Monday, December 31, 2012

January is California restaurant month

California is hosting a statewide celebration of food during the month of January. They have a website and Facebook page dedicated to the event. They have a whole host of events going on across the state, online and through various social media outlets. The are running a photo contest with entries uploaded to Instagram and Facebook. They will also be hosting weekly Q&A sessions with various California-based chefs on Facebook.

To enter the Foodie Photo Contest, you'll need to snap a picture of your favorite "California inspired" meal and post on Instagram or their Facebook page with the tag #DineInCA. You'll need to have your friends and family vote for your picture to help you get to the Top 10. Those photos making the Top 10 will be judged by a panel of experts on quality, style, and creativity. The grand prize in the contest is a 7-day deluxe foodie trip to California for two. There will also be three runner-up prizes awarded. The contest is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada ages 21 and over. For more details on the contest, check out the complete rules.

The "Knife Point Interviews" will be hosted live every Wednesday in January on Facebook. If you miss the life session on Facebook, the transcripts will be posted to the Visit California website. I'm excited for the last interview in the series with Roy Choi, of Kogi Korean BBQ food truck fame. Chef Choi and the Kogi food truck started a trend that has exploded across the country, inspiring other chefs to open their cafes on wheels.

Many restaurants across the state will be participating in California Restaurant Month or with a resturant week celebration in their own city. There will be restaurant week/month specials, so check with participating restaurants for their offerings. Another source for information, as well as reservations, for the upcoming foodie celebrations is Open Table: California Restaurants. Open Table, if you're not familiar with it, is an online reservation system where you can earn points for dining at participating restaurants. If you want to dine at any of the restaurant week/month participants, you might want to make your reservations early as seatings can fill up quickly.

California Restaurant Month Schedules*:

Napa Valley Restaurant Month, January 1-31
San Luis Obispo County Restaurant Month, January 1-31
Berkeley Restaurant Week, January 13-20
San Francisco Dine About Town, January 15-31
Oakland Restaurant Week, January 18-27
Newport Beach Restaurant Week, January 21-27
Dine LA Restaurant Week, January 21-February 1

*Check out the California Restaurant Month website for more celebrations around the state.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

San Francisco Giants win the World Series and get a ticker-tape parade

For the second time in three years, the San Francisco Giants have won Major League Baseball's World Series. To honor the hometown winners, the City of San Francisco will be celebrating on Wednesday, October 31, with a ticker-tape parade. If you are in the city, stake your place early to watch the spectacle. The parade starts at 11 a.m. at the foot of Market Street. Players, coaches, and immediate family members will be riding in convertibles, so the fans can see them better than in their 2010 victory parade. The parade ends at City Hall and Civic Center Plaza where San Francisco's mayor, Ed Lee, will present the team with a key to the city. The Giants organization will be live-streaming the parade on their website. In order to accommodate the expected crowd, additional public transportation services have been added.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Deal Alert: Groupon featuring San Francisco Sightseeing Deals Galore

San Francisco Skyline

If you're planning a trip to San Francisco any time in the near future, it almost always pays to check out deal sites such as Groupon and Living Social. Today, I was checking out Groupon and noticed the following deals for sightseeing adventures. So check out these deals for some fun things to do on your next San Francisco trip and save some money (who doesn't love doing that?)!

View of Golden Gate Bridge from the water.
Deal #1: A 50% discount for a twilight cruise on the Red and White Fleet. For $29 you get a ticket for the California Twilight Cruise, which operates Thursdays through Saturdays from November 4 through March 31. The cruise departs Pier 43-1/2 at 5:30 p.m. and travels around the sites and lights of San Francisco Bay. The cruise features a buffet and one ticket (beer, soda, wine) per ticket (more drinks available for a charge from the bar.) You can buy one discounted ticket for yourself and up to three as gifts. You'll need to make an advance reservation for your cruise. While there are 5 days left to buy this deal, it is being offered in a limited quantity, so act soon to secure your discount. The Groupon expires March 27, 2013.

