Purposive Rambling

the journey is the reward.

Posts Tagged ‘san francisco

Mixing Business and Pleasure in San Francisco

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We’re back! Actually, we’ve been back. But I’ve been busy.

As soon as we got back to town I had to finish my teaching for the summer, which meant preparing a couple lectures, grading two sets of quizzes and the students’ final papers, and submitting course grades. Since then, I’ve been working on my fall course and getting a qualifying exam reading list together.

I know, I know. Enough excuses. So here I am. Ready to give you a follow-up on our trip to California.

Day One

So we flew in to San Francisco on Tuesday. Our flight was delayed a few hours, so we had to change flights and stop off in Minneapolis instead of Cincinnati. But we got put in first class, so that was nice. In fact, I was absolutely wowed by how nice it was. The comfy seats, the leg room, the pillow, the real drinking glasses, and the food! The food was really good. And there was a lot of it. Anyway, so we get to San Francisco a little late, but not too bad. The landing was a little scary because I could see nothing but water on both sides of me. But we made it. The plan was to leisurely drive up north to Eureka that afternoon. And we did. But it was mostly night-driving rather than afternoon-driving because it took forever to get our rental car. We had one reserved, and apparently 1764 other people did too. We waited in line for hours. It was ridiculous. Luckily it wasn’t quite rush hour yet, so we were able to drive through the city and across the Golden Gate Bridge. For at least the few minutes we were on the bridge we forgot about how tired we were and how tired we were going to be by the time we reached our destination. It was very cool. Once we got up the highway a bit we stopped off for dinner in Santa Rosa. We ate at the Third Street Aleworks BrewPub. It was the first place we saw and we were too hungry to be picky with our choices, so we went for it. And it was amazing. We both had tacos – I had the fish and Jon had the steak. So good. Especially the guacamole. Unfortunately, we were too tired to try the beer. After dinner we drove and drove and drove some more, and thankfully the hotel came into view about two seconds before I fell asleep at the wheel. Okay, that’s a bit dramatic, but only a bit. The long day definitely caught up to us in that last hour or so of driving. The good part about it was that we were too tired to notice how crappy the Econo Lodge was. It had something that resembled a bed (though it felt more like a wooden box), and that was good enough.

Day Two

The next morning we got up early and had breakfast at the Chalet House of Omelettes in Eureka. Everything on the menu looked great, and I considered the pancakes just so I could try the apricot syrup. But we felt compelled to have the omelettes. I chose the shrimp omelette. And wow. It was fantastic. Along with tasty mushrooms and avacados, the shrimp were surprisingly flavorful. They were just those little bitty shrimp, but they tasted better than a lot of the big shrimp I’ve had. So on day two of our trip I was already becoming convinced that I should never again have seafood unless I was near the ocean. After we finished breakfast we drove up to the Redwood National Park. We stopped off to see the ocean on the way. It was chilly and foggy out and felt exactly like I always imagined the Pacific Northwest feeling. The sand was so soft, and it was really calming to stand on the shore again. So we played in the water for a little while and then got moving again. We stopped again a little later to check out a herd of Roosevelt elk. Once we got to the park we stopped at the visitor center and picked up a map and some information about the redwoods. We also purchased our very own redwood to grow at home! And, I’m happy to say that he survived the trip home and seems to be doing just fine in a big pot in our window. We’ve named him Giant Foggy Bird Humboldt, or Foggy for short.

Our very own Redwood tree

Our very own Redwood tree

At the park we opted for a short walking trail – the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Loop. It was only a mile long, but it took us quite awhile to make it all the way around because we stopped to look at nearly every tree along the path. We were both just in awe at how big the trees were. And it was still foggy when we first got there, so we got to see the tree tops peeking out from the fog before the sun started to come out. It was very serene. After we finished the trail we drove back to Eureka, grabbed some lunch, and headed south to the Avenue of the Giants. It was 30ish miles of being surrounded by these massive trees. It was so cool to drive between them, looking stright up through the windshield trying to see the tops. I felt like I was in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. We stopped and walked through the Founders’ Grove where there are some of the tallest, fattest, and oldest redwoods. Other than being annoyed by people who were ignoring signs and climbing all over the fallen trees, we had a nice walk through the grove. Many of the trees were much larger than the ones we’d seen earlier in the day, and we got to see a few big burls. We also snapped our favorite photo of the redwoods here. It’s of the Founder’s Tree. We’re having it printed on a canvas to hang on the wall.

