Tuesday, October 31, 2017

2017 - California Summary

We were in California from Saturday, September 9, 2017 to Saturday, September 23, 2017. I decided to just write one post because we moved around so much instead of one for each place that we visited.

Duration: 15 days (Saturday, September 9, 2017 to Saturday, September 23, 2017)
Distance Travelled: 1,300 miles (from Los Angeles, Sequoia and King's Canyon, Yosemite, Monterey Bay, to finally San Francisco)

Highlights

Universal Studios Hollywood
Disneyland
Disneyland
Theme Parks (Universal Studios Hollywood, Disneyland) were something that were a bit of a mystery to me. I walked in without understanding the appeal and walked out with an appreciation of the end result, however, I think I only enjoyed it because it was a slow period. If there was lines to wait for, I'm not sure how I would have fared.

Yosemite National Park - Yosemite Falls in the background
Yosemite National Park - Nevada Falls in the background
Yosemite National Park - Glacier Point with Half Dome in the background
Yosemite National Park did not disappoint. One of my first big American National Park and it was outstanding beautiful, with well thought out signage and shuttle buses, however, the parking can be a bit difficult depending on the time of day that you go.

San Francisco - Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco - Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz
San Francisco - Crooked Street
San Francisco was a delight. The beautiful row houses, the nice wharf area, the Golden Gate Bridge, I can see why people love this place so much. Unfortunately, with nice places, come difficulties like driving in traffic is really bad, parking is even worse, and cost of living is absolutely insane.

Lowlights

Los Angeles was not as nice as I expected it to be. Or rather, Hollywood Blvd seemed very old and run down once you leave the main tourist attraction portion. Maybe it is because we didn't visit the touristy areas, but it left a sour taste with us.

Food Suggestions

Trestle - cauliflower soup on the left, pear salad on the right
Trestle - Salmon on top, lamb on the bottom
Trestle - chocolate cake on the left, toffee pudding on the right
Trestle was a lovely restaurant to eat at. Make reservations beforehand since it does get busy and it isn't a big restaurant, so it will likely fill up quickly. The menu consists of a 3 course fixed prix menu which has two items for each courses which makes trying out everything quite easy since you only need to come with one other person. As a bonus, it is fairly inexpensive! Only $35 per person and if you like, you can add a pasta course for an additional $10. Very good food and service.

1850 - Fry Bread
1850 - Tri-tip
1850 in Mariposa was a great restaurant to try. The portions are big and the food was very good.

Tips

Travelling within San Francisco is fairly difficult by car. Not only is it slow, but it also very costly to park. If you can, try to pick a place where you can leave your car and take local transit.

Final Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed this trip. There was a bit of driving compared to some other trips, but also less than some other ones. The sites overall were very interesting and it didn't get boring. It started with theme parks, followed by National Parks, then the beach and finally the city life again. The only change I think I have would be if we shorted San Francisco by one day since our last day, we didn't really know what to do. If you are into wine, I can see how Napa would be appealing, but it wasn't for us.

Until our next trip!

Monday, October 30, 2017

2017 - California Day 15 (San Francisco)

Saturday, September 23, 2017. Today is our last day in San Francisco, which is also our last day of our trip. We will be here for the full day with our flight out at 11:00pm.

Muir Woods
This morning, we head to Muir Woods which required us to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge. For tourists, you actually will need to pay on the way back, however, you don't need to pay when you leave. Since we rented our car, we didn't want to be charged by the rental car company to pay for this, so when I did some research, I found out that I could register online and have the toll charged directly to my account. You can find more information at bay area fastrak. Basically we would select a time range for when we plan to use the bridge, enter our credit card and it would charge the one when we cross within the time range.

Muir Woods
Muir Woods is not far from our hotel, in fact, we made it in 30 minutes. Admission was $10 per person, also covered by our annual pass, therefore we made some money now! 

Muir Woods - A buck!
This National Park is actually quite small compared to Yosemite. The main trail loop only takes about 1.5 hours and it is fairly flat and the main trail is a loop. Muir Woods primary attraction are the redwoods which are some of the tallest trees in the world with the highest tree here being over 200 feet tall. Outside of the main trail, there are some smaller trails, but I don't see how one would spend more than a morning or afternoon here.

