Thursday, November 14, 2013

San Francisco: The Grand Prize

During 1-800 Contacts' company party this summer I was the last name called for one of the grand prizes - a trip to see an NFL team play and enjoy the hometown! Jennifer and I decided on San Francisco and the 49ers. I selected the week I did for the time of year, but mostly because that same weekend Oregon was visiting Stanford...I just didn't see how I could pass that up. But in order for Jennifer to sign up for two football games she asked that we try to do some things she liked as well. And so the planning began.

We flew in on Wednesday morning and couldn't check in till 3PM so we made a few stops first. We heard about a large farmers flower market there and thought it could be amazing. It wasn't, actually. Just some large shops grouped together selling flowers - not that special. Then we visited Tartine Bakery for lunch. We got a couple sandwiches, but our favorite was the Pecorine and Almond (sheep cheese and almonds crushed with olive oil, lemon and sage) - very good. Their croissants were also quite good. We were close by a local hero of an ice cream shop so of course we picked up a couple scoops and hung out at the nearby Doloras Park to enjoy. I love ice cream, but theirs (Bi-Rite) was just ok. But the park was full of all sorts of interesting people to keep us entertained (half naked hacky-sack guy, guy wearing a skirt, guy that asked us if we wanted pot then asked for our left-overs, hula-hoop girls). There are a lot of homeless people in San Francisco.

We then spent some time at the Golden Gate Park. We really liked the Conservatory of Flowers and the Japanese Tea Garden.

We eventually made it to the house we stayed at. We found it on - this Russian guy lived in the upstairs and rented out the main floor (where we stayed) and lower level. It was in a nice neighborhood called Inner Sunset on 11th avenue. It was built in like 1912 and was hardwood everywhere (so a modern house to us), but recently remodeled. Here is a street view:

We had to wake up early the next morning to drive an hour to Napa Valley for our hot air balloon ride. This ended up being the highlight of the trip. It was a beautiful time of year with all the fall colored leaves on the grape vines and the smell of fermenting grapes. We were in the air for about an hour and really enjoyed the views and experience as a whole.

On our way back to San Francisco took a detour to Muir Woods to check out the gigantic trees. Very cool and unique forest.

We ate lunch at the farmers market near the Ferry Building. One of my favorite things was this Korean Taco with kimchee.

We then continued our day of driving down to Palo Alto for the Oregon vs. Stanford game. The campus was really nice and a noticeably classy student body (especially when compared to the Duck fans and then later the 49ers fans). I was so impressed with how well Stanford played. Granted, Oregon did not play their best game either, but I couldn't figure out how the Utes beat them earlier this year.

We rented bikes from Blazing Saddles for our activities on Friday. We rode along the beach and bike paths in the morning and made our way into the Financial District for our Chocolate Food Tour. We were not that impressed on this tour. Granted, we used a groupon, but still, when the sample they give you is the same sample they give anyone walking into the store it doesn't make you feel like you paid for anything. But most of the stores were great; Spicely, Minamoto Kitchen, Leonidas, Teuscher Chocolates, and CocoaBella. After the tour we jumped back on our bikes to get across the bridge before sunset. We started to cross just as the bridge was being lit up from the setting sun - we thought it was perfect.

We looked up the best rated restaurant in Sausalito and decided on a place called Pizzeria Rossetti. We ordered two pizzas; the Burrata was my favorite while Jennifer especially liked the Truffle. We have eaten great pizza in New York that was previously tops, but this is even better. The crust is perfection. The staff was great, the owner was humble and gracious. And even then the locals there were awesome. We sat and chatted with two retired-age women that I felt like I could talk to all night. But eventually I thought I should let them get back to their meal. Then the waitress brought us dessert (on the house they said). Then when the check came out the ladies we talked to had already paid for it! Sausalito with its pizza and people is now my favorite!

On Saturday we had our Foodie Adventures tour (North Beach / China Town). Our tour guide, Chris Milano, was awesome. He had such a rapor with the owners of each place we visited - such a contrast from our chocolate tour the day before. We learned a lot about the history in that area and met some great people that make fantastic food. Our favorite was XOX Truffles - incredible handmade chocolate morsels. Throughout the tour we went up to a Chineese Temple, made sure to touch nothing at a fresh fish/poultry market, saw fortune cookies made, heard food demonstrations from passionate business owners, and otherwise enjoyed the afternoon with more food than we needed. At the end Chris gave away a few goodies in a raffle drawing. By that time he knew we won the trip we were on and laughed when my name was drawn for a gift certificate for another food tour - of course.

Then back to my new favorite place (Sausalito) for our sunset sailing adventure. We boarded a 50' sailboat with 20 or so others. Again enjoyed talking to the locals - we met a Rabi/QA Analyst and his wife who teaches the Harpsichord at Stanford (had to YouTube that afterward...didn't know what it was).

Sunday morning we visited Alcatraz - was actually impressed with their audio tour that featured actual guards and previous inmates. Below is a picture taken from the island with a view of the city.

We then caught the metro train to Candlestick Park. It took us a while to figure out the transit system - I'd like to chastise the several locals we asked about how to board the train and where the stop was. The only guy that actually had a clue and was of any help was a homeless guy. The 49ers game was fun. A different class of folk though than the Stanford fan base. As good as Oregon and Stanford players are there is a huge jump in talent, size and speed in the NFL. Very cool to see live and the last season for the Candlestick Park.

For dinner that night we ate at a Middle Eastern chic restaurant called La Mediterranee. Most everything we ate there was awesome, some was just ok. The Avgolemono (lemon chicken purée soup) was way good. Then we had a tasting that sampled 10 of their more famous dishes. I didn't love the lamb or baba ghanoush, but the hummos, fillos, and chicken pomegranite were delish! We then went for dessert at the Ice Cream Bar. Jennifer was reluctant since we ate a lot, but once she had a taste of that vegan chocolate dessert she was sold! I had a 'Love It or Hate It' soda (licorice flavored) from the soda jerk (not derogatory I learned). If we were to open an ice cream shop this is how we'd do it.

Our last day, after checking out we went back to the XOX Truffles, the Ice Cream Bar, and the Golden Gate Park and drove down Lombard Street. We also ate lunch at the Little Chihuahua - a decent Mexican place.

Loved our trip - special thanks to Kami (at 1800) for helping me book everything and of course for footing the bill. We did not expect to go on vacation like this for another year or two so this was just amazing to have been able to go at all!