Sunday, November 30, 2008

Monterey Bay Inn Makes Good

While my recent stay at the Monterey Bay Inn was not completely terrible, it was also not completely wonderful. One thing that is nice about the hotel is that they send you a survey after your stay...and now I know that the ratings and comments are actually reviewed.

I received a letter the other day from the GM of the parent company of the Monterey Bay Inn, the Inns of Monterey. The letter expressed regret over not meeting my expectations nor in the hotel meeting the standards they are capable of meeting. The letter also offered me a credit of $150 for a future stay at one of the Inns of Monterey properties. I was impressed by this, as certainly did not expect this kind of response to my comments.

I've stayed at the Monterey Bay Inn at least three other times and this was the only stay I was not completely satisfied with. While I will probably stay at another hotel on my next visit to Monterey, it will still probably be one of the Inns of Monterey properties. So, next time you get a survey following up on a stay somewhere, fill it out...good or bad. The hotels do read them and respond when needed.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Golden Gate Park

Conservatory of the Flowers

Dutch Windmill

The end of Golden Gate the ocean. The Cliff House is in the distance.

Okay, so I've been to Golden Gate Park several times. However, this is the first time I really and truly realized just how big of a park it is and how many different things are encompassed in the park. First of all, I didn't actually realize that the edge of the park was the Great Highway, which is the road running along the ocean. Nor, did I realize that when I was looking at the map of Golden Gate Park trying to figure out how to get to the Dutch Windmill that I was looking at the map completely wrong. It took me a while to figure out that we went the wrong way, but ended up in the right place...even though I was looking at the wrong half of the map...we weren't there yet. If that sounds confusing, it is probably because it is...due to the size of Golden Gate Park.

I highly recommend visiting some of the many activities and sites encompassed within the park. Definitely get a map. A detailed map, if possible. I purchased a map at the Conservatory of the was helpful, but didn't include all of the many pathways in the park.

However, we (the boyfriend and I) were able to get from the Conservatory of the Flowers to the California Academy of Sciences and back using the map. The to and from were by different paths, but we managed not to get lost.

The Conservatory of the Flowers has a nice exhibit of plants in varying climates...most more tropical than it ever gets in San Francisco. I will say that the temperature of a couple rooms reminded me greatly of July or August in Cincinnati. There are also many flowers to look at outside the Conservatory. The cost to get in is $5.00 per adult, but is free to everyone on the first Tuesday of every month (the Conservatory is closed on Mondays). The flowers were beautiful...I will have another post with just flowers from the Conservatory.

Besides the Conservatory, Golden Gate Park is home to a beautiful botanical garden that is quite large and has a variety of plants for all seasons. The San Francisco Botanical Garden has an entrance across from the Japanese Tea Garden. There are daily, free, docent led tours. However, if you just want to wander amongst the various gardens, there is much to look at and many places to enjoy a break or to people watch.

This time I got to see the Buffalo Paddock, although it was too muddy to go around it too much. I also got to see the Dutch Windmill which had some flowers in the garden, although not in the tulip garden as it was October, not March. The Dutch Windmill is situated towards the edge of Golden Gate Park approaching the Great Highway. I also visited the California Academy of Sciences, which just re-opened after several years of being under renovation.

The California Academy of Sciences
houses both the Steinhart Aquarium and the Morrison Planetarium. It also is newly equipped with a spectacular living roof. The Planetarium requires timed tickets, but doesn't cost extra from your admission. A quick tip for getting tickets to the Academy, especially on the weekend...use the self serve ticket kiosks below the steps to the museum.

If you're hungry, the Academy has a great restaurant with a variety of food selections. Prices are typically high, as is the case with most food purchased at a museum; however, the food was fresh and very good. The day that we went to the Academy, the restaurant was crowded and there wasn't enough seating for everyone purchasing food. I found the food station set-up to be a little disorganized. It was hard to tell where you should go and if there was a line or what the lines were for, it made for quite a bit of chaos. The register lines were just as doesn't seem as if they made enough spaced for the register lines to not mix in with the food station lines. And, they definitely need to add more seating. We were there on a weekday...I can't even begin to imagine the chaos of a weekend.

