Santa Cruz

We recently ventured on a day trip to Santa Cruz. A relatively short drive from the city and home to the beach boardwalk, California’s oldest surviving amusement park that has been in operation since 1907.

We drove down via the scenic Highway 1 and stopped for a windy picnic en route. Once we arrived at our destination we were hit by block heat and a sudden lack of wind. The difference in weather around California still surprises me!

The amusement park is situated on the beachfront and reminds me a little of Santa Monica in LA, just on a smaller scale.

After a huge surge of adrenaline and some ice cream we headed back to the city.

Some pictures from our trip…

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No we are not on a movie set…

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When we first arrived in SF it felt like we had landed in a movie set. Everything looked and felt different, we didn’t know where we were going, people sounded and acted differently; it felt very surreal to say the least.

After getting over that stage, it then felt like a kind of holiday. I took my camera everywhere, snapped away at everything and eagerly worked through my list of tourist must sees. My favourite read was the ‘Rough guide to San Francisco and the Bay Area’. It was very exciting.

Now after roughly four months those feelings have mostly subsided for a more settled feeling. Things have calmed down. I do not need to photograph everything because it doesn’t look so unusual anymore. Our stuff has arrived from London and our home looks like a home. We have a routine and know where things are within the community and the city. We have made new friends and the supermarket no longer feels like a crazy maze that takes ages to navigate and conquer.

It feels like we have been here so much longer than four months, I guess because we have taken in so much new information.

Wine Country

We have now made two visits to ‘Wine Country’ and so I feel slightly better equipped to write a post on it. Our first visit was to the quaint little town of St.Helena in Napa, where you can find a cute little high street full of boutiques and eateries. We had a really enjoyable lunch at http://travignerestaurant.com and then visited a small Italian winery called https://www.benesserevineyards.com for a tasting.  Our second trip was part of an organised tour with our apartment building to Sonoma. We visited three wineries in the day, my favourites were http://www.kunde.com and http://www.vjbcellars.com. VJB had a great courtyard, deli and pizza oven where we sat for lunch whilst opera singers entertained us. We did a tour of the wine caves in Kunde and learnt about the different types of oak barrels used in the wine making process, similarly to how a chef uses spices.

Wine country is HOT. It can be a relatively fresh day in San Francisco and after the fairly short drive you get out the car and feel the heat! The day we were in St. Helena the temperature was 33 degrees. Therefore my top tip is to dress accordingly and apply sunscreen. Three wineries is the perfect amount per day, anymore and you start feeling the effects a little too much and loose sight of the purpose of going wine tasting in the first place.

Cheers!

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Happy Hawaiian Holidays

We have just returned from our first holiday in Hawaii. It was beautiful and exactly how I imagined Hawaii to be; green and lush with lots of brightly coloured tropical flowers. We went to Kauai which is often referred to as ‘the garden island’, and it does live up to its name. We stayed at Poipu on the south side which is supposed to be the ‘sunnier side’. We had planned for a relaxing holiday rather than one full of activities and that is exactly what we had. We lay beside the pool, swam in the sea, took walks along the beach, drunk cocktails in the hot tub and I even read a book (something I am ashamed to say I haven’t done since moving to SF). Just perfect!

On the last day we went on a sailing trip to see the Na Pali Coast, one of the must see’s on this particular island. It was the greyest day we had during our trip but on the positive side the calmest at sea, so it made for a smooth trip and relaxed snorkelling. We were lucky enough to see dolphins and turtles. The coast was magnificent, think huge dramatic cliffs unspoilt as you can only access by hiking or helicopter. The setting has been used in many films recently, ‘The Descendants’ and currently a ‘Jurassic Park’ sequel.

Everyone is super laid back on the island and everything happens at a slow pace which makes for the perfect holiday destination.

