Life in California

Oh my goodness I am SO behind on all of this! To be honest, I haven’t been taking a lot of photos the past 2 weeks as it’s been raining for 12 days straight. Thankfully that’s over now and it’s back to glorious sunshine and wonderfully warm.

So I’m afraid there isn’t any real structure to this post, it’s basically just a photo-dump of all the nice things we’ve been doing recently. Our weeks have been filled with trips to the park, hiking in the hills and visiting San Francisco zoo.

Our first hike was back when we were still staying in Sonoma. We decided to do the Sonoma Overlook Trail which is a 3-mile round-trip and has stunning views over Sonoma and the valley – and San Francisco – which nobody had told me about so it was a very nice surprise! Huxley was amazing and walked nearly the whole way up. He loved spotting all the different animals we saw along the way. On the way down we even spotted some deer that got really close to us! He fell asleep shortly after that, bless him!

View of Napa Valley from Skyline Wilderness Park

View of Sonoma from Sonoma Overlook Trail

Huxley hiking

Sleepy-sausage

Our favourite park to visit right now is Crane Park in St Helena, it’s so beautiful and always full of kids. We stayed there for 5 whole hours one day! St Helena is a bit further up Napa Valley and it’s just incredible.

St Helena Napa Valley California

Crane Park St Helena Napa Valley California

Napa Valley California

We had dinner at In’n’Out Burger a few weeks ago. I’ll probably get things thrown at me for saying this but I really don’t rate it. The burgers are okay but not that different from McDonalds but the real killer for me are the fries. They taste powdery and dry and are so vile I could barely stomach them. But Huxley had fun with the dinosaur stickers and little hat that they gave him so it was worth it just for that.

In-n-Out burger California

In-n-Out burger Huxley

We visited San Francisco zoo a few weeks ago after Huxley had been going on and on and on about seeing some animals. We all thought it was amazing and were very impressed. The whole place is so green. There are trees everywhere. Huxley loved seeing the lions, tigers, rhinos, hippos, giraffes, zebras and penguins – the only thing missing was an elephant but there’s one at Oakland Zoo which we might visit soon. Huxley could have stayed and watched the hippo all day I think. All he wanted was to see the hippo do a poo and all I can say is that the hippo delivered! I’ve never seen someone so excited about some poop! They also had a little farmyard area where you could buy food to feed the goats and brush their hair.

Feeding goats at San Francisco zoo

Brushing a goat at San Francisco zoo

Zebras at San Francisco Zoo

Chocolate-ice-cream

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco

View of Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco

 

 

Our first week in America!

To quote Adele, hello from the otherside! We’ve been here a week now and are nicely settled into our house in Sonoma so I thought I’d do a bit of an update as to what we got up to over the past week. (You can also watch my weekly vlog if you’d prefer to see it in video form!)

Hux was an absolute angel on the flight. I was a bit worried about taking an active 2-year-old on an 11 hour plane journey but he did really well. He fell asleep literally the second the plane took off and slept for about 2 hours. Once he woke up he was so well behaved (thanks iPad!) and the only time he cried was when we came to land because I think his ears were hurting him. So all in all, it was a win!

We spent the first 3 days in San Francisco which was a bit crazy and busy due to the SuperBowl which happened on Sunday. It was the 50th one and security was nuts in the city. We had to walk through body scanners and everything just to get to the Ferry Building! Our first meal is always at Gotts Roadside. It’s one of my favourite places to eat in the city and one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. The garlic fries are insane.

Ferry Building SuperBowl50 San Francisco

Bay Bridge at dusk San Francisco

Jetlagged Hux

The next morning we woke up at 2am (thanks jet lag!) and lazed around until about 5am when Hux started getting restless so we walked to Bob’s Donuts which is possibly the best place ever. It’s open 24 hours and they make the softest, most incredible doughnuts – and it’s SO CHEAP. It’s not at all fancy and we love it so much.

Bob's Donuts San Francisco

Hux eating Bob's Donuts

After that we did a bit of shopping in downtown and Nick bought me a new North Face down jacket for my birthday. Then we walked to Fisherman’s Wharf (which we hate but we wanted to visit the Patagonia store there) before going to the Exploratorium as it just so happened to be their quarterly free entrance day. The Exploratorium was AMAZING! So much better than I was expecting. It’s a bit like the Science Museum in London but everything is hands-on so it would keep kids entertained for HOURS. Hux was probably a bit little but he had fun running around. If you had kids that are like 8+ they would have a blast. From there we walked to Nick’s happy place, Red’s Java House. We turned up at like 4.02pm and they shut at 4pm in the winter but luckily the guy took pity on us and let us in for a beer and a cup of tea!

San Francisco Exploratorium

Red's Java House San Francisco

On Wednesday we basically spent the whole day at Dolores Park as the weather was beautiful and obviously visited Tartine. I know I say this about everything, but you really can’t miss Tartine if you visit San Francisco. It’s so perfect.

