Our May trip to California: madcap recap

By the numbers:
– days away: 9
– burgers + fries and/or milkshake meals: 4
– ice cream sandwiches: 3
– Chinese breakfasts from Wong Lee on Jackson: 3 (i.e., each day we were there)
– Napa wineries visited: 3
– bottles of wine purchased: 2
– hockey play-off games watched in bars ’round town: 3
– studio tours: 2 for NPY, 1 for me
– average steps taken per day (per fitbit): 16,557 (max: 28,750 – a day around SF; min: 8,040 – a day around Napa)

We’re back from eight days in California and straight onto our next project – moving! It all has to happen in the next two weeks and we are practically starting from scratch, i.e., not a thing packed yet. So here is the brief but complete recap.

Saturday, May 10
I really don’t travel often enough. At YVR, we were confronted with the automated customs/immigration kiosks much ballyhooed by the YVR Twitter account (apparently Vancouver is a pioneer) which allowed us to fill out the declaration form electronically. I was tagged for the full-body scanner or pat-down and check for illegal substances in my suitcase. NPY thinks it was related to me traveling with a passport expiring within six months. We flew United which did not let me check-in until we got to the airport, which I will take into consideration next time I book with NPY. I had booked for us a SuperShuttle ride to our hotel (Hilton in the Financial District, an Air Miles redemption – thanks, Mummy!) in advance online and used a discount code. Breathed a sigh of relief that our room was good and it might have been due to the Air Miles redemption that we were put onto an Executive Floor (22nd)… or not. We had a great view looking north at the bay. We picked up a pre-dinner burger-fries-milkshake at Super Duper (Tim’s recommendation) then walked it off around Union Square and shopping at Uniqlo. I had booked a late dinner reservation at Barbacco which turned out to be a nice spot.


Sunday, May 11
We rolled out earlier than I anticipated and walked around Chinatown next door to our hotel. 13 months ago, when I was last in San Francisco, the proprietors of Golden Gate Bakery had shut the place down to go on vacation. It happened again! NPY thinks it is no longer in business. It turns out the ladies who run the place vacation often and there is even a website that tracks if they are open or closed! I visited the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory that I missed last year – $0.50 happily paid in order to take a few photographs of the place. Then we turned east and head to the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero which I also managed to miss last time. It’s a glorious marketplace and NPY picked up a New Orleans style iced coffee from Blue Bottle Coffee Co. We looked up at Coit Tower which I really wanted to go to this time around but it was so unseasonally warm that weekend we stayed along the water – I know I will be back again and so there’s always next time. The Exploratorium had free admission for all so we queued up for it and eventually got into the madhouse. My favourite part of it was a seriously fun-house mirror that really baffled us because we could never see ourselves in it. Slowly and with many breaks, we made it to Pier 39 where we breaked to have a flight of California beers at Beer 39 (get it?) and revel in happy sea lion watching. Next stop was Fisherman’s Wharf (a seafood salad sandwich and In-N-Out Burger) then Ghirardelli Square (a visit to the ice cream shop). Thank goodness we were walking so much! We walked back to the hotel via crooked Lombard Street and had dinner at The House which my cousins took me to last year and just about everyone else I know also ends up there while in San Fran!