Deal #2: A 50% discount for a Ride The Ducks amphibious tour of San Francisco for two. For $34 you get a tour ticket for TWO people for the 90-minute Ride The Ducks city tour. The tour takes you along the city streets, as well as in and out of the Bay. Tours operate daily in September and October, Friday-Monday in November, and weekends only in December (as well as December 24-28). You'll need to make an advance reservation for your tour. There are 3 days left to purchase this deal, but since quantities are limited purchase soon to secure your savings. The Groupon expires on February 28, 2013.

Deal #3: A 50% discount for the Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf. For $16 you get TWO tickets for the Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf. The Wax Museum has been in operation since 1963 and is one of the world's largest wax museums. The museum features a variety of both historical and modern celebrity galleries. The Wax Museum is open daily 365 days a year and is open from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. There is limited time remaining to get this deal, so check it out now. The Groupon expires June 26, 2013.

Deal #4: A 50% discount  (I'm sensing a them, here) for the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda. For $16 you get admission for to this historic museum; the second option is admission for up to four for $29. You can find more information about the USS Hornet fro a previous deal posting. The deal has a limited time remaining to purchase, so act soon to score your savings. The Groupon expires January 16, 2013 and is good for standard admission during regular operating hours of 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Deal #5: A 53% discount for a San Francisco Time Machine Tour for two or four. For $19 you can get a tour for two and for $29 you can get a tour for four on the Emperor Norton's Fantastic San Francisco Time Machine historical walking tour. This walking tour lasts approximately two and a half hours and covers about two miles of San Francisco sightseeing. Tours depart fro Union Square Thursdays and Saturdays at 11:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Tours must be booked one week in advances and the Groupon expires December 26, 2012. There is limited time remaining to purchase, so check this one out soon.

Deal #6: A 50% discount for a Chinatown Ghost Tour. For $24 you can get one adult admission for the ghost tour or for $48 you can get two adult admissions. SF Chinatown Ghost Tours depart Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. and ends at 9:30 pm. The tour includes a magic show held in a former gambling den. I posted earlier this year about a similar deal from Living Social, so if you missed out on that one, check out the Groupon. A limited amount of time remains to purchase this deal, so act quickly to get your scare on. The Groupon expires March 13, 2013 and reservations are required for the tour.

Deal #7: A 50% discount for Wildlife and Eco Tours from San Francisco Whale Tours. There are several options, including a discount for a private charter. For $19 (one person) you can get on a 90-minute California Coast and Tributaries Eco Tour or for $38 two can go. Tours depart daily from Pier 39 at 3:30 p.m. on the Kitty Kat catamaran, an eco-friendly water vessel. You'll need advance reservations for your tour and your Groupon expires November 21, 2012. There is a limited time remaining to purchase this deal, so get on over to the Groupon website to check it out.

Deal #8: A 59% (w00t!) discount for two or four on Bay Voyager tours out of Oakland. For $69 two people will get their choice of an approximately two hour tour of San Francisco Bay. For $139 four people get to go for the same thing, either a San Francisco Bay Highlights tour or a City Night Lights tour. The San Francisco Bay Highlights tow is about two hours and covers 30 miles. The City Night Lights tour is about an hour and 45 minutes and takes you along the waterfront lights, including a trip under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz. You'll need to make advance reservations for tours, which operates seven days a week depending on bookings. Again, this deal has a limited time remaining to purchase, so head on over and check it out. The Groupon expires November 29, 2012.

Growing grapes in California wine country.
Deal #9: A 51% discount on a Sonoma Passport. For $29 you get a Sonoma Passport for two. The Sonoma Passport offers access to free wine tastings, discounts, and other specials at 26 wineries across Sonoma County. As with most of the other deals on here, there is a limited time remaining to purchase. The Groupon (and passport) expires December 31, 2012.

