Postcards from San Francisco

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We spent a fantastic few days in San Francisco and the Bay area, and merely scratched the surface of everything Fog City and its surroundings have to offer. While there, we stayed in downtown San Francisco, but also headed to Berkeley, Oakland, Sausalito and Palo Alto.

To Stay:

Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco
Located downtown in the SoMa district next to Yerba Buena Gardens, the hotel is an immaculate, modern oasis with well-appointed rooms, comfy king-sized beds, high-end finishes and sumptuous bathrooms filled with L’Occitane and BVLGARI bath products, robes and cosy slippers (provided even for the littlest feet). As most of our readers know, Grant is an Executive Sous Chef for Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, and we always feel so relaxed and wonderful staying with Four Seasons when we travel –the employees are kind and helpful plus food and service are always top notch.

To Eat & Drink:

Smitten// Gastronomy enthusiasts will enjoy having their preferred flavours of ice cream made-to-order right before their eyes. Our kids loved the novelty of watching liquid nitrogen at work. We tried salted caramel, vanilla and Earl Grey tea chocolate chip.
Yank Sing// Traditional and contemporary dim sum features cartload after cartload of scrumptious food. Yank Sing is the highest Zagat-rated dim sum in San Francisco, and we are very much inclined to agree.
MKT// located on the 5th floor in FS San Francisco, MKT offers steak, seafood, communal and small plates as well as great views of downtown. The house-smoked pork chop and sugar pumpkin walnut scallops with black garlic vinaigrette are not to be missed. As a rare treat, I had a (virgin) Mojito with pickled strawberry that was out of this world.
Boccalone (aka Tasty Salted Pig Parts)// We visited their salumeria in the Ferry Building during the week-end farmer’s market, and heard ooh’s and aah’s from other customers about their salumi cone (featuring prosciutto crudo or mixed salumi).
Blue Bottle Coffee// Offering artisan micro-brewed coffee and modern espresso bar, Blue Bottle uses small batches so each varietal can be roasted individually. They use only certified organic beans farmed from pesticide-free, traditional farming methods. The coffee? Delicious hot or iced.
Tartine Bakery & Cafe// If you can get through the line at James Beard Award-winner Tartine, you’ll get to try some of their amazing bread (which is only available after 4.30 pm). Tarts, cookies and savoury items are offered too.

To Play:

Golden Gate Park// We especially loved the Koret Children’s play area and carousel for our kids, but the park also features the de Young Museum (SF’s oldest museum featuring an array of art), a Japanese tea garden, conservatory, botanical gardens, the California Academy of Sciences, and even a bison paddock.
Golden Gate Bridge// Drive, bike or walk over this famous of American bridges that feels, as Grant so aptly put it, “like the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver on steroids.” Tolls: free leaving San Francisco, but $6 (pay-by-license plate) or $5 (FasTrak) heading back into the city. My toll bill arrived in the mail shortly after our return home, complete with a picture of my car and license plate number. Travel tip: if you are going to be away from home for longer than 2-3 weeks (and unable to receive your mail) after using this kind of toll bridge, make sure to call them and get your bill paid. They gave me approximately 3-4 weeks to pay my bill; if you are late, the price jumps from $6 to $31.
Muir Woods// Federally protected forest land featuring coastal redwood trees. If you live in Southern California like us, and are used to mostly tropical trees and succulents, it’s a real treat to be surrounded by moss, treetops and trails.
Haight-Ashbury// Former stomping grounds of hippies and counter-culture, this area of San Francisco is filled with painted ladies (American architecture term for colourfully painted Victorian and Edwardian houses).

San Francisco: we will definitely be back!

XO,
N&N

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Travel log: Mission San Juan Bautista

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20140305-181025.jpgSome of the most unexpected and impromptu stop-offs provide you with the moments you will remember most from your journey. On our 330 mile drive from Santa Barbara to San Francisco and then back again, we stopped at three of the 18th Century Spanish missions that dot the Pacific coast of California. Indeed there are 21 such Alta missions in the state, constructed on the northern portion of El Camino Real (“Royal” or “Kings Highway”) which is now modern-day U.S. route 101. The missions span from San Francisco to San Diego, with one of the largest and best maintained among them situated right here in Santa Barbara.

XO,

N&N

Endless summer…

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We’re settling in here on the west coast, and waking up each day to breathtaking views of Southern California. Using the mountains and the ocean as our guides, there is so very much to discover, from lush, tropical botanicals and Spanish colonial architecture, to towering palm trees lining the harbour as far as the eye can see…

XO,
N&N

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Bon Voyage!

LWK_livingroomWe’re readying ourselves to bid adieu to our apartment in less than a week’s time…and the process is being met with a mixture of anxiety and relief. Today, the stress well and truly kicked in, and suffice it to say, a long walk and a stop for ice cream were not only welcome on this hot, humid day — they were utter necessities.  We’ve lived in eight different abodes in the past nine years (not even counting the places we’ve lived for 1-2 months at a time). The process of getting from Point A to Point B, especially with three young kids in tow, can feel quite overwhelming. As we organise our departure and daydream about deep relaxation on the beach, I thought I would share with you a little bit of what has made our house a home here in Austin.

