If You’re Eating in San Francisco… (Part II)

It’s been more than one year since I compiled a list of my favorite places to eat in San Francisco, and although I still stand by every single place in that post, I thought it was time for me to share my latest recommendations. Below are some new additions that are in our current rotation.

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Cafés/Breakfast/Coffee:

  • Cafe St. Jorge – adorable cafe, out-of-this-world almond butter chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. Healthy options, too :P
  • Stable Cafe – the coffee and food is great (for both breakfast and lunch), but the best part about this place is the gorgeous patio full of Lila B. succulent arrangements.
  • Fayes Video & Espresso Bar – when I don’t find the time to make my own coffee before work, I love stopping by this shop.
  • The Mill – the infamous toast is totally expensive worth it.

Lunch:

  • Yamo – Burmese/Chinese hole-in-the-wall with the best noodles in all of San Francisco. The counter is pretty small, so you can also order your food to-go if you can’t get seats. Don’t know how I’ve lived so long without this place!
  • Curry Up Now – absolutely delicious Indian burritos (make sure to get them “Punjabi style”).
  • La Palma Mexicatessen – this place will change the way you think about tortillas.
  • Mission Picnic – A+ sandwiches.

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Weekend in Austin

My husband and I spent last weekend eating, walking, and (at least for Aaron) running through Austin, Texas. It was my third visit to Texas’ capitol but Aaron’s first, so we wanted to make sure that we hit the city’s best highlights during our short stay.

Greetings, y'all!

Greetings, y’all!

We didn’t do a lot of planning in advance for this trip; just some “Best Austin BBQ” Google searches and one Facebook post:

Austin recs

We received tons of great recommendations from friends who recently visited on lived in Austin, so we consolidated those notes and made a tentative game-plan. While we are in no way claiming to be Austin experts, below is a list of the places we checked out and would recommend to other visitors.

Friday:

– We arrived in Austin around 9:30 pm and asked our taxi driver to make a pit stop at Torchy’s Tacos on our way downtown. Even though one friend told us to skip tacos altogether and just focus on BBQ while in Austin, that friend was DEAD WRONG because Torchy’s tacos are not to be missed. They have an excellent secret menu, too.

torchy's

– Once we had secured our tacos, we checked into InterContinental Stephen F. Austin. The hotel was in a perfect location for the Austin Marathon (our whole reason for this particular Austin visit), but the downsides were the extra charge for in-room wifi and the lack of an outdoor pool.*

Saturday:

– We wanted to start the day with a breakfast for champions: the “Don Juan” breakfast taco from Juan in a Million. Holy moly that thing was good, and just one of them can easily feed two people. (Pro tip: ask for extra tortillas.) Don’t be discouraged by the crowd waiting outside the restaurant; the line moved quite quickly and we were seated in under 15 minutes.

juan in a million

– After breakfast we took a cab to the South Congress neighborhood (ask to get dropped off at Doc’s then walk south.) We grabbed iced coffees at Jo’s then wandered around the eclectic shops. It was especially fun ducking into Allens Boots and ByGeorge — those two stores couldn’t have been more different, but both were awesome! Our only regret was being too full from breakfast to try any of the cafes or bars in the neighborhood.

Had too much fun at Allens Boots. They even had U of M ones!

Had too much fun at Allens Boots. They even had U of M ones!

– The marathon expo was on our way back downtown, so by the time we walked over there and got Aaron checked in he had worked up enough of an appetite to justify a root beer float from Sandy’s. The perfect treat on a hot day.

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– We lucked out with gorgeous weather, so we walked all the way through downtown to the Capitol Building, then continued north to check out the University of Texas at Austin campus. I love seeing new college campuses, but man they can make you feel old! Also, it didn’t feel right being surrounded by so much burnt orange.

