Since about 1999, when I’ve gone on long vacations (1+ week), I’ve typically taken copious notes of exactly what I’ve done — where I went, what I did, what I ate — so that I could read my travelog and feel like I’m re-experiencing my trip.  I did this when I went to France, Israel, and England.  However on this “honeymoon” trip to San Francisco, the notes weren’t taken.  I’m not exactly sure why, so my mission here is to try and use some of the pictures from the trip (http://picasaweb.google.com/smalrus/HoneymooninSanFrancisco) and try to recreate such a travelog.

In writing this, I use the term “honeymoon” loosely, as our first choice for honeymoon destination was Iceland, followed by Banff-Lake Louise, Canada.  When I lost my job in 2008, Judi and I did not think we would be able to afford to honeymoon anywhere; this was further compounded when I had been accepted to the UMass-Amherst Isenberg School of Management Ph.D. program, which started only two days following our wedding.  After being together for more than five years, Judi and I felt that some first vacation together was in order, so we found a reasonably affordable deal on HotWire to head to San Francisco shortly after New Year’s.

Day 1: January 7

Woke up around 3:30 am to catch our 6am flight out of BDL.  In the 2 1/2 years since I went to London, it seemed as though TSA was even more put-together and efficient, so by the time we got to the airport and got checked in, we still had an hour to kill before our plane to ORD even boarded.  Flying to ORD was pretty short.  However, Chicago was suffering from one of their “lake effect” snowstorms, so despite the fact that our flight was supposedly “on-time,” we were actually delayed nearly 90 minutes on the tarmac while we waited to taxi and get de-iced. Surprisingly, we shaved off nearly an hour from our departure time, arriving at SFO around 1:30 pm local time.

We grabbed a bite to eat at the airport Subway before heading to Alamo to pick up our rental car.  Since you get to choose your own car out of the lot, I picked a white Hyundai Accent.  Since our car is a Honda CR-V, it was a little weird to get used to driving a lower car (let alone being in a different city), however we managed to our hotel, the Buena Vista Motor Inn, by about 3pm.  The hotel wasn’t a dump, but it wasn’t spectacular either — it was more or less the hathanger we expected.  When we got to our room, a gift basket from Cheese Plus was waiting, stocked with cookies, cheese “coins”, sparkling wine, red velvet cupcakes, candied walnuts, and chocolates.  We realized later that this basket was actually sent by Judi’s parents.

Since the car was parked (BVMI has free parking), Judi and I decided we had quite a ways to stay up to shrink our jetlag, so we headed down to Fisherman’s Wharf.  It was rather late in the afternoon and our hotel was only about 10 minutes away from the Wharf area, so we first walked down to Ghirardelli Square.  A lot of cute little boutique-type shops around the area.  Then we walked down to the Wharf and bought our 7-day Muni Passport, walked around and down the different piers, and eventually got hungry for dinner.  We knew we would be back at the Wharf on other occasions, so we grabbed a quick salad and soup in a sourdough breadbowl at Boudin Bakery.

It was still rather early, so we walked to the North Point Shopping Center, went to Radio Shack to get an ethernet cable for the room and Safeway to get a few snacks for the room.  Since there wasn’t much else to do and it was already around 8:00, we went back to the hotel.

Day 2: January 8

Judi and I woke up on the earlier side to start our day at the Exploratorium, a science museum filled with all kinds of hands-on exhibits.  En route, we also stopped at both All-Star Donuts and the Chestnut Street Coffee Roastery.  The hotel’s “continental breakfast” served Peet’s Coffee and some pastries, but I decided to make the most of tasting some local coffees when it was convenient.

The walk to the Exploratorium took us down a good length of Chestnut St and through to the Palace of Fine Arts.  You may recall the PFA from the 1995 music video for Seal’s song “Don’t Cry.”  Of course, by the time we walked nearly all the way around the entire PFA to get to the Exploratorium, the MLK Middle School from Berkeley had let loose, wreaking havoc on the entire Exploratorium.  Whereas the brochures told us to plan to spend about 2 hours there, we actually spent closer to 4 hours, during which time Judi and I got to both extract our DNA from cheek cells, as well as watch as cow’s eye dissection.  Suffice to say, the museum really is meant for kids and adults alike.

