Biking the Bay in San Francisco

 

     by Ian McGregor – Guest Bloger: Cela’s Trek

     updated 11:10 PST, Wed September 24, 2014

 

 

When you know autumn is coming and you’ve been stuck inside working for a few hours, it’s really difficult to not  want to get out and explore. Today the city was calling, and after doing some quick research, I set off on my adventure  to San Francisco.

Generally when you hear about San Francisco, you have people telling you all about Fisherman’s Wharf, the cable cars, Lombard Street, all the hills, and of course, the Golden Gate. They are all as much an essence of the city as the people who live and work there, but that’s not the whole story. To really get to know a city, you have to embrace it in all its triumphs and shortcomings, be willing to get lost, and basically just be open to different experiences. Sure as a visitor you can hit all the “tourist” spots and get all those pictures that have been taken millions if not billions of times before you, but is that really the point? What is it are you going to remember more: you getting the pictures, or the experiences and memories you build with the people around you while exploring a foreign city? Science suggests the opposite, and though pictures are sometimes amazing and necessary, I urge you to forego trying to get every single thing on camera and just letting yourself immerse in the culture you’ve stepped into.

But I digress. Since San Francisco (or SF or “the city”, as it’s known in the Bay Area) is so hilly and this was my first time bringing my bike along, I decided to keep it simple and ride along the wharf over to the bridge; I wanted to go to Golden Gate National Recreation Area and actually see the bridge for myself from its western side instead of just a straight eastern view from Berkeley. Online the distance looked to be only a few miles at best one way, so with a snack, some water, and homework (no I didn’t really do any of that…) I headed off to the city.

Getting off at Embarcadero Station and emerging from the underground is like stepping into a teleporter and suddenly ending up in New York (when you’re not gasping for breath – the BART really needs to put bike ramps on the staircases like they have in Copenhagen). The buildings rise up seemingly out of nowhere and engulf you…coming from cities with the tallest buildings measuring only a few stories, it’s not difficult to understand why some people can feel claustrophobic. Putting that aside, though, what SF has in its heart is a vibrant hum of energy. When you step out of the underground and on to the street, you instinctively know important things are happening all around you, and in a city with so much history both for the region and for the country, the confluence of past and present is inherently alive wherever you go. Though this wasn’t my first time in the city, I once again embraced its vibrancy and excitedly headed east toward the piers to begin my journey.

One of the first piers after coming from Embarcadero Station

View of the bay looking north, Mt. Tam is middle left shrouded in clouds

View of the bay looking north, Mt. Tam is middle left shrouded in clouds

After biking a little along the waterfront and weaving in and out of traffic, I decided to pause and walk as a tourist along the boardwalk of Pier 39, arguably SF’s most prominent waterfront area next to Fisherman’s Wharf. I’ve been to the pier before; last year I performed there as part of a rally. But being there as a tourist is different. This time I paid attention to the throngs of people walking the shoreline (even now, in late September!) as one of them and not an outsider, and I was surprised by the amount of diversity I saw. I paused in front of the pier to write this in my book: “It’s easy to understand why people call the place a cultural melting pot. Just a short walk from Pier 27 to Fisherman’s Wharf allowed me to meet at least 20 different languages and people from all around the world.” All around me I saw scenes that could have been from anywhere in in coastal tourist America: tourists with cameras, couples kissing in front of the pier signs, sounds of gulls, people calling for taxis, etc. What’s interesting about this is that in being such a melting pot, the area could be as much a dock in New York as it could be SF itself. It’s representative and characteristic of both itself and elsewhere, and I think that’s what makes the city such a unique place.

