Tuesday, May 28, 2013

East Brother Island

East Brother Island
Have you ever wanted to get away from it all and stay on an island? A place where nobody can get to you and you can't escape? Then East Brother Light Station is the place.
1874 Victorian Living Quarters & Lighthouse
We stayed there recently and it was absolutely amazing. Richard and Jude were incredible hosts and really made us feel at home. There’s a quick boat ride that takes you to a ladder that you climb up to reach the island. 
View of San Rafael Bridge and San Francisco from Island
San Francisco Room
Believe it or not there’s a lot to do on the small island…  after you arrive you have plenty of time to get settled into your room (ours was the San Francisco Room with a nice view of SF of course). Once you’re settled and have checked out the lighthouse grounds, your invited to the parlor for a champagne and appetizer reception while Richard explains the history of the island. Interesting. 
Dining Room
East Brother Light Station was built on a roughly 3/4 acre island in the San Pablo Straights, at the north edge of San Francisco bay. It's still a functioning lighthouse, maintained by the coast guard and a non profit historic society which runs the B&B. The house has 5 guest bedrooms and there’s a very private Walter’s Room next to the old light house boiler room. 

1930's Boiler Equipment to Generate Steam for the Fog Horn
Included in the stay is a wonderful four course dinner along with nice red and white wines served in the victorian dining room. The next morning there’s also a tasty breakfast there too. Jude prepared the meals and they were enjoyed by all.
Island Boat Dock
The lighthouse and grounds are historical and well cared for.  We were allowed to go up to the light tower at night to view the City in the distance. It felt like we were worlds away but it was only a 30 minute drive to San Francisco. Wildlife is everywhere and it’s fun to see the seals and birds in the morning.
Old Parlor Where Champagne Reception Occurs 
It can get really cold and windy on the island so it’s a good idea to dress in layers. It’s a very rewarding place to go. All in all it was a great experience that we won’t forget…
Highly recommended!

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Muir Woods

Muir Wood National Monument is a magical place and the journey there is an adventure in itself.  Start on Hwy 1, which is a curvy road that leads up to the Panoramic Hwy and goes on to to Muir Woods that is located on the side of Mt Tamalpais; or Mt Tam as the locals say.

There are 2 parking lots for the park. They do tend to fill up quickly in the morning though. We managed to arrive before 9:00 AM so spaces were still available in the secondary lot. The park opens at 8 AM and there is a $7 entrance fee for adults. We like to go early to get parking and avoid the large groups of tourists.

Redwood Grove
The history of the redwoods is fascinating. One hundred and fifty million years ago ancestors of redwood and sequoia trees grew throughout the United States. Today, the Sequoia Sempervirens can be found only in a narrow, cool coastal belt from Monterey, in the south to Oregon in the north. 

Hillside Trail
By the early 20th century, most of these forests had been cut down. Just north of the SF Bay, one valley named Redwood Canyon remained uncut, mainly due to its relative inaccessibility.
Redwood Bridge over Small Creek
The famed naturalist John Muir, whose environmental campaigns helped to establish the National Park System wanted to save the redwoods from logging. Working with his friend, US Congressman William Kent  and President Theodore Roosevelt, Muir helped save Redwood Canyon from logging in 1908.

Being among the redwood giants is certainly an experience of scale. Hiking there is wonderful. It's a favorite for locals and visitors alike because the trails vary in difficulty, accommodating all ages. We took the Hillside trail and met the Ocean View that’s a favorite. It then meets the Ben Johnson Trail and there you will be rewarded at the top with a magnificent view of the Pacific ocean. Loop back down the Dipsea Trail and you'll have a great 4 mile hike.

Dipsea Trail Looking towards Pacific and SF

There are bathrooms before and just past the entrance inside, so be sure to be mindful of that before you start your hike.  Also, it can get really cold and windy in the forest, so dress in layers. It’s a very rewarding place to go.

Highly recommended!

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Solvang is a quaint and charming Danish village about 2.5 hours north of LA. It’s  a nice place to stop on trips up the California Coast.

Solvang is a unique place. The village has a cultural history based in reality, as it is a Danish outpost of sorts that dates back over a century. Solvang residents are very proud of their heritage.
The shops in town are, by and large, mom and pop affairs that are by turns wacky and unique. They are decidedly not corporate or standardized in any way. Tacky souvenir shops abound with made-in-china wooden clogs and miniature mission bells, but after all, it is a town that sells this type of things to tourists. But that still doesn't destroy the feel of the danish restaurant serving those donut holes called abelskivers, correctly made with raspberry. I like that. This town shuts down at 6pm or earlier every night, no matter how many tourists are milling about. It’s a quiet place.

The Danish inspired sleepy little town of Solvang is a must do on your list of places to visit in California. It’s small but there are numerous types of restaurants including Italian, Chinese, american, and of course Danish.

