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San Fran & The Bay Area

Me at Point Reyes National Seashore. Mount Saint Helena in the far right background!
Not many folks know this, but I am a California Girl. I was born in San Luis Obipso, but left about a week after being born, so I claim Eastern NC as home. I've been back to California several times: San Diego, LA and San Fran and let me tell you, California is an amazing state that has so much history, culture, and self identity in each region.

My friend Becca asked if I wanted to tag along to with her to San Fran to visit her bestie, Brooke. Once I found out that I had some miles that needed to be used and my flight would be discounted $250.00, it seemed silly not to go. I often get asked how I afford this "lavish lifestyle". Well, for starters, it is not lavish. It is prioritizing and planning. Another big money saver is I travel where I have a free place to stay, that will save hundreds! Most of my trips are planned several months in advance and once they are, I take it upon myself to pick and choose how to spend my money until departure time and... I babysit. Lots of sitting with the kiddos. Babysitting is the best way to make good, quick cash! Since Brooke and her girlfriend Ashley were providing room and board, it made it that much more affordable.  With flight included, I spent about $700.00 and did everything we wanted. Of course a drink, snack or cab ride was picked up by others here and there, but over all, we spent our own money. I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before, but let me tell you again how my piggy bank plays a huge role in my travels. Yes, I am talking about your childhood style piggy bank. I know my self all to well, and if money goes in the checking account, it is gone. Money in the piggy bank is out of sight and out of mind. My lil' guy's NC Seagrove Pottery belly filled up $450 dollars in a matter of 3 or 4 months. Change also is a big helper. My niece and I took all my change to Coinstar and boom, $40 dollars! That is a meal, drinks, a cab ride, etc. The key is being resourceful and having some self control before the trip creeps up. From experience I know there is nothing worse than going to a fabulous place and not having the money to do what you want to do!

There were a few hiccups before arriving to SF, but that made the trip get off with a stories to tell start!First off, the 3 of us had a slight misunderstanding of what actual week Becca and I were set to come. A few monies later and lots of emails and text we were on the same page. Departure morning arrived and Becca had misplaced her phone, X minutes later and a house turned up side down said phone was found in the bathrobe pocket. The Dew couple could now head toward the Charleston airport. Becca, despite the minor mishap, still arrived with a few minutes to spare. However, that changed when she got to security. In front of her was a lady with a cake. Yes a cake. I know, I know, a lot of questions could follow this: 1. Why does this lady have a cake? 2. What flavor is the cake? 3. Why is it not properly covered (like in a cake case)? 4. Cakes go through the X-ray machine?! I only have one answer for you and that is yes, cakes go through X-ray machines. Becca placed her stuff on the rotating band to go through just behind the cake. Something happened inside. Something went wrong. After Becca was cleared she went to gather her belongings and her stuff was covered in icing. Of course the Cake Lady is 100% unaware of the issues her cake had caused. Not having time to deal with it, Becca quickly cleans up and rushes to the gate.. only to find it had been closed 2 min prior. $150 later and many moments spent with the customer service reps, she has a new flight leaving in 2 hours going through Newark. After all this, a bloody was in need. As Becca walked up to the closest bloody serving spot, she saw Bill Murray! Bill has been spending a lot of time in the Charleston area. He now owns part of the River Dogs and is opening a restaurant. Bill is sitting alone at a table and Becca walked up to him  and  the following comes out of her mouth: " Hey, I know you, I had to kick you out of my basketball seats one time". Bills response: "Ohhh yeah! Are you following me?!Come have a seat!" Becca sat with Bill and they chatted while sipping their desired morning spirit. Moments later,  Becca doesn't feel so bad about her security issues when over the loud speaker a voice says " Bill Murray, please come to security to collect your belongs, Bill Murray to security." Bill politely ask if Becca would "watch his shit" while he gathered his belongings from security. Those belongings Becca would find out would be key parts to travel: phone, wallet, keys. Apparently Bill had left them in the security bowl. Sure enough they are on the same flight to Newark. Bill is sitting behind Becca snoring the entire time. I must say though, Mr. Murray gets extra brownie points for flying coach. As Becca rushed to her Newark gate she sees Bill on the beep beep security car zooming by. He provides a smile, nod and ends with a salute.