Yet being the cultural melting pot of America can get to be a little crowded, so I ditched the end of Embarcadero Street for an uphill ride courtesy of my turning on to North Point St from Powell, which turned out to be totally worth it when I ran into Ghiradelli Square. Granted, I had been planning to go eventually to check it off my bucket list, but it was so spontaneous how I ended up at the right street corner that I just had to check it out. For some background, Ghiradelli Square is the collection of red-brick buildings that used to house the Ghiradelli chocolate factory. Now half shopping mall, half historical landmark, the square has plaques situated to give visitors a glimpse into the life of Ghiradelli himself.  It turns out that before the chocolatier came to set up shop in San Francisco (among other adventures), he was apprenticed to a confectioner in Genoa, Italy, where he learned how to make desserts of all kinds. The Ghiradelli factory was established in 1852, and the original building used for selling the finished chocolate products is still in business adjacent to a sweets restaurant, which even today had long lines. Walking inside, I loved how I felt I was experiencing my own bit of history with the old “Mustard Building 1899” and “Cocoa Building” signs above my head. I am definitely coming back to that chocolate shop. After all, how many times can you say you’ve bought a chocolate from the place where it was historically made?

I had asked a local how best to get to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, but I had already forgotten which way he said after getting on North Point. That was fine, though, because I figured I would just follow the water around until I reached the bridge. I thus proceeded to go downhill to the SF Maritime National Historic Park. Just kidding! It dead-ended and I was forced to bike back up the hill on Van Ness. Live and learn! Anyways. I hooked a right on Bay and was excited to see I had made it to Fort Mason. The fort used to be an American Army base used, among other ways, as an outpost for watching over the passage between SF and Alcatraz. Now, though, it’s part of the National Recreation Area  with historical buildings (and apparently a hostel!), and everyone is welcome to come in and wander around. I had come here a year and a half ago to perform for a wedding, and with the views of the bridge in the background, I knew I wanted to come explore the area in further detail later. Today I got my chance, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a grass park behind the buildings with walking/bike trails that allowed me to avoid the normal street. The trail then turned into the Golden Gate Promenade, which is a pathway that starts from Fort Mason and goes all the way until Fort Point, underneath the Golden Gate. Even though there were clouds, there were still many people enjoying the shoreline, and with the contrasting views of the bridge with a shrouded Mt. Tam, Tiburon, Angel Island, Alcatraz, and the East Bay it was no wonder locals and tourists alike were out and about. The promenade is mainly sandy gravel, and its wide avenue is perfect for strolling. Along the way you can see dune restoration in progress with small lakes and many California native plants, including the Monterrey Cypress. Somewhere along the way, the promenade turned into the SF Bay Trail, and I eventually found myself at Fort Point, which I quickly realized was another dead-end I had managed to find.

All views from the Golden Gate Promenade/SF Bay Trail

All views from the Golden Gate Promenade/SF Bay Trail

After watching some surfers (yes, surfers, even this cold water) catching some larger sets, I turned around and went up Long Ave before turning on the Battery East Trail. Because I was on a bike I had to stick to the roads, but there are hiking-only trails that take you to the old armament stations around the bridge, hence the name “Battery East Trail.” I quickly stumbled upon the overlook that’s provided a backdrop for millions of people around the world, so I added myself to the count. I decided to head up to the bridge before going to Baker Beach, but upon arriving and finding out I still had over a mile left to go, I figured to just go on the bridge for a little. Wait. Scratch that – in order to get on the bridge, I had to go under it, so I guess you could say I reached my goal of going to the western side of the Bridge! I speedily went up on the bridge so I could get some pictures before starting the long ride back; man was it windy up there! Such a big temperature difference from being inside the city. The way back was uneventful, unless you count me getting lost. I had seen the streets of Telegraph Hill in the distance while biking up to Fort Mason, and I thought I could scale them going back to the train station. So, I turned onto Hyde Street from Bay St….and stopped. Think of a giant wall where in 100 m of street you climb something like 15 m. There was absolutely no way I was going to climb that on my bike. Thus, I turned around and proceeded to get lost going through the heart of the city, but I wasn’t complaining. Needless to say, I found my way again and even got to see an art show in a mid-city park!

