Save Me, San Francisco: Part Two

(Catch up on part one of my trip here) After I had tasted everything at the Ferry Building, I decided to walk around a bit more before catching the ferry to Sausalito later Friday afternoon. Vesuvio is a famous bar known as the place where the Beat Generation -- Kerouac, Ginsberg, Cassady -- came to drink and write.

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I didn't stop in, but admired the murals adorning the alley between Vesuvio and City Lights, the bookstore across the street. On a rainy day, there's nothing I like more than poking around in an eclectic bookstore, and this one was no exception.

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Its layout is remarkably similar to the UChicago Seminary Co-op bookstore (the one on 57th) in Hyde Park: winding staircases, dim bookcases, bookshelves literally everywhere. Being at City Lights brought back lots of memories, fond and bittersweet, of holing up on a chair in the co-op in between classes, spending hours thumbing through stacks of novels, reading bits and pieces, and ultimately heading down to the street for a cup of coffee and a chocolate croissant at Medici.

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I headed upstairs, the staircase framed by Ginsberg memorabilia, and sat for a while reading Frank O'Hara poems. Reading poetry with nowhere to go, nowhere to be, completely alone made me feel like my 23-year-old self, a self tucked away from years ago. It was nice.

When the rain let up, we took the ferry out to Sausalito, gazing at the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz along the way.

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Sausalito, a city right across the bay, is small, quiet and picturesque. There weren't many people milling around, and the weather still sucked, but the views made up for it. It almost reminded me of Galena, lllinois, minus the topography.

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The pier, full of sailing boats, was lined with tiny shops, and eventually we needed to warm up from the cold. Such an effort necessitated wine, and this little art gallery slash wine shop fit the bill.

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I kept forgetting it was Halloween, even though one of their managers kept handing out candy to people passing by on the street while wearing a witch hat. And yes, the pug pillow in the photo above did find its way back to Des Moines. Whoops. Not sorry.

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Again, the views? Spectacular, especially as the sun set.

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With an hour remaining before the returning ride back, we sipped cocktails at Barrel House Tavern. (Very different from the Barrel House of the Quad Cities, ha!) I had something called a Freddy Kruger: bourbon, vermouth, bitters, and blood orange quince jam. Crazy drink.

The rest of the evening involved walking down to Fisherman's Wharf -- which was as touristy as I expected, the Navy Pier of SF -- and had oysters and fish for dinner.

Then called it a night. I know, it was Friday night, the city was hoppin' AND it was Halloween ... but sometimes you can only take so much exploration. Plus, a day-long Napa trip awaited the next morning.

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NAPA. Wine country was my one "must do if at all possible" item on the trip agenda, and it happened. Even though it rained so much the prior day, the sun shined brightly and a crisp breeze set the tone for the day. All of the views? Gorgeous, naturally, and the company was even more enjoyable. Many thanks to a friend who coordinated the entire day and made sure it was excellent.

An hour-long limo ride later, complete with pops of champagne, we arrived at our first stop: Delectus, a family-owned winery specializing in reds. Our host graciously allowed us a look in their barrel room, where we tried more wine around a large, glass-top table. Different types of soils related to the wine industry lay under the glass; it was not only a beautiful decorative piece, but also informative.

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Next up: Paraduxx, where we (duh) drank more wine and enjoyed lots of wine and cheese. The grounds were massive and elegant, with people gathering around little tables on a covered outdoor patio.

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Finally, we visited Silverado Vineyards, my very, very, very favorite.

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Silverado is basically a castle on a hill, with epic views, delicious wine, and most of all, a private stone patio that we were lucky enough to enjoy. That actually made a big difference, being able to hang out as a group and not feel rushed or in the way, and it served as the perfect way for us to round out the day trip.

Fun fact: the winery was originally purchased and owned by a couple named Diane and Ron Miller. Diane was the only biological child of Walt Disney, and Ron served as the former CEO of The Walt Disney Company. Pretty cool, huh? (I didn't know this at all while we were there, but a friend filled me in earlier this week.)

We headed back, sad to leave but knowing we'd all be back, and picked up pizzas and more wine for the road. Then we hung out at a friend's condo for the rest of the night, talking and laughing, eating more food and drinking more wine (hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time!) and glimpsing the city by the bay from a special view.

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Thanks to so many new friends for their hospitality and warmth. I'm so glad to check this trip off my bucket list, and hope to return someday ... to check out more of wine country, of course!

Save Me, San Francisco: Part One

I visited the city by the bay -- and the West coast -- for the first time last week. After a 5 a.m. flight, a quick layover in Chicago, and a nosedive into Bad Feminist, I arrived around lunchtime with my luggage intact at a downtown BART station, desperately seeking coffee. I automatically presumed I could walk the 0.8 miles from the station to the hotel, no problem. The sun was shining, my carry-on didn't weigh that much and I was wearing flats. Right? IMG_2804.JPG

WRONG. Within 0.2 miles, I joke you not, I put my stuff down on a street corner and requested an Uber. Hills, man. I couldn't hack it. I waited a few minutes, and feeling impatient (I'm in SF! I need to go explore!), grabbed my things and continued on.

Another 0.2 miles, and I was d.o.n.e. Requested another Uber. Felt mildly embarrassed because: 1) I actually do love to walk everywhere, and I wish Des Moines was much more walkable, 2) I especially love to explore a new city on foot, 3) I was literally four blocks away from the hotel.

