After spending the past six days in California, I can honestly say I have a newfound appreciation for the “left” coast. In fact, this New York girl, who last visited in 1985, did not want to leave! Amazing beaches, coastal highways, weather — oh, the weather! — and, of course, the food all led me to leave my heart in San Francisco, Pismo Beach, Los Angeles and San Diego.
Sally, one of my close friends (and blogger behind Sweat Out the Small Stuff), and I mapped out the perfect last minute summer getaway, complete with stops in each city that allowed for a diverse sampling of some of the finest food in Cali.
We landed in San Francisco early on the Fourth of July and headed straight for “lunch” at Sears Fine Foods. (Technically, it was still breakfast-time in SF, but we had been up since 3am, so to us, it was lunch!) We each had the burger with avocado — Sally opted for a green salad, while I gave the homemade potato salad a whirl. It was one of the best burgers I’ve ever had, and the avocado was sooo fresh. The potato salad was excellent as well. We ended our meal with a “token” for the slot machine, offering a chance to win a free breakfast, lunch or dinner. Although we didn’t win, it sure was fun to pull a one-armed bandit outside of Las Vegas city limits!
Following lunch, we proceeded to explore San Francisco while we waited to check into our hotel. Next stop? Ghirardelli Square — the home of TRB’s “official” chocolate baking ingredients. There, we each enjoyed a scoop of ice cream with the most velvety hot fudge ever. Since we were so close to Fisherman’s Wharf, we opted to eat our tasty frozen treats with a view of the ships, water and Alcatraz in the distance. We stopped at Boudin Bakery to check out the unique breads and famous sourdough bread bowls.
Later, we walked up and down the hills of San Francisco, much to the dismay of my glutes, thighs and calves. It was the perfect way to burn off a sweet afternoon snack.
Once our room was ready, we checked in and prepared for a holiday dinner at MaSo, conveniently located in the lobby of our hotel. Billed as cuisine that puts a “sophisticated twist on comfort food favorites,” I chose the Roasted Chicken Breast with Caramelized Plantains, Black Beans and a Lime Mojo Sauce entree. What a win! We started the night off with riesling from Sterling Vineyards — another good choice (and more on this to come). It was so good, we were too stuffed to order dessert. (Can you believe it?!) After dinner, we tried to catch the fireworks over the Bay Bridge at a rooftop bar at a nearby hotel. Unfortunately, we were too far away to really see much, but it was a great first day that ended with a superb meal.
On our second day in San Francisco, after Sally took a run over the Golden Gate Bridge and I headed to the hotel fitness center for a quick workout, we charted our course to Napa Valley, visiting three vineyards — Mumm Napa, Sterling Vineyards (called the “Disneyworld” of vineyards for its famous tram) and Sutter Home Wines. At Mumm, we enjoyed a sampling of sparkling wines. I opted for the “sweet” trio, of course. I enjoyed the Cuevee M so much that I purchased a bottle, which we later enjoyed on our last night in Los Angeles. A quick, low-key lunch at Dean & DeLuca — sandwiches al fresco, anyone? — was a nice way to break up the driving.
We then headed to Sterling, where we took the tram over the lush, green vineyards to the big white winery located at the top of a hill. We sampled a selection of white wines — chardonnay, pinot gris, and riesling — before heading back on the tram. Since we had time for one more stop, we decided to go with an old favorite — Sutter Home.
There, I purchased a bottle of Muscat of Alexandria wine (so incredibly delicious!) and some small bottles of moscato. Then, we hit the road to arrive back in San Francisco in time for our reservation at American Cupcake. (But not before we went looking for the “Full House” home and “Mrs. Doubtfire’s” house — we found both!)
The big draw of this unique restaurant / bakery / “carnival lounge” was, of course, its famed Red Velvet Fried Chicken. With many other unique combinations of sweet comfort foods on the menu, it was tough to decide which items to sample. We started with the Mac n Cheese Pops, which were served with a buffalo-ranch dipping sauce and cotton candy. Sally went with the Candy Apple BBQ Ribs for her entree, while I chose the RVFC. We were, again, too stuffed to have dessert, so we ordered some cupcakes to go. Another successful day!