Definitely check out these deals for your next trip to San Francisco. I've had some good luck using these kinds of discounts to do things I wanted to do, but for less. On my last trip to San Francisco  I used discount deals for a Red and White Fleet Bay cruise and discounted admission for two to Ripley's Believe It or Not! and the Mirror Maze.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sea Otters and Sea Otter Awareness Week

Joy, the Monterey Bay Aquarium's late "super-mom" sea otter .
Sea otters are amazing animals. They are the smallest marine mammal and spend their entire lives in the water. Because their entire lives are spent in the water, they also have the thickest fur of any mammal. Their fur is what keeps them warm, which makes them vulnerable to oil spills as the oiled fur loses its ability to insulate otters from the cold. Otters are a threatened species because of over hunting in the past, environmental disasters and many human based dangers (boats, pollution, etc.) Many otters end up suffering from toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease caused by cat feces.

Every year, at the end of September, sea otters are celebrated with Sea Otter Awareness Week. In its 10th year, Sea Otter Awareness Week will be celebrated from September 23 - 29, 2012. There are many events occurring in coastal areas (where you might find sea otters) and around the country. One event that will be held in many cities on the West Coast is a screening of the documentary Otter 501. Otter 501 blends fact and fiction to tell the story of an orphaned sea otter pup. If you can't attend one of the screenings or any of the other Sea Otter Awareness Week events, you can now purchase a DVD of Otter 501. I wasn't able to see the movie when it screened at the closest location to me (a little less than two hours away), so I will definitely be buying a copy.

Another great way to celebrate Sea Otter Awareness Week, or sea otters in general, is to make a donation to the many worthy organizations who work to support sea otters, sea otter research, and sea otter conservation.

Donations can be made to the following organizations, among others:

Monterey Bay Aquarium - Operates SORAC, Sea Otter Research and Conservation program. They have saved more than 500 stranded otters since 1984.
The Marine Mammal Center - Provides rescue and rehabilitation to marine mammals in need. The have rescued approximately 207 sea otters since 1995.
The Otter Project - Advocates for otters and protects coastal habitats and watersheds.
Friends of the Sea Otter - Advocates for increased protection of otters and their habitats by working with state and federal agencies.
Defenders of Wildlife - Works to protect otters and other wildlife throughout the US. Worked to establish California Sea Otter Fund on state tax forms.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Deal Alert: San Francisco Bay Whale Watching

Head out past the Golden Gate for some whale watching.

I've been slacking off lately on California Traveler as I have a few other projects I've been working on, but will be posting a few things int he next coming days. To get started, I found this deal on Groupon for a SF Bay Whale Watching tour. If you want this deal, though, you need to act quickly as it ends today. For $125 you get a 50% discount on a whale watching tour for two good through July 31, 2013. You need to make a 7-day advance reservation for the tour. This is a really good deal, because the whale watching trip is a day-long affair, lasting from check-in at 7:30 a.m. to your return between 3-4:00 p.m. Whale watching trips take place on weekends and holidays.

I think this would be a fantastic adventure whether you live in the Bay Area or are a visitor to the area. You take a trip 27 miles offshore to the Farallon Islands. You will be in the waters of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, which are home to twenty-six federally listed endangered or threatened species. This is a unique opportunity to experience a different side of nature, plus the opportunity for whale watching. Some whales and dolphins can be sited year-round in this area, but there are several whales who have certain migratory seasons. Blue whales can be seen from July - Octobers; Humpback whales cane been seen from July - November; and, Gray Whales can be seen from October - January.

So, I hope you can take advantage of this deal. I wish I could, but I don't know when I'll be able to get to California next. So, let me know if you do this, I'd love to hear from someone who has actually done it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Alcatraz Anniversary 50 Years On

Alcatraz Island housed a federal penitentiary from 1934 until 1963 where "difficult-to-manage" prisoners were sent. During its time as a federal prison there were 36 inmates who tried to escape, only three were never recovered (either dead or alive.) Fifty years ago, three inmates escaped from Alcatraz: Frank Morris, John Anglin, and his brother, Charles Anglin. To this date, the U.S. Marshals Service maintains active warrants on the men and continues to follow-up on potential clues.

Prior to serving as a federal prison, Alcatraz was a Civil War fortress and also home to the first lighthouse on the West coast. Today, besides being a large tourist attraction, Alcatraz serves as a bird sanctuary and is also home to many different trees, flowers, and other plants.