My best "Eyes of Texas" impression

My best “Eyes of Texas” impression

– From campus we took a taxi back downtown so we could walk through 6th Street before the evening’s debauchery began. We walked through the Red River district over to Rainey Street which used to be one of my favorite spots in town. Now, sadly, there are new condo buildings being constructed all around the quaint old houses and food trucks, killing the easy-going vibe. Nevertheless we still enjoyed a beer and some snacks at the Banger’s beer garden.

beer

– After Rainey Street we made our first bad decision of the trip: BBQ at Stubb’s. Fine music venue, not great BBQ.

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Seattle Weekend Recap

Happy Monday! We just got back from a wonderful weekend in Seattle, and we’re already excited about finding another time to head back up there. As great as San Francisco is, the prices here keep going up and up and the city seems more crowded than ever. Seattle, on the other hand, seems a lot more affordable and has tons of fun stuff going on without the intense competition for getting an apartment/restaurant reservations/tickets/cabs etc. We also had three perfectly sunny days there, and we’re starting to suspect that Seattle’s whole “rainy reputation” is just a ploy to keep the Californians from moving there in droves.

Here are some of the highlights from our weekend:

  • Absolutely everyone we asked told us to stay in Capitol Hill. We went the B&B route and stayed at Mozart Guest House right next to Volunteer Park. B&B’s aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but the owner Tina was a fantastic host and her breakfasts were a delicious start to each day.
  • If you’re into live sports, Seattle is a great city for you. We went to a Seattle Sounders* game on Friday, a University of Washington game on Saturday, and an Oakland A’s – ahem, I mean Seattle Mariners – game on Sunday. All of the stadiums looked great, were clean, and easy to get to. We loved wandering around the beautiful U of W campus, too.
  • Coffee, coffee everywhere! We only wished that the weather was a bit cooler so we would’ve craved it more.
  • The Fremont neighborhood is definitely worth the visit. We started our tour at the Fremont Troll then headed west to check out the Sunday market and funky shops.
  • I wouldn’t exactly call us a “Farmers’ market couple,” but the Sunday Market in Ballard was adorable. So much gorgeous produce, lots of good brunch places (without massive lines!!!) all around, and cute dogs everywhere.
  • The typical touristy stuff was great, too. The jaw-dropping Chihuly Garden and Glass took our breaths away, and the view from the top of the Space Needle was also worth the wait. Exploring Pike Place Market (AKA SF’s Ferry Building on steroids) was also a lot of fun, but we unfortunately didn’t have the appetite at the time to try any of the delicious-looking food. Travel-fail!
  • When we actually did have appetites, we very much enjoyed our meals at Scratch, Honey Hole, Local 360, and Poquitos.
  • We took an Uber to Alki Beach in West Seattle, then took a water taxi back to Pier 50. Would’ve been even better if we took the water taxi both ways, then we could’ve rented bicycles by Seacrest Dock instead of walking.

Below are a few pics from the trip.

photo 1 (58)      photo 2 (60)

photo 2 (58)      sounders

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University of Washington

photo 2 (61)      photo 2 (59)

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Chihuly glass

photo 4 (45)      photo 5 (36)

Safeco Field - Go A's!

Safeco Field – Go A’s!

A big thanks to my sister Nicole and my friends Alice, Cicely, Matt, and Maritza for all of the great Seattle recommendations. Hopefully we’ll be able to plan another trip up there this winter, so we can find out if the bad weather is just a myth after all.

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* The Seattle Sounders soccer match was one of the biggest highlights of the whole weekend. Their fans are insane, the pregame excitement was palpable, and they even have their own choreographed marching band, the Seattle Soundwave. The March to the Match is one of the coolest sports traditions that I’ve ever seen.

Real Honeymoon: Sonoma, Kauai & South Korea

Not only does the multi-leg itinerary make this honeymoon incredibly unique, but it’s also the first one that I’ve ever come across that involves both sets of in-laws! Read all about Jane and Sean’s one-of-a-kind honeymoon in wine country, Kauai, and South Korea below:

When and where did you honeymoon?