Monday, May 12
We didn’t head out overly early and picked up our car from Avis in the Hyatt on the Embarcadero. Initially, I booked at the full price but then found a discount through work and was giddy. Then I found an even better discount through Costco and sat very proud of myself. We would, afterall, have the car for six days so savings helps. Avis is usually my first choice for because their locations tend to work for me and so do their partnerships with travel rewards but to seal the deal, they did not charge a fee for me to drop off the car in a different city. First, on Monday, we were headed to Napa Valley on a compare-and-contrast trip with the Okanagan region we visit annually. On first glance, Napa is about ten times more dense with wineries than the Okanagan and I didn’t know where to start. We visited Darioush which has a very unique exterior. Our next stop was Stag’s Leap because I thought it was closed early. Our tasting room server, Ken, was entertaining and highly knowledgeable. We went to grand Beringer and walked a bit around St. Helena and braved walking the exposed and blazing hot stretch between the main Main Street strip and Gott’s Roadside. All in the name of more milkshake! We took in the Napa Valley vista with sparkling wine and cheese on the patio of Domaine Carneros. After a day in Napa, we surely won’t complain about wine tasting fees in the Okanagan and I’ve concluded we are spoiled with the scenic wine country so close by. I can’t wait for our trip in the summer! There was still daylight when we got back to the city and I visited the Painted Ladies (two of the five are being rejuvenated and behind scaffolds). We had tacos at La Taqueria in Mission and finally got to try Plentea (they were closed due to selling out the first two evenings).



Tuesday, May 13
Tuesday was our big road trip from San Fran down to LA. I plotted it out in the hotel lobby the night before (free WiFi) and tried to make sure NPY didn’t have to drive more than two hours in a stretch. He was doing all of the driving since we didn’t add a driver to the rental and I’m rubbish for long distance driving. Our first stop was at the Apple Company Store in Cupertino, because NPY swears the only smartphone for him (at this time) is an iPhone. Then we stopped in Santa Cruz for gas at Costco and to take in the Natural Bridges. We skipped the Salinas stop and drove until San Luis Obispo (Costco gas) and Pismo Beach where I thought the outlets could be work a break for. They weren’t, so we drove on to Santa Barbara and NPY took in part of the game at Union Ale Brewing Co. while I read Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s memoir, which is so appropriate to read while in California. We arrived in LA at our Culver City Four Points Sheraton hotel (half cash; half Aeroplan redemption) which – sigh of relief – was also nice. I was so grateful to NPY for making good time and – most importantly – getting us there safely.


Wednesday, May 14

It was an unseasonally hot week in LA and even the locals were talking about the weather. NPY noticed since he’s more sensitive to the heat than I was. I was happy as a clam to have no ambiguity about what to wear, not having to worry about a change in weather during the day. We made a pitstop at the mall next to our hotel (Westfield) before heading to the Getty Museum. I was happy to discover that plenty of umbrellas were available to provide cover has you walk around the grounds. We were up there longer than anticipated and starving when we reached the LA Farmer’s Market, the only farmer’s market open during our visit. It didn’t look familiar to me until I saw the shop that sold hot sauce. I want to visit a farmer’s market that is open air, with plenty of white tents stands. So we left the crummy south market for Veggie Grill in the north market – I had heard plenty about it from Lynn Chen’s blog. At The Grove next door, NPY watched the game and made new friends with locals at Marmalade Cafe while I learned that we were just in time to catch Jason Priestley at the Barnes & Noble for a book signing. Okay, I hadn’t purchased his book so I was not allowed to hang out in the book signing area but I figured out he had head to the washroom and lurked outside it (camera not poised to snap a shot). He exited the bathroom hallway surrounded by women who ran into him and I just lingered to catch a real moment of his. We got dinner at Umami Burger at the Grove then head to Santa Monica. We just walked a bit on Third Street Promenade and strategized where to park the next time we tried to go to the beach. Then, since it was open until midnight, we went to Diddy Riese for ice cream sandwich and my worries that I went to a once-popular spot were assuaged – it is as popular as ever.