After spending so much time at the Exploratorium, we were rather hungry, so we started walking west, along Crissy Field and back up through the Presidio.  I’d been wanting to go to the Thoreau Center for Sustainability SF, but it became very difficult to find and when I finally found it, it looked more like a bunch of offices.  Having dragged Judi around (and both of us still hungry), we gave up, walked back through the Presidio and started looking for places to eat.  We finally decided to eat at Pluto’s for a quick bite.

It was still only about 3:30ish by the time we finished eating, so we took the bus across the city to Russian Hill and decided to head up to Telegraph Hill.  This was something I hadn’t gotten to do when I visited the city with my family in 1995 (I was only 13 then), so we started walking down Lombard St, all the way up the hill to Coit Tower.  The views of the city were pretty breathtaking (or walking the steep hills just took our breaths away), but we weighed against spending the money to go to the top of Coit Tower.  Quite frankly, I was already  disappointed enough that Telegraph Hill showed almost nothing to do with the telegraph. The thin layer of fog that almost constantly prevails over the city didn’t seem like it would disappear by heading up an extra 200 feet up Coit Tower, so we walked all the way back down to Russian Hill.

By around 5pm, we decided to head to Chinatown for dinner.  However, since it was so early, we walked down Kearny, through Chinatown, past the Transamerica Pyramid, to the Chinatown gate, and then to Union Square.  We didn’t really do anything in Union Square, though we stopped into the Starbucks at the St. Francis Drake Hotel to get some WiFi to find a good Chinese restaurant.  A lot of places were listing House of Nanking as one of the best places in the city.  However, there were a couple of other reviews that were listing the restaurant next door: Chef Jia.

Reviews of Chef Jia commonly said they couldn’t understand why people would wait in line at House of Nanking when Chef Jia had almost no lines, the food was stellar, the food was cheap, and the food was quicker.  So…. we decided to try Chef Jia instead.

HOLY SHIT.

(n.b.–I know according to Jennifer 8. Lee’s book, Western Chinese food is not ethnic Chinese food.  And Chinatowns everywhere have both types of Chinese food.  However I can’t eat ethnic Chinese food, particularly since most of it is seafood and I hate seafood.  I also couldn’t stomach offals.)

This has to have been the best Chinese food I’ve ever ever ever had.  The dumplings were nice and crispy, while full of nicely steamed greens inside.  The spicy orange peel chicken was extremely flavourful, without the taste of the synthetic orange goop that traditional orange/tangerine chicken usually has.  And I’m not a fan of fried rice, but after finishing my own dinner, I ate nearly all of the leftovers on Judi’s plate.  And including 2 sodas, tax, and tip, the bill only came out to about $25.  By that point, we waddled out the restaurant, took the bus back to the Wharf and walked back to the hotel (it was often quicker just to take the bus to the Wharf and walk back).

Day 3: January 9

Saturday was an extremely early morning, since we had a lot to accomplish.  We planned on making an 11am tour at a winery in Napa, so we had to hit the road early.

By about 8, we we already crossing over the Golden Gate Bridge, stopping briefly at the northern vista point to take some pictures.  And by 830, after travelling through the ridiculous switchbacks (not for the faint of stomach) of Muir Woods Road and the Panoramic Highway, we finally got to Muir Woods.

Although the park was open, the admission booths were not, so we managed to avoid having to pay for admission.  This was fine with us, since we didn’t have overly much time to spend, so we walked around the giant redwoods for about an hour and then missioned back to the car. By the time I drove us through all the switchbacks again, it was about another 80 minutes to Napa to make the 11am tour at the Artesa Winery (previously known as Codorniu Napa).  Since wine production wasn’t in season, we didn’t get to see too much of the action, however we did get to walk around a bunch of the winery and then get to have a limited reserve tasting.  Personally, I love dessert wines, though we ended up buying a bottle of the Codorniu Napa Grand Reserve Sparkling Wine.

We were done at Artesa around noon, so we headed down to Vallejo to meet up with my Grand Uncle Frank.  He was going to take Judi and me to lunch either around Sausalito or Tiburon.  So we got in the car and Frank directed me to drive to Sausalito.  We ended up at a harbourfront restaurant called Horizons, and had some time to actually talk to Uncle Frank, since we didn’t really get to talk much at our wedding.  When my family and I visited him nearly 15 years ago, he started writing a book about the JFK assassination, so 15 years later, I finally got to press him on how it was progressing.  Suffice to say, Judi understands it more than do I.

