Peachhead™ Approved Vacations: Vacation in San Francisco, July 2014
It was time to start the college tours so my daughter and I decided to start with visiting San Francisco. I went online and booked tours for both UC Berkeley and Stanford (be sure to do this in advance as the tours do fill up).
Our trip couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. We took Uber to the airport (from Venice it was only $13.00, with tip). If you haven’t already signed up for Uber, use this link to sign up and you will receive a free ride on your first trip (right now they are offering up to $30 but subject to change depending on when you sign up). Uber
We flew Southwest Airlines and because we had both recently received a Global Entry card ($100 for 5 years) we were able to skip the long security line and go through the TSA pre-check line, where you don’t need to remove your shoes or take out your laptop (this will save us so much time when we travel with the entire family and have one suitcase dedicated to electronics). Upon arriving in San Francisco, we took air train to BART, purchased our tickets ($8.65 one way to Union Square) and after a 30 minute BART ride we were in Union Square. I actually purchased $30 BART tickets to save time for our future BART trips.
We stayed at the Westin St. Francis, which is just 3 blocks from the BART station in Union Square--very convenient, plus this is where all of the shopping is. I stayed in the Tower Building, which has very nice sized rooms, a great view of the city, and Westin's comfortable bedding. When you want to take the elevator to your room, there is a panel where you input the floor you are going to, then insert your key, and it will tell you which elevator you should get in. The elevator then takes you directly to your floor. I have never seen this before.
After a long morning of traveling, we were both pretty hungry so we went to Urban Tavern for lunch. This restaurant is located in the Union Square area so it was a short walk from our hotel. I loved the design of the restaurant--very open and airy with nice booths and a full bar. The service was great. Dennis greeted us immediately and kept checking in on us and advising us of his favorites on the menu and he was spot on. His suggestion to start off with the Tavern Sunrise drink was a great way to start my vacation. Very refreshing. We started off the meal with the French onion soup (which was truly one of the best French onion soups I have ever had) and crabs and greens salad. Dennis told us that the grilled cheese was one of the top lunch items and I can see why. It is made with miche, Fontana, feta, arugula, avocado, and bacon. Not like the grilled cheese I grew up having, but so much better. A whole new meaning to the words “Grilled Cheese Sandwich”. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Amber enjoyed her Burger and potato onion fries. The meal was completed with the warm chocolate chips cookies served with milk. A very pleasant way to end this delectable meal.
After lunch we needed to work off some of that food so we rented bicycles from Blazing Saddles on Hyde Street (near the Fisherman’s Wharf) and attempted to bike over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. However, it was pretty windy (and we got a little lost) so by the time we reached the Golden Gate Bridge we decided to walk across it instead. It was a nice walk with a beautiful view.
Last time I was in San Francisco I visited my first Peruvian Restaurant, and this time I visited my first Vietnamese Restaurant. Le Colonial is located in Union Square in San Francisco, a couple of blocks from our hotel. It was a bit tricky to find as it is located off of a little side street. When you walk in there is a lovely outdoor patio area and then you are led into a large, beautifully decorated restaurant with plenty of spacious seating. We had a nice corner booth and Kevin took great care of us. He recommended a number of the restaurant specialties. We started out with the Pho Ga, the traditional Vietnamese chicken soup. The soup is served with a side dish of bean sprouts, basil, chili, and fresh lime, along with a couple of sauces. You mix everything in to your own desire. The presentation was beautiful. There were so many wonderful appetizers to choose from that we decided on the appetizer tasting platter, which was comprised of five Vietnamese specialties. My favorite item on the plate was the Cha Gio Tom Cua, which is crispy rolls with Dungeness crab, minced shrimp, chicken, taro, vermicelli noodles, wood ear mushroom, and nuoc cham. So tasty. Amber really enjoyed the chicken satay and the slow braised five-spice rubbed baby back ribs in a hoison barbecue glaze. For our main course we shared the Goi Ca Thu, Ahi tuna tartare with avocado, thai bird chili, Asian pear, shallot, ginger-lime dressing with baked wonton chips. Another beautiful presentation wherein the tuna tartare, topped with a quail egg, was mixed in with all of the various ingredients described above. The other main course we shared was the Bo Luc Lac, wok-seared filet mignon cubes that was beautifully presented as well over a bed of lettuce with cherry tomatoes and topped with shoestring potato fries. The meat was so tender and flavorful. Even though we were full, we had to try the traditional Vietnamese dessert, Banh Khoai Mi Va Dua Nuong, the traditional Vietnamese baked cassava cake with coconut sauce. It was served warm and it was so savory and delightful--the perfect ending to the perfect meal.
