Road Trips: Burma Superstar

I have a super tasty, local road trip for you all this week! It’s really a restaurant review, but I was able to go do a couple other things in the vicinity that made it more into a day trip that ended up being a blast! You may have heard of the restaurant: Burma Superstar! I went for the first time to the Alameda location (there is one in San Francisco and Oakland, too), and it was really good!

Honestly, I was a little bit disappointed in the spicy shrimp noodles, as they were a little too sweet, and I would have liked a little more spice. It was more like a pad thai dish than I was expecting. I had a chili cocktail, which was essentially beer, ginger, and squeezed lemon. That was really tasty and offset the spicy chili beef. They also had phenomenal coconut rice!  The fermented tea leaf salad was a burst of many flavors and definitely worth trying.

We also stopped into a cute little shop next to Burma Superstar called Daisie. It is perfectly situated because Burma Superstar tends to have lines and while people are waiting outside, they meander into Daisie’s homes goods/gift shop. I really enjoyed wandering through and found a cool vase. And, lastly, we were hoping to get into a little local theater production company but we couldn’t get there in time and they would not let us in because the stage was a circle you would have to walk over. We moved the reservation to September.

It was a great day out in Alameda. I finally got a taste of a popular restaurant, got to explore the local shops, and at least got to see the local theater company, even if we weren’t on time for the show itself. I’d highly recommend checking out Alameda, which is an often-overlooked part of the East Bay.

Road Trips: Pt. Reyes & Hog Island

There are a lot of fun, interesting things to do in the Bay Area. That’s part of the allure of living here – visiting San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley never gets old, and you have art, music, culture, food, drink, and outdoor adventure literally surrounding you at all times. But, there are still hidden gems out there that stand above the rest in their uniqueness. Recently, I took a day trip to do one of those things!

If you’ve never been to Point Reyes, you’re missing out. This is an underrated activity in the Bay Area. I spent a day enjoying oysters and drinking beer at Hog Island Oyster Company with friends, then we visited Drake’s Beach via Pt. Reyes Station, and Cowgirl Creamery. The area itself is a bit of a drive up, we took the route via Skywalker Ranch/Nicasio – a stunningly beautiful, but winding way to go to do something fun and out of the ordinary.

We went to Hog Island first, where there is only outside picnic bench seating or standing room (on a wine barrel) if you don’t have reservations. It also happened to be one of the nicest and warmest days the coast had to offer, so it was packed. You have the option of having your oyster shucked and ordering off the menu, or booking the area with grills and bringing your own food after you buy the oysters from Hog Island.

It was a wonderful experience and the food was outstanding. I think the ambiance and friends made it taste even better. We also stopped at Drake’s Beach, which has a bluff protecting the beach from the ocean’s breeze, so we had a warm summer day on an empty beach (which I’m sure is different than a place like Stinson Beach!) From there, we visited Pt. Reyes Station, meandered around the town, and took a peek around Cowgirl Creamery, where we tried their cheese at lunch. Take a look at the photo slideshow below to get an idea of how much fun it was!

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Road Trips: BottleRock

We touched on this event in my recent music festivals blog, but I had to expand it into its own feature. Because BottleRock is constantly the best day of the festival season each Spring! This was my third year going and what I like about it the best is that for the most part, it is a laid back concert scene. People either hang out on their blankets in the back, sit it the wine lounges or jostle to get up front. Even if you are up front it is still fairly chill

This year’s lineup included Bruno Mars, The Killers, Muse, Incubus, Snoop Dogg, Halsey, Earth, Wind & Fire, Billy Idol, and dozens more. I did one day at BottleRock (Friday) and took in Incubus (the lead singer Brandon Boyd has charm and sex appeal; I couldn’t stop looking at him! Did you know Incubus means “a male demon believed to have sexual intercourse with sleeping women?” I also saw The Struts (a band I hadn’t heard of, but the singer reminded me of Freddy Mercury), FLOR (the long-haired redhead pictured below was a great new band), and The Chainsmokers. In hindsight, we maybe should not have gone with The Chainsmokers instead of headliner Muse – I didn’t realize The Chainsmokers were a DJ duo, but they rocked it and that was the one place where the people were very pushy. It was a younger crowd and lots of lights and smoke as shown above. We got a little bored with Earth Wind & Fire, but really liked the jam of Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue.