We had three legs to our honeymoon (Sonoma, Kauai, and South Korea), and we left the very next day after our wedding [May 11, 2014]. It was ambitious on our end, but we wanted to maximize the number of hours we had on actually enjoying our first destination rather than spending the precious time on a plane. Needless to say, we were two very, very, very tired (and hungover…) passengers on our flight [from Chicago] to California.

Healdsburg Honeymoon

Wine Country!

Kauai Honeymoon

Kauai!

South Korea Honeymoon

South Korea!

How long was your trip?

We spent three nights in Sonoma, six nights in Kauai, and five nights in South Korea.

hawaii honeymoon

How did you decide on your honeymoon destinations?

My in-laws have always wanted to visit Northern California (specifically, wine country) so we thought, “let’s go there first and invite them along!” So, we spent the first leg of our honeymoon with them in beautiful Sonoma (specifically, the adorable town of Healdsburg). If anyone is planning a trip to wine country, I would highly recommend staying at Hotel Healdsburg. Perfect location, exceptional hotel staff, and intimate (without being too quiet) ambience.

Healdsburg honeymoon

We live in Chicago so our Norcal destination was “on the way” to the second destination of our honeymoon (Kauai) which segmented the overall flight time. Kauai was an easy pick for us because that is our favorite of the Hawaiian islands. We’d both been there separately as kids so we were excited to explore the beautiful island together as adults. And, of course, Kauai did not disappoint!

Kauai honeymoon

As for the last and final leg of our honeymoon, we chose South Korea as Sean had never been there before and because every husband should see where his wife was born/raised! My parents joined us for this leg of the trip and they planned out the entire itinerary for our stay there. Since the majority of my extended family still reside in South Korea, my parents also planned a second wedding reception while we were there so that extended families who couldn’t make it to our Chicago wedding could attend. :)

south korea honeymoon

The best part about our honeymoon was…

Risking the fear of sounding too corny and mushy, the best part of our honeymoon was that we were ON our honeymoon. We were both bitten by the travel bug at an early age so we’ve both (together and separately) had significant travel logs under our belts. But, there is something so special and charming about being on your first trip as husband and wife. Even the most mundane activities such as enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning from the balcony of your hotel is novel and sweet. However, If I had to pick a single activity of our honeymoon that stood out the most, I’d have to say it was the 17-mile kayak tour along the Napali coast. Absolutely breath-taking.

napali coast

Kauai

kauai

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If You’re Eating in San Francisco…

Inspired by SF style and beauty blogger Gal Meets Glam‘s recent post, I decided to come up with my own list of favorite places to eat and drink in the City by the Bay!

I’ve lived in San Francisco for nearly 8 years now (3 in Cow Hollow, and 4 1/2 in the Castro), and I’ve had my fair share of incredible meals all over town. While you can certainly go to many restaurants where a great meal will cost at least $50 a person, one of the best things about SF is that some of the most wonderful meals in the city can be had for less than $10.

Not a bad looking city, eh?

Not a bad looking city, eh?

So if your travels bring you to San Francisco, below is the list of my favorite places to check out. Bon appétit!

Cafés/Breakfast/Coffee:

  • Philz Coffee – my go-to iced coffee.
  • Town’s End
  • Tartine Bakery & Cafe
  • Blue Bottle Coffee
  • Foreign Cinema – 3 words: homemade pop tarts.
  • Craftsman and Wolves – mmm… the rebel within!

Lunch:

  • Swan Oyster Depot – an absolute must for seafood-lovers.
  • Ike’s Place
  • Slanted Door (+ Out the Door
) – I’m completely obsessed with their spring rolls and peanut sauce.
  • Marina Submarine
  • Yank Sing – the most wonderful Shanghai dumplings in SF.
  • Red’s Java House – best place for burgers and chili fries before SF Giants games!
  • Twitter – yes, as in Twitter’s headquarters. Don’t miss a chance to have a meal there if you know an employee.

