Thursday, January 15, 2009

Over The Hills - Columbia State Historic Park

Columbia State Historic Park is a preserved gold rush town located three miles north of Sonora in the Sierra Nevada foothills. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961. The business district has been preserved with shops, restaurants, and hotels. There is a museum, authentic period fire equipment, volunteers dressed in period costume, a stagecoach you can ride, a gold mine you can visit, and you can also pan for gold. Due to its period authenticity, many movies and TV shows have been shot in Columbia.

According to the California state park website:

It is a real town, it never actually closes. Most businesses are open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Many restaurants, hotels, saloons and other establishments have longer hours. Almost all businesses are closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Depending on the timing of your visit and the activities you choose to partake of, you can spend either a few hours or the entire day in Columbia. I visited Columbia several years ago and didn't spend a lot of time there, since it was a weekday in the Autumn, so there weren't a lot of activities going on at the time. There are more activities on the weekend and during the summer, when the costumed docents are available for tours and information. Gold Rush Days are celebrated the second Saturday of every month. Panning for gold is a great activity for kids, as you are actually just panning from a sluice and not actually standing in a stream. I would like to go back to Columbia and spend more time.

Unfortunately, I can't find any pictures from my visit, but if I come across them, I will post them.

Just a Quick Note

I've been behind in my postings, so am finishing up some I started after my vacation in October. Please be sure to check out the older posts from the end of 2008 in order to see some of the latest information.

Candelstick Park, Home of the San Francisco 49ers



View from Candlestick Park.

Candlestick Park from tailgate central.

Let me start off by saying that I'm not at all a football fan. However, I have been to two San Francisco 49er games. Let's just say that I haven't been a good luck charm for the 49ers (although I'm sure I'm not wholly to blame) as they lost both games I attended. Both times I went to the game it was a special event game, alumni day, I believe. Where old 49ers came out in pregame ceremonies. The game I attended this past October had past members of the Gold Rush, the 49er's cheerleaders, performing to music from their decade.

The Gold Rush perform before the game.

The 49ers currently play at Candlestick Park (originally built as the home of the San Francisco Giants major league baseball team); the stadium has gone through several name changes due to commercial sponsorship, but has now reverted back to the original name chosen by fans in 1959. Candlestick Park has a rich history, including being the place where the Beatles played their last live concert in 1966. Currently, the San Francisco 49ers are looking to build a new stadium in the City of Santa Clara.

Before the game you can tailgate in the parking lot. This is quite an amazing experience as some of the fans have very elaborate tailgating set-ups. People hang out, eat, drink, and play games before heading into the stadium for the game. The parking lot afterward is a sea of trash and smoldering coals left over from the tailgaters. The fans rush to get out of the parking lot as fast as they can, but there are lots of cars and few ways out...so traffic gets snarled. If you don't care about the end of the game, then I recommend leaving early. I also recommend taking public transportation, if possible.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

San Mateo Has Plenty to See and Do

San Mateo is both a city and a county on the San Francisco peninsula. San Mateo County stretches from San Francisco Bay to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The county covers most of the peninsula south of San Francisco to north of Santa Clara County. San Mateo offers plenty of outdoor activities, including: 17 separate parks, three regional trails and numerous other county and local trails encompassing 15,680 acres (courtesy of the San Mateo County Department of Parks.)

There are many outdoor highlights in San Mateo County, including Coyote Point, a 600 acre park located on San Francisco Bay. There is a small museum, the Coyote Point Museum for Environmental Education; it is an environmental science and wildlife center with a number of interactive displays geared towards children. The museum also houses a number of native wildlife residents. Additionally, Coyote Point offers outdoor recreation and picnicking. There are many other attractions throughout San Mateo County, some have been highlighted in other posts, but they include: Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia, Filoli, Hiller Aviation Museum, Pigeon Point Lighthouse, and many more great places.

San Francisco International Airport is located in northeast San Mateo County. Also located in San Mateo County is the City of Colma, which is known as being primarily a city of the dead, as it is his home to over 17 cemeteries. The living population of Colma is outnumbered by the deceased residents many thousands to one. Other highlights of San Mateo County include Half Moon Bay, Redwood City (the county seat), and Foster City, which is built completely on engineered landfill in San Francisco Bay.

The many neighborhoods of San Mateo County offer some great local dining opportunities. Check out some of the great neighborhood restaurants in Belmont, San Carlos, Burlingame, Pacifica, Redwood City, and more.