We were very excited to tour UC Berkeley. I was surprised by how easy it was to get to from Union Square. We got on BART at Powell in Union Square and exited 25 minutes later in Downtown Berkeley. The campus is a couple of blocks away from the BART Station. There are a number of great restaurants to choose from nearby. We had lunch at Gather, across the street from the campus. The staff there was so warm and welcoming. Melanie, one of the servers, is a student at UC Berkeley and spoke about how much she loved the campus and Jody was telling me how safe the area is (what every parent likes to hear). Gather is known for their pizzas, and I can see why. While my daughter is not a big fan of pizza, she devoured the Fontinella Pizza. I loved it as well, so much so that even though I ordered the Little Gems Salad, which was divine, I still had to eat a couple of slices of the pizza. The restaurant is beautifully designed, spacious, and even has a nice outdoor patio area.
Once we returned to Union Square we took the Go Car Tour. We picked it up a block from the hotel so it was very convenient. The Go Car is a 2 passenger GPS-guided storytelling car that actually talks to you and guides you through the streets of San Francisco while giving you insights and tips of this wonderful city. It was so much fun to drive and a great way to tour the city. It was especially fun driving it down Lombard Street. They have different tours available so you can choose how long you want to drive for and what areas of the city you want to see. Definitely a fun way to spend the day touring.
After a long day of touring we were ready for a nice dinner. We went to Fog Harbor Fish House at Pier 39 in the Embarcadero. The restaurant has beautiful views overlooking the water. They start out by serving warm bread with soft butter. In fact, the sourdough bread is baked in house on the half hour so that it can be served warm to every table. They have a full bar with a wonderful selection of drinks. I enjoyed both the Lombard lemonade and the Alcatraz Escape. The restaurant is known for their award winning clam chowder and it definitely deserves to be the winner. It was wonderful. The crispy bay scallops dish, served with a roasted jalapeño aioli, was delicious as well. It was very light for being fried. The Wild Salmon came highly recommended, as it is caught locally so it is very fresh. It had a beautiful presentation with the Salmon on top of roasted corn, arugula, red peppers, fingerling potatoes, and tarragon with a citrus butter. The filet mignon was very tender and flavorful with a pt. reyes blue cheese demi sauce. There were so many wonderful options for dessert but since I can never pass up a warm lava cake, I chose that and it was heavenly. It was served with whipped cream and ice cream. My daughter had the Tiramisu which was wonderful as well…very light and tasty.
Our last morning in San Francisco was spent touring Stanford University. We rented a car from Enterprise located on Ellis Street (a couple of blocks from the hotel). I booked the car in advance so it was only $60 with tax. The tour was quite impressive. What a beautiful campus.
After the tour we went to lunch at Left Bank Brasserie in Menlo Park (a few minutes away from the Stanford campus). This is a very cute French Brasserie that makes you feel like you are in Paris. There is even a nice outdoor sidewalk café seating area to enjoy your lunch while enjoying the warm sun. I started my lunch with a wonderful fondue aux fromages made with melted brie, blue, goat cheese, and madeira wine. Absolute heaven. We also enjoyed the Poulet en pajama, the half boned chicken. It is made fresh so it takes about 20-25 minutes but it was definitely worth it. The chicken was so tender and juicy and the chicken jus made this dish superb. We also enjoyed the Brasserie Steak Frites. They were served with your choice of Bordelaise, Bearnaise, or peppercorn sauce. We chose the peppercorn sauce and it was amazing. I love corn so I had to order the sweet corn fricassee, which was wonderful. We completed our dining experience with les profiteroles. So yummy. The perfect way to end our college tour vacation.
San Francisco is such a wonderful city to visit. Fingers crossed that my daughter gets accepted to one of the magnificent colleges nearby.
I would like to thank GoCar Tours, Blazing Saddles and the restaurants for hosting my visit.