36 Hours in San Francisco

With a couple of weeks remaining before Christmas we managed to squeeze in a work related visit to a software vendor. It happened to be in the San Francisco area and given we arranged the meeting for a Monday I figured why not head out a little early and just enjoy the weekend. I always love visiting San Francisco. So I booked travel to leave early on a Saturday morning. With the added bonus of a 2 hour timezone change that meant I could plan on being in the heart of the city by noon.

So what do you do when you’ve got 36 hours to bum around the city of San Francisco? I ended up walking a lot! and eating a lot too! And naturally, I took a few photos along the way.

The first thing very apparent upon arrival at the Powell Street BART station was there were an awful lot of people wearing red outfits. I mean Santa type of gear. Hats, pants, boots, the whole shebang. The streets around Union Square were teaming with Santas. But it wasn’t just there. It was all over the city. The photo I included here is just one I took of Washington Square Park. Turns out it was “SantaCon“. Apparently such a thing has been going on for years but it was new to me. Looked like mostly a roving party. Lots and lots of revelers and the booze was flowing.

It was entertaining to watch – let’s just say some of the outfits or lack thereof were pretty crazy – but I kept on with my touristy walk around the city. My hotel stay was about a block off Union Square. From there I meandered down Market all the way to the Ferry Building. For one, I just like to check out the shops in there and turns out there are also a lot of craft booths nearby on the weekends. You can always catch a bite to eat as well and with pretty decent weather that first afternoon I hung out at Gotts. They make a good grilled chicken sandwich and it’s fun to do a little people watching from that vantage point.

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering down the embarcadero and up to Coit Tower and then over to Washington Square Park and back up through Chinatown.. You can see some of the photos I took that afternoon to the right.

The one at the top was taken on Pier 7 looking back into the city. By that time of day it was clouding up and I did a little post processing on that photo to give it a bleaker look than it really was.

The one below that one was taken about the time I had lunch at the Ferry Building. I like the old streetcars they have fixed up and are still using in SF.

The more full sized photo at the bottom of this posting is of the Bay bridge. Not a perfect photo by any means and yet I like that one. The birds, the boats and puffy clouds… seemed to capture the moment for me.

The aerial photo of the financial district was taken from the top of Coit Tower. In all the visits I’ve made to San Francisco, I can’t recall ever taking the time to get a ticket to the top. So this time I took the opportunity. Great views of the city from up there. And the walk up the stairs from the embarcadero to get to the tower is pretty cool as well. I can’t imagine what it costs to own a home on that hillside. There were some very cool looking places tucked in there.

Dinner Saturday night was at Aliment. Aside from the fact the menu looked interesting as I walked by, it seemed to get decent Yelp reviews and it had the added benefit of being a stones throw from where I was staying. After hours of walking around, coupled with the 2 hour timezone change, I was ready for dinner early. Full service at the bar was handy but given the early hour there weren’t really many patrons joining me. I had the hearty Bolognese pasta and a tasty red wine. (Bottom photo to the right.)

Sunday I took the opportunity to head further west. In fact, to go all the way to the coast to Lands End and the Chart House. From the Union Square area it’s not exactly a walkable destination. It’s something like 80 blocks west of Union Square. I grabbed a bus instead. Even on the bus it was more than a 30 minute ride. I think we stopped almost every block. Most of the intervening city isn’t all that much to look at. But arriving at Lands End – that was definitely worth a look. There’s a really nice visitors center at Lands End. And from there, you can hike the coastal trail north for miles. You can see at least one photo here that I took along the way of the Golden Gate bridge.

I took in only a part of the trail. I could easily have spent the entire day there. Instead, I routed over through the fisherman’s wharf area. I didn’t bother much with pictures in that area. Mostly the wharf area is kind of an eyesore in my opinion. Ok, the Ghirardelli Square area on the western edge is kinda cool but a lot of the rest of the area is just tacky touristy stuff.

Eventually I wound my way back south and to near Pier 5 to a place named Coqueta. The location right along the water is pretty cool. There are essentially two parts to the restaurant. The outer part is a little building with a lot more windows. Mostly it’s a bar. You can see a shot here of the wine carafe they use to serve their wines by the glass.

The speciality at Coqueta is Spanish tapas. Small plate restaurants are all the rage. The fare here was pretty good. I had a couple of the cheeses, some kind of lamb meatball dish (that I wish I had better details on because it was really good) and an interesting potato dish. Plenty of food and yet all the servings were pretty small. If you have a hearty appetite here it can get pricey fast. I’d give the place thumbs up though and wouldn’t hesitate to go again.

36 hours goes by mighty fast when you’re trying to cover as much ground as I was. Next time – and I’m sure I’ll visit again – I’d spend more time on the coastal trail though.

Favorite Restaurants of the Santa Ynez Valley

As I mentioned in the last post, I visited the Santa Ynez Valley for the cycling but also for the food and wine. The area is renowned for good wines, and especially Pinot Noir.

Hitching Post

So it’s no surprise, perhaps, that I should stop in at the Hitching Post in Buellton – location for the restaurant of the same name in the movie Sideways. It’d been 10 years since I’d seen the movie so I might not have thought anything about it but a friend had recommended the place independently and I really enjoyed it.

The Hitching Post reminded me of a family steakhouse I might stop in somewhere in the Midwest. Not fancy at all. Friendly service found me a table immediately and a plate of olives and veggies followed quickly. Veggies included fresh green onions and radishes. That’s the sort of thing I would expect in the Midwest. What you wouldn’t expect though from such a restaurant in the Midwest is a full complement of restaurant produced Pinot Noir. As you can see in the photo above, I got the flight of Highliner wines – in honor of 10 years since the movie.

