Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Waterfalls of Yosemite

The word “awesome” is very over-used these days and for many things that do not meet the definition of the word. The waterfalls of Yosemite, however,definitely fulfills the meaning of the word as they are truly awesome. One of the things that makes the various falls at Yosemite so magnificent is that they are so fleeting in nature. While water continues to trickle throughout the latter part of the summer and fall, it is in late spring that the falls are going full force. The thunderous crashing of the water can be heard many places throughout the park, but it is in Yosemite Valley that the cacophony of sound can truly be heard.

As you enter the Valley, you see your first glimpses of the falls…Bridalveil Fall to the right and Yosemite Falls to the left. There are other falls that you can see from the valley floor, but these two falls are the most spectacular. Yosemite Falls is actually divided into Upper, Middle, and Lower Yosemite Falls. Yosemite Falls is one of the world's tallest falls with the three falls measuring 1,430, 675, and 320 feet respectively. You can easily walk to Lower Yosemite Fall and get up close and personal with the thundering, icy waters. The mist hits you as you are about halfway up the short trail to the lower falls. Once you are on the bridge that crosses the stream fed by the falls, you are constantly doused with mist and larger splashes of water, depending on the nature of the winds. The pathways are clearly marked and there is excellent signage identifying which way to go for great views of the falls.

On the opposite side of the valley is Bridalveil Fall…a single fall of 620 feet. Bridalveil is narrower than Yosemite Falls, but still very impressive as its thundering water can be heard across the valley. You can also easily trek to the bottom of Bridalveil for a better view (the trail is short, but steep). I didn’t do this, having already walked to Lower Yosemite Fall. The parking lot that is nearby Bridalveil Fall affords a fantastic view through the trees. You can also stop along the valley floor and view Bridalveil without getting up close and personal.

The falls at Yosemite go full force in late May and early June as the icy snows of winter melt. Throughout Yosemite, there are many falls you can view, depending on how adventurous you are. The majority of the falls can be accessed from Yosemite Valley. Yosemite Valley is also where you get spectacular views of El Capitan and Half Dome.

There are various park-led tours you can take through the park if you don’t feel like driving yourself or hiking. There is a Yosemite Shuttle which will take to to various stops throughout the park, as well as the Yosemite Valley Floor open-top tour.

The cost to enter Yosemite National Park is $20 per passenger car and the fee is good for a week. If you are interested in staying in Yosemite, make sure you book early, as reservations fill quickly for both hotel rooms and camping sites. There are a number of first-come-first-serve camping sites, but these are also filling up quickly these days.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Restaurant Review: Neptune’s Palace, Pier 39

Almost every time I go to San Francisco, I dine at Neptune’s Palace. In fact, when I am doing the touristy things at Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, I’ve only eaten at a different restaurant one time…every other time it’s been Neptune’s. This time, there was a slight wait to get seated, although the restaurant wasn’t crowded. Once seated, we had a table with a good view, although all of the tables at Neptune’s have a view of the Bay due to the restaurant design, some are closer to the windows than others.

Since the last time I ate at Neptune’s Palace, they changed the menu a little bit (if you look online, they still have the old menu posted.) The fresh fish selection used to come with vegetables and jasmine rice with a citrus beurre blanc. Now it comes with garlic mashed potatoes and something I don't remember. I really loved the rice and the citrus beurre blanc., I wasn’t really feeling like eating salmon, since I’d had some sole the night before. So, this time I chose to get the split prawns, which came with a wild rice pilaf and grilled vegetables. The shrimp, vegetables, and rice were excellent. Unfortunately, I was so hungry, I couldn’t wait to eat…so didn’t take any pictures of the food. We also ordered the shrimp bruschetta appetizer; it was $8.95 for three pieces of bruschetta topped by chopped shiitake mushrooms, sun dried tomato tapenade, lemon aioli and shrimp. It was served with a garnish of greens with a tasty gingery-sesame tasting dressing…in fact, I think I liked the greens and dressing better than the bruschetta, although the bruschetta was quite good.

Normally, when I’ve eaten at Neptune’s Palace, the service was excellent, but I think they must’ve been short-handed, because it took quite some time to get the bread basket. The overall food service was very slow, however, the food was definitely worth it.