Burritos: (because, yes, SF burritos deserve their very own category)

  • El Farolito
  • Papalote
  • Gordo Taqueria
  • Taqueria Cancun
  • Espiga De Oro

Dinner:

  • State Bird Provisions – hands down, my absolute favorite restaurant in San Francisco.
  • Stones Throw – my new favorite burger in SF.
  • Hillstone
  • L’Ardoise – the best date night restaurant.
  • Shanghai Dumpling King – soooo many dumplings, soooo little $.
  • 
Spruce
  • nopa
  • Zazie

Drinks:

  • Blackbird
  • Trick Dog – really amazing cocktails.
  • Hi Tops – gay sports bar with awesome music and totally amazing food (brunch + dinner).
  • Southern Pacific Brewing Company 
  • Locanda – delicious cocktails (good Italian food, too).
  • Toronado

Weekend Getaway Recommendations for Californians

Unless you’re a full-time traveler, business school student, or lottery winner, you probably get to go on one or two big trips each year, tops. (If you don’t fall into one of those categories and you go on lots of awesome international vacations every year, please message me – you need to teach me your secrets!) That means that the majority of the trips that you go on are on the smaller side, and we haven’t discussed those types of trips too much on the blog, aside from the few mini-moon posts.

Many of my blog followers and I live in California, so I wanted to write a post about some of the best in-state weekend getaway destinations, and where to stay. We Californians are pretty lucky with a plethora of local vacation options; no matter what city we’re in, beaches, mountains, deserts, or forests are just a short drive away. Naturally, I asked my team of local travel experts (a.k.a. my friends) where they’ve recently stayed when they needed a a quick little vacation from their lives in the “big city” (a.k.a. San Francisco and Los Angeles). Some of the hotels are bigger splurges than others, but all of them have received an honorary gold star as a great accommodation for a weekend getaway.

California getaways

We’ll start the list with “North California” (ugh), and make our way south. If there are any cities/hotels that you’d like me to add to the list, please send them my way!

Mendocinoperfect for total relaxation by the sea.
Stanford Inn by the Sea
Stevenswood Lodge

Tahoe: perfect for skiing, snowboarding, hiking, and boating.
Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort
Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe

Healdsburg: perfect place to drink wine with your four-legged friends (there are lots of dog-friendly wineries!).
H2 Hotel
L & M Motel

Calistoga: perfect for drinking wine and soaking in mineral pools.
Solage
Indian Springs

Yountville: perfect for winos and serious foodies.
Bardessono
Vintage Inn

Napa: perfect for wine wine wine, and, oh yeah, wine!
Westin Verasa Napa Hotel
Napa River Inn

Half Moon Bay: perfect for those seeking classic elegance on the beach, and pumpkin festivals in October.
Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay

Carmel/Montereyperfect for golfers, beach-lovers and aquarium enthusiasts.
Carmel Valley Ranch
Bernadus Lodge & Spa
Sprindrift Inn

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Real Honeymoon: Canadian Rockies

That’s right, this is Peonies to Palm Trees’ very first real honeymoon from the Great White North! This week’s real honeymooners had a great time driving all around the Canadian Rockies, and it just goes to show that you don’t need to fly halfway around the world and spend a small fortune to to enjoy an awesome honeymoon. Read all about their fun Canadian honeymoon below, eh?:

When and where did you honeymoon?

We travelled to the Rockies in southern Alberta, right after our wedding in July 2013.

We flew into Calgary, and spent a few days in Banff, followed by two nights in Calgary (for the Calgary Stampede).  We then did a day trip northeast to Drumheller (dinosaurs!), then went back to the Rockies, staying in Canmore for another two nights (where mostly townies and winter athletes live), and then Jasper (after driving through the Columbia Icefields).  Finally, we finished the trip with two days in Lake Louise.

The itinerary wasn’t ideal geographically, but we did it this way to catch the Calgary Stampede (which ended in the middle of our honeymoon); plus, it was only about 4 hours of out-of-the-way driving.

canada honeymoon

How long was your trip?

Ten days, although we’d already been away for a week just prior for our wedding in the Maritimes.

canada honeymoon

How did you decide on your honeymoon destination(s)?

