Monday, September 29, 2008

Taco Bell - Pacifica

It's not fine dining, but the view can't be beat...

Seriously, I know Taco Bell is not a destination restaurant, but this one is definitely the exception. The Taco Bell in Pacifica is right on the beach. I do like Taco Bell, because I can get food without meat and it's cheap...especially helpful when you're on vacation and want to visit nicer restaurants for dinner. Taco Bell saves you money and, if you're going to eat at any Taco Bell, this is the one I would go to. There is a public parking lot next door that gets full from all the surfers, but if you eat at the Taco Bell, you can park in their lot and walk out on the beach after lunch. They also have a back deck with tables, so if it's not too windy or chilly, you can sit outside and enjoy the view.

The Taco Bell with a view is located on the Cabrillo Highway at 5200 Coast Hwy, Pacifica, CA 94044.

The Pez Museum - Burlingame

Prior to my first visit to the Bay Area, I had seen The Pez Museum on the Roadside America website. Roadside America is touted as your "online guide to offbeat tourist attractions" or, as I immediately discovered...places I must go.

The Pez Museum in Burlingame was one of the places I HAD to go on my first trip to San Francisco. In fact, it was my first stop after the airport. Not only because I really wanted to see this place, but also because it made logistical sense as the museum is just a few miles away from SFO (the museum is located at 214 California Drive in Burlingame.)

The museum is small, but worth the visit, especially if you are a fan of kitsch. Besides the vast collection of Pez dispensers (virtually every Pez dispenser ever made)--and now including the world's largest Pez dispenser--the museum also boasts a collection of classic toys that includes the likes of Mr. Potato Head, Lincoln Logs, and Wooly Willy. At the Pez Museum, you learn a little about the history of Pez and discover that the name was derived from the German word for peppermint, pfefferminz, as well as that Pez originated in Austria over 80 years ago. The museum consists of the storefront museum shop and the museum itself, a one room exhibit crammed full of Pez dispensers and other memorabilia. You won't spend a lot of time at the Pez Museum, but it's a definite must of things to see in the Bay Area.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Golden Gate Bridge

I love taking pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge. Obviously it is a fantastic landmark, but it also has some beautiful natural landscapes around it. There are many vantage points around San Francisco where you can take a fantastic picture of the bridge.

You can take pictures of the bridge from below at Fort Point. Fort Point is a National Historic Site located under the Golden Gate Bridge at the entrance to San Francisco Bay. It is an excellently preserved fort from the mid-1800's and worth taking a look at, especially if you are interested in military history.

It is quite an interesting perspective being partially under the Golden Gate Bridge. The other option to get a similar view is to take a cruise on the bay. You can take a bay cruise that will take you under the bridge and just on the other side. This gives you a perspective of the bridge like no other, not even the same as you can get from Fort Point, since the fort is at one end of the bridge and has a special arch built over it.

Also, I recently went to the other side of the bridge, to the Marin Headlands. The Marin Headlands, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, offers spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the city, and surrounding areas. The day I went to the Headlands, it was drizzly and grey, but I was definitely impressed. I will be sure to go back on my trip this October and take more pictures. Some of the pictures I took from the other side of the bridge are posted below.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Coit Tower

Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill offers one of the best views in San Francisco. Perched high above the city, the views are fantastic. For a small fee you can take the elevator to the top of the tower.

The tower was built during the 1930's and the lobby area offers some colorful and interesting murals painted as part of the Public Works of Art Project.

Coit Tower is accessible by car, but the parking lot is relatively small and usually full. If you wish to park, you most likely need to wait in line on the street approaching the tower for a while before you grab a parking spot. Alternately, you can park elsewhere and walk up the (steep) steps that lead to the tower or take public transportation.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fisherman's Wharf - San Francisco

You can't talk about Pier 39 without talking about Fisherman's Wharf, located just down the street. Jefferson Street and the other nearby streets are lined with shops full of tourist kitsch, street performers, and more. If you need a t-shirt, sweatshirt, or windbreaker...this is the place to buy it. Also along Jefferson Street is the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum and The Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf.

There are several historical ships you can visit at both Pier 45 and the Hyde Street Pier.

Some of the ships are part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. A National Parks Pass will gain you admission to the ships that are part of the historic park. Please note that the Maritime Museum is closed for renovations until sometime in 2009.