Soon enough I was touching down at SFO. Brooke and Ashley live in Upper Market in an adorable apartment. The views of the city from their hood are out of this world. Shortly after getting to the apartment we all are snuggled in bed. Brooke and Ashley both had to work Thursday so Becca and I were on our own. We woke to grinding coffee and a smell that literally drew us out from under the covers. Eating breakfast in saves $ and we were all about saving dollars on this trip... so bagels and coffee fit the bill. Our first tackle of the day was learning the public transportation, Muni. Becca was a lot better at this than I. Luckily there was a nice man at the stop who told us about an app that would make our touring the city and using Muni A LOT simpler. Boy, he was right, Pocket Muni saved us. We walked around the Marina, Fillmore, and Crissy Field before heading over to  The Haight. Another friend of Becca's Kim lives in SF as well. We were chatting with her that am, and she was out running errands with her kiddos (the ones she sits for, not her own) and just so happened she was in the same part of town as us, so we met at a side street to say hello and get smiles and hugs from little ones. Coffee in the morning is good, but hugs and smiles from adorable children... hard to beat. Before walking to the water we stopped for lunch at Blue Barn. It was exactly what we were looking for: local & hand crafted salads, soups and sandwiches. The place was cozy with one long communal table and 3 cocktail tables with seating. There were 3 tables outside. Ice water was provided for free and severed in old mason jars with handles. The salads were colorful and massive. The sammies were the grilled to perfection and tasted divine! 100% satisfied with lunch we truck on down to the Marina. Boats-mostly sail boats lines the water front with Sausalito, Alcatraz, and the world famous Gold Gate Bridge peaking in between them. Now, don't get me wrong, we are well aware that The Golden Gate Bridge is touristy and always the big hype of SF, but something draws you in. I am not sure if it is the bright red against the greens and blues that surround it,  the massiveness of it, the history or just the fact that it is the Golden Gate Bridge. Whatever the reason it, her power drew us in. We walked closer and closer until 2.5 miles later we were practically under the bridge. We really lucked out with the weather, it was sunny and about 72, a perfect day to be outside. Everyone else (and their dogs) thought so too. Not really wanting to walk the 2.5 miles back, we started exploring other options! We thought there just had to be a public transit of some sort to rescue us. After calling the park's main # we learned there was a bus that would take us from Crissy to the Palace of Fine Arts. Well, that was just perfect. Swans reside at the Palace and since Becca was going to be a Swan for Halloween we wanted to go there to draw inspiration and see all the beauty of this place. 20 min later we find the bus top. Maybe we were jet lagged and tired, but we had already been to this said bus stop one time prior and looked all over, but did not see the transit sign, like we had seen all over town, so we moved on. The second time around we were proven wrong by two students who pointed out the bus stop sign to us. It was a TINY yellow sticker on a pole! Moments later, we were on the bus on the way to the palace! The Palace of Fine Arts is really spectacular. The Roman & Greek architecture is mind blowing. Renovations were completed in 2009.

We worked our way back to The Haight to walk around a little before meeting at the food trucks for supper and the Giants game. I get that The Haight is historical and all, but it is def not my favorite part of town. I feel like it has become very touristy and that part of the city seems a little dirty, compared to the rest. Don't get me wrong- it is def worth the walk over and is very entertaining! After walking into several shops and making Becca try on an amazing black glitter leotard we decided it was time for drinks. Off to Cha Cha Cha we went for guacamole (that is for you B) and incredible sangria. I had been to Cha Cha Cha before on my last visit, so I knew this place was perfect for our needs at that moment. If you are ever in the area, go. Brooke came to meet us after our snack and guided us to Off the Grid it was between Upper Haight & the Golden Gate Park. Lined on a blocked off street were about a dozen food tucks with a large screen playing the Giants game at the end of the road. Trucks were whipping up Thai, Indian, Baked Goods, Burgers, BBQ & Chicken. It. Was. Amazing... and priced very well. Our buddy Kim came to meet and joined us for the night. From Off the Grid we head to the house to have a low key night in with a fire, tunes, red vino and Catch Phrase. Yes, Catch Phrase. If you have not ever played it or lets go as far to say, if you do not own it, click on the Catch Phrase link above and purchase. It's loads of fun and travels very easily. We played it for 2 hours. 5 of us and several bottles of vino. It is truly belly aching funny to see how differently each player interrupts their given word even more so how each player tries to describe the word.

Friday was take a road trip day. Around lunch time we loaded the car up and headed North to the Tomales Bay area.. Heading North meant several things:
1. We would drive across the Golden Gate Bridge
2. We would see Redwoods
3. We would see the Pacific Ocean for as far as the eye could see
4. We would eat fresh. local. seafood.
5. We would see Point Reyes and all her glory (I'm not sure why everything is a 'she', just go with it)

I was super duper thrilled about all 5 of those things and the minor things that came along with it: cows, boats, rolling hills and vino.