Other activities in Golden Gate Park include the deYoung Museum (they currently have an Yves St. Laurent exhibit that I want to see), the Japanese Tea Garden, the various gardens and lakes, and the Beach Chalet and Park Chalet, a history center and restaurant off the Great Highway at the edge of the park. Besides these specific activities, there are many places for picnics, sports activities, gentle strolls, or leisurely people watching.

Definitely check out Golden Gate Park and its many activities.

Dining in Monterey

There are many great places to dine in Monterey, especially if you like seafood. However, there are all kinds of cuisines depending on your locale. Some of my favorite dining spots are:

Exterior of the Fish Hopper, located on Cannery Row in Monterey.

The fish and chips from the Fish Hopper.

Grilled salmon sandwich from the Fish Hopper.

The Fish Hopper on Cannery Row provides a great selection of seafood at reasonable prices. The service here is always excellent, as is the food. The view is also highly recommended as it is overlooking the water.

Schooners Bistro on the Bay at the Monterey Bay Plaza Hotel & Spa is more of a sports bar with great food, as it has the requisite TVs tuned to various sporting endeavors; as the name implies, however, there is a sailing theme to the decor. The food is quite good and the prices reasonable. There is also an outdoor heated terrace for those cool Monterey nights. They have excellent seafood selections and I really like the "Grilled Castroville Artichoke" appetizer.

Ambrosia India Bistro is located in the middle Old Monterey. It is an excellent choice if you are looking for something other than seafood. The food is excellent, as is the service. They have a festively decorated outdoor dining area, as well as a cozy dining room inside. The have a lunch buffet daily, including a champagne buffet on the weekend. I ate here for dinner and enjoyed every dish I ordered, especially the Vegetable Pakora vegetarian appetizer. Obviously, if you are looking for vegetarian fare, Indian food is always a safe bet.

These above are just some of my favorite places. There are also many other good dining options, such as the Chart House (high end steak and seafood chain), El Torito Mexican Restaurant & Cantina (good Mexican food, inexpensive prices), and a variety of other good places.

One not be lured into going to the "world famous" Sardine Factory. The food is bad and the service worse. My boyfriend and I spent almost $200 on what was supposed to be a nice, romantic dinner. The food was not good and way too expensive for the quality. My boyfriend ordered the filet and lobster. The lobster was rubbery and the filet, which he ordered medium rare, looked like a charcoal briquette. The waiter played least in sight and when he was around, wasn't to the level of service he should have been at this type of restaurant. So, while you may be tempted to try the Sardine Factory...don't.

In fact, our dining experience at the Sardine Factory was so bad I wrote a letter of complaint. The restaurant wrote a letter of apology and sent me a $50 gift card. However, this card will never be used, as our experience was that bad. Not even free money is worth a return visit.

(Post revised 1/12/09 with photos.)

Big Sur

Big Sur is on the Central Coast located south of the Monterey Peninsula on Highway 1. The first time I tried to go to Big Sur, the drive was completely enshrouded in fog and nothing could be seen on either side of the road. Since the fog didn't seem to be lifting at all, we turned around at the Bixby Bridge.

I'm glad that we made it back for a second attempt at Big Sur. There was some fog this time, but nothing like there was could see the beautiful scenery located on both sides of the highway. The fog was mostly located off the coast hiding most of the ocean from view and there was some in the hills, but what I could see was quite impressive! I had no idea that the mountains were so close to the ocean. The Santa Lucia Mountains rise high on the inland side of the road, while the ocean side of the road is nothing but steep cliffs in many places. This makes for a somewhat harrowing, yet magnificent drive.