Hollywood has long focused on the years Alcatraz spent as a prison. There are many books, movies, and TV shows that feature Alcatraz. "The Rock" is a featured location in numerous movies, with some using Alcatraz as a location and others purporting to be about actual events. These are just a few of the entertaining feature films starring Alcatraz: The Rock, Escape from Alcatraz,The Birdman of Alcatraz, Murder in the First, and Point Blank. If you are looking for more accurate historical information, there are many good books to choose from, including ones that cover specific inmates. Alcatraz served as a prison for less than thirty years, but it how  most of us remember it.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Deal Alert: USS Hornet Discount

The Aircraft Carrier USS Hornet (CVS-12). Photo #: USN 1116887 from the Naval Historical Center 
Living Social is offering a half-price deal on admission to the USS Hornet Museum, which is located in Alameda, CA. For $21 you can get admission for two adults and two children for $21 (regularly $42) or for $15 you can get two adult admissions (regularly $30). The USS Hornet was commissioned in 1943 and is the eighth US Navy ship to bear the name. It served missions in World War II and Vietnam, as well as participating in the recovery of the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 space capsules and crews. The ship was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1991and was opened as museum in 1998. The USS Hornet also has the distinction of being considered the most haunted ship in the Navy and has been investigated by many paranormal groups, including TAPS from the SyFy Channel's Ghost Hunters.

I have not been to the the USS Hornet, although I did drive by the location on my last visit to California. It is on my list of places to see for futures trips. The Living Social deal is available to purchase for six more days and the promotional value of the deal is valid through November 19, 2012.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Golden Gate Bridge turns 75

The Golden Gate Bridge will celebrate 75 years of existence this May 27 with the Golden Gate Waterfront Festival. The festival will be held over a four mile length from Fort Point to Pier 39. The festival will begin at 11am and end with fireworks over the bridge around 9:30pm.

The bridge officially opened on May 27, 1937 with a celebration that lasted a week. The bridge is named for the Golden Gate, the entry way into San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean. The bridge became an instant landmark and is recognized around the world as a symbol representing San Francisco.

The official color of the bridge is Golden Gate Bridge International Orange. The bridge is continuously painted as painting is one of the major maintenance jobs on the bridge. When the bridge opened it contained the longest main span for a suspension bridge in the world, a record it held until 1964.

Driving is not the only way to get across the Golden Gate Bridge. Visitors can also walk or bike their way across or just make a stop at the gift shop or cafe. Visitors can even pass the time admiring the gardens. The pedestrian sidewalk is also accessible for wheelchairs.

For more information and updates on the anniversary festival, check out the official festival website. For more information about the Golden Gate Bridge, visit the bridge website.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Deal Alert: Groupon for USS Pampanito in San Francisco

They just keep coming. So, if you haven't checked out Groupon or Living Social for vacation destinations (or even local ones) you need to get on it right now. I don't check them out daily, myself, but if I do see a deal like this I like to pass it along. Today's deal on Groupon is a 50% discount for two adults ($10) to tour this historic submarine located at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. You can also purchase, for $14, admission for two adults and up to four children, a 61% discount. There are two days left to buy this deal, but the quantities are limited. The deal expires April 3, 2013, so there's plenty of time to use it.

The USS Pampanito is located at Pier 45 at Fisherman's Wharf and is part of the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association. This National historic Landmark served six patrols in the Pacific during World War II, sinking six Japanese ships and damaging four others. The submarine museum is open daily at 9AM.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Another Living Social Deal

I have to give a shout out to this Living Social deal for La Tosca restaurant in San Carlos (in the Bay Area.) I love this restaurant and definitely consider it a neighborhood gem. I've reviewed it on this blog before, so you can check out my past review. There are currently TWO days remaining to purchase the Living Social deal: for $10 will get $20 worth of food and drink. Yes, it won't cover an entire meal for two (or probably even one), but you're basically getting $10 off your food...a deal anytime you can swing it. The promotional value of the deal expires on October 1, 2012, so there's definitely time to use it. I highly recommend a visit to La Tosca as the food and service are always excellent. Whenever I'm in the Bay Area, I try to make sure I get there.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Visit California iPad app review

Icon for the Visit California iPad app 
As promised, here's my review of the recently released Visit California iPad app. I downloaded it last week after I received notification about it being available. I've tried it out several times in order to give a thorough review. It's very pretty with lots of great images of various California locations. It's also very interactive with maps and guides, plus it has links to Yelp so you can check out reviews, buttons to post discoveries on Facebook and Twitter, as well as trip planner and trip journal tools.