Thursday, May 15
Funny story when I was in Whistler in March for a work trip: I met a guy at the bar who works at Universal Studios. He gave me one free ticket to the park and only a week later or so, we confirmed we would be going to LA. I wished I had asked for a second ticket! So not both NPY and I could go into the park and based on my experience in 2005, I thought I wasn’t missing too much. At $92 for general admission, we were loathed to buy a second ticket even though one was free. NPY went in alone while I hung out on the CityWalk. Extra had finished filming for the day – darn! – the the CityWalk was almost a ghost town. I got a Pink’s hot dog that is Tim’s first stop in LA and hung out in the upstairs seating near the fast food vendors cluster on free wifi courtesy of Panda Express. Even as a singleton, the queues were long for the popular rides (like Transformers) so NPY only did the studio tour and spent just three hours in the park. We rendezvous and perused the crummy Universal Studios store before leaving. Dinner was in K-town at BCD Tofu House. I was looking forward to it all week and it was delicious and filling but I felt like I hadn’t gotten the real K-town experience. But it was time to move on. We went back to Santa Monica where the Promenade shops were still open and we walked around the pier. The cutest thing happened which was seeing a playful seal bobbing around near the fishing lines and several dolphin swimming near the shore. We aren’t beach people and didn’t even go down to the beach. Dessert was at Coolhaus‘ Culver City location, another Lynn Chen favourite.



Friday, May 16

Friday was a big day. I booked a studio tour at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank (Tim’s enthusiastic suggestion) and it was all super-cool and our guide Noah was funny and energetic and well-informed. I wonder if we had missed out by not requesting to see the Big Bang Theory set (it may not have been possible anyhow) and not being able to photograph on The Ellen Degeneres Show set – no one is ever allowed to. But we got access to the Friends set and we did luck out to get onto Ellen’s set since she doesn’t tape on Fridays and the lighting crew were testing so we got to see some cool lighting tricks. The number of cameras and lights on overhead tracks were impressive and it was so cool to be on the set when it is otherwise so difficult go as a guest for a taping. It was a lengthy tour and worth the price (less discount found online). We even ate at the commissary and further funded the studios by purchasing a t-shirt each. From Burbank, we went to the Griffith Observatory primarily to glimpse the Hollywood sign but we also went into the observatory – hey, anything for A/C. Then we drove downtown much to NPY’s chagrin because of the traffic because I wanted to check out our LA office. I didn’t go upstairs – forgot to bring my pass – but we have the naming rights to the building and the ground-level plaza which is super cool. I had my first Sprinkles cupcake. Then we were finally off to Hollywood – Hollywood & Highland Center, Hollywood Walk of Fame and TCL Chinese Theatre. We stopped at Tinhorn Flats for NPY to catch part of the game. Dinner was at Palms Thai which Lil’ Sis introduced me to in ’05 and I know why it is so cheap – it is decent but very simple. And to cap off the night, we watched Godzilla on opening night at the Arclight Cinemas Hollywood location and the director was in attendance… because things like that happen in Hollywood. It was superfun to see the creatures stomping all over Honolulu, San Francisco and Las Vegas and the tsunami in Honolulu rang all the more true for us after our “scare” during our 2012 visit!



Saturday, May 17
Because of a late movie night the night before, Saturday was a lazy day. We only made it to a breakfast spot in Manhattan Beach at 3 p.m. Then we went down to the beach, visited the pier and actually waded into the sand. The sand is so gorgeous and stretch of the beach so impressive. We hurried back to our car as the parking limitations were so seriously enforced – we saw several tow trucks at work! Our next stop was Beverly Hills to spend the afternoon. The Beverly Hills Art Show was winding up for the day, not that I could purchase any pieces. We came across the Sprinkles flagship store and got a Spinkles Sandwich – divine. I made a reservation at Gordon Ramsay at The London (Hollywood) and we had a nice dinner to cap off the trip.



Sunday, May 18
We left on a morning flight out of LAX which I recently heard colleagues disparage against. Perhaps other terminals are nicer but the wing we Canada-bound travellers spent an hour in was the dumpiest of the large airports I’ve been through. Just leaving LA, we are treated to one spectacular aeroview, of the miles and miles of sandy beaches and I wonder for the umpteenth time in a week, “People get to live here?!” While in the past I would want to travel until the very last day, it was a good move to return with a full day (Monday) before going off to work. Time to upload photos and set up blog posts, time to unpack and visit with friends, time to unwind before the next push begins.

Now, it’s time to madcap recap the meals because, of course I will.

On this day..