30 March 2015

2nd Best California Vacation Ever!

In March, my wife and I spent 8 days in California. It was kind of an ambitious trip. We covered a lot of ground, starting in Los Angeles, then to the Paso Robles wine country, ending in San Francisco. It was a busy trip. But probably because we’ve traveled to California many times in our married life, we had things pretty well planned out. At least part of it was the weather. California’s climactic misfortune – an extended drought – meant that we had generally gorgeous weather the whole time.

I’ll post more details about some of the restaurants we visited. But here’s an overview of the trip.

Los Angeles: Like our trip last year, we started in Los Angeles where I had a board meeting for Mazon, the anti-hunger advocacy organization that I serve on. We stayed again at the Hotel Palomar near the UCLA campus. I’ve said it before, I’m a big fan of Kimpton Hotels. But after this second stay, I’m tempted to say that the Palomar is my favorite of all. It certainly is an ideal location. It’s a one-mile walk to Mazon’s office where the board meeting was held. And it’s close to the restaurants, entertainment venues, and sights that we wanted to visit. IMG_0338

  • Sculpture garden on the UCLA campus.
  • Botanical garden, also on the UCLA campus. Besides being a peaceful oasis in the busy city and bustling campus, we were fascinated by the turtles we saw swimming in the little creek and sunning on its banks.
  • Holmby Park – This was our walking destination on the Sunday after we arrived. It’s an easy walk from the Palomar, and a nice little park. On a Sunday morning, with record high temperatures, the park was busy with people walking their dogs and families with their children. But we continued past the park into the Holmby Hills residential neighborhood where we oogled the fabulous mansions located there.
  • Will Rogers Beach – After our walk, we drove to the end of Sunset Boulevard to have lunch at Gladstone’s. We’ve been there before; here’s the link to the review I wrote in 2007. I won’t write any more about it. It’s outrageously expensive (like $25 for a plate of fish and chips). But the view is fantastic, especially on a hot sunny day. And the food is quite good. After our lunch, we walked the beach and even waded into the surf to get our feet wet.
  • Besides Gladstone’s we had a return meal at AOC. Like our past meals there, it was fantastic. But still no celebrity sightings.
  • The other restaurants were ink and Pace. Our meal at ink was the most unusual of our vacation – small plates, wonderful flavors, unusual but appealing combinations. At Pace we enjoyed fantastic Italian fare in a comfortable setting with a jazz combo enhancing the ambiance. I plan to post more detailed reviews about both, so no more about them now.

Paso Robles: After LA, our plan was to drive up the coast to San Francisco. To break up the drive, we decided to check out the Paso Robles wine region. It was a fairly easy drive after we got out of the LA traffic. We picked up picnic fare along the way and ate at one of the wineries that we visited. We enjoyed the wineries very much, better than the Santa Barbara wineries that we visited last year.

  • Wineries – Turley, Opolo, Brecon, and Halter Ranch. We especially liked the wine at Brecon, Halter Creek, and Turley.
  • Paso Robles Inn – We wanted to stay near the town square in order to get a feel for the town and be close to restaurant choices. (The alternative would have been to stay at a winery B&B, which sounded like fun, too.) The Inn is very comfortable and moderately priced. It’s located right across from the town square. The Inn consists of several different buildings surrounding some very nice grounds and gardens.
  • La Cosecha – This was the restaurant we chose for dinner in Paso Robles. After tasting wine all afternoon, we enjoyed having a cocktail before dinner. The restaurant has a great drinks menu. The food is primarily Spanish. I especially enjoyed the ceviche of shrimp and scallops that we had for a starter.

San Francisco: This was our final destination. We stopped to have lunch with relatives in Los Gatos. Then finished the drive into The City. Before turning in our rental car, we drove out to Lands End and Seal Rock. They’ve built a very nice visitor center there since the last time we were in SF. Our hotel was the Galleria Park, a Joie de Vivre located in the Financial District. We’ve stayed at other JDV hotels in the past and found them to be very pleasant. Our room was quite small. Fortunately, we’re not large people. But I could imagine a bigger person feeling very cramped in the tiny bathroom. The hotel was ideally located for our planned activities and restaurants.

  • Golden Gate Park – No vacation in SF is complete without a visit to Golden Gate Park. Besides the beautiful trees and plants, the park is home to the De Young Museum and its fantastic sculpture garden. I was disappointed to have just missed an exhibit of work by Keith Haring. But there was one of his sculptures on display near the entrance to the museum. Despite having visited the Park on many occasions in the past, this was our first time walking around Stowe Lake and onto the little island on the lake. We ate a picnic lunch lakeside. The ducks and gulls shared some sourdough bread with us, after we were done eating. The only disappointment from this visit was that the rose garden had just started blooming and wasn’t at full color yet.
  • Farmers market at the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero – The variety of fresh, local food that’s available at the market is astounding. We shared a smoked brisket sandwich from Shorty Goldstein’s Jewish Deli booth at the market. Delicious.
  • Chinatown – Sure it’s a cliché. It’s jam-packed with people and stores and shops overflowing with knick-knacks, souvenirs, and cheap toys. But it’s an integral part of the culture of San Francisco, which makes it worthwhile to visit, even just to walk through and take in the sights and sounds.
  • Jewish Museum – I really like this museum. But it’s a small museum, and its exhibits are thematic. On this particular visit, the exhibits were more cultural than artistic. They were instructive, but not as enjoyable for our preference.
  • Restaurants: On this trip, we revisited two old favorites and two new experiences. IMG_0381
    • Kokkari – This is our favorite restaurant in the city. I’ve reviewed it before, and don’t really have anything new to add. Only to say that we like it so much, it’s probably the only restaurant that’s on our ‘must eat there’ list for future trips to SF. Here’s my review from our first dinner there, in 2008. Here’s my second post about it.
    • La Mar – We’d eaten here for lunch previously. We liked it so much that we decided to try it for dinner this time. It was fantastic, as we expected. The only thing is, my wife is sensitive to cilantro, and a lot of the dishes are seasoned with it. However, the menu is very extensive, and we did not have trouble finding other dishes for her to eat.
    • Piperade – Totally new to us, and wonderful. I’d heard about it and had it on my list of restaurants to try in SF. It features food from the Basque region of Spain. I’ll write more about it on another post. But it fully met our expectations.
    • Waterfront – We’ve eaten here for lunch and dinner. It’s a very good, nothin’ fancy fish and seafood restaurant right on the Embarcadero. It’s not as touristy as Fisherman’s Wharf. We decided to have our last night’s dinner here. The photo above was our dinner at the Waterfront; what a beautiful view of the Bay Bridge! It was a perfect choice.

It’s hard to imagine how this vacation could have been any better. Just for the record, however, our No. 1 Best California Vacation Ever was 40+ years ago … our honeymoon.

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