Neptune's Palace on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New Exhibit Opening at SFMOMA

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art opens a new exhibit this week "Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities." The exhibit runs through September 7. The two friends, who met in Taos, New Mexico in 1929 are known for "their ability to capture, in their own unique ways, the essence of natural beauty." This exhibit brings together nearly 100 works from the artists.

I have not been to SFMOMA, but would definitely be interested in seeing this exhibit. Since I just went to Yosemite (post to follow) and Ansel Adams earned his fame on his Yosemite photos. It would be great to see an exhibit of his work, especially juxtaposed with works by Georgia O'Keeffe. SFMOMA, the first museum on the West Coast featuring modern and contemporary art, was founded in 1935. The museum is located in San Francisco at 151 Third Street between Mission and Howard. The museum is closed on Wednesdays and open late on Thursdays.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Conservatory of Flowers and San Francisco Botanical Garden

The Conservatory of Flowers, located in Golden Gate Park is currently featuring “Edible Expeditions” through November 1, 2009. This display features exotic plants from around the world which are also edible or related to edible plants. Throughout the Conservatory are many orchids. In the room featuring the “Edible Expedition” exhibit there are many flowers and plants that can be eaten, such as pineapple, cocoa plants, and star fruit. Apparently, we just missed a start fruit earlier in the week.

On my last visit to San Francisco, I went to the Conservatory of Flowers for the first time. This time, there were some different flowers, mostly orchids. The hot house room was steamier than before and my camera fogged up right away…it was almost impossible to get a shot in this room, because my camera lens kept fogging up after I cleaned it.

On the other side of the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum, is the "Friend Gate" entrance to the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum. I had been to the Botanical Garden before, but it was in the fall, so there weren’t a lot of flowers in bloom. Since the trip to the Conservatory took place first, and it was getting close to lunch, it was not as extensive a trip to the Botanical Garden as I would have liked. There were also some areas that were under construction.

I did, however, see some of the flora of Australia and Chile. One day I will have both the time and energy to explore the garden to their fullest extent. The San Francisco Botanical Garden is 55 acres with more than 7500 varieties of plants from around the world, so definitely requires both the time to spend in the gardens, as well as the physical energy to walk through them in their entirety.

While I didn’t go to the Rose Garden in Golden Gate Park, located at John F. Kennedy Drive, it was in full bloom and looked quite beautiful as I drove by.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Restaurant Review: La Tosca, San Carlos

La Tosca is a small Italian Restaurant located on Laurel Street in San Carlos. It features authentic Italian food. The inside is pleasantly decorated and the seating is intimate, but able to accommodate small parties in a front corner booth or their side booths.

I have dined at La Tosca several times and have never had a bad meal. Each time I have dined at La Tosca, I have gotten a different menu item. This time I got the Petrale Sole al Limone…it was served with vegetables and potatoes. The fish and vegetables were very good, but the potatoes were not my favorite…they weren’t bad…I just wasn’t sure what kind of sauce came on them, possibly a marsala sauce--not my favorite. The last time I dined at La Tosca I had the gnocchi, which was most excellent.

The service at La Tosca was, hands down, outstanding. The server, Haluk, was quite attentive and accommodating. We were celebrating the BF's birthday and Haluk made it a very special evening for us. I have never had bad service at La Tosca, not even when the restaurant has been completely packed. You can book reservations for La Tosca through OpenTable and, before I left for vacation, I purchased a $25 gift certificate at a very reduced rate on at…an excellent value.

La Tosca is an excellent choice if you are looking for a romantic dining experience or for special occasions. Actually, La Tosca is just good any time.

La Tosca on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Restaurant Review: Half Moon Bay Brewing Company

One place that I like to eat when in the Bay Area is the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company. They have both indoor and outdoor seating and frequently feature music. The food is good and they have a varied menu. The Brewing Company is quite popular in the area and can get very crowded at night and on the weekends. Reservations can be made through OpenTable if you are planning to go during the busy times.

On this visit to the Bay Area my first stop was lunch at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company. I had a hard time deciding what to get for lunch as there are so many good options. I got the grilled fish tacos (sorry, I was a slacker this time and took no food pictures.) The fish tacos were served with soft corn tortillas; they were the “do it yourself” assembly kind. The fish was quite good, as was the rice that came with the dish. However, the plate was served with too much lettuce. The dish also came with a cup of black beans…which were the most flavorless black beans I’ve ever had; after two bites, I pushed the cup away from me. The BF got the Albacore tuna melt, served on ciabatta bread with apples (he got it without the apples). I tried the tuna melt (he’d had it before) and it was good. The sandwich also came with french fries; the fries are always very good at the Brewing Co.