The food at the HP was great. A fresh salad and then a steak. Nothing fancy, just good stuff.

Trattoria Grappolo

Another of my favorites on the trip was Trattoria Grappolo in Santa Ynez. Aside from the good food and a nice wine list that included several local wines I really enjoyed the friendly service and the vantage point at the bar. The bar looks over a part of the kitchen where there’s a wood fired oven and so you get to watch the production of pizzas and salads. The abundant staff seemed to have it down to a science.

For a main dish, I had the Veal Scallopini. Excellent though perhaps just a little salty, but then I tend to like things with very little salt.

Mattei’s Tavern

Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos was also a fav. Here again, full restaurant menu served at the bar, which is convenient when you’re traveling solo. There’s always someone to talk to. There were also plenty of local wines to choose from.

The photo below is of what Mattei’s calls the ‘Dirty Laundry’. Based on the way the charcuterie is hung with clothes pins, I guess you can see why.

All great places and I hope to visit again one day.

Cycling Favorites of the Santa Ynez Valley

Following my brief Santa Barbara stopover on my recent visit to Calif I made my way to Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley. My intentions were to find back roads to cycle and interesting food and wine. I was not disappointed.

I think I only scratched the surface on cycling the back roads around the area. But a few of my favorites included Happy Canyon Rd east of Santa Ynez, Ballard Canyon Rd between Solvang and Los Olivos and Foxen Canyon Rd out of Los Olivos.

The photo of my bike leaning up against the tree here is on Happy Canyon Rd. This one I would definitely like to do again. I only rode part of it. There looks to be a long and interesting loop ride with some interesting climbing on that road. Plus it was just beautiful scenery. While the weather looks great in that photo, I could tell it was changing quickly, so I did an out and back ride and got back just before it rained (and sleeted).

The other photo at the end of this posting is on Ballard Canyon Rd. Wonderful vistas along that route. Where it ended in Los Olivos turned into Foxen Canyon Rd across the highway. Together they made for a great out and back route.

Santa Barbara Stopover

I’ve heard that the Santa Barbara area was good for both cycling and interesting wineries so with a very slight lull in the work schedule and very little planning in advance I thought I’d take Southwest Airlines up on their ‘wanna get away?’ slogan and take a little break from Austin.

I make a point to note Southwest Airlines because when I travel with my two bike cases that measure at the limit of what’s considered ‘checkable’ luggage they are one of the few airlines that include 2 checked bags with the fare. With fares about the same in any case, it’s been convenient in the past so I booked ’em for a direct flight to LAX.

As you can see in the photo at right. Santa Barbara also has some interesting people wandering about. This photo was captured at the weekly farmers market in the heart of Santa Barbara. I think it says something about the casual outdoors culture of the city.

My ultimate destination wasn’t actually Santa Barbara, but rather Solvang or more generally the Santa Ynez valley. But with a long flight plus a pretty good car drive up there I opt’ed to spend at least one afternoon and evening bumming around Santa Barbara.

I found a little motel (they call it an Inn but seems like a motel) just a block from the beach called the Harbor House Inn. TripAdvisor led me there – as it often does to the destinations I find – and it was a really great find. Nice room. Clean. Even a little kitchenette. It’s the sort of place you could spend more than the one night I was planning.

It was convenient to everything I was likely to find interesting for one day stay. And by convenient I mean it was easy to walk to beach, to the ‘funk zone’ (as they call it in Santa Barbara) nearby for restaurants and winery tasting rooms and even close to the main downtown State Street with all its shops and things – including that farmers market I mentioned.

It didn’t take me long to venture out and about and take in some of the pier, beach area and one of the tasting rooms. I’d done at least a little online browsing and had concluded I wanted to check out a place called The Lark for dinner. Pali wines was a block or so down and given that the Lark didn’t open till 5 (which was 7pm my time) I pulled in. They had a nice selection of wines and an inviting little space and while the wines were good I wasn’t up for lugging any around or signing up for delivery/club membership.

The Lark turned out to be a fantastic restaurant. I like finding a place like this one – especially when traveling solo – where you can find a spot at the bar and they serve the full dinner menu at the bar. The bar staff was really friendly and helpful. And seated like this inevitably you strike up a conversation with others at the bar. The couple next to me was from Dallas.

Food at The Lark was great. I started with their appetizer of fried brussel sprouts. Nice flavors. Who’d a thought brussel sprouts would ever become so popular? but, it’s a staple of this and many other places I’ve been in the last few years.

The main dish was really, really good. It was a braised lamb served with house made pappardelle. Can’t tell you at this point what all was in the sauce but there was also acorn squash in the mix and it worked really well. It was something really different and delicious.

Fast forward to the next morning… I was up early. That 2 hour timezone change always has me up with the birds when I visit the West coast. It was good though because it would be time I could reassemble my bike. That always takes at least an hour and more like two.

On my walk around town the evening before I’d noticed a nearby bike shop. A little online snooping suggested it was highly regarded so I planned to take the bike over there after assembling so I could get it checked out. It was a place called Hazard’s Cyclesport. Really nice bike shop and some friendly folks. They also let me change into bike gear in the shop dressing room. Handy. From there I took the bike out for a spin up and down the coast and around town a bit.

Santa Barbara Cycling

I didn’t spend too much time riding though. I still needed to make the trip up to Solvang. So I packed up and headed north.