Founder's Tree

Founder's Tree

I also got to drive through a tree! It was pretty cool, but maybe not worth the $6 we paid to do it. After exploring the Redwoods we were ready for a nice seafood dinner. We went to the Sea Grill in Eureka. It was recommended in some brochure we’d picked up, and well, it shouldn’t have been. Maybe we had high expectations because we’d had such good luck already with food, but it was very underwhelming. We started with the shrimp cocktail. It was an ice cream dish full of tiny, limp shrimp that did not taste fresh at all. And I’m pretty sure the “cocktail sauce” sauce was ketchup. The seafood chowder Jon got was also pretty lame. It could have come from a can. The salad bar was all right, but I hadn’t really expected to be serving myself. The biggest letdown was the main course. I got the halibut, and it was so boring! Halibut might not be the most exciting fish, but you should be able to cook it in a way that highlights its flavor rather than diminishing it. I’ve had better in Indiana! I have to say that we did have excellent wine that night, though, which made us very excited for our trip to Sonoma the next day.

Day Three

We woke up early, checked out of the hotel, and grabbed breakfast from the nicest Starbucks ever. Yes, folks, the nicest Starbucks is in Eureka, California. It was huge, and it had a fireplace! Once we were caffeinated, we headed started heading south. By lunchtime we were in Sonoma. We decided to eat before visiting wineries. We went to the Sunflower Caffe on the city square and had some very tasty sandwiches. The town was very quaint, and it was nice to see regular people out on their lunchbreaks instead of just tourists. After purchasing a souvenir magnet and homemade fudge we headed over to our first winery. We only made it to three, and we picked them totally at random, if you’re wondering. Our first was Valley of the Moon. The building and the grounds were really pretty. I got a great photo of some grapes there that we’re going to put on the wall.

Grapes in Sonoma, CA

Grapes in Sonoma, CA

And the wine was pretty good. But just pretty good. We weren’t blown away by it. The woman doing our tasting was also not very helpful. I felt like she was a bit bored with her job, and she didn’t seem all the knowledgeable about the wines. And since I’m totally ignorant, I needed her to know a lot. I’d say that all of the wines we tried were better than my favorite Indiana wine, but they weren’t as great as I’d hoped. The next winery we went to was Kenwood. Their wines were a bit pricier than Valley of the Moon’s, but well worth it. We loved every wine we tried there. And the staff was great – very informative and funny. My favorite thing about Kenwood was their Artisan Series wine. Each year they release a cabernet sauvignon with a different painting on the label. The current one, which was bottled in 2004, features a painting by Shepard Fairey, who did the “Hope” portrait of Obama. Along with it being a cool idea, the wine was incredible. I would love to own this wine series, but at $75 a bottle, that’s probably not going to happen any time soon. So at Kenwood we were beginning to get the idea that the more expensive the wine, the better. This became even clearer when we went to Ledson. The property at Ledson was just beautiful.

The Ledson castle

The Ledson castle

And the wine was phenomenal. When they asked for $15 per person for tasting I thought they were just full of themselves, but no. They really are that good. In fact, without much arm-twisting, they convinced us to become part of their wine club. So we’re now getting bottles shipped to us every other month. It’s the only way to buy their wine because they have a pretty small production and don’t sell it outside of the winery. Merry Christmas to us a bit early. We grabbed some food after leaving Ledson and then drove to San Fran. Traffic was really backed up on our way into the city, and by the time we dropped off the rental car and made it to the hotel, we were pooped.

Day Five

After a good night’s sleep at the Cathedral Hill Hotel (which was not too shabby for the price), we geared up for a long day of sightseeing with doughnuts. There was this hole in the wall “cafe” across the street from the hotel, and we figured we ought to try it. The doughnuts were amazing, and we didn’t feel too bad about them since we were getting ready to walk all the way down to Fisherman’s Wharf. It was quite a walk. But the weather was incredible, and we wanted to have some experience walking up and down the hills of San Francisco. Luckily it was more downhill than up that morning. So on this day we were super-tourists. We started with a double-decker tour of the city. We got on the very first one of the day, which meant that we didn’t have to fight to get a seat on the top level. We had a really funny tour guide, but his microphone was acting up, so we could only hear his jokes half the time. It was fun to ride around the city and hear interesting facts about the neighborhoods and buildings. Our tour guide was especially interested in telling us about all the places that had been featured in movies. I was really struck by the variety of the architecture downtown. San Fran has some really neat buildings. My favorite was the Transamerica Pyramid.