I would definitely recommend the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company for a leisurely afternoon lunch. If it's a warm day, you can sit outside and enjoy the view of the ocean. If you want to spend a lively evening, then definitely head for the Brewing Company.

Half Moon Bay Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Two More Days

The next trip to California is in only two more days. I can't wait. The trip will start off with a visit to San Francisco and Sausalito and end with a visit to Yosemite. More info and photos will be posted soon.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Spring Shower of Events

This weekend there are plenty of events going on in San Francisco, the surrounding areas, and beyond. From the Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco on Sunday to the Cooking for Solutions event at the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Friday and Saturday, there are a variety of events to enjoy.

The 50th Castroville Artichoke Festival takes place both Saturday and Sunday. In San Francisco, Ghirardelli Square is hosting the Uncorked! Wine Festival on Saturday afternoon. On Saturday, Golden Gate Park is home to the family-friendly Life is Good Festival.

So if you are in town or thinking of going near the Bay Area this weekend you won't be disappointed with so many events to choose from.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bay to Breakers

(Photo courtesy of Bay to Breakers.)

The annual Bay to Breakers race is coming up this weekend. The race will be held on Sunday, May 17. The race began in 1912 to raise morale as the city recovered from the devastation of the 1906 earthquake. Since that time the Bay to Breakers (so called for the course it follows from start to finish) has become one of the largest footraces in the world with more than 65,000 participants and more than 100,000 spectators each year. The race attracts all levels of runners, but is known for the thousands of costumed participants.

(Photo courtesy of Bay to Breakers.)
Some of the participants have even been known to wear nothing but their running shoes.

(Photo: Wikipedia.)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Picturing Monterey

As you can tell from my blog, I really like Monterey. The Monterey Bay Peninsula is stunningly beautiful. I especially love the area around Pacific Grove and the coastal areas of the 17 Mile Drive. Below is one of my favorite photos of the crashing waves on the rocky outcroppings along the coastline. I have this photo framed and hanging on my living room wall. My goal for some time has been to paint it on a large canvas to hang over my bed. I find the crashing waves to by quite soothing and could sit all day just watching them. So, I thought having a picture of one of my favorite scenes hang above my bed would be just as soothing. Since the wall space is rather broad (I have a king-sized bed) I couldn't just enlarge my photo without some distortion. Therefore, in order to have my favorite scene hang there, I need to paint it.

Since it's been quite a while since I painted a picture of any kind, I thought I would practice on a small scale first. The larger canvas is a little too pricey to to chance messing up, so I am simply following the old adage "practice makes perfect." To that effect I bought some paints and dug out a small canvas I had laying around the house. I painted the picture below the other night. I am quite happy with the results. However, I will still probably paint a few more practice canvases before tackling the large one for my bedroom. Nevertheless, I am very pleased and quite inspired to get back into painting.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Cooking for Solutions

The Monterey Bay Aquarium will be hosting their eighth sustainable food and wine celebration, Cooking for Solutions, May 15-16. This event features celebrity chefs, including Alton Brown and Thomas Keller, who have been selected by the Aquarium for their promotion of Earth-friendly cuisine. The chefs will create gourmet dishes, host food and wine adventures, and present cooking demonstrations that feature sustainable seafood and organic ingredients.

Tickets are still available for the Cooking for Solutions Gala. The Gala features gourmet dishes and
organic and sustainable wines and a silent auction benefiting the Aquarium's Seafood Watch program. Seafood Watch is the Aquarium's award-winning program promoting awareness of sustainable seafood choices. You can pick up a Seafood Watch wallet card at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and many participating restaurants, zoos, aquariums, and more across the country, or you can download one at specific to your location or a general guide for seafood across the U.S. There is even a Seafood Watch application for the iPhone.

Celebrity Chef Alton Brown
(Photo credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium.)

Besides some sold out events, and the Gala, there is also a Sustainable Foods Fair on Saturday, May 16, which is included with your admission to the Aquarium. There will be information booths throughout the Aquarium galleries featuring sustainable seafood and winemaking, as well as organic agriculture. Celebrity Chef Alton Brown will also be signing books and giving a cooking demonstration. The Sustainable Foods Fair runs from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.