If you want to do a little shopping beyond the tourist trap shops, you can go to the nearby shops at The Cannery at Del Monte Square or Ghirardelli Square. Both locations offer more than the three t-shirts for $10 type of stores.

If you're hungry, there are many places to choose from along th e strip from Pier 39 to Del Monte Square. You can also visit the Boudin Bakery and learn the history of sourdough bread. Several of the restaurants have outdoor seating, right out on the sidewalk in some cases. One of these is Cioppino's on the Wharf, where you can get their signature dish of cioppino, or possibly the Dungeness crab (be warned, you better like garlic.)

Pier 39

Pier 39 is definitely your typical tourist trap, but it is still fun and full of life. There are restaurants, several attractions, and lots of small shops full of the typical touristy kitsch...but when I am on vacation that is the kind of thing I'm looking for as a memento of my trip. I do like to buy magnets to commemorate everyplace I've been.

One of the things the Pier is well known for is the sea lions. They hang out on docks next to the Pier and can be heard all over the place. They are great to watch, especially when little territorial tiffs break out. While these sea lions are at the Pier year-round, there tend to be more during the winter months.

Besides the sea lions, the Pier is home to the Aquarium of the Bay, a small aquarium that houses touch pools and a moving walkway that takes you under the sea through two clear tunnels.

The Aquarium of the Bay is a great place for kids and, while quite busy, is a nice respite from the hustle and bustle outside on the Pier. Other activities at the Pier include street performers, a giant carousel, an arcade, and more. You can also take a bay cruise or a sightseeing tour from the Pier.

There are also plenty of restaurants at the Pier, from locals to chains. One of my favorites is Neptune's Palace. Located at the end of the Pier, Neptune's boasts fantastic views of San Francisco Bay and an excellent menu filled with fresh seafood selections. I have never had a bad meal at Neptune's and the service is always outstanding. My boyfriend loves their seafood bisque. I usually get the grilled salmon which is served with a terrific citrus beurre blanc, jasmine rice, and vegetables. My trips to San Francisco are not complete without a visit to Neptune's. Also associated with Neptune's is the Sea Lion Cafe, so named as it is right next to the docks where all the sea lions hang out.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is a must for visitors to California. The landscape is stunning and definitely worth the trek. If you like outdoor activities (I prefer the drive by kind) there is plenty to do from camping, to hiking, to rock climbing and more. Regardless of whether you like to actively enjoy the outdoors or just passively enjoy it, Yosemite is definitely a spot to enjoy with a variety of scenery.

A drive through the valley is most impressive and this is the place for tourists. The majestic El Capitan looms over the valley. El Capitan is the largest granite monolith in the world.

Another impressive sight from the valley is Half Dome, a sight which can be seen from other points in the park. It is recognizable by its domed shape.

Yosemite is definitely worth the visit. While I didn't visit the Giant Sequoias in the park (I went to a different grove I will mention in another post) I would highly recommend visiting one of the groves in Yosemite. One of the groves (Mariposa) is seasonally accessible by car and the other two require hiking. The Giant Sequoias, however, are worth the hike as these are a sight to behold.

Driving through the park on the Tioga Road you will pass by Tenaya Lake, one of the few easily accessible lakes in the park, and through Tuolumne Meadows, which is generally less crowded than Yosemite Valley.

Continuing through the park on Tioga Road takes you through the Tioga Pass and outo f the park. Continue o
n the Tioga Road to where it meets US Route 395 in Lee Vining on Mono Lake. Travel further on up 395 and you can visit the ghost town of Bodie.

More Monterey

I am, once again, looking forward to visiting Monterey in October. I am hoping for great weather, unlike my first trip to Monterey, when it was cold and foggy the whole time.

The fog didn't seem to burn off in Monterey anywhere near the water, but it was sunnier and warmer more inland from the ocean. It was a beautiful day at the Carmel Mission, officially the San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission, the skies were blue and the temperatures were warmer.

The mission was interesting, but I actually liked Mission San Juan Capistrano in Southern California better. However, I do recommend visiting as it an interesting historical sight and is the final resting place of Father Junipera Serra.

From Carmel-by-the Sea you can drive down to Big Sur along the beautiful, rocky Pacific Coast. Unfortunately, my one attempt to do this was pre-empted by the couldn't see a thing, so I gave up. I do plan to go back, weather permitting.