The Golden Gate bridge from its eastern side overlooking Fort Point (the white water there is where the surfers were). In the distance is Marin County.

The Golden Gate bridge from its eastern side overlooking Fort Point (the white water there is where the surfers were). In the distance is Marin County.

I made it to the other side! ...sort of. This view is from the western side of the bridge looking south. I love how this view in a way sums up the city: machinery meets nature meets city.

I made it to the other side! …sort of. This view is from the western side of the bridge looking south.
I love how this view in a way sums up the city: machinery meets nature meets city.

San Francisco is a great place to explore and discover, and with so much history and culture all around you, it’s so easy to find your own little slice of it to take home with you. This journey I did today (which in reality was only about 10 miles both ways [16 km]) was just but one small part of this vibrant city, and I hope I’ve inspired you to take a trip there in the near future. I know I and my housemates will be making a visit there soon to see Tiburon, Angel Island, and Alcatraz, and be assured I’ll review all those places as well. But note! If you’re biking: San Francisco is NOT the place you want to discover your brakes don’t work. Thankfully mine were fine, but I can only imagine what it would be like otherwise…

And on that happy note! In other news from what I’ve discussed previously, Scotland is still a part of the UK, for which the vote itself was monumental and I’m still not quite sure we appreciate how important that was. This has set the stage for a shake-up of UK devolution of powers and for whether Catalonia will still hold its own referendum in November. Things to stay tuned to…

And with that, I’m off and back to my homework. If you want to keep in touch with me outside of the blog, you can follow me on FacebookTwitter, and email. Plus! I recently found this photo website Snapwire courtesy of Suitable Travel Today where I can post my pictures from my trips in an easy format. Check them out if you want!

Enjoy your first days of autumn, and until next time, vi ses!

Ian McGregor is a guest blogger from Cela’s Trek where he is the Owner and Creator. Visit his blog here!

Dumpling Crazed Fans Flood Din Tai Fung in Costa Mesa

     by Tamara Mendoza – Owner and Creator of Suitable Travel Today

     updated 5:33 PM PST, Sun September 21, 2014

 

During my early childhood I met someone who has influenced much of my life, one of my closest friends and web developer for Suitable Travel Today, Karyn Vo. As a young Hispanic girl, my eyes were opened to the rich cultures of Asia as Karyn introduced me to many different foods and products all of which I still love to this day. Din Tai Fung, the popular Chinese dumpling house began construction well over a year ago when I got word that it would be opening at South Coast Plaza, a shopping destination in Costa Mesa. Imagine my excitement as I waited on the edge of my seat for the restaurant to open.

Finally the day came and on my birthday I ecstatically waited in line.

For those of you not familiar with the term dim sum, BuzzFeed describes it as “(點心 in written Chinese, and pronounced dian xin in Mandarin) is a meal—usually taken on a weekend morning—that encompasses a vast roster of small dishes selected from carts.” (Read more in their Essential Guide to Dim Sum.)

Din Tai Fung: Steamed Juicy Pork Dumplings

Once inside the restaurant, I noticed that the carts were not being utilized but instead a long sheet of paper listing the à la carte menu items. Visitors mark each item with a tally to indicate their selected portion and quantity. This change makes ordering significantly simpler to order and if you are unsure what the food you are ordering looks like, there is a full menu for you to browse complete with photos. If you are still confused the servers are always available to answer questions and make recommendations in perfect English.

Din Tai Fung has managed to perfect the art of the dumpling…as each steamer basket is laid out in front of you, one cannot help but gorge themselves on everything, including the non-dumpling menu items. There are an assortment to choose from so allow me to provide you a copy of the menu to peruse. Some of my favorites were the standard Juicy Pork Dumplings, Chicken Fried Noodles, Sauteed String Beans with Garlic, the Pork Bun (pulled pork with BBQ), and the Pork Fried Rice. Enjoy a pot of tea or fresh brewed beer with your meal as well to get the full experience!