The drive took about an hour and half, which flew by because of the beauty that surrounded us the entire time.We drove through small coastal towns, in and out of forest, small mountain towns and every mile of it was breathtaking. Literally, I think my mouth was open at some points. The pictures just do not do it justice. Our original go to spot was Hog Island Oysters. Through word of mouth and fancy write ups Tomales Bay has become "famous" for its seafood, in particular the local oysters. In the Southeast I grew up on the rule, that you only eat oysters during months that have a R in the month's name. This rule is mute in Northern Cali. This article tells us about it. Hog Island is about as basic as you get when it comes to a restaurant.  There are picnic tables outside on the water with bees and flies swarming- it was rather 'warm' that week for the area. The menu was simple. Oysters- served up about a dozen different ways, a cheese plate and several local beers and wines. While walking down the walk way, you sees a several large tanks with hundreds of fresh oysters resting. Brooke was the only one really eager to eat the oysters, while Becca and I just wanted to try one. I'm not and never have been a huge fan of the aphrodisiac. We decided to head to the Marshal Store to have a larger selection. This was a great decision. Chowder, oysters, beef brisket, beer and vino was ordered. We sat right in front of the cook who let us sample his homemade garlic butter bread- which was toasted on the grill he used to warm up oysters. Tomales Bay stared back at us while we enjoyed all the yum yum.

Marshall Store
Marshall Store
Marshall Store
Boast yard by Marshall Store
Tomales Bay
From here we headed to Point Reyes National Seashore and the Point Reyes Lighthouse. From the Marshall Store it took almost 45 min, but again... the drive... so worth it. This time instead of forest and rolling hills only - we had cows, creameries, rollings hills, bays, and the Pacific Ocean. I don't think I can stress enough the beauty of this area. Since it was so clear that day, you could see for miles and miles. There were cows all over the hills, Drakes Bay in the backdrop in one direction the Pacific in the other and in the very far distance Mount Saint Helena rested. At the end of the road was a parking lot from here we walked to the lighthouse. To get to the actual light house you must walk down 360ish steps to reach the POINT where the lighthouse sits on then of course that means 360ish steps back up. We were up for the challenge. The gusty winds did not even deter us as we were on a mission (getting blow away or not). Last time Becca came to visit Brooke, they attempted this attraction but the fog was so dense that even from the top of the stairs they could not see the lighthouse, so today was the day!

Entrance to Tomales Bay

Becca & I walking up to the point.
One of the things I love and hold most dear to my heart when traveling are the "ahhhh-haaa" moments. It's in those moments I am most grateful and humbled by all I have seen and have yet to see. Staring out at the ocean at Point Reyes Lighthouse was one of those moments. The way the landscapes, history, weather, agriculture, animals of that specific area all fit together so well to create such a natural beauty was pretty moving when standing on the cliff's point looking at it all. That moment proved yet again, how little of this world I've seen and made me eager to see more of it. People often leave the USA to explore, find, cherish, learn of such beauty, but I tell ya, this country we live in, is splendid;  you just have to get out there and see it.

We were all on a natural high coming back into the city and as if the day could not get any better we drove across the GGB as the sun was setting!

There is place called Asia SF. It's kind of a SF staple. For $45.00 you can have a great meal ( with way to much food) and get a drag show. This was my first experience with a drag show and what a show it was. The make up, glitter, outfits, music, lights, was so intriguing and oddly refreshing. These performers were so confident and comfortable in their skin. Granted they live in a city were just about anything goes, but they were embracing what felt right for them as individuals- despite what others may think. The show wrapped up about 11 then we headed downstairs for drinks and dancing then on to several more bars- which I'm having a hard time recalling.