Exploratorium and The Palace of Fine Arts

The Exploratorium, located at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco's Marina District is billed as "the museum of science, art and human perception." It is a fascinating place to visit for both children and adults. I enjoyed a visit to the Exploratorium on one of my first visits to San Francisco. I love interactive exhibits and hate that so many of them are geared towards kids...big kids like to touch and play and learn, too; that isn't a problem at the Exploratorium. There are a variety of interactive exhibits for kids of all ages. In fact, the museum has more than 700 hands on exhibits. The musem also features the Tactile Dome, which costs extra and reservations are recommended; the Tactile Dome is house in a geodesic dome in which visitors explore their surroundings with only their sense of touch. The Exploratorium also offers an excellent array of educational materials in their gift shop. I really had fun on my visit to the Exploratorium and highly recommend a visit, especially if you have kids.

The Palace of Fine Arts was originally built for the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915, showcasing San Francisco's recovery from the 1906 earthquake. It is is a structure designed to reflect classical Greek and Roman architecture. Today, the Palace of Fine Arts is frequently used as a setting for weddings. The grounds are a nice place for a quiet stroll.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Pumpkins in Half Moon Bay


So, vacation took place during the Halloween season. Half Moon Bay is known for pumpkins. Nothing made more sense than to buy some pumpkins for Halloween in Half Moon Bay. The pumpkin patch I went to was Farmer John's Pumpkin Farm located off Cabrillo Highway (Hwy. 1). Myself, my boyfriend and his family had lunch at the Half Moon Bay Brewery and then we went to get our pumpkins at Farmer John's.

I'd never gone to a pumpkin patch before to get a pumpkin at Halloween, so was really looking forward to this visit. It wasn't quite what I expected, though. I had expected to walk down rows of pumpkins growing on vines, but as you can see from the pictures, the pumpkins were already picked (harvested?) and grouped together. Despite my disappointment at not getting to pick a pumpkin straight from the vine...I enjoyed looking at all the pumpkins and finding that perfect pumpkin.


We purchased several pumpkins, which seemed to be sold based on estimates from Farmer John. However, since we had several quite large ones, the pricing was fairly reasonable. Of course, the whole point of buying pumpkins at Halloween is to carve them. So we did.


This is my pumpkin (above). Below are the pumpkins lit on the porch at night.



Palo Alto Offers Plenty of Entertainment


Palo Alto is an upscale college town on the Peninsula. It is home to Stanford University and a number of Silicon Valley tech companies, including Facebook. I actually didn't realize that Facebook was headquartered there until I was walking down the street and saw their offices. I, of course, behaved like a total geek and took several pictures of their front door. The only problem was that it was nighttime, so the pictures didn't turn out too well. However, that didn't stop me from posting a picture on Facebook. Like I said, a total geek.
Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto.

There are plenty of palaces to eat in Palo Alto, from small locals (there was a vegan restaurant that was having a grand opening) to large chains, such as The Cheesecake Factory. On this visit to Palo Alto my boyfriend and I (and his brother) went to a New Orleans themed restaurant, Nola's. The servers are be-decked with Mardi Gras beads and the walls are be-decked with folk art and colorful paint. The restaurant is a rambling affair that looks like a French Quarter garden or courtyard. Personally, I'm not a big fan of Cajun food or really spicy dishes, but the food was good. The bar area was especially lively.

Entrance to Nola's restaurant.



Since we didn't have anything specific to do, we walked around window-shopping as there are a variety of shops and boutiques in Palo Alto, including an Apple Store (open until 10PM on Fridays and Saturdays.) We came upon the Stanford Theatre, an old-time movie theater built in 1925, which shows classic films from the Golden Age of Hollywood. The theater was restored in the late 1980's with money from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. The theater features a classic movie-going experience not found many places these days. I definitely recommend taking a break by watching a movie here. The Stanford Theatre experience includes a Mighty Wurlitzer...much better than sitting through the movie previews and commercials one is subjected to at modern day cinemas.

The night we visited the Standford Theatre, they were in the midst of a British Film Festival. We chose to see "The Guv'nor," a 1935 comedy starring George Arliss as a hobo who becomes president of a Parisian bank. It was quite an entertaining movie, especially considering the story took place in France and no one even made a moderate attempt at a French accent.

Inside the Standord Theatre.