Dolores Park San Francisco

Quiche at Tartine San Francisco

Tartine San Francisco

Hux

The Style Box Dolores Park

On Thursday we went to Outer Sunset to visit Mollusk Surf Shop before hanging out on Ocean Beach and watching the enormous waves crashing onto the beach. Then we drove to the Warming Hut so that Huxley could get a proper look at the Golden Gate Bridge. We also spotted Miss Universe having her photo taken while we were there!

San Francisco Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco

Hux at GGB

After that we drove to Moraga as we were staying with Nick’s friends for a few nights. It was super beautiful and we had a great time, although I didn’t really take any photos while we were there. On Friday they took us to Tilden Park which is a big mountain with incredible views of San Francisco (seriously though, it’s now my life goal to buy one of the houses on the side of the mountain with that view!). It also has a pretty lake, a farm and rather randomly, a carousel.

View of San Francisco from Tilden Park

Carousel at Tilden Park California

Saturday morning we got up and went to Walnut Creek as my iPhone needed upgrading so that we could use the American sim cards we’d bought. I needed a new one anyway and am due an upgrade in June but it’s nice to have it a bit early! Then we just made our way to Sonoma and got settled in our new house (for the month!) before heading to Safeway to buy lots of yummy food (read: mainly avocados).

On Sunday a friend of ours invited us to his house to watch the Superbowl. He’s really into barbecue, which is how him & Nick met and he made some amazing food. We didn’t watch any football but Hux had a great time running around the pool and throwing a ball in and getting it out with the net!

Now I’m just settling in to life in Sonoma. I’ll admit I haven’t found it easy the past few days. Don’t get me wrong, Sonoma is gorgeous and there’s tons to do here in the way of beautiful hikes and the weather has been incredible but Huxley has been a total pain. He’s probably just missing home and is a bit confused but he’s just been in one of those moods where he won’t listen to what I’m saying, he won’t do anything I ask him to and all he wants to do it sit around watching TV and eating junk food. He fell asleep at 5pm today though (hence how I finally have the time to write a blog post!) so maybe he’s just exhausted. Who knows?!

San Francisco part 2

When we returned to San Francisco after our trip to Yosemite, we were staying in an Airbnb apartment in Noe Valley. It’s our favourite part of the city but we’ve never stayed there before because all the hotels are in downtown. This was our first time using Airbnb and I think we’ll be using it quite frequently from now on.

The apartment was at right at the top of one of the biggest hills in the city, just behind Dolores Park. It was a studio/basement apartment underneath a beautiful 3-storey house. It was essentially just one room with the bed partitioned off and a bathroom but it was perfect for us and just the right amount of space for all our stuff and our pram. Our hosts were so lovely and helpful and it was really reassuring to know that they were right upstairs if we needed them. (If you’re interested, this is the apartment we stayed in – they also rent out the floor above which is bigger and has access to the garden)

The first evening we went to watch the sunset over the city from Dolores Park. Unfortunately we just timed it wrong and I think we missed the best of it. Oops!

Dusk at Dolores Park, San FranciscoDusk at Dolores Park, San FranciscoOur first day back in the city was spent exploring Noe Valley and the Mission. We went to Omnivore Books on Food and I bought an awesome pie book. We tucked into amazing al pastor tacos at El Farolito (Nick had tongue and brain tacos) and grabbed some donuts from Dynamo Donuts – the lovely lady even gave us a couple extra because she’d had a quiet day! They were completely delicious and I love all the different, playful flavour combinations but if I’m honest, I think I’m more of a traditional soft and fluffy Bob’s Donuts kinda gal.

Al pastor tacos from El Farolito, San FranciscoDynamo Donuts, San Francisco(L-R) Meyer lemon huckleberry donut, Caramel apple donut, Hibiscus heart beet donut & hot cross bun donut

Maple apple bacon donut from Dynamo Donuts San FranciscoMaple apple bacon donut

Lemon pistachio donut from Dynamo Donuts in San FranciscoLemon pistachio donut

The weather was quite nice the next day so we got up early and went to the best breakfast spot in the city, Tartine. Seriously, if you go to San Francisco, if you only eat one thing while you’re there, make sure it’s from Tartine. After that we caught the train to Outer Sunset and popped into Mollusk surf shop where Nick picked up some new t-shirts. The girls stuff was awesome but it all looked dreadful on me so I left empty-handed…for about 5 seconds, until we crossed the road and found an amazing art shop called 3 Fish Studios where we spent ages trying to decide what art to buy until I finally settled on this little beauty.

Then we walked along Ocean Beach up the hill to The Cliff House and peered over at the Sutro Baths. It would be so awesome if they were still there, they looked incredible!

