megan, and Megan’s boyfriend. So we got to try another new place, Francis Ford Coppola’s winery up in Sonoma County. It’s really unlike any of the wineries we’ve been to so far, mostly because it is a lot bigger, and a lot more showbiz. But that’s why it’s so much fun.

Each side of the main building has these big pointy towers. Can’t miss ’em!

Outside there is a big pool with cabanas you can rent for the day. Next to the pool is a bandshell that’s modeled after the one in Godfather Part II.

There are indoor and outdoor restaurants, a museum where you can see Coppola’s Oscars,

and of course the beautiful vineyards, and the plant where they package up all the wines.

At the end of our tour we got to taste several wines, including one that was still in the fermenting process. My favorites were actually the Sofia wines. The rose comes in this curvy bottle,

and the blanc de blancs comes in a pretty pink wrapper that they always leave on while serving (you can’t remove Sofia’s dress!).

They’d both be great picnic wines. By the way, do you have BevMo where you live? Because it is awesome.

One of my favorite parts of the tour was getting to taste the grapes right off the vine.

Some of the grapes were shriveled because it’s late in the season.

We ate some zinfandel grapes, and they were really tasty. For some reason I thought that wine grapes weren’t supposed to taste good.

Overall, it was a great day, and I think everyone was glad we chose such a unique winery.

It was also fun to drive back a different route than we usually go, so we could decide which wineries we want to tour on our next trip!

Tapas night

Last night we got to rediscover our favorite tapas from our honeymoon in Spain. Mike knew of a place in the Mission that has a good selection, so we tried it out, and it was fantastic.

The place itself was pretty no-frills, but it had the same casual atmosphere as tapas bars in Spain, and they even had a guy playing guitar right outside.

We got Estrella Damm and a glass of sangria, and I was bowled over to find that the wine was only about $4.50 a glass. You know I love SF, but drinks there are usually in the $8-$12 range, which adds up fast.

We’re always trying to find pimientos de padron, the little deep fried peppers we had in Barcelona, and they had them!

They were so good. And I loved that all the tapas were portioned small enough so you could try a lot of them. In Spain we actually had a problem finding them small enough for two (or at least we were too dumb to order them that way).

We also had patatas bravas with a tangy aoili (sorry for the bad photo, it was dark),

fried calamari, which I didn’t get a photo of, and little chorizo sausages, which were like the best lil’ smokies you’ve ever had.

It was another perfect way to mark our anniversary. And I will definitely go back to that place if anyone else wants to try authentic Spanish tapas.

As I was going back through my photos to see if I had pictures of tapas, I realized I had some more photos from Barcelona that I never got to share. So here you go…