I came to the base of yet another hill (see picture above, imagine facing the opposite direction) and wanted to puke. Sweating through my light leather jacket, straining with my now-a-million-pounds bag, I slowly started up it and basically gave myself a pep talk every step while internally cursing the entire time.

It didn't help that I kept passing people sitting on a sidewalk stoop looking at me like, Girl, have you lost your mind? and women pushing strollers with babies in them UPHILL. So, there's that.

But I made it. The Fairmont stood proudly and exquisitely upon the top of Nob Hill; I checked in and momentarily collapsed on the plush, white bed. A quick shower and change of clothes later, I was off to Tartine. (Fun fact: the Fairmont has a neat, storied history, so look it up if you're interested in that sort of thing.) IMG_2794.JPG

If you're a foodie at all, you've likely heard of Tartine; it has what Michael Pollan calls the "best bread he's ever tasted." I didn't quite know what to expect, but after a 30+ minute walk, I felt famished. The bakery was much, much smaller than I anticipated, but completely packed with folks snagging real estate on the dark wooden tables inside or perching on the mishmash of chairs outside the windows.

Insider tip: there are two lines, one for the pastries and bread and one for the lunch menu. I made the mistake of getting in the wrong one and then it took twice as long to order. But when I got up to the counter, I ordered a chocolate salted rye cookie and a cappuccino to start (don't judge me), followed by a prosciutto and provolone hot pressed sandwich. Of course it was amazing.

I sat for a while -- tired of walking already, happy to have a place to sit in the busy room -- and just people-watched for a while, which is one of my favorite pastimes that I'm normally too much in a hurry to do.

To my right sat a ridiculously thin, blonde woman, downing a bowl of coffee and picking at a large croissant, all while reading fashion articles on her iPhone in French and pawing through her Louis Vuitton (Note: the tables were really close together, so I wasn't being a total creep).

To my left sat an elderly couple, sharing a fruit tart and both drinking coffee. They wore -- I kid you not -- the exact same thing: flat black shoes, khaki pants, short-sleeve white button up shirts, and hats. The only difference was that she flung a black cardigan around her shoulders and topped her version off with a black beret, while he opted to go sweater-less and covered his head with a tan fishing hat.*

The cutest part? After a few moments, he moved from across the table to sit right next to her. They both crossed their legs while sipping their coffee and pointing out things in the cafe to one another, laughing. At one point, she set her cup down, turned to him, placed her hands to either side of his face, and kissed him tenderly.

All I could think was, I want that. It was beautiful to witness.

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Eventually I left the bakery and strolled through the Lower Haight and Alamo Square areas, stopping in a few shops and mostly just looking around. I walked up to the de Young Museum (where the main exhibition featured Keith Haring!), passing through a beautiful park and a white-haired woman jamming out on rollerblades on a tennis court. By this time, a chill had set in and gray clouds abounded, so I figured I had done enough walking for that day and called a Uber to return to the hotel. (Notice a theme here yet? Ha).

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That night involved wine-tasting and bar-hopping through the Financial district. Too much fun.

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The next morning, after a brief stop at the crowded Blue Bottle and Dwolla SF, I made my way through the pouring rain to the Ferry Building, determined to enjoy the day despite the weather.

OKAY. It hadn't rained in like, months, and so naturally it does during the 3.5 days of this trip. Super frustrating, even though all the SF folks were thrilled, and I know California is in a drought, but.... What are the odds?!

I will say that people were definitely still out and about, probably because of the massive Giants celebration parade, but my point is the rain didn't stop anyone and it wasn't going to stop me.**

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Anyway, the Ferry building was a dream. I bought some olive oil and black truffle sea salt, granola and dried fruit, and taste-tested almost everything. Delicious highlights included cheese at Cowgirl Creamery (I wanted to take it all home and the guy let me sample everyyyyything which was sweet) and XOXOC beans from Rancho Gordo.

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Then, since the rain continued, I grabbed another coffee and a cranberry scone and sat to journal for a bit.

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Stay tuned for part two...

*This is my favorite anecdote of the entire trip.

**Thanks to my mama for teaching me how to rally regardless of circumstance.

Charleston, SC

I now have the firm belief that everyone should visit Charleston, SC at least once in their lifetime (hence the reason I put it on my list of goals for this year). Historical sights, delicious food, beautiful views and great weather--the only thing that made this trip priceless is the fact that I was able to spend several days in a row with my best friend of 20+ years!

20131021-101919.jpgKicking the weekend off at a rooftop (and the first "are you two sisters?")

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Impromptu whiskey tasting

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A mini coffee oasis at Kudu before a long afternoon on King St.

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Lunch at Closed for Business (clever name!)

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 Fancy glasses galore

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Ahhh, palm trees

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Hidden nooks and cobblestone crannies 

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 Blue skies and pink buildings

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Waterfront Park (the fountain was pink in support of breast cancer awareness)

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Grateful that we were able to spend some time on the water!

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Happy hour at Vendue

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 Late night brews at Blind Tiger's courtyard

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 Morning run (a hot and humid one!) on the Battery

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Relaxation at Folly Beach

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Husk brunch (amazing food and decor, plus a giant porch swing)

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Quail for breakfast? Yes.

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Touring Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

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You could easily spend hours looking at the beautiful plants and flowers

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I wanted to plop down with a book  right in this spot!

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 (clockwise from left) Massive trees, fall foliage, the mansion and intricate gardens

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Capping off the trip with dinner at Wild Olive, where we ate ourselves silly. So. Good.