Our criteria were: 1. Somewhere we’d never been before; 2. Take advantage of summer in the Northern Hemisphere (i.e. we’d rather save a Caribbean beach vacation for February when we need a reprieve from Michigan winters); and 3. Not super far away.

This essentially left North America, north of 45 degrees or so, and Western Europe.  Since we’d both been to various parts of Europe relatively recently, North America it was.  Banff just came up as a pretty place that met all our criteria.

Canada honeymoon

The best part about our honeymoon was…

A tie between endless gorgeous mountains views, and watching the rodeo at the Calgary Stampede (which the Canadian one between us wanted to do since seeing it on TV as a kid). We had some ambivalence about cowboys riding bucking horses and roping calves, but it was still a fun cultural experience to have once.

calgary stampede

If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

We would have probably come back a day or two earlier, both to save on cost and to have more time to settle back in at home after being away for three weeks.  (So much laundry to wash and presents to unpack and garden to weed!)

We knew Banff was a tourist town, but we were still blown away by how expensive everything was.  We wish we’d spent a bit less time there, and more time in the more chill and less yuppie Canmore, which was still pretty and had a cute, walkable downtown.

We also should have looked at the fuel gauge more often.  Luckily we found a gas station in the lovely, very small town of Carbon, only 11km off the “main” road on our way to Drumheller (dinosaurs!).  No pushing a neutral car required, although it was a tense ride, with as much coasting on the downhills as possible.

canada honeymoon

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Real Mini-moon: Sedona

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a Real Mini-moon post, so I was extra excited when my friends CK and Allison told me that they were going on a mini-moon in Sedona.  Read all about their amazing pet-friendly getaway below:

When and where did you mini-moon?

We traveled to Sedona, Arizona for our minimoon October 14-17th [2013]. After getting married in Scottsdale, we wanted to take a little getaway after our wedding since we are not going on our actual honeymoon until middle of November. Sedona is a popular tourist town known for its red rock formations, outdoor activities, and beautiful fall weather.

Sedona

sedona pup

How long was your trip?

We stayed for three nights. We initially were only going to stay for two, but we are definitely glad we stayed for three. We have both been to Sedona a few times before and have explored most of the things to do there, so this was more of a relaxing trip. For someone’s first time, I would definitely recommend a minimum of three nights, but four to five nights would probably be best.

Sedona

sedona hiking

How did you decide on your mini-moon destination?

Sedona is great because it is only about an hour and a half drive from Phoenix. You also get a welcome change in temperature and we were able to see the start of some fall colors. One or two weeks later would have been perfect to view the fall leaves. We knew that Sedona would be the perfect escape as a nice resort town; it is quiet, has great restaurants, and plenty of hiking opportunities.

Sedona

We chose to stay at the Amara Resort and Spa. The Amara resort was wonderful. Perfect location, located right off main street/uptown Sedona where all of the shops and restaurants are and is also located right on the beautiful Oak Creek. Another main reason is that it is pet friendly – we couldn’t leave our pet behind knowing we would be going on multiple hikes, she would not be happy with us. It is part of the Kimpton line of hotels which I have learned are all pet friendly. We opened our room to a welcome sign for our dog Molly, a nice dog bed and food/water bowls setup. (They also had champagne and strawberries for us).

woof

champagne

We had a courtyard suite, which I definitely recommend. Well worth it for the better view of the courtyard, pool and creek. The salt water pool that has a negative edge overlooking the creek was also a nice place to relax and enjoy the view. Oh, and don’t forget the free wine tasting every evening, that was a plus! Lastly, the famous L’Auberge de Sedona resort is located right next door. This place is amazing, you are able to walk right over, they basically share the same grounds. They have adorable little cottages and an amazing restaurant, queue the next question…

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Where You Should Honeymoon in September

Once Labor Day Weekend is over, September can be one of the best months for travel, namely because many families stop traveling after their kids go back to school which makes the prices go down a bit.  So what are the best September honeymoon destinations?  Although you’ll probably want to avoid the Caribbean due to hurricane season, there are lots of other great places to visit in Europe, the Americas, and Oceania.