XO,

N&N

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Monday’s Moment

A single moment captured in a photograph. Candid and fleeting, this will always be a special moment in time…

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Reed_Galveston2013.1There is nothing so glorious as a day at the seaside! The smell of the salty air, the waves lapping against the shore, and the uproarious laughter that erupts each time you skim a wave. Last Monday on Galveston Island, located in the immense Gulf of Mexico, I dare say that there were no happier children than our own. Alina and Finnlagh spent hours digging, gathering water, splashing in the surf and absolutely screeching with sheer delight. Reed practiced standing and taking steps on his own, all the while making miniature footprints at the water’s edge, caught by surprise on more than one occasion by a miscalculated wave. It appears that making sense of powdery sand is as challenging as ever to a young baby, and feathery tufts of wet baby hair standing straight up is still precious beyond words, at least to us.

I was quite fortunate to grow up surrounded by water, with the Long Island Sound and Atlantic Ocean a mere stone’s throw away – Coney Island, Jones Beach…summer’s daily ritual involved intensely hot beaches, sleepy sun-soaked car rides in our bathing suits and terry cloth robes along with a host of surf accoutrements, coolers, sunscreen and flip flops dangling off our feet. Even now as an adult, I’d turn down months on end at the pool for a day at the beach, anytime. When we came home to Austin, I asked the older children if they wanted to go for a swim (our complex has a lovely outdoor pool) and they looked down at the floor and shrugged. “I guess,” Alina said. “It’s not the same,” added Finnlagh. All the more reason to create more childhood memories at the seashore, n’est-ce pas?

*A special note: Today we are celebrating Memorial Day in the United States. While it always seems to mark the unofficial start of summer – a long week-end of bbq cookouts, swimming and get togethers, it is a day devoted to honouring those who fought for our country and lost their lives. Let us say ‘thank-you’ to those who bravely defended this land, and all the freedoms and landscapes in it.

Travel blog: Postcards from Marfa

The achingly rich, take-your-breath-away desert sunset had followed us from Marathon, to Alpine and into the sleepy, seemingly abandoned streets of Marfa, TX. We arrived on a dark and crystal clear evening, the kind of quiet stillness in the air you would expect in the high desert. It’s all too convenient to dismiss Marfa as yet another desolate West Texas town with only one stoplight and a Dairy Queen, inching its way to extinction. Most would probably just see it as a pit stop and thus another point closer to Big Bend. But for those familiar with its artistic and cultural significance, Marfa is a virutal art oasis in the middle of the desert, drawing art-loving pilgrims and patrons from around the world.

Postcards from Marfa

Minimalist Donald Judd (he strongly objected to that term) uprooted from NYC in the late 1970s and from then on, made Marfa his home and artistic community, putting it on the map as a destination and welcoming environment for creatives. Strongly drawn to the relationship between how landscape contributes to art and its reception, he believed that artists should be able to create permanent exhibitions and installations of their art. In his many years in Marfa he founded the superb Chinati Foundation contemporary art museum, in addition to acquiring an army base; in his lifetime, he filled the base with light installations and art, including his most famous concrete boxes.

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While out in Marfa, we stayed at the Thunderbird, which we would highly recommend. Stark white walls along with paintings and photographs by local Marfa artists, pecan wood furniture, stained concrete floors, cowhide rugs and bath products by Malin + Goetz (a New York favourite). For the uber cool, there is El Cosmico, a communal outpost comprised of airstream vintage trailers, safari tents and teepees, as conceived by Austin design guru Liz Lambert and her company, Bunkhouse. Liz is responsible for the design of Austin landmarks like Jo’s on South Congress (I love you so much), as well as the Hotel Saint Cecilia and Hotel San Jose.

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Thunderbird // Orange honeysuckle vines by the pool //Paisano Hotel housed Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson while filming “Giant” in the Marfa desert

As do most folks who go to Marfa, we desperately wanted to visit the PRADA desert installation, which is actually out towards Valentine, TX. While driving there, a dust storm started kicking up, and tumbleweed began making their way across the fences. Unfamiliar with tumbleweed, we had a hearty chuckle, thinking how adorable they looked hopping down the road. Until finally, there were so many of them (we estimated a couple of hundred) all crossing the road with us oncoming…in short, our minivan being pelted by tumbleweed -we had to turn back. PRADA MARFA derailed by TUMBLEWEEDS. We couldn’t believe we’d driven clear across the state, only to be turned around with only a few miles to go. Created by artists Elmgreen and Dragset, Prada Marfa is a permanent sculpture/land art that will be left to be weathered by the elements, broken down by the desert winds and hot sun, only to finally decay away over the years into the dusty Texas soil.

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//PRADA Marfa photo courtesy of Wiki

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Rusty barbed wire + tumbleweed close ups // Impending tumbleweed dust storm

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And finally…there are the Marfa ghost lights. These lights are probably the most famous of the mystery lights in America. There have been many theories to explain the odd phenomenon, from reflections of brush fires to seismic events, copper mining and even the spirits of Cherokee and Catawba warriors slain there in an epic battle more than eight centuries ago. A little ways east of Marfa on Route 67 you will find the McDonald Observatory, the perfect viewing area to spot these eerily unexplained flashes of light. We did see some flashes of light flicker and dance in the distance. Strange, yes. Difficult to explain, absolutely, which I suppose is kind of like Marfa itself: artfully unique and worth braving tumbleweeds for.

XO,

N&N