Since we were going to try and meet my high school friend Margaret and her fiance Eric in Berkeley by about sunset (she’s currently attending UC-Berkeley Law), we had some time.  So Frank had me driving from Sausalito to Tiburon to take in some of the view before heading down to Berkeley.  It was nearly 5:30 and the sun was already starting to set over the Berkeley Marina, so we raced to drop Uncle Frank off at the BART station and get to Margaret and Eric’s. Sadly, we just missed the opportunity to see the sunset from their rooftop.  However, it was nice to get to see both of them, particularly since their wedding will be in San Francisco later this year and Judi and I won’t have the opportunity to attend.  Margaret had visited me in Montreal, so it was nice to be able to come by hers and Eric’s place for a bit (especially since I’m sure she’d find it chaotic to have people over during the wedding time anyway).

It was about time for dinner, so they drove us into downtown Berkeley and we went for pizza at Jupiter.   Service was slow, but food was good.  Apparently we hit an abnormally crowded evening though. From there, we walked to get some gelati at Naia.  I’m always a fan of good gelato and this was the stuff.  Then they drove us around some of Berkeley, some of the campus buildings and Peoples’ Park, and back to their place.  We said our goodbyes and headed back to the Bay Bridge toward our hotel.

Day 4: January 10

After a somewhat late Sunday morning, we crossed the street from our hotel to eat some breakfast at Cafe Golo.  This was a cute, unassuming little place with a great breakfast (complimentary pastry samples) and extremely attentive service.

Judi and I were a bit stuffed, so it made almost no sense why we decided to hike all the way up to the top of Lombard, yet we did it anyway.  To say that going up a San Francisco hill is a “hike” is a bit of an understatement — it is more like a mountain climb.  Nonetheless, we made it to the top of the hill and looked out on the city below, as the Hyde and Powell car passed behind us.  Walking down Crooked Street was much much better.

Since we hadn’t taken our requisite San Francisco cable car ride, we walked from Crooked Street down near Fisherman’s Wharf.  We took the cable car to its end, which was at Union Square.  Since I never do anything ridiculous anymore, I decided to participate in the 2010 Improve Everywhere No Pants Subway Ride.  En route, Judi stopped at the Westfield Shops at Union Square (they have a spiral escalator!) to get her haircut at Carlton Hair.  She was a little unnerved by the thought of getting her changed by a stranger, but it turned out to be a really good cut and style.

From there, I took my pants off and we caught the 2:13 BART train downstairs at Powell Station.  I was also meeting Sarah, one of the friends I’ve met on Twitter, to ride the BART train with.  Judi thought we were ridiculous (she already thinks I’m ridiculous for having online “friends”), but she obliged going with us for the two stops.  There must have been hundreds of pantless people on our train, all getting off at the Embarcadero station.

So we got off with all of them and walked over to the Ferry Building.  We scouted it out for a bit before walking down, back to Fisherman’s Wharf. Along the way we stopped at TCHO Chocolates and picked up some of their phenomenal chocolate.  It turns out, the United Airlines skymag also wrote an interesting article on the company, which made me regret us not taking the full tour.  We kept walking and found some amazing breakdancers, and so stopped to watch “the show” for a little bit (no matter what city you’re in, nor what the show actually is, it’s always called “the show”).

It came to be mid-afternoon and we were starting to get hungry for lunch, so we stopped at In-N-Out Burger for my first taste of burger goodness.  If only they came to the East Coast… We walked back to the Ferry Building since Sarah had to catch the BART back to Oakland (she left us with a bottle of Fort Ross pinotage, ha ha), so Judi and I wandered around Market St.  Our feet were tired, so we stopped at The Coffee Bean  & Tea Leaf for some Winter Dream and Chai Tea Lattes, then took the bus uptown toward our hotel.  Since we had In-N-Out Burger so late, we weren’t hungry yet.  Viking Submarine, two blocks up from our hotel, closed at 9, so we picked up some subs around 8:30, brought them back to the hotel room, and ate in our hotel room instead.