Here’s a run-down of Lonely Planet’s four destination recommendations for September with, of course, plenty of additional commentary from yours truly.

Barcelona

Barcelona is one of those cities that truly has it all: tons of culture, great nightlife, amazing food, and, oh yeah, a beach!  Barcelona is still plenty warm in September, so you can spend your honeymoon sightseeing in the mornings, taking a daily siesta on the playa in the afternoons, and then eating paella and drinking sangria all night long.  I also recommend signing up for a bike tour to get a good feel for the city.  However, as wonderful as Barcelona is, the city does have a reputation for petty crime, so just remember to be aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded touristy areas like Las Ramblas.

Barcelona Playa

The beach in Barcelona

parc guell

Park Güell in Barcelona

To make your September honeymoon even better, consider combining Barcelona with another cool city in Spain, such as the beach town of San Sebastian (5.5 hour train ride from Barcelona) or the gorgeous Balearic Islands (one hour flight from Barcelona).

Croatia

Once the busy summer tourist season dies down, Croatia is a wonderful honeymoon destination for early fall.  While the water may cool off a bit, you can still enjoy warm weather in the seaside towns of Dubrovnik and Rovinj, and finding accommodations on the islands of Hvar and Dugi otok will be much easier.

If you do decide to honeymoon in Croatia, don’t forget to spend a day visiting one of my favorite places in the entire world: Plitvice Lakes National Park.  The beautiful scenery will just blow you away.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Croatia

Hvar, Croatia

California

Of course I am biased towards my home state, but even Lonely Planet thinks it’s a great September destination!  Because we tend to get a late Indian Summer each year, September/October are definitely the best months for visiting San Francisco, and it’s also a great time for relaxing in Wine Country or driving down the coast to Big Sur, San Luis Obispo, or Santa Barbara.  The beach towns in Southern California (e.g. Malibu, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, etc.) are fantastic honeymoon destinations, too.  If you want any specific recommendations of where to go/what to do in California, feel free to message me directly.

McWay Falls in Big Sur

McWay Falls in Big Sur

The views of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco never get old

The views of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco never get old

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How Reliable is TripAdvisor for Honeymoon Planning?

Any savvy person knows that travel websites based mostly on user-generated content need to be taken with a grain… okay, maybe a huge pile of salt.  With these types of websites, anyone can pretty much post anything, good or bad, online for the rest of the world to read.  This means that competitors can unabashedly badmouth each other’s businesses, and friends of business owners can post unsubstantiated raving reviews.  In short, it’s no secret that these websites can be unreliable.

That being said, there’s a lot of potential value to websites such as TripAdvisor, assuming that there are also plenty of honest people out there who are willing to publish their unbiased opinions about hotels, restaurants, and things to do.  But weeding out the legitimate reviews from the phony ones can sometimes be hard to do, so it the unreliability even worth it?

In my own experience with TripAdvisor, here are a couple of rules I’ve established for myself over the years:

  • You need to actually read the reviews, don’t just rely on the number of stars/dots/mustaches*/whatever.
  • Don’t trust the reviews with awful grammatical or spelling errors.
  • If a review seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If a review is uncharacteristically angry, the reviewer is probably crazy.
  • If the reviews for a particular hotel/restaurant/thing to do are all over the place, it’s probably best to skip it.
  • The smaller the city or town, the more accurate the reviews will be.

Let me use San Francisco as an example of a big city with less-than-accurate reviews.  Below are two screenshots from my phone of the nine highest ranked restaurants in town as of 9:26 AM this morning:

TripAdvisor

My circle of friends and I go out to eat a lot, and many of us have been living in SF for nearly a decade, and no one I’ve asked has ever even heard of half of this list.  I’m certainly not saying that since none of us have heard of these places they cannot be great restaurants, but I am saying is that the list is not an accurate depiction of what many San Franciscans would name as the best restaurants in town (especially for tourists).**

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