Ocean Beach, San FranciscoOcean beach, San FranciscoOcean Beach & Cliff House, San FranciscoEmma The Style Box UK lifestyle bloggerAfter stopping for a quick drink (an Arnold Palmer) we caught the train back to the Mission and took Hux on the swings in the park. Huxley LOVED the train…and the swings.

Palm treeDolores Park, San FranciscoDolores Park, San FranciscoThe next day we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge to Napa to see our friend Derek who works for Naked Wines that Nick met when he first went to the American Royal in Kansas a couple of years ago. This was our second visit to Napa to see him. We stopped at Busters Southern BBQ in Calistoga so Nick could try California tri-tip before visiting the new Naked Wines winery where Nick and Derek mixed their own wine. We finished the day off with a trip to El Molino Central for fish tacos and piles of guacamole.

Buster's BBQ, Calistoga, CaliforniaThe next day in the city we got the bus to Alamo Square and walked to The Mill to try the infamous $4 toast. I actually think that $4 is quite reasonable for toast, especially as it’s all completely handmade and it’s a huge slice of toast! We met the owner, Josey Baker last time we were in San Francisco and he is the nicest guy ever and I’m so pleased for him that it’s going so well.

The Mill cinnamon butter toastCinnamon butter toast from The Mill, San Francisco

From The Mill we walked to the Haight (which I hate) and down to Golden Gate Park to take Huxley on the swings. It was lovely and sunny and we laid out a picnic blanket. Less than 10 minutes later the heavens opened and it poured down with rain! So we made our way over to the adorable Hollow cafe which I discovered via Julia’s Instagram a few weeks ago where we shared a gluten-free peanut butter cookie and a marshmallow and some tea.

Hollow Cafe, San Francisco

The weather was much nicer the next day so we got the bus to the marina and walked along Crissy Fields to The Warming Hut and sat eating a bagel next to the Golden Gate Bridge. After returning to the Mission, we went to Dandelion Chocolate. It was amazing. Super expensive but worth it for a one-off treat. Nick had the thickest hot chocolate ever and I had a chocolate milkshake and we shared a smore.

Golden Gate Bridge from Crissy FieldSmore from Dandelion Chocolate, San FranciscoThe next day was our last full day in the city and it was a scorcher. We started the morning by going to Hayes Valley where we bought Hux a pair of little Toms and got an ice-cream from my favourite spot in the city, Smitten. We walked back to Dolores Park and stopped by the community pool where Nick & Hux had a quick dip to cool off before heading to back to the park to chill out in the sunshine for a few hours and soak in the atmosphere. They are currently redeveloping the park so half of it is closed off so it was absolutely heaving. I love watching the mix of people that hang out in the park. When we got home we bumped into our Airbnb hosts who had been away visiting friends in Santa Barbara for the weekend and they gave us the biggest strawberry I’ve ever seen!

Baby boy TomsGiant California strawberryOur last morning was spent walking around Noe Valley and the Mission, revisiting our favourite spots like Tartine and El Farolito before we sadly made our way to the airport. It was an absolutely brilliant first family holiday and I can wait to take Huxley on more adventures.

Here’s some pictures of the beautiful San Francisco houses that didn’t fit in anywhere else in this post….(as if there weren’t enough photos already!)

San Francisco houseSan Francisco houseSan Francisco houseSan Francisco house

San Francisco part 1

We arrived home from San Francisco on Tuesday and already it seems like a hundred years ago. This was our 4th time in the city and Huxley’s first ever holiday. He was absolutely perfect on the plane, it literally couldn’t have gone better, which was a real relief for an 11 hour flight!

(I’m afraid these posts will be an annoying mix of iPhone & real photos. It’s just much easier to snap a quick picture with your phone rather than a heavy, bulky camera when you’re juggling a baby in a busy cafe where space is limited anyway – sorry – bad blogger!)

Our first few days were spent in a basic, budget hotel in downtown San Francisco. This is the earliest in the year we’ve ever been to San Francisco (we usually go in May) and the weather can be changeable at the best of times, this year we encountered our first ever bout of rain during our stay so we’ve been pretty lucky over the years!

Our first meal was a burger & garlic fries at Gotts in the Ferry Building. This has been my favourite burger in the city for a while now and it was every bit as perfect as I remembered.

Gotts Roadside burger & garlic fries, San FranciscoEver since our big American road trip in 2012, I’ve been obsessed with finding the perfect doughnut so the next morning we headed to Bob’s Donuts. Oh my word. Seriously, why don’t we have doughnuts like this in England??? They are amazing. Light and fluffy and you can see how easily you’d be able to get through a whole box with no trouble at all. We actually ended up having four doughnuts because they were so good. I honestly don’t know if I can eat a doughnut in England now. Even Huxley thought they looked nice…

Bob's Donuts, San Francisco

Bob's Donuts, San Francisco

After that we walked down the road to stand in the queue for Swan Oyster Depot. Despite being one of the city’s most famous eateries, it’s somewhere we’ve never managed to visit before. Unfortunately this time, due to the size of the buggy, Nick dined alone while I grabbed a cup of tea in a local cafe and waited for him to finish. Nick came out raving about it and said the sea urchin was the best seafood he’s ever had. The picture below is of the crab fat.