In order to use the Trip Planner, you need to create and account (or sign in if you already have one.) I tried to sign up for an account via the app (it has the spot to do so); unfortunately, even though I tried several times, I never got the sign up to work through the app. So, I signed up on the Visit California website, and then logged in on my iPad. Once I created my online account and logged in on my iPad, I was able to create My Trip, which was pretty cool. You literally have information at your fingertips (just one fingertip will do.) Within the information about the attractions/locations are links to the attractions/locations website, if available. So, in app, you can view information on external websites and simply return to the app by touching the "cancel" button (you also have the option of opening the URL in Safari.)The trip journal feature is like your own little trip blog with the ability to add photos as well. You can also share your journal postings on Facebook or Twitter, however, when I tested the sharing feature (only on Facebook) all it did was post the title of my post with a link to the Visit California website, none of my content was visible.

Overall, I'd say this app is useful in planning your vacation, certainly the trip planner feature is nice as you can add or remove places to your itinerary as you see fit, keeping access to the information you need at your fingertips. I can definitely see how this would be a useful app when you are actually on your trip, especially if you are driving and come across other possible places of interest. The app also features the official visitor's guide, as well as a few other guides to help you plan your activities. The electronic version of the visitor's guide includes interactive features which allow you to access more information and images of various locations. So, download this app and save some trees and space in your luggage. On a scale of 1-5, I'd give it a 4.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

There's an app for that...

I received an email the other day from Visit California announcing their new iPad app. While I was searching for it in the app store on my iPad, I discovered many other California travel related apps that are new or I had not previously seen. This gave me the idea to download a bunch of apps and come up with some reviews and recommendations. I already have a number of apps, both iPhone and iPad, but I've downloaded some more and will be testing them out over the next few weeks. Most of these will be free apps, but some won't be...I'll waste my money, so you don't have to.

Let me know if you have any favorite travel apps or favorite California travel apps. Tomorrow I will let you know what I think of the new Visit California iPad app.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Deal Alert! Another Living Social Deal for San Francisco

S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien Liberty Ship in San Francisco
Seriously folks, you need to sign up for both Living Social and Groupon for cities you like to travel to (not just your hometown.) These sites often feature great sightseeing deals. I just spotted another one today on Living Social for two adult and two children's tickets to the S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien National Liberty Ship Memorial. This family pack deal is a 52% discount and is only $12.  The deal is available for six more days and the tickets are good through July 26, 2012.

The Jeremiah O'Brien is located at Pier 45 at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. It is open daily from 9AM - 4PM. The S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien is only one of two remaining functional Liberty ships from World War II and remains historically accurate. The ship is a National Historic Landmark and is on my list of things to do in San Francisco. I've seen it from the outside, but have yet to go on it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

DEAL ALERT: SF Chinatown Ghost Tours on Living Social

Who doesn't love a deal, especially as it relates to travel or fun (and isn't travel fun)? Anyway, I spotted this deal on Living Social for a 50% discount on one adult admission to a 90-minute Friday or Saturday night ghost tour and magic show. The tour is from SF Chinatown Ghost Tours and features walking tour departures at 7:30 PM by reservation. According to the Living Social deal info:

Your guides will take you off the beaten path, sharing the spine-tingling stories of Chinatown's more nefarious characters (some say their spirits still roam the streets at night). End the evening in an old gambling den where a magician will conjure the spirit of a gambler who swindled his way to his untimely doom.