After the movie.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I've updated this article to provide a link to Nola in Palo Alto. You can make a reservation and order online at their website.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Conservatory of the Flowers

Here is a selection of some of the flowers found at the Conservatory of the Flowers in Golden Gate Park.




Bay Area Dining

There are tons of great restaurants in the Bay Area. San Francisco is known for its world class cuisine, so choosing a place to eat can be a hard decision to make. There are so many different types of cuisine to choose from that what to eat could be as simple a decision as where you are in the city.

San Francisco itself has many distinct areas defined by many different types of cuisines. Most famous, of course, is Chinatown and the authentic Chinese cuisine within. The is also Japantown for Japanese cuisine, North Beach for Italian Cuisines, Fisherman's Wharf for seafood, and many other areas with many other types of cuisine from traditional to progressive and beyond. Those are all within the city. When you move out of the city, there are many more dining options available to you. Each neighborhood has many local gems featuring a variety of cuisines. Some of my favorites are:

The Van's located in Belmont on the Peninsula. The Van's has been a Bay Area tradition since 1947. It offers a fabulous view of the bay as it is situated on the Belmont hillside. The Van's offers a variety of menu options, but features some excellent Italian dishes. The food is good and the service is attentive at The Van's. If you choose to dine here, I definitely recommend reservations.

I love Italian food, and there are many great Italian restaurants in the Bay Area. One of my favorites is La Tosca in San Carlos. La Tosca is a small neighborhood restaurant located in the town center of San Carlos. It is on a street lined with other local restaurants and small shops. It offers intimate dining, outstanding food, and excellent service. They also offer live music a couple of nights a week, adding to the romantic ambiance of the restaurant. La Tosca was recently voted one of the Top 10 Bay Area Italian Restaurants by diners on OpenTable.com, an online restaurant reservation service. Use OpenTable.com to make your reservations, especially on the weekend.

Another Italian dining gem is located further down the Peninsula in Palo Alto. Osteria is another small neighborhood restaurant with excellent food and attentive service. The ambiance is a little more energetic than La Tosca, but enjoyable nonetheless. Reservations are a must at Osteria, even during the week.

Okay, so the Elephant Bar is a chain, but an interesting one featuring Pacific Rim cuisine and good service. I've eaten a couple of times at the one in Burlingame on Old Bayshore Highway (near SFO...you can seen the planes take off and land). The food is all made fresh and they do go out of their way to make sure you leave happy. On a visit there, I ordered a Mahi Mahi sandwich with a fruit based salsa. I didn't like it and barely ate any of it, but I did eat my french fries (potatoes are my favorite food.) When the server came to check on us, he noticed that my sandwhich was barely touched. He offered to get me something else, I said he didn't need to as it was my fault for not liking what I ordered (I don't think I'd had Mahi Mahi before, so it was the taste of the fish). The server insisted and I opted for the veggie burger (a much better choice and what I should've gotten to begin with). The veggie burger came out quickly and with fresh fries (double fries, score!) We also didn't get charged for the first burger I didn't like, which I totally was not expecting...so the server got a big tip. The decor of the Elephant Bar is interesting, it's jungle oriented...but not at all Rainforest Cafe.

Fish and Chips from Neptune's Palace.

View from Neptune's Palace at Pier 39.

As I've mentioned in other posts, I like eating at Neptune's Palace at Pier 39 in the city. There are so many other great restaurants to explore I'd like to be able to try a new one each trip, but that doesn't always work out. While I do eat seafood on occasion, I try to stick to a vegetarian diet. So, on one of my trips to the San Francisco I really wanted to try the famous Greens vegetarian restaurant. My boyfriend took me there for my birthday lunch...he's not a vegetarian, so I appreciated him taking one for the team by eating a meatless meal. Greens is located at Fort Mason in the marina district of San Francisco...it has a great view, as do many of the restaurants located along the water. I must say, I was somewhat disappointed by my meal...the food didn't live up to the hype, although the presentation was very good. Although it was not a bad meal...it just wasn't a fantastic one, either. I wouldn't rule out trying it again, although it might be a tough sell getting the BF there again. There are many other vegetarian restaurants in the Bay Area, so Greens is not the only option.

Remains of lunch at Greens.

View from Greens.

When visiting the Bay Area I do try really hard not to eat at chain restaurants; however, sometimes it can't be helped. Definitely go out and explore the neighborhoods, because you never know what great places you may find to eat.

NOTE: Post updated with photos, 1-26-09