One of the best things about BottleRock is that it’s a combination of music and culinary excellence for an entire weekend. Being in Napa makes it a requirement to have awesome food and wine to go with the music (but they really do come up with an awesome music lineup every year). So in addition to seeing some great shows, we saw Shaun White, a 3-time gold medalist in snowboarding on the Culinary Stage. It was awesome – they had a winter-themed cooking show that included cotton candy made into huge snowballs and they were tossed into the audience where the promptly broke apart spreading blue cotton candy around. At the end, they were tossing Hostess snowball packages out to the audience.

Words can barely do this experience justice. Check out the art and experiences created by various vendors in the following photos. You can’t beat sitting in the grass under the sun with a glass of red, watching a famous band play live music to thousands of people. If you haven’t been yet, plan ahead for next Memorial Day weekend  – it is always Friday/Saturday/Sunday and tickets sell out quickly. So, prepare to make that short drive up to Napa to experience BottleRock!

Road Trips: Summer Festivals

One of the best parts about summer in Northern California is that it’s pretty much perfect weather all the time. Even the notoriously-chilly San Francisco has a legitimate summer for a couple months at the tail-end. If you’re a fan of music like me, this is a perfect season for festival-hopping!

Last weekend, BottleRock in Napa took place and they had another fantastic lineup. I went on Friday which was a birthday gift from my friend Veronica. It is one of my favorite festivals – more to come on a future blog. Between the music itself and the amazing Napa-esque food and drink scene, you can’t go wrong at BottleRock. There are a few other great festivals in the Bay Area you should definitely check out, too. Here are 5:

Outside Lands (Aug. 10-12 in San Francisco): Another wildly popular festival that attracts top names in the music circuit to its stages in Golden Gate Park. This year, you can see Florence and the Machine, The Weeknd and Janet Jackson atop the list.

Stern Grove (June 17-Aug. 19 in San Francisco): Stern Grove is a free (!!!) annual festival that has hosted names as big as Stevie Wonder in the past. This year, two of the biggest names will be M. Ward and Ziggy Marley, also playing in Golden Gate Park.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass (Oct. 5-7 in San Francisco): I’m pretty sure Hardly Strictly used to be literally strictly bluegrass. But nowadays, the free show in – you guessed it – Golden Gate Park welcomes all genres. This year’s lineup includes Brandi Carlile and The Wood Brothers!

Country Summer (June 15-17 in Santa Rosa): Let’s mix it up a bit. Florida Georgia Line, Little Big Town, Toby Keith and Maren Morris are the highlights of this country festival in Santa Rosa. I’ve never been, but if you like country, this line-up kicks it!

Berkeley World Music Festival (June 1-3 in Berkeley): We can’t have an arts/culture/music blog without including the funkiest Bay Area town around. This is going on RIGHT NOW, but it’s free and you can bring the kids to experience music from all over the world!

Road Trips: Livermore Outlets

Raise your hand if you love shopping! If you’re like me, and love to find the best deals, then you might like the outlets.  I was not too keen on outlet shopping until my friend Maria (shopping queen) said you got to go to Livermore – so, we took a road trip and she introduced me to some higher end stores that I really liked.  You could always go out to San Francisco to find some deals or pay top dollar, but why do that when Livermore is just down the highway from us?

Livermore is an easy, 25-minute drive from downtown Walnut Creek and has all the big retailers: Cole Haan, J. Crew, Michael Kors, Bloomigdales, Nike, Banana Republic and more. However I just focused on a unique few; All Saints, Zadig & Voltaire, Kate Spade and Tory Burch.

Obviously, Walnut Creek has its own awesome shopping, but not the ones I mentioned above. Livermore is a pretty cool East Bay city that will give you a new perspective and a new slate of stores to check out. And unlike some of my last few road trip posts, you can actually drive to this one!

Just head down 680 South to 580 east until you get to Livermore, the mall is on the right – big new buildings you can’t miss. You can literally spend the next full day shopping for clothes, home goods, food, drink, and more.  Bring your walking shoes!

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Road Trips: Whistler

Okay, now I’m really stretching this whole Road Trips theme. You could, hypothetically, drive all the way to Canada from the Bay Area. It would take a solid 16 hours and would be a pretty nice drive through Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. But, I’d recommend flying.