While I haven't done this tour, I've definitely added it to my list of things to do in San Francisco. I love tours like this and have been on ghost walks in both Charleston, South Carolina and Edinburgh, Scotland. This tour looks to be frighteningly good, because as we all know from the movie Big Trouble in Little China, lots of supernatural things go down in Chinatown.

Act soon to walk the streets of San Francisco's Chinatown, because there's only 3 days remaining to purchase this deal!

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you saw this post earlier today and wonder why it's a little different, somehow I accidentally deleted the content. So, this is a rewrite of an earlier post and I couldn't remember it verbatim. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Find California Traveler on Facebook

California Traveler now has a Facebook page, so please join me over on Facebook and like my page. Subscribe to my FB feed, too. See you here, there, and in California!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My top five things to do in San Francisco

The BF and I went to a local Yelp Elite event last night and spent a delightful evening conversing with another couple. Inspired by our conversations, I've put together my Top 5 Things I recommend doing in San Francisco.   Now, since I haven't done everything in San Francisco, nor even everything I want to do or see, this is a work in progress. As of today, however, these are the five things I suggest you do (not in any particular order):

1. Coit Tower - Rising above Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower gives you a spectacular view of the city and surrounding areas. Take the elevator to the observation deck for 360 degree views of beautiful San Francisco. In addition to the view, the tower itself houses some 1930's era public works frescoes that are worth viewing.
Coit Tower
View from Coit Tower
 2.  Marin Headlands - Across the Golden Gate Bridge lie the Marin Headlands, a wild and wonderful landscape that seems much further away from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco than they short distance it actually is. The best part is the view of San Francisco and the new perspective you get high above the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Marin Headlands from the San Francisco side of the Bay.
View from Marin Headlands
 3. Golden Gate Park - So much more than just a park, Golden Gate Park is a destination chock full of things to see and do, from the Conservatory of Flowers to the California Academy of Sciences, there is something for everyone in Golden Gate Park. 
One of two windmills located on the western edge of Golden Gate Park.
A pagoda in Golden Gate Park's Japanese Tea Garden
The Conservatory of the Flowers
Inside the dome of the Conservatory of the Flowers
The deYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park
 4. Sausalito -So what if Sausalito is across the Bay fro San Francisco, it makes my list of musts when in the City. Sausalito is a cute little town nestled along the coast, with its hillside homes and unique boutiques and restaurants, Sausalito is a quiet break from the larger city on the other side of the Bay. Sausalito is easily reached by car across the Golden Gate Bridge or via the ferry.
Homes in Sausalito are perched on the hillside
Sausalito has many shops and restaurants along the waterfront.
 5. San Francisco Waterfront - This encompasses many activities from the cheesy tourist kind to some unique sights and sounds, along with a variety of dining options. Encompassed in the San Francisco waterfront area are Pier 39, Fisherman's Wharf, Musee Mecanique, the Ferry Building, and the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park and many other places. Of course, since San Francisco sits on a peninsula, there's a lot of waterfront to explore. These are just some of the highlights (touristy or not.)
Fisherman's Wharf is bustling with tourists no  matter what time of year.
One of the restaurants at Fisherman's Wharf

Hyde Street Pier is where you'll find the historic maritime park

You can catch the famous cable cars at the Hyde Street turn around
Pier 39 from the water
Tourists aren't the only ones hanging out at Pier 39
You can catch a boat to visit Alcatraz at the Ferry Building

Monday, January 9, 2012

Down and Dirty San Francisco with Anthony Bourdain

Tonight, Anthony Bourdain's new Travel Channel show, The Layover took us to San Francisco. The episode explores various dining and drinking establishments (and some not so established) off the beaten tourist path. Bourdain stays at the elegant and historic (opened in 1907) Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill, but throughout the show he eats and drinks his way through various places in the city from the Lower Haight to Chinatown. He shows us that drinking is a sport in San Francisco, with a great playing field of small and large establishments crowded with locals. He avoids the touristy paces of Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf and takes us deep into the heart of this bustling city.

Tomorrow night on Travel Channel the show Hidden City visits San Francisco to explore the infamous side of the city.