Raspberry abelskivers
It is a quaint place. It has old world charm but with modern touches. We like how the downtown area has an abundance of wineries and how convenient it is to literally "hit them all" as you're walking around seeing the sights in town.

We really liked Solvang for the casual spot it is, and based on this visit, we shall return.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Cupola Pizzeria

We went to the Cupola Pizzeria on the fourth floor of the Westfield Centre in San Francisco. Right under the rehabbed dome of the old Emporium Dept Store. 

We’re not really mall people but, don't let the mall dissuade you from dining here. The pizza and antipasti are well made and tasty, and the wine on tap is a really good Jupiter Sangiovese.

Hand Pulled Warm Buffalo Mozzarella

With the pizza we ordered two antipasti dishes. The Grilled Lamb Shoulder with a fantastic mint salsa verde & hand pulled warm buffalo mozzarella with toasted bread. Then a super 12 inch funghi (mushroom) pizza. The meal was perfect.
Funghi Pizza
The Pizza crust was perfect, crispy and not doughy and the funghi, onions and sauce were very good together. It should be, they make the pizza in a handcrafted Stefano Ferrara wood-burning pizza oven imported from Naples, Italy. One of the few in the US.

Grilled Lamb Shoulder with Mint Salsa Verde

The atmosphere is nice throughout the restaurant and it is especially quiet in the back. Plus, the servers are quite charming too.

I can recommend Cupola Pizzeria as a solid downtown dining choice- whether you're shopping or not- if you want something nicer than typical casual dining.

Pizza Oven from Naples
Cupola was excellent, as was the noise level and comfort. The wine was quite good too. We really liked this place for a casual spot in the area and based on this visit, we shall return.

Highly recommended!
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The Pike

Had a great time in Long Beach along with exploring The Pike, a locale by the waterfront. Clean, modern & very safe. Great restaurants, shops, cinema, bike hire, beautiful scenery, The Queen Mary and more. 

We stayed at the Hyatt The Pike Hotel located in the center of the area. Great hotel great place to hangout for a couple days. Lots to do in the area. The city of Long Beach is interesting too.
The Pike in the '50s
The Pike was founded in 1902 along the shoreline south of Ocean Boulevard with several independent arcades, food stands, gift shops, a variety of rides and a grand bath house. It was most noted for the Cyclone Racer (1930–1968), a large wooden dual-track roller coaster, built out on pilings over the water.

Long Beach Light House
The Pike was demolished in 1979 and over the course of years has become the modern Pike we now know.

The Queen Mary
Liked the variety of restaurants and shops in town and at The Pike. Walking along the boardwalk and looking out over lighthouse was relaxing. Ferris wheel was an added attraction for children. Theater was close-by. All in all a great walking tour.
George's Greek Lamb Chops
We went into town and had dinner at George’s Greek Cafe on Pine St. We ate in the garden of this charming place in downtown Long Beach. With its blue-and-white checked tablecloths & simple awning it was reminiscent of many country places that we enjoyed in Greece many years ago. The service is friendly & informal, including George, the owner  who is the wonderful greeter at the door who seems to be welcoming you into his own home. The menu features the best of Greek food.

Highly recommended!

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Terracotta Warriors

Had a great time seeing the ancient Terracotta warriors on tour from Xi’an, China at the SF Asian Art Museum

The Museum was included on the international tour of these incredible terracotta figures and we were able to see this master artwork from 2,500 years ago.

The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shihuangdi, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art that was buried with the emperor around 210–209 BCE and it’s purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife.

When the Emperor Qin died, he took his royal court and over 7,000 of his clay soldiers with him to be buried near his incredible tomb. The soldiers were all made of clay and brightly colored. Over 7,000 terracotta warriors were built by craftsmen and lined up underground alongside clay horses and weapons. Eight warriors and two horses are now on display at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. They are a fantastic sight.
Sample of original coloring
The army was discovered in 1974 to the east of Xi’an in Shaanxi province by a group of farmers when they were digging a well for water around 1.6 km (1 mile) east of Qin Shihuang's massive tomb mound in the Mount Li region. After the discovery, Chinese archaeologists then investigated, and unearthed the largest pottery figurine group ever found in China. 

What makes these figures incredible is that the terracotta figures are life-sized. They vary in height, uniform and hairstyle in accordance with rank. The figures were also originally painted with bright colors. Most of the original weapons were thought to have been looted shortly after the creation of the army, or may have rotted away. The ancient coloring on the figures has flaked off or faded away.

The show was fantastic to see and we are already planning to visit Xi’an, China next year to see the actual tomb site and the warriors and horses that have been excavated. 
The Qin tomb mound itself has not been excavated yet. Partly it's out of respect for the elders, but archaeologists realize that nobody in the world now has the technology to properly deal with excavating it. The Xi’an area contains some of the most important archaeological sites in the world. 
Highly recommended if the show passes near your area!
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