Day 5: January 11

We took the bus over to Fisherman’s Wharf and then hopped a streetcar to the Ferry Building.  Judi got some Acme Bread goods for our “breakfast,” while I went and picked up some drip coffee and some whole beans at Blue Bottle Coffee Co.

We then proceeded to head to Pier 33, where the ferries to Alcatraz depart.  Our departure was scheduled for 11am, but we had gotten there in time to take the 1030 ferry, so they allowed us to board the earlier time.

While we were aboard the ferry, I was taking pictures with a sourdough cheese ring in my hand when, out of nowhere, a seagull dive bombs my hand and takes off with my breakfast.  Suffice to say, it was not a nice bird.

We got to Alcatraz and took the audio tour, which was just as interesting as I remembered it.  Then one of the volunteers gave a half-hour presentation on sanity on Alcatraz.  Pretty enlightening stuff.

By the time we got back to the mainland, it was already around 1, so we walked over to Pier 39 to see the vaunted sea lions who, only weeks earlier, left for Oregon (they weren’t sure if it was earthquake early-detection or if it was a search for a new food source).   But after snapping a few pictures, it was time for lunch.  We went to Chowders and Judi had shrimp and chips and I had clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.  From there, we headed back upstairs to Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze, a new attraction that is exactly what it sounds.  For $5, you can go to through the maze as many times as you’d like and take as long as you need.

We stuck around Pier 39 for quite a while, doing some shopping (Judi went to Charms by the Bay and some bath salts) and then started to walk back for some dinner.  Along the way, we spotted some street spraypainters.  They basically take a blank canvas, do some spraypaint magic, and in about 10 minutes, have created some cool works of art.  Orders booked up quickly, since the 10 minutes it took to make the art was a show in and of itself — the real marketing ploy.

For dinner, we went to The Buena Vista Cafe, supposed home to the first Irish Coffee in the U.S.  Dinner was alright, but dessert was even better: we went to back to the Ghirardelli Square Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop for ice cream sundaes.  And what sundaes they were.  Mint Bliss: Mint Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Ice Cream, Dark Chocolate Hot Fudge.

Day 6: January 12

What was supposed to be an early morning to Monterey seemed to be a slow morning getting to Monterey.  First, we headed to Cheese Plus to use our gift certificate and buy some sandwiches and whatnot for lunch.  Next, we went to Peet’s Coffee & Tea so I could get some coffee.  They messed up my order, so they gave me a free drink coupon.  Finally, we headed on the road to Monterey.

Of course, this didn’t last for too long; we started driving through all the Silicon Valley exits and it would have been beyond reproach of me not to stop at the place where, in my early teens, I once thought I’d be working.  After all, in 1995, most of the tech companies barely existed and it would have been pointless to stop in Mountain View (Google) or Sunnyvale (Yahoo).  So as we passed through Mountain View, I detoured around NASA’s Ames Research Center and over to the Googleplex.  Sadly, the Googleplex offered no tours, leaving us to drive around the campus a few times before hitting the road again.

We got to the Moss Landing Harbor District around 2ish (nearly 2 hours behind schedule) and stopped to take pictures of us dipping our feet into the Pacific Ocean.  The sky was overcast and the ocean was cold, but Judi went first.  I went next, taking off one shoe and putting it behind a rock.  Unfortunately, when my wave swept in, the tide came out at its farthest, soaking my foot and taking my other shoe with it.  By the time I retrieved it, one foot was wet, the other shoe was drenched.  This didn’t make for a fun afternoon.

As we walked back to the car, we spotted some pelicans and sea lions lying on the breakers.  I wanted to get a picture so I headed out toward the breaker.  I got to about 150-200 feet away (which is really as close as I planned on going), when all of a sudden, the sea lions started to get agitated and bark and jump into the water behind the breaker.  Suffice to say, I was spooked and ran back to the car.

We finally got to Monterey at around 2:30, parked the car in the garage, and headed over to the Monterey Bay Aquarium — a place I hadn’t gone to 15 years prior.  Personally I love aquariums and planetariums, etc etc, because they allow us to spend even just a brief time glimpsing microcosms we don’t normally get to see in this universe during our lifetimes.  MBA is a very nice aquarium that even has its own tidepools to touch creatures.  For me, this is always a little anxiety-inducing, but I got to touch a ray (which I found really weird, and was spooked once again when the ray started to surface like a whale).