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The Big Sur

A few weekends ago we made our first ever trip down to the Big Sur, a region within the central coast of California well known for dramatic and picturesque coastlines. We drove mostly down Highway 1 which is one of the most beautiful highways I have ever driven along with lots of places to stop and take pictures, this is hard as every turn there is a great spot!

We had a windswept picnic on Pfeiffer Beach which was fun and sandy.  En route back to San Francisco we stopped for sunset drinks at Nepenthe after a recommendation. This is a restaurant/bar with amazing views and a relaxed atmosphere. They have a fire pit for colder evenings. http://www.nepenthebigsur.com  

Next time we will probably make a weekend of it as it is quite a long drive for a day trip. It is also a large area and so we have lots more to discover. If you get the chance GO, you won’t regret it.

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A chilled afternoon in Mission Dolores Park

I had heard lots of good things about this park from a variety of sources but hadn’t tried it out for myself until this past weekend. It is situated in the Mission District of the city and boasts great views of the financial district and beyond. The park is currently undergoing a restoration project and some parts are out of bounds but we can look forward to a bigger and better park in the near future.

Like much of SF there was an eclectic mix of people and a fun festival like ambience. One group had set up a palm tree trapeze, another a bubble blowing machine and a few individuals were roaming round selling ‘medicated’ cookies and chocolate truffles. Dogs raced around chasing one another and music hummed in the distance. You can imagine the people watching!

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I think I have found the appropriate place to give my new picnic set its first outing!

My worst discovery so far

I have just found out that my UK driving license will allow me to drive for 1 year in California but retaking my theory and driving test is imminent. I have never driven on the other side of the road, despite having travelled all over the world, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about it. Eeek!

Time travelling back to 28th December 1998, I was full with anticipation about embarking upon something that was very important to me. My FIRST driving lesson. I had scheduled it in for the morning of my 17th birthday and I was terribly excited about the prospect of being able to drive and having the freedom to go anywhere I desired. I was amongst the eldest of my group of childhood friends and I remember the importance of acquiring this skill was not only important to me but also to all of them. The pressure was high and intense.

After many hours of instruction it was the day of my exam. It was stressful, probably more so than GCSE’s in my book. Much to my extreme sadness I failed, I think I cried when the instructor broke this catastrophic news to me. I remember returning home after this horrid experience feeling utterly sad to find my Mum standing on the doorstep with a box of chocolates and bouquet of flowers in hand, cheering ‘well done Joanna’. Very sweet but being a teenager and a little selfish this didn’t make me feel any better, it felt like the end of the world.

Time passed and my second test came and went. However, this time I PASSED!!! It was one of those great life moments and very memorable for all of those who knew me, including the instructor who I recall got screamed at with happiness this time. I was on top of the world. I enjoyed driving pretty much everywhere and would happily drive to Liverpool and Birmingham, where some of my friends were at university, even though I didn’t know the way. This was before the time of satellite navigation sadly and I had to make frequent map stops.

However, despite reminiscing about all of these memories fondly I am not so excited about the prospect of repeating that experience for a second time round.  I am going to tackle this anxiety after our upcoming holiday before it grows. Updates to follow…

The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival

This weekend saw the finale of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japantown, San Francisco. Visting Japan to see the Cherry Blossom has always been on my bucket list and so the opportunity to go to this was an easy decision for me, I was not disappointed! The festival was a celebration of Japanese and Japanese American culture which I find facinating. We watched calligraphy demonstrations, learnt about traditional Japanese games, admired Bonsai trees older that us, watched the grand parade and ate some delicious Japanese Food. It was a super hot sunny day and a definite must do if you are in San Francisco during this celebration. http://sfcherryblossom.org/WP/

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Berkeley

On the Easter weekend we drove to the east shore of the bay to visit Berkeley. We started off at the University of California which was everything I had imagined a American University to be after seeing them so often in films. The grounds were expansive and manicured, and there was a hive of student activity.