Crab fat at Swan Oyster Depot, San FranciscoThis was followed by a trip to Chavos for fish tacos before moving on to AT&T Park to kit Huxley out in Giants gear. (If you haven’t read any of my travel posts before then I warn you now, we can eat for England!)

Super fish tacos from Chavos, San FranciscoAfter we’d stocked up on baseball goodies, we walked down the Embarcadero to Nick’s favourite place in the whole world, Red’s Java House where we sat outside by the water in the sunshine while Nick had a beer or two. Huxley enjoyed watching all the seagulls and little birdies hopping about.

Red's Java House & the Bay Bridge, San Francisco

On Saturday we got very wet. It absolutely poured down, the kind of rain where it soaks through your thick boots and makes your socks wet. Nick, being the kind gentleman that he is, leant me his waterproof jacket (I bought my own one that afternoon!) as we walked to the Ferry Building for the farmer’s market. When we’ve been to the farmer’s market previously it’s been really hot and sunny and the whole place has been buzzing with hustle and bustle. This time, it was empty as everyone huddled inside trying to shelter from the rain. The upside to this was that there were no queues for the food stands and we grabbed ourselves a porchetta sandwich from Roli Roti. Oh my god. It was out of this world. Imagine the best hog roast you’ve ever had and multiply it by a million.

Porchetta sandwich from Roli Roti at Ferry Builders Farmer Market in San FranciscoDue to the pouring rain, we spent the rest of the day wandering around Westfield, buying gifts for people and getting me a new pair of Toms as a belated birthday present from Nick. The next day we went to Yosemite but that’s for another post…

Click here if you’d like to see my posts from our previous trips to San Francisco…

There’s also a candy flavoured giveaway at the end of these posts…

 

San Francisco Part 5 – Napa & Mount Tamalpais

Yes, I know it’s hard to believe that I’ve still got some blog posts left to write about my trip to San Francisco that was over a month ago now but I’m seriously behind! I went to see Coldplay last Friday too and have yet to write a blog post about that and I’m spending the weekend at Legoland and staying in the hotel so no doubt I’ll be behind with that post too!

I’m also convinced I’ve already written this post but I can’t find it anywhere so I must just be going mad!

Anyway, here goes! (You’ve probably guessed already but this is going to be photo-heavy! Squeezing the last entire week into one blog post!)

During our stay at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel, we paid a visit to the Top of the Mark restaurant which is on the 19th (top) floor and has huge panoramic windows offering one of the best views of San Francisco. My husband was interviewing the head bartender there who had been there for 20 years! He was an absolutely lovely guy, very soft spoken and you couldn’t help but wish he was your uncle or something. He whipped us up some martinis from their famous ‘100 martinis’ list. Given that it was only about 12pm and I never drink, I had to ask him to water mine down half through and felt terrible about it as I didn’t want to offend him but he was fantastic and rather than just topping it up with juice, he got me a new glass and shook me a whole new drink!

Martini at Top of the Mark Intercontinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco

The following day, we woke up early, picked up our hire car and headed to Napa. It was the first time I’d woken up in San Francisco to see fog! I was so excited to see the bridge hidden in a foggy haze! Which is probably the thing most tourists hope they don’t see! But the weather has always been perfect for us over the past three years so it made a nice change!

Driving over the Golden Gate Bridge in the fog

Nick always groans when we go anywhere because I’m always dying to go to the highest hill to see the best view possible and this was no exception. We’d heard about Mount Tamalpais and I made sure we drove there. Napa is only actually about 45 minutes away from San Francisco on the highway but we decided to head to Point Reyes to visit Cowgirl Creamery and stopped at Mount Tam on the way so it took us quite a bit longer.

As we meandered up the winding roads to the top of Mount Tamalpais, we found ourselves up above the fog. It was amazing. I literally felt like I was on top of the world. (The view is insane when the fog clears, we went back the following day & the pictures are a bit further down!)

Top of Mount Tamalpais flowerThen we carried on driving up to Napa, through Sonoma County. One of my absolute favourite things about driving around California is the roadside strawberry stands and we pulled over immediately when we saw this. The strawberries were divine and super cheap!

Strawberry stop on the way to Napa Valley, CaliforniaWhen we got to Napa, we headed for Nick’s friend Derek’s office to say hello. Nick met Derek last year at the American Royal in Kansas City and although Derek is English, he’s just moved to Napa to launch Naked Wines out there and very kindly invited us to stay at his house.