I recently took a 2 1/2-day trip to Whistler. I left at 4 pm on Saturday afternoon and got to Whistler at 10 pm. I skied Sunday and Monday and flew back to the bay area at 6 am on Tuesday. I was back at work by noon! With the tail end of the skiing season approaching, Whistler – which always has great snow – recently got dumped on much like Tahoe. I met a couple of friends up there and had amazing snow to ski. It was a great trip.

I had a room at the Westin on the hill on the Blackcomb side. The Whistler-Blackcomb mountain resort is also massive, it has a glacier and the longest peak-to-peak tram in the world. There is also lost of expert skiing available. I wonder if the weather is a little different because the resort is so close to the ocean, but the clouds would come in and out. At one point I felt like I was skiing in soup, could not see in front of me and we just happened to be in the Whistler Bowl (a black diamond run) at the end of the day.

And if you aren’t feeling the snow vibe, but just want to explore the area, Whistler is a really cool place itself. The village has some great restaurants; we ate at 21 Steps, which serves great comfort food and a good selection of fish, pork and meat. I would also explore the rest of the area if you have the time. Just outside the Whistler area, you can trek back to Vancouver and explore one of the underrated cities of the Pacific Northwest.

Next year: Revelstoke and Heli-skiing!

Road Trips: Albany Bulb

With this installation of Road Trips, we’re taking a bit more of a bohemian angle. Fittingly, we’ll be going just to the fringe of Berkeley, to the little town of Albany. It’s not for a park, or a theater, or anything like that. I’m actually recommending a visit to a landfill with a wild history and a ton of unique art.

In the late 1930’s, the creation of the Albany “Bulb” began. Land was leveled and moved around and pushed into the Albany peninsula for the creation of the racetrack at Golden Gate Fields. Over time, the land was protected by Save The Bay, and became somewhat of a lost project. For many years, the peninsula served as an occasional hiking and dog-walking spot, as well as being home to many local species of plants and animals.

Eventually, the Bulb became a homeless haven, with as many as 60 squatters living there before being evicted (some forcibly) by local authorities. While that population was on the Bulb, they created sculptures, and paintings, and even a makeshift library that has since been burned to the ground. But, today, it is still a sight to see: views of the Bay, art everywhere, unique traces of generations past.

For those who aren’t into the graffiti, wooden art or macabre feel (kinda feels like a scene from The Walking Dead), there is a beach nearby that dogs can be on without a leash. The Albany Bulb is a weird, exciting, confusing display of East Bay history.

You can easily spend half a day wandering its pathways and finding strange art from decades ago. Try going out there on a nice day, and you can always go back into Berkeley for a nice lunch or dinner on your way home!

Road Trips: Sutro Baths

Our road trip blogs have ranged far and wide over the months, but one easy, must-do road trip from the East Bay is a simple jaunt across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco! You can’t beat the beauty of San Francisco, which is truly one of the most spectacular places in the world, and right in our backyard.

Of all the cool things to do in the city, one of my favorite experiences is hiking around Sutro Baths at the furthest West point. If you drive in over the Bay Bridge (or, if you want to save some gas, take BART and then a city bus), follow directions to Ocean Beach and take in the sights and smells of the ocean (warning: it’s always windy!).

From there, you can walk up the hill past the famous Cliff House restaurant (their bar is actually affordable if you need a quick drink!). On the other side of that are the Sutro Baths. Back in the day, this area was a public bath house right on the ocean that look more like Roman ruins now than anything else.

Extend your day after exploring the Baths, by following one of the mild hiking trails next to the upper parking lot, which will take you through tall trees to the Golden Gate Bridge side of the peninsula. You’ll get a clear view (most days) of the bridge, the ocean and the Marin headlands.

And to think, all these picturesque views are contained in a tiny corner of San Francisco! If you’ve never taken the kiddos to see this part of San Francisco, I’d highly recommend it!

Road Trips: Bay Area Hikes with a bar at the end

John Solaegui, a realtor in San Francisco (ironically, I went to high school with his sister!), shared a blog about five Bay Area hikes that end with a reward – in this case, a drink! I know we typically talk about actual road trips here, but hiking is just as much a way of life in the Bay Area as driving, so we can make an exception this time around, plus you most likely will have to drive to the destination!

See below for a summary of the 5 in the initial blog, as well as two I’ve added myself!