We found a chipmunkiosis!
Personally, I think the sequoias were more interesting to see, but that's because I can see it when it is right in front of me versus me having to crane my neck to appreciate how tall these trees are.

The loop is nice and relaxing, since we got here early (just before 9:00am), it wasn't very busy. So it was nice to wander. I'm not sure how busy it gets later though. I did notice and we heard that there is not enough parking for the area, so you should try to come early.

Louis'
Lands End Lookout is where we headed to next. Lunch was our first stop here which was at Louis'. The food is okay, diner style where it is actually cash only for some odd reason. We ordered two breakfasts which were about $10 each. As you can tell, nothing special.

Battleship?
With our bellies full, we hiked to Eagles Point. On the way, we actually were hiking along with what looked like a battleship pulling a tugboat. The hike to Eagles Point is 1.3 miles and we started at 1:30pm.

At Eagles Point, you get a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. At this point, I was a bit bored with it. The hike itself is pretty nice, there are some steep parts though. Made it back to the car at 3:00pm, so it took us about 1.5 hours round trip.

Lands End Lookout
We were done with San Francisco at this time. We made it back to Fort Point because Allison wanted some stamps there (there are stamps at every National Park which are unique to them). And so we headed down to the airport area to try to figure out how to return all these plastic jugs.

While in California, we bought a bunch of water jugs thinking that we could return them but there was no place to do so, or it wasn't very clear for tourists. Oddly, it seemed like even locals don't know what to do with them. What I didn't understand was, don't locals buy them? We ended up spending quite a bit of time wandering and driving around and we had to end up just throwing them in the garbage.

Barracuda - Cat's Meow
Barracuda - Caterpillar roll on left, spider roll on right
Barracuda - chicken karage
Dinner was at Barracuda, a japanese restaurant near the airport where we ordered the Cat's Meow, Spider Roll, Chicken Karage, and Caterpillar Roll. The food was okay. We thought it was too expensive for what it is.

Returned the car at Hertz, where the person didn't even check the car, just the mileage, checked in and that was the end of our trip. The flight was pretty uneventful since it was a red-eye.

Come back tomorrow for my trip summary!

Friday, October 27, 2017

2017 - California Day 14 (San Francisco)

Friday, September 22, 2017. Today, we visit the Golden Gate Bridge, explore San Francisco and aim to be in Oakland to meet up with a friend from Toronto for dinner.

Golden Gate Bridge - Visitor Center
We got a bit lost by the signage on the way to the Golden Gate Bridge visitor center, so make sure to look at the signs properly. We ended up getting to the visitor center at roughly 8:30am. Parking is paid at $2 for 2 hours which didn't seem too bad. The visitor center didn't open until later, so we went to explore the area and wander a bit of the bridge.

Golden Gate Bridge - from Fort Point
Nearby, you will notice that there is actually a lot of history behind the bridge. While here, you will learn about how much it cost to build, how long it took, why it is called the Golden Gate Bridge even though it is red, and a lot more. There is even a sample cross-section of the wire that is used.

We finished the area and the visitor center by 9:30am, so we spent an hour here. It got busy by the time we left with tour buses being in the parking lot and the parking lot actually being full.

When we went to the visitor center last night, we learned about Fort Point. It was where we should park if we weren't able to find parking at the visitor center, so, we decided to go pay them a visit since we were here.

Fort Point
Fort Point is actually quite interesting to visit and they also have the Junior Ranger program! At this point, Allison was saddened that I didn't inquire about this at the other National Parks (like Yosemite), oh well. We spent about an hour here.

Parking is free there, and there is no cost to visit. It also gives you a different view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Bonita
Bonita
Bonita

Lunch was at Bonita which is by the hotel where we ordered 4 tacos. The tacos are roughly $5 a piece, but actually very good. Also, a bit messy. If you're in the area, give it a shot.

Crooked Street
Walked to the Crooked Street next to see what the big deal was. It was clearly a tourist attraction since you could see all the cars and the tourists here. Apparently, it wasn't even that busy yet and it would be worse if you come during the weekend.

Wandered back to Fisherman's Wharf next to finish up what we missed yesterday. We visited a historic arcade which had machines that were really old. Some that just play music, others that have puppets that dance, and some weird one that showed a hanging (yup, a puppet gets hung).