Transamerica Pyramid, San Francisco

Transamerica Pyramid, San Francisco

After that tour we had a little break before our next one. So we grabbed an early lunch, and I found a sweater so that I wouldn’t freeze on the next double-decker like I had on the first. Jon was smart enough to bring his jacket, but I mistakenly thought that sun=warmth and left my jacket at the hotel. The next tour we took went to the Golden Gate Bridge, the Presidio, and the surrounding neighborhoods. We hadn’t planned on doing two tours, but since the first one didn’t go to the bridge, we decided to do the second also. And somehow we managed to get tickets to the second one for free. I’m not sure how Jon managed to make that happen. He must have winked at the guy behind the counter. Anyway, this tour was fantastic. We again got to be up top, and it was awesome to go across the bridge with the wind in our faces. And luckily by the time we got there the fog had lifted and we could actually see the bridge. We took a lot of photos, and the ones of the entire bridge didn’t really turn out, but we got a few cool close-up shots. We’re having the one below printed on a canvas for our wall.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

On that tour we also got to see some really nice (and very expensive!) houses, and we learned about the 1906 earthquake and fires that wreaked havoc on the city. What a mess. So after the second bus tour, we took a ferry out to Alcatraz Island. I’m so glad that I’ve somehow managed to get over my seasickness and am now able to enjoy being on boats. It was really nice to be out in the bay and have a great view of the skyline. And Alcatraz was cool too. We did the audio tour and got quite a workout climbing to the top of the island. When we made it back to the wharf we had dinner at the Fog Harbor Fish House. It was so much better than the seafood dinner we had in Eureka. After sharing a jumbo shrimp cocktail with Jon, I had some crabcakes. I also tried my first ever martini. I’m not sure that I’m a fan of gin, but I loved the olives. Since we’ve been home I’ve made my own martini with vodka, and I enjoyed it much more than the gin. Anyway, after dinner we walked over to Pier 39 and saw the sea lions, and then we stopped in at the Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop for some chocolate-covered blueberries. It was dark before we got back to the hotel, but we still managed to drag ourselves out for a little while to have a drink with friends that had just gotten into town. After that, the fun was over – mostly. I spent the last two days of our trip conferencing, and Jon spent most of his time relaxing at the hotel. The poor guy got pretty sunburnt, so he needed some downtime. He did manage to make it out one afternoon for a little more exploring. And we did have some more great food before we headed back to Indianapolis. I had dinner at Johnny Foley’s one night. And we had incredible sandwiches at Tommy’s Joynt, a tasty breakfast at Mel’s Drive-In, and a lunch in Chinatown (which actually wasn’t that great). Our last night in town we went to The Stinking Rose – a garlic restaurant. It was amazing. Garlic everything. We went with a group of friends, and we all split an appetizer of bread with a garlic spread. Then I had a rabbit dish with garlic mashed potatoes. For dessert, Jon and I split some garlic ice cream. I’m pretty sure I was the only one who liked it. And I only liked it for the first several bites. It was surprisingly tasty, but it had a strong aftertaste that started getting old after a little while. Anyway, if you’re in San Fran, you absolutely have to check this place out.

Oh, and I guess I should say that the conference went well. It was my first time at the ASA meeting. I was blown away at how many sociologists were packed into a city block. My presentation went fine, and I sat in on a few (including this one) that were excellent and reminded me of why I love sociology so much. It was definitely an experience that left me feeling refreshed and inspired. I left feeling excited to get back home and get back to work.

So even though we had a great trip, I can’t say that I loved San Francisco. Although there were some nice areas, for the most part it just seemed dirty, depressing, and somewhat unsafe. The poverty rate in the city is really high, and there were a lot of homeless people hanging out on the streets between our hotel and the conference hotel. I walked back and forth quite a few times over the course of those two days, and I just felt an overwhelming sadness and guilt. It really started to get to me by the end of our stay. And if one more guy harrassed me as I walked by, I would have pulled my hair out.

Well, that’s about it! Finally, right?!


Written by Lisa

August 29, 2009 at 9:09 pm