Hike #1: Grape Stomp Trail (2.4 miles) in Sonoma

The best part of this hike is that you start AND end at Bartholomew Park Winery. So, if you lose motivation at the beginning, you can just sit down with a bottle and enjoy the sunshine anyway. But, for the purpose of respecting the hike, let’s talk about Grape Stomp Trail – it is a 2.4-mile loop that starts and finishes at the winery, just to the left of the tasting room. You can see views of San Pablo Bay and cross Arroyo Seco Creek twice. If you stay left on the You-Walk Miwok Trail, you can “summit” the trail at 640 ft.

Hike #2: Zinfandel Trail (2.9 miles) in Cupertino

A beautiful hike that starts from the southern end of Picchetti Winery’s parking lot and loops back a few miles later. The winery itself is a sight to behold – more than 100 years old, shaded by oak trees, and home to a brood of peacocks! On the hike, you’ll walk past wild roses, small ponds, and a creek. At the end, you’ll end your day with a nice glass of Picchetti’s famous red wine.

Hike #3: Dipsea Trail or Sun Trail (1.5-4 miles) in Mill Valley

You may have heard of this one. A hike through part of the Dipsea Trail in Mill Valley will take you to the Nature Friends Tourist Club. The German lodge, buried within the trees of Mt. Tam and erected in 1917, is a local favorite. But you either have to be a member, or plan your hike on a day that they open to non-members. You can hike straight from Panoramic Highway down the Sun Trail, or start in Mill Valley and climb all the steps for the first part of the Dipsea Trail to get there and enjoy some German lagers, food and music!

Hike #4: Muir Beach to Tennessee Valley Trail to Green Gulch Trail (9.7 miles) in Mill Valley

Wow, that’s a mouthful. But so is the meal and drink at the Pelican Inn when you arrive. If you’ve hiked the entirety of the Dipsea Trail, you’ve probably seen the Pelican Inn at some point. This is a little bit longer, more difficult route that will start you at Muir Beach, take you through the Tennessee Valley Trail (can’t-miss views of the ocean!) in Mill Valley, and eventually out onto the Green Gulch Trail. That will bring you back close to the Muir Beach parking lot, where you’ll be ready to gorge and splurge at the Inn.

Hike #5: Coastal Trail/Lands End Trail (3.3-6.6 miles) in San Francisco

Ah, a Bay Area classic! For being a big city, San Francisco has an enormous amount of beautiful, natural hiking spots within it. One of the best, and most popular, is the Lands End trail that gives you unobstructed views of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you take this trail down the coast, past the Sutro Baths, you’ll end up at one of the most iconic restaurants (with a surprisingly affordable bar), Cliff House. You can’t beat this one!

Now, for a few of my more local favorites…

Hike #6: Danville Fire Trail in Las Trampas 

Las Trampas Regional Wilderness towers over Danville on the West side of 680, and most people don’t seem to bother with it. There are so many hiking spots in the Bay Area (and the East Bay specifically), that it might not seem worth the trouble. But the Danville Fire Trail loops back onto itself, and spits you out just a few blocks from the cute downtown area of Danville, where you can do anything from grab a beer at any restaurant or taste wine at Auburn James.

Hike #7: Lafayette Reservoir Loop

No list like this would be complete without a local favorite like the Lafayette Reservoir. You can take your fur baby up for a short loop around the reservoir, or take a friend on the long loop for spectacular views of the East Bay. Once you’ve looped back to the start, tack on another half hour walk, or jump back in your car, to get to downtown Lafayette. Once there, you have no shortage of drink options, but I’d highly recommend Rustic Tavern, Chow, and The Cooperage.

Road Trips: Mt. Rose

Winter is here, and it’s time to hit the slopes! Hopefully, we get some more snow this week! I love going up to Tahoe to ski, especially when the sky is blue and the snow is powdery. But, unlike many who probably prefer Northstar, Squaw and Heavenly, I love Mt.Rose!  It is where I learned to ski growing up, it is a local’s resort and it has some great runs, especially if the chutes are open.

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Mt. Rose is the highest peak in Tahoe and usually gets the most snow every winter. But it’s also just a cool place to hang out! Most of the mountains in Tahoe have villages, bars, restaurants, ice skating rinks, and other things to help you relax and recover after a day on the snow. And Mt. Rose is no exception, but it has a more casual local vibe with fun activities on the mountain and just some great runs (“Northwest” is