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We then explored the marina and pier area where you can catch a glimpse of the San Francisco skyline, before heading to Chez Panisse for lunch. The restaurant has won many awards and Alice Waters (the owner) is often described as having invented Californian cuisine. The food was fresh and delicious, and we will definitely return to dine in the evening. http://www.chezpanisse.com/intro.php 

Great Little Finds: Malibu Farm Cafe, Malibu

We stumbled across this cute little cafe on a weekend trip to LA. The menu features lots of healthy, local and organic food plus fresh juices (including ones of the green variety). It is located at the end of the pier and has great views of the ocean and the beach. A great place to stop for brunch or lunch and apparently their grilled chocolate cake is delicious. https://www.malibu-farm.com

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LA

This weekend we hopped on a plane and flew over to LA, I am loving these easy weekend trips around the US! The flight was super short and before we knew it we had landed in La La land. We hired a convertible to feel the wind in our hair and to make the most of the warmer weather they have there. It was great fun!

We enjoyed driving round the hills and looking at the amazing homes of the rich and famous, ate lots of good food and hit the beaches of Malibu and Santa Monica. Our hotel had a rooftop pool so we also spent some time lounging up there and sipping yummy cocktails. We ate at a great new restaurant on Saturday evening which alongside the normal menu serves american dim sum on trolleys whilst you dine. It was really fun trying the various offerings and everything was more than delicious. We even had alcoholic popsicles made for us right in front of our eyes using liquid nitrogen. The lady serving us was pushing a Pan Am airlines trolley and dressed as a stewardess. Quite an experience! http://www.thechurchkeyla.com

I loved Santa Monica and the long boardwalk along the ocean, great for people watching. LA we will definitely be back to visit you again soon!

The famous sign

How we explored

Pretty palm trees

Paradise Cove, Mailbu

Paddle Boarders

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Birds taking flight on Paradise Cove beach

Santa Monica Pier

Kite Flying on Santa Monica beach

View from Santa Monica Pier

Practising trapeze on the beach

Shopping paradise

Our rooftop pool and views of the hills

Paradise aka Angel Island

On the weekend we headed to Angel Island, it was the hottest day we have had so far, I have the sunburnt Rudolph nose to prove it! We drove to Tiburon and then took a short ferry crossing over to the island. We started off by doing a Segway Tour which was so much fun, I was a little skeptical at first but after getting the hang of it enjoyed zooming around. They go up to 12 miles per hour which feels quite speedy.

After a lunch stop we then hiked up to the summit to get the most impressive views of the bay area. It is such a lovely island escape, there are several campsites if you wish to extend your stay. Here is our day in pictures…

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The ferry crossing is very short from Tiburon

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Views of the city

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Angel Island

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Enjoying the views of the Golden Gate

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I have so many great pictures it was very hard to select a group

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The beaches are beautiful

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We climbed to the summit

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A great day for sailing

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The descent

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Till next time Angel Island

 

 

The Japanese Tea Garden

One of the most peaceful and tranquil spots in the city is the little oasis in Golden Gate Park, known as the Japanese Tea Garden. It is very much like stepping into another world, with lots of Japanese and Chinese plants, bridges, sculptures and a Koi pond. You have to pay to go in which helps with the crowd control, or maybe we just got lucky?

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Majestic Muir Woods

On the weekend we expelled any excess calories by hiking in Muir Woods and Mount Tamalpais, we even set our alarms and got up early on a Sunday to beat the crowds. We zoomed through the city and over the Golden Gate as a reward for our efforts.

Muir Woods is a coastal redwood forest and it was serene. It had rained in the night so the plants gave off a refreshing forest aroma. The sun light glimmers through the tall trees and makes you feel like you are in a movie set.

ImageImageImage After a rather arduous uphill climb we came to a clearing with views far down to the coast below.

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We then drove over to the east peak of Mount Tamalpais and climbed up to the summit to see views of the bay area including the city. Can you spot me admiring the view?!