We had an absolutely brilliant time, so much so that I only took 2 photos the whole time we were there! We met Ryan, who was the loveliest chap ever (and a maker of very fine wine) and Adam, who took us to his girlfriend’s beautiful vineyard, Ceja Vineyard, where we were left on our own to chill out in the setting sun with a game of bocce and some open bottles of wine. It was absolutely perfect.

(The picture below isn’t of the vineyard, I took this on the drive home when I realised I had taken no photos of Napa at all!)

Napa ValleyOn the drive home it was a beautiful hot and sunny day and we ummed and ahhed about visiting Palo Alto to see the Google and Facebook offices but decided to go back up Mount Tamalpais instead as the weather was so lovely. I’m so glad we did. It was literally unbelievable with a clear view. You can see the entire San Francisco bay. It’s completely breathtaking. (Obviously the pictures aren’t very clear but you could see the Golden Gate bridge and the tower on Twin Peaks and everything)

View of San Francisco Bay from top of Mount TamalpaisWe also stumbled across an AMAZING outdoor theatre which was having it’s set built as we wandered around. I would LOVE to go and see a show there. If you got bored, you could just go round the corner and look at the view!

Mount Tamalpais outdoor theatreWe followed a trail that was about 3 miles called ‘Old Mine Shaft’, which was a misleading name really given that we never found the old mine shaft….If you wanted to go for a full day of hiking I would recommend taking a map but there are some clearly marked smaller routes which tell you how long they are so it’s pretty safe if you just wanted a quick wander around.

Top of Mount Tamalpais on a clear dayOn the way back, we stopped at the famous viewpoint of the Golden Gate Bridge at Battery Spencer.

Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Spencer San FranciscoAnd we stopped off to peak at the Palace of Fine Arts. This currently holds the Exploratorium which I can’t wait to go to. But it’s being moved to one of the piers soon so it probably won’t be here the next time I go. You can walk round the grounds for free and it’s nice to sit on the grass or spot animals in the lake (we saw some turtles!)

Palace of Fine Arts, San FranciscoOver the last few days, we just hung out in the city, doing the things we love, like watching the high school kids playing baseball in Golden Gate Park, eating Bi-Rite ice-cream in Dolores Park (I would also highly recommend Smitten ice-cream) and visiting the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market.

Friendship street San FranciscoColourful San Francisco houses near Haight AshburyColourful houses near Haight-Ashbury

Breakfast burger from 4505 meats at Ferry building farmers market san franciscoBreakfast burger from 4505 meats at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market

Strawberry lemonade at the Ferry Building farmers market san franciscoStrawberry lemonade at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market

Bernie's Best apple juice San FranciscoBernie’s Best Autumn Blend apple juice

Tcho chocolate tourWe took the free tour of the Tcho chocolate factory which was really fun and had to wear these fetching hair-nets. Nick also had to wear a beard net haha! And you get to eat lots of chocolate!

Tartine Bakery Pain au ChocolateFarewell breakfast at Tartine Bakery with a Pain au Chocolate the size of my face!

So, that post was a bit of a monster and it’s a little bit of a rush, condensed version of our last week there but thanks for sticking with it!

 

San Francisco part 4 – Alameda flea market & Alcatraz

The first Sunday we were in San Francisco was the first Sunday of May. By happy coincidence, that’s also the Sunday that the Alameda flea market is on. I first read about the Alameda flea market on Aimee’s blog, Song of Style. When I saw that vintage Chanel sign, I was totally sold and knew I had to go.

It involved a slightly complex series of bus journeys which result in you being dropped off in the middle of an abandoned army camp/housing estate which is a bit unnerving, but hopefully you won’t be the only ones on the bus heading there and you can just follow everyone else. To get to Alameda vintage fayre on the bus from San Francisco you need to take any of the BARTs to 12th street Oakland and then catch the 31 bus at 11th and Broadway (southbound) and ride it to the end of the line. Or you can get the ferry from the Ferry Building. Once you reach the entrance to the parking lot, there is a free shuttle service to the entrance (yes, it really is that big!) which is a god send as it was about 30 degrees when we arrived.

There are varying price ranges for entry depending on what time you get there. For the hardcore vintage fans, you can arrive at 6am – 7.30am for $15, or 7.30-9am for $10 and 9am-2pm is $5 or you can go after 2pm for free.

As tourists, we knew we wouldn’t be able to take much home so we got there after 9am. I had an absolute blast looking around everything! So much vintage American stuff like old coke bottles, old labels for crazy products, old-fashioned electric appliances that looked like they’d come off the set of Grease and I spent ages looking at super old maps and managed to find one of Bournemouth!

Vintage coca cola bottles at Alameda Point vintage fayreAlameda Point Vintage Fayre, San FranciscoAlameda flea market

Always a sucker for a view (especially of San Francisco), the view of the city was gorgeous from Alameda. And you could see both bridges at once, which is a rariety, although it was hard to take a photo of it as there was a huge car park in between.