Now that we’ve talked about how scrumptious Din Tai Fung’s food really is, I wanted to devote some time to the service because they deserve it. Most will agree that no matter how good the food, the service is the determining factor on whether or not a restaurant makes the cut in the eyes of the consumer. Din Tai Fung does not disappoint in that category, they excel in it. Some visitors may argue about the long wait to get into the restaurant but I infer that it may be because those of us here in Southern California are not accustomed as those in Northern California, Chicago and New York are with waiting more than an hour to be seated. Din Tai Fung, unfortunately, does not take reservations but I urge you to be patient it is well worth the wait. To prevent yourself from running rampant from a severe case of dumpling fever, I recommend arriving earlier than you intend on eating, put in your name, and enjoy a nice stroll around South Coast Plaza. As a convenience, Din Tai Fung will take down your cell phone number and text you as soon as your table is ready.

As you walk through the main lobby of the restaurant there is a bar worth stopping at and a window–which reminded me of a fishbowl–where you can watch as Din Tai Fung’s world famous dumplings are being prepared. Continuing on to the main dining area you are seated among the Chinese style decor while you are waited on hand and foot by the incredibly friendly staff. What really struck me was how present the managers were, in fact one of them was consistently returning to our table to fill up our glasses of water and recommending menu items himself! That my friends is excellent service.

Patrons feast on Din Tai Fung’s world famous dumplings.

Din Tai Fung staff preparing fresh dumplings through a glass window available to peek through in the main entrance.

At the end of our meal my family felt as stuffed as those dumplings and as we waddled back to our car we enthusiastically chattered about when our next visit to Din Tai Fung will be…believe me it will be sooner rather than later.

Make sure you’re following me on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for instant updates on upcoming adventures.

New Adventures – An Update

What a great week!

I’ve recently had a burst of motivation to get this blog to be more active and well known. One of my decisions being to collaborate with some of my other friends looking for opportunity. I want you to welcome two good friends of mine to the team who will be assisting me from now on!

 

Karyn Vo - Web Developer (top) Ian McGregor - Guest Blogger; Owner and Creator of Cela's Trek

Karyn Vo – Web Development (top)
Ian McGregor – Guest Blogger; Owner and Creator of Cela’s Trek (below)

Karyn Vo is my new Web Developer and will be handling the creative design of not only my website but also future applications or any other ideas she might have to expand web traffic. She is currently studying Computer Science at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Karyn has been a good friend of mine since the beginning of our education at a local pre-school in Huntington Beach.

Ian McGregor will be a Guest Blogger for Suitable Travel Today and is the owner and creator of Cela’s Trek. CELA’S which stands for Culture, Ecology, Language, Atmosphere, and Sustainability focuses on Ian’s travels and introduces his readers to the ecological side of traveling. He is studying Conservation and Resource Studies at the University of California in Berkeley and recently returned from studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. Ian and I are friends from junior high and is new to the travel writing world but has as much desire to make it a career as I do.

With both Karyn and Ian on my side, I have no doubt that we can conquer this growing industry and have fun while doing so.

I also have a few other personal updates…

Over a course of time I have come to realize that Hospitality Management was not the right fit for me. I commend those who have the endurance to spend 6-7 days out of their week making guest stays memorable, special thanks to those I work with. During the past three years I have learned from the magnificent property I work for and re-discovered my love for journalism in the form of travel writing. I am now pursuing a Journalism major to strengthen my writing skills.

The hotel property I work for has been nothing but generous, providing me opportunity after opportunity to learn from our various department managers. In the very near future I will be shadowing them so that I can understand how a hotel works cohesively as a whole. I will still be at the concierge desk but will be dividing my time for research purposes.

I also have a lineup of excursions planned out over the next couple of months so there will be plenty to look forward to!

Thank you as always for your continued support…until next time, safe and happy travels!

Make sure you are following me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for instant updates on where in the world I am…because we all know I’m basically Carmen Sandiego.