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The town of Tiburon

After Sausalito we headed to Tiburon, another charming little place, which felt much less touristy than it’s neighbour. The historic main street is so picturesque with brightly painted shop fronts and old fashioned signs. Again it has views of the city including the Golden Gate Bridge. We will definitely head back for a picnic beside the sea!

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After a walk around the town we drove up to ‘Old St Hilary’s Church’. What a perfect church to get married in, it makes me want to do it all over again!

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Sausalito

On the weekend we had the pleasure of visiting the quaint and picturesque Sausalito in Marin County. It is a short drive from San Francisco over the landmark Golden Gate Bridge. We had a walk by the sea, admiring the city scape views and a fresh shellfish lunch in one of the restaurants overlooking the bay. We are so lucky to have all of this beautiful scenery on our doorstep and it makes a great change from the huge skyscrapers and busyness of the city.

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Less of the British reserve please

One thing I have noticed so far is that American’s generally say what they think when they think it, there is much less reserve than us Brits seem to have. It is common for people to come right out and tell you if they like your accent (this is very common), the colour you are wearing etc.

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My favourite discoveries so far…

Those of you who know me know some of my favourite things are great coffee, good food and hunting down new places to go. So this is my round up so far of the best discoveries in SF.

Blue Bottle Coffee http://www.bluebottlecoffee.com

This is delicious! In London my favourite coffee was Climpson & Sons http://www.climpsonandsons.com and this is proving to be a good substitute. They also have cafe’s in NYC.

Acme Bread http://www.acmebread.com

I first tried this bread at a great restaurant opposite our apartment called Alta http://www.altaca.co in the form of ricotta on rye toast with blood orange, brown butter and caraway. The bread was so good it held it’s own amongst the other amazing flavours.

Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream http://www.humphryslocombe.com

This delicious traditional ice cream comes in the most unusual flavours I have ever encountered.

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I tried the Olive Oil which was delicious with a refreshing citrus flavour.

More foodie findings to follow…

San Francisco vs. London

Every time I chat to my Mum she asks me what I prefer and miss from my old life, so here goes…

I definitely prefer the weather in SF. It has been really lovely most days since our arrival, comparable to ‘pleasant’ spring/early summer weather in the UK. It is so nice to wake up to blue skies and to wear flip flop’s! We have been told that the summer months can be foggy but then you are only a short drive away from sunnier places, so that is when we plan to do our road trips to places like Napa and Sonoma.

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The next thing is where we live. Our building is amazing and has endless facilities from the gym to the sky terrace to the valet parking (I could go on). Everything is brand new and spacious. I love having so many facilities under one roof, we are even getting a restaurant soon from which we will be able to order room service. It is very different to living in a period property in Earlsfield, London, with a tiny garden!

I like the fact that the city is relatively small, I been here just over 5 weeks and can already help tourists with directions. San Francisco is approximately 46.9 sq miles compared to London at 607 sq miles (source Wikipedia). I have been doing lots of walking and exploring which helps.

We are super excited to explore California and the US, the ‘bucket list’ of places has grown so much since the move. Domestic flights are really cheap and easy. In the UK it can be a bit of a mission to get out of the country, where as you can get through the airports much quicker here when you are flying within the US. It is also easy to get out of the city by car as our apartment building is close to the highway.

Now for the things I miss…friends and family are obviously the first thing that comes to mind. When you move to a new place it takes time to meet people and even more time to make genuine friends. I know this from when I made the move from Wales to London many years ago only knowing a few people who lived there. I think it has been easier this time as I have the experience (thinking of all you lovely London friends as I write this). Luckily modern technology makes it super easy to stay in touch!

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I also miss grocery shops like Waitrose and Sainsbury’s. In SF we have Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Safeway, which are all good for different things but not where you can do your complete weekly shop. On the plus, we do have a great Farmer’s Market twice weekly very close to where we live.

So there you have it, an initial review of how I feel so far. I wonder if and how it will change, only time will tell?