View of San Francisco from Alameda flea market

Unfortunately, we’d also booked a tour around Alcatraz that afternoon so we couldn’t stay as long as I would have liked so I bought a beautiful picture of Elizabeth Taylor and off we went back to the bus stop (where we sat worrying for 10 minutes about being shot by every car that drove past! Too many movies….)

We arrived for our Alcatraz tour with about half an hour to spare and got in the queue for the ferry. It was literally as hot as an oven. As soon as we stepped on the boat, that completely changed. It was like sitting in a freezer. So if you’re planning on going and it’s really hot in San Francisco and you feel like a fool carrying a jumper, trust me, it will be worth it! God knows how cold it must be in the winter! Anyway, the view is beautiful and works as a good distraction!

View of San Francisco from Alcatraz boatView of Alcatraz from the boat

When you arrive, a man talks you through the main rules of the island and then you wander off up the hill to start the audio tour. The audio tour is great and takes you all around the prison, telling you stories about it’s histories, mishaps and inmates as you go. Don’t worry if you feel like it’s moving you around too quickly as once the audio tour ends, you can wander around for as long as you like. There’s no time limit on your visit to Alcatraz, you just catch any boat you want back (as long as you don’t miss the last one!)

Alcatraz prison cell

Nick on the steps of Alcatraz prisonAlcatraz

There were two things I was quite surprised about when I got to Alcatraz. The first is the incredible view of the Golden Gate bridge from the prison rec yard and the other was the huge amount of beautiful flowers decorating the island. I think they do special garden tours throughout the day if you’re into that kind of thing.

View from rec yard Alcatraz prisonFlowers at Alcatraz prison

Obviously the view of San Francisco from the island is one of the best. Bloody cold and windy though!

View of San Francisco from Alcatraz island

That evening we stopped in the ‘Beat district’ of San Francisco near the famed City Lights bookstore. We stopped in the amazing Comstock Saloon for a drink, it’s like stepping back in time to the 1920’s! I had so much fun just watching the bartenders mixing cocktails. They didn’t really have anything non-alcoholic on the menu so the lady offered to make me a non-fizzy lemonade. It was the best damn lemonade I’ve ever had.

After that we went to Sam’s Burgers for dinner which was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover. It was great. There’s not much I can say about it really. It was just perfect cheap American food and a really good burger.

Sams Burgers San FranciscoCheeseburger from Sam's Burgers, San Francisco

 

 

San Francisco part 3 – The InterContinental Mark Hopkins hotel

Following a conversation with the InterContinental Mark Hopkins hotel on Twitter, their lovely PR lady, Erica, arranged a free night’s stay for us and two additional nights at a barganious rate. Obviously we jumped at the chance.

(I’d just like to say at this point that they never, at any time, asked me to write a blog post about my experiences. I’m writing this post purely because I had such a wonderful time there.)

The hotel is absolutely breathtaking. At the top of the highest hill in downtown (trust me, the walk up-hill is daunting so be prepared to take it slow or pay for cabs!), it really can boast the best views of the city.

Outside Mark Hopkins hotel San Francisco

Entrance of Intercontinental Mark Hopkins hotel San Francisco

Outside of InterContinental Mark Hopkins hotel, San Francisco

View from the top of California street, San FranciscoThe hotel is at the top of Nob Hill. This is the view down California towards the Bay bridge (check out the hill!)

I love finding out the history behind places like this, so was delighted to find a mini museum within their grand lobby.

Lobby Mark Hopkins hotel San FranciscoLobby of InterContinental Mark Hopkins hotel

Mark Hopkins was one of the founders of the Central Pacific railroad in 1861 that ran from California to Utah. In 1875, his wife convinced him to build a 40 room mansion at the top of Nob Hill but he passed away before the build was completed, leaving his estate to his wife.

In 1891, Mary Hopkins also passed away, leaving her entire $70 million (can you imagine how much money that was in those days!!!!) estate to her 2nd husband. In 1893, he donated the building to the San Francisco Art Institute so that it could be used as a school & museum.

Although the Mark Hopkins mansion survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, it was destroyed in the three day fire that followed. In 1925, a mining engineer purchased the site and built the luxury hotel that we see today.

In 1973, InterContinental signed a long-term management contract for the hotel and spent $12 million renovating it in 1982 before finally purchasing the hotel in 1986. They then proceeded to renovate again in 1988 and spent $1.5 million renovating the Top of the Mark in 1996.

According to Wikipedia, the hotel also features prominently in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, Vertigo (although I haven’t seen it myself so I can’t confirm!)

Okay, history lesson over. Sorry, I’m sure that wasn’t half as interesting to you guys as it was to me! I spent ages in the little room watching the videos and reading all the old messages and menus from the old days!

On arrival, we were greeted personally by Daniella Koch, the Rooms Division Manager who was very lovely and informed us that we had been upgraded to a suite for the duration of our stay. As you can imagine, I was beyond excited!