Stuck around the aquarium until close, when we were forced to make a decision to our dinner plans.  15 years ago,  Uncle Frank had us go to Nepenthe in Big Sur (26 mi south of Monterey) to have a sunset dinner over the Pacific and wanted Judi and me to return there on this trip.  Except that for Judi and me, the food was expensive, the cloud cover was overcast/drizzling, the sunset was earlier, and the route was winding — a regrettable perfect storm for not voyaging that far south of Monterey.

Instead, we went to Rocky Point – only 10 miles south of Monterey.  The food there wasn’t amazing and we were mostly paying for a view that wasn’t to be, but we were fortunate; if the shoddy dinner plans were the worst thing that happened on our vacation, we were lucky (and they were).  We drove back in the rain to San Francisco, back to the hotel by about 10:30.  The best part of the return drive: passing through Gilroy, “garlic capital of the world.”  The smell of garlic was so pervasive that our car smelled inside, just from driving through on the highway.

Day 7: January 13

For our last full day in San Francisco, we got up at a reasonable time and went over to Peet’s so I could cash in on my free drink.  We took the bus down to the Civic Center area, transferred over to another bus, and drove down Haight to Golden Gate Park.  Upon getting off the bus, we walked into the park toward the Japanese Tea Garden.  Spent quite a bit of time there, even getting to take some tea under the little pagoda.  It was very very peaceful, particularly when a small little shower hit, sprinkling on the pond as we drank our tea and ate some mochi.

When we were done being mindful in the tea garden, we walked by the De Young Museum, debating whether we wanted to spend the money on the Tutankhamen exhibit.  While I really wanted to see the exhibit, I couldn’t quite justify the costs after all that we’d already done.  So instead, we continued to the Conservatory of Flowers, which is something that Judi had really wanted to visit.  The CoF was interesting, with a broad range of flowers from various habits, and particular focus on various types of orchids.  What I found neat was the coffea arabica tree, since I’ve never actually seen a real coffee tree.

By that point, it was time for lunch, so we walked to the edge of Golden Gate Park and back to Haight.  I was rather in the mood to go to some sort of taquiera, so we ultimately hit on El Balazo.  Finding ourselves waddling out the restaurant again, we proceeded to stroll down the remainder of Haight, passing by the famous Haight-Ashbury intersection, the Victorian row houses, and the head shops/dispensaries.  Eventually we got back to the Civic Center area, where there was a farmers’ market happening in the plaza across from city hall.  We wanted to kill some more time before calling an early night and going back to the hotel, so we wandered over to Union Square, tried to check in for our flight, went to Borders, and then took the cable car back to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Once again, we got some delicious subs at Viking, then went back to the hotel to pack up.  Our flight out of SFO was at 6:45am, so we had to be up early.

Day 8: January 14

Woke up around 3:30am, showered, finished packing, and checked out of our room.  The drive back to the airport was interesting — just as I was leaving, I was already getting a sense of downtown San Francisco’s grid.  I practically already knew how to get back to the highway without using the GPS!  Got to the airport, strolled right through the rental car check-in, and on the airtrain to the airport.

Security was a little busier at SFO (not surprisingly), but we were already at the gate by about 5:30.  It was a quick flight to LAX (and on our descent, I was able to snap a long shot of the Hollywood sign) and a fairly quick turnaround to the next concourse for the flight to IAD.

Our original itinerary was supposed to fly from LAX to DEN to BDL, with slightly longer layover time in DEN.  The problem was, due to a change in airline scheduling, we were routed to IAD instead, with only about 35 minutes layover time (excluding taxiing time during upon arrival).  Since boarding starts 30 minutes prior to departure, while the gate shuts only 10 minutes prior to departure, we really only had about 25 minutes to cross the entirety of IAD to catch our other flight — assuming our flights were on time and there were no delays on taxiing.  Go figure, we departed LAX behind schedule and it took some time to taxi to the gate.

By the time we got to IAD, we had about 15 minutes to run across the airport to our flight, else miss our flight to BDL and have to wait on standby for the 10pm flight.  Running as fast as our tired, jetlagged, sore legs could, we made our flight with 5 minutes to spare.  One hour later, we were back in BDL, getting picked up by my sister.  Our San Francisco vacation was over.

Now to start thinking about our next one…