Saturday was now upon us. Brooke had been telling us about this place called Luna Park in an area called The Mission. She thought we would love both. The brunch crew grew from the 4 of us, as a friend of mine from home, two of his friends and the younger bro of one of Becca's friend all joined. We sat around a table at Luna Park drinking cocktails with floating plastic mermaids swimming around, eating on delicious benedicts, burritos, sandwiches and enjoyed everyone's company for a couple hours. The Mission is awesome. There was such a great vibe in that neighborhood. It has been dubbed the 'hispter' part of town, but to me it was just a area with a lot spirit, expression, and the neatest stores and street art.  Valencia St is the one we explored. We walked several blocks before and after brunch. I could have spent all day and a lot of money. Thrift stores, street sales and art work galore. There was a small playground with a wall full of graffiti and children running, laughing, playing paying it zero mind, as it was their 'norm'. If you are a man and you shave, I have found heaven for you: F.S. C. Barber. Old school barber shop with old school supplies. It was a beautiful shop with lots of dark wood and large windows. Paxton Gate, I never knew places like this existed.  There was so much going on in this store, but it all worked together so well: fossils, plants, jewelry, insects, posters, taxidermy, and so. much. more. 826 Valencia has found their niche. They are a pirate supply store, with a true heart of gold. 826 also dubs as a non-profit for children. Teaching and encouraging writing. When you enter the store, it is almost as if you are on a ship. Dark paneled wood surrounds you and all the sudden you have entered a creative and magical place. Within these ship walls are charm, neat books, a learning center in the back, old school pirate and ship artifacts for sale and display only, an illustrator who will bring the pirate in your mind to life on paper, a fish theater where you can sit and watch fish do their thing and my favorite: a huge tank full of sand with hidden treasures. If a child finds a treasure, they can take it up to the counter, tell a pirate story and keep the treasure, what an clever way to get kids to use their imagination!

Plus with an endorsement from David Byrne, you know what you have going is a good thing: "Definitely one of the top 5 pirates stores I've been to recently"

Saturday just so happened to be the Saturday before Halloween, and we were set to attend a party at the San Fran Design Center. The party was for Brooke's work: George Lucas Films. Seeing as it was George Lucas Films, we were sure the costumes would not be a let down... and they were not. It was a family friendly event so there were peeps of all ages were all dressed up. From here we head to the Castro- which was mayhem, but some of the best costumes I've ever seen. There were lines and lines for almost every bar, but we found one, Moby Dick's without a wait- so this was our spot. From here we went to a karaoke bar where Brooke, Becca and Ashley gave an up beat version of a Black Eye Peas song. Once we were kicked out of this spot, we headed to the grocery store to stock up for late night. Kim hosted late night and the late night dance party, which mostly consisted of Becca dancing around alone. Around 4 am, it was time to figure out how we were getting home. The walk was semi do-able but not semi desirable. Becca and I walked out of  Kims toward our home base. A nice man stopped and asked if were were ok. We were, but we just needed a ride. He offered, we hopped in. Mr. made it clear he worked for the City of SF and felt it was his duty to help us. 5 min later we were home!

October is Crush Season for Wine Country. Sunday morning nine of us at 10 am loaded up in a limo and headed to Sonoma. Becca and I drank water until we arrived. Then once that crisp vino was poured, we got back in the game. It was a little touch and go there for a while. Gloria Ferrer was our first stop. The views were enough to help nip that hangover in the bud. We sat for about an hour enjoying the wine and views.  From here we head to lunch at Freemont Diner. It is not your swanky wine country spot, but it was so right on point for what we all needed. After this we head up to Imagery  were we did a wine tasting, bought a couple bottles then headed into the outdoor wonderland for photo opps and bocce. Then it was time to head back to the city. The fog had joined us when we returned back to SF. Which was nice, we had yet to see the dense heavy fog and had def not seen it sitting on the bay under and around the bridge. It was just as beautiful and peaceful as the sunny days.

By Sunday night we were all pretty exhausted. So we decided a big Italian meal in Little Italy would help ease us into our slumber. We ended up at Cafe Divine and ordered pasta dishes. You really felt like you were in Italy in here. The tiles, curved glass bakery cases, 4 piece instrumental band and the espressos were all true to form. When we walked out the streets were cheering, it was the last night of the World Series and the SF Giants could very well win it! Things were tied up and we were in the top of the 10th inning, at this point, it was our duty to pop into Original Joe's and watch the last few minutes.Within 10 minutes of being in there, the Giants had done it. They had won the World Series. The city exploded. Literally. Fireworks lit the skies, cars blew horns, fans and visitors jumped up with screaming joy, small marts were blaring 'We are the Champions', and local news centers were all over the streets covering the proud moment. It was really neat to be apart of that celebration with SF. Monday was our get back home day. After a great breakfast with Kim in the Castro, she dropped us at SFO and we were on our way back to the East Coast. Hurricane Sandy hit while we were gone, which made getting back a little longer, but thankfully we made it home safe and sound!

Do your self a favor and get to San Fran. Leave your judgments behind and explore one of my favorite cities.

-Emily Ballard


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