Our room had a lounge/dining room with the most breathtaking views and a bedroom with en suite and the comfiest bed known to man. We also had full access to the club lounge which provided a buffet breakfast and drinks on tap.

Suite on 14th floor at Intercontinental Mark Hopkins hotel San FranciscoOur suite on the 14th floor

Bedroom in a suite at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins in San FranciscoBedroom view on 14th floor at Intercontinental Mark Hopkins hotel in San FranciscoView from our bedroom

Bathroom in suite on 14th floor Mark Hopkins hotel San FranciscoBathroom in a suite at Intercontinental Mark Hopkins hotel in San Francsico

I cannot describe how incredible it was to be woken up by the sun beaming in, full and bright and golden, glinting off the Transamerica Pyramid and straight into our bedroom.

Sunrise view from 14th floor, Mark Hopkins hotel San FranciscoSunrise over San Francisco from InterContinental Mark Hopkins hotelSunrise view from the lounge

We also got a couple of lovely surprises in the evenings when we arrived home. One night we returned to a full cheese plate, a bottle of California red and a hand-written card from the manager apologising that he couldn’t be there to meet us and another night we came back to a chilled white wine and a platter of chocolates with the most amazing little chocolate statue of the Mark Hopkins hotel itself. So cool.

Cheese plateChocolate plateIt goes without saying that we were very glum when we had to check out. I would recommend this hotel to everyone (but seriously, consider the hills, there’s no way of avoiding them and they are super steep! Take it slow or get a taxi!)

Night time view from 14th floor at InterContinental Mark Hopkins hotel San FranciscoLook at that big bright moon! 

They also have an incredible restaurant right on the top floor of the hotel called Top of the Mark with huge glass windows giving a panoramic view of the city. I’ll talk about this in another post in a few days time.

San Francisco part 2 – The Giants & baseball

On Saturday we went to see The Giants play baseball. This is kind of the whole reason we were in San Francisco. The original plan was to go to Tokyo but when I heard that The Giants were in town, we switched holidays and so we’ll probably go to Japan later in the year instead now.

It was so worth it. I had an absolute blast.

We started the day by going to the farmer’s market at the Ferry Building. It’s mental. Everything is so vibrant and fresh and everyone is so friendly, no-one in the crowd is elbowing each other to get nearer to the stands – it’s fantastic.

Plus, they make the most gorgeous strawberry lemonade ever.

Strawberry lemonade at Ferry Building farmers market San Francisco

After that we headed to Nick’s favourite place in San Francisco for a pre-game drink, Red’s Java House. It was rammed with baseball fans, both Giants and Brewers. And there was no fighting. In fact, everyone was sitting together, joking and laughing. Totally unlike the UK!

Then we walked to the AT&T stadium which is only down the road and were handed a bobblehead figurine as we entered (which we later learned were hot property and people had been queueing for hours to get their hands on one and we just strolled straight in and had no clue!)

After an initial scan of the grounds we found our seats (we were sat in the View Reserve Infield section – VR315, row 7, seats 3 & 4 – just in case you were thinking of going and wanted to know what the view was like from those seats!)

View of AT&T park baseball from View Reserve Infield 315, row 7

I was sat next to an elderly lady who was fully kitted out in Giants gear and had a special little scorecard thing (I think her husband spent most of his time in the bar as he was only sat next to her for about 10 minutes!). The stadium was full of families which was really nice to see. It was Cinco de Mayo so there was a little performance by some ladies in traditional Mexican dress and then the game started.

Nick had gone to get food and a beer and sat down just in time with a beer, a hot dog and the AT&T’s famed Garlic Fries from Gilroys. (Be warned, food isn’t cheap so if you aren’t bothered about what you eat, then try and grab something beforehand! And beers are like $10 each so brace yourself!)

Gilroy's garlic fries at The Giants game at AT&T park, San Francisco

The game lasted about 3 hours and it was crazy hot. Like 30 degrees. Luckily, after about an hour and a half, the sun moved round enough so that we were in the shade but it was still warm. Nick laughed at me all day because I was in jeans, had 2 t-shirts on and had carried a jumper, a thick fleece-lined coat, a scarf and a woolly hat around with me and it was a proper heatwave!

After about 2 hours, we got up for a little wander around the stadium to see the view from other parts of the park and we wanted to check out the bleachers. (The bleachers is definitely were all the fun is had but it’s just wooden benches so take a cushion or something to sit on – it’s also in the sun the entire time so cream up and take a hat!)

The Giants baseball game at AT&T park, San Francisco

Obviously we checked out the food stands while we were over that side and Nick got a famed crab sandwich from Crazy Crab’z and I got an enormous hot fudge sundae from Ghirardelli.