On our final day in San Francisco, we woke up early, got some coffee and headed over to the Embarcadero where the Ferry Terminal Market is located. Much like New York’s Chelsea Market, the Ferry Terminal has an array of artisan food vendors selling breads, cheeses, meats and other incredible delicacies. It was fun to see the Ferry Terminal itself — it’s sure nothing like the Staten Island Ferry! We took our time walking back, checking out the merchandise of local artists and jewelry makers on the streets outside the terminal. Another highlight? Seeing an old (working) cable car, which seemed like it could transport us back to 1955.
Our time in San Francisco had come to a close and now we were up for the adventure of a lifetime — driving the Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1) along the coast to Pismo Beach, our next major stop on the trip. We chose Pismo based on a recommendation from one of Sally’s friends and the fact that it is halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles (our final destination), and what a great recommendation it was! After a pit stop in Monterey — literally 24 minutes due to parking restrictions — and a no frills lunch at Aunt Mame, a hole-in-the-wall in Santa Cruz, I was sooo excited for our dinner reservations at Ventana Grill, which I had chosen based on the fact that it was very close to our hotel, offers a range of great “coastal” fusion food and has a glorious view of the water and sunset.
We began our meal with the Muscat wine I purchased at Sutter Home, which paired perfectly with Carne Asada Nachos. We then ordered the Halibut Fish Tacos, which were incredibly light, flavorful and fresh, and finished off dinner with the Raspberry Chocolate Mousse (for Sally) and the Mud Pie (for me). Yet another incredible day and night!
With half of the trip now behind us, we were off to spend the next few days in Southern California — Los Angeles and San Diego. We left Pismo and headed south on the Freeway to the City of Angels, where I was desperately hoping to run into a Kardashian. (Not really. Okay, maybe. Yeah, I was). Our choice of turnoff exits on the road (usually to find a restroom!) had been lucky so far, and this day was no different. We stopped in Ventura for a quick lunch at the Vagabond Coffee Shop, a more than 40-year old institution, offering diner fare ranging from pancakes and eggs to burgers and grilled cheese. A true diamond in the rough!
Back on the road, we passed Santa Barbara and Kardashian Kountry (aka Calabasas), then headed into the heart of LA. Our hotel was located on the swanky Wilshire Boulevard, a residential neighborhood with lots of houses straight out of 90210 or Melrose Place. We had dinner reservations at the chic STK LA. Apparently, though, Sunday nights are super low-key for this normally rocking hotspot. A DJ was spinning some old school tunes for the sparse crowd, but the atmosphere was definitely more intimate than it seems on TV. This was our favorite dinner of the trip, as the food was so incredibly good.
We began our meal with riesling — half price is twice as nice! — and the caesar salad. I had the Petite Filet and Twice Baked Potatoes, while Sally opted for the Halibut entree. Dessert was simply awesome — I had the Sticky Toffee Pudding, and Sally ordered the Warm Chocolate Chip Cookie, which reminded me of my own recipe. Although there were no celeb sightings, we had a great time and enjoyed a wonderful meal.
On our final full day in California, we decided to make our way two hours down the coast to San Diego. I’d heard nothing but great things about this lovely city and couldn’t wait to experience it for myself. Once we arrived, we found a local cafe and enjoyed sandwiches outside — nothing fancy, but totally perfect. We then ventured off by the water and to Balboa Park for a relaxing afternoon. Too tired for a formal dinner — I think all of the traveling had finally caught up with us by then! — we arrived back at the hotel and ordered in some local Tex Mex food and enjoyed the bottle of Mumm Napa Cuevee M sparkling wine.
The next day, it was time to fly home and, unfortunately, that also meant eating “airport” food. Surprisingly, for an airport as large as LAX, there were very few viable options. I ultimately chose a Margarita Pizza from the Wolfgang Puck Express (we were still in LA, of course), which was good, considering that I’ve been spoiled by New York pizza and this was “airport” food, after all.
So, there you have it — a full recap of my food adventures in the California sun. Trust me, I won’t wait another 28 years to return!