Nick's Lighthouse
Nick's Lighthouse is where we stopped for some seafood. It took a bit longer to get our order since the cashier must have been new and messed up some big orders (charged too little). Allison got some oysters and clams. They threw in some shrimps since the cashier charged us $0.02 for nothing. $1.75 for each oyster, same price for the clams. Allison really enjoyed them, I don't normally eat them.

Boudin Bakery
Boudin Bakery
Boudin Museum & Bakery Tour was next which is where a majority of the local sourdough bread comes from. The museum and tour is free and self guided. Have a look if you are curious.

San Francisco Maritime National Park
San Francisco Maritime National Park
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park was next. It costs $10 per person, but it is included with our annual pass. Our cost has been made back! Any other place will be a bonus. We made it here at 2:30pm.

Stopped by Over the Moon near our hotel for an ice cream before jumping into our car and driving over to Oakland. We left at 4:30pm and made it to Oakland by 5:30pm. So, it took us an hour.

Portal - Garbage Bread
Portal - Pork Belly Salad
Me and Mario (friend from Toronto)
 Dinner was at Portal. Ordered the pork belly salad, and garbage bread. They were okay. Ended up going to Drake with my friend as well for some drinks before we called it a night.

Drake's Brewing Co - bread pudding
Tomorrow, based on feedback, we head to Muir Woods in the morning and explore what we have left before heading to the airport.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

2017 - California Day 13 (San Francisco)

Thursday, September 21, 2017. Today, we visit Alcatraz, explore Fisherman's Wharf and explore before heading to Trestle for dinner.

Golden Gate Bridge on the left, Alcatraz on the right
We took the local bus to make it a bit closer to Alcatraz. The buses actually have coin and bill counters which I thought was very neat! They do have a tap-fare card, but it cost too much to us since we would use it too little. Our Alcatraz tour start time was 9:10am. There are various times for when you can start, but I am told that you should book your tickets beforehand because it does get sold out.

Alcatraz
We were there from 9:10am and made it back by 12:25pm. So, we spent roughly 3 hours there. Alcatraz is a self-guided tour where you are given a headset and you explore as the headset tells you about the history and you can control your pace. Note, the tour itself is not in a real logical path, so if you want to pause and return after some pictures, make sure that you remember where you stopped since you will get lost if you try to do this.

What's the TTC streetcar doing here?
Alcatraz was the first place that I learned about the Junior Ranger program. What is the Junior Ranger program? When you visit a US National Park, you can ask about it and it is essentially a way for you to learn more about the site. The booklet that they provide you with quizzes you on things at the site, such as history, landscape, and historic items. If you complete the booklet, you will be given a Junior Ranger badge for that site (which is unique to each site and is made out of wood).

Make sure to stop for sea lions at Pier 33!
Alcatraz is a neat sight. It isn't as big as the other prisons that we have been to, but it is unique since it is an island and for the history behind it. During the guided tour you will learn how the history, the escapes, and more. We did notice that since we were one of the earliest tours (there was only one tour before the 9:10am one), by the end of our tour, it got really busy. So, you may want to try to come early, or I read that you can try to come late to get some nice night shots of the skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Fog Harbour - Clam chowder and cioppino (they kindly split the serving in two, yes, that is originally one serving)
Fog Harbour - Cioppino close up
Fog Harbour - our free blue cheese garlic bread
Once we made it back on land, we went to Fog Harbour for lunch where we ordered the clam chowder, and lazy Cioppino (they debone everything for you). And we got a free blue cheese garlic cheese bread with a free coupon that Allison found. It came out to $55 and was very delicious.

We ended up exploring more of Fisherman's Wharf, saw Chinatown, Union Square, and then we made it to dinner at Trestle.

Trestle
Trestle - Cauliflower soup on the left, pear salad on the right
Trestle - Salmon on the top, lamb on the bottom
Trestle - Chocolate cake on the left, toffee pudding on the right
Trestle is a fixed-prix restaurant which only has 2 items for each course which is perfect for us since we would be able to order everything. And best of all, it is only $35! Food was very good, restaurant is a bit small though, so do make reservations ahead of time to ensure your spot.

We ended up wandering back to our hotel after dinner.

Tomorrow, we visit the Golden Gate Bridge.