Food stalls behind the bleachers at AT&T park, San Francisco, Crazy Crab'z

Crazy Crab'z sandwich at AT&T park, San Francisco

Ghirardelli hot fudge sundae at AT&T park, San Francisco

This is the view from the food stalls when you first walk in. Anyone with a ticket can go and stand here and watch so if you do get stuck with rubbish seats or you get too hot in the sun, it’s definitely worth a wander around the stadium as there are great views to be seen all around.

The Giants baseball at AT&T park, San Francisco

In the end, the Giants won, which was great. I would definitely recommend it!

In my next post, I’ll tell you about the incredible hotel that we’ve been staying at!

 

(Maybe I should start a food blog?? Not much fashion happens here anymore….)

San Francisco part 1 – Virgin Clubhouse & Tartine Bakery

I’m back in San Francisco again! This is our third year in a row – we really do love it here!

(Yes, this post is mainly about food)

Had a fantastic first couple of days and if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram (thestylebox) then you may have already seen some of these photos so I apologise.

We arrived on Thursday after a magnificent flight with Virgin Atlantic – my first time flying with them and it was fantastic! We were lucky enough to get access to the Clubhouse and it was unreal! I felt like I was in an advert or something! There was a cinema, a spa, a hairdressers, a deli, a library, several bars and a full waiter service wherever you sat!

Deli at Virgin London Heathrow Clubhouse

Virgin London Heathrow Clubhouse

After checking into the hotel, we headed straight for the ferry building for a cheeseburger and garlic fries from Gotts Roadside.

Gotts Roadside garlic fries & burger

The first day we arrived we hopped straight on the tram to the Mission for the best breakfast in the city, Tartine of course.

We ordered some quiche, a ham & cheese croissant and a  double pain au chocolate made with Valhrona. It was all unbelievable. Beats the pastries in Paris for sure.

Ham & cheese croissant from Tartine bakery, San Francisco

After breakfast we headed back to the city to go to AT&T park to buy Nick a t-shirt ahead of the baseball game we were due to see the next day.

During our walk, we stumbled across an amazing Mexican place called Chavos which was serving fresh fish tacos for $2 – how could we say no?

Fish tacos at Chavos, San Francisco

After buying a t-shirt at AT&T park we wandered down the road to Nicks favourite place in the world, Red’s Java House for some fries and a beer (told you we eat a lot!)

Nick at Reds Java House, San Francisco

That evening we went to Off the Grid at Fort Mason (it was pretty dark by then so we couldn’t really take any photos as they were all too blurry).

Check out my next post to see my first experience at a baseball game!

Wednesday – San Francisco & The Giants

So, we’ve booked a holiday to San Francisco. Yes, this is my third year running. Yes, it really is that good.

I’m super excited about the flight this time too (which is weird because I hate flying) but we’re going with Virgin for the first time ever and I can’t wait! I read Richard Branson’s biography late last year and was gripped – it was so fantastic – I highly recommend it! (Although it did make me feel like a bit of an underachiever haha!) We haven’t booked any hotels yet though.

We were planning on visiting Tokyo this time round but we were talking one night about baseball and how disappointed I was last year that we didn’t get to see The Giants play. They came back to town the week we were there having won the World Cup of baseball and the atmosphere was electric and we tried to book game tickets on the day but they wanted fortunes for standing for 4 hours. Anyway, I checked the schedule and they are playing while we are there so my mind was made up. San Francisco it is. Tokyo will have to wait.

We’ve got so much planned! We’re probably going to visit Alcatraz this time, we’ve never been bothered before but we’ve been watching Alcatraz on Watch and are really getting into it. And we watched Escape from Alcatraz with Clint Eastwood and that made me want to go too.

We’re obviously going to visit Tartine and Bi-Rite Creamery again. Just going to hang out in the Mission and Dolores Park a lot I think. It goes without saying that we’ll be checking in at Off The Grid at every given opportunity. Definitely checking out Berkeley farmer’s market again and getting some strawberry lemonade and I’m finally going to get to go to Alameda Point antiques faire. I’ve seen several bloggers talking about it but it was Aimee from Song of Style that really sold me on it.

Breakfast at Tartine bakery, San Francsico

Breakfast at Tartine Bakery, San Francisco

We’re not going to Big Sur this time as we decided we should explore further North this time around so we’ll probably go to Point Reyes and Napa for a day or two. We’ll have to visit Oakland too as we haven’t been there yet.

If anyone has any suggestions of good places to eat or good boutiques/shops to look at then please let me know, I’d love to hear them 🙂

Meanwhile, here’s some of my favourite shots from last year 🙂

Wonky houses on a hill, Noe Valley, San Francisco

Pretty house in San Francisco

Pretty house in San Francisco

View of Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Mason, San Francisco

(Photoshop is playing up right now and I’m too sleepy to sort it out, sorry)

You can read my old posts on San Francisco here if you’re interested (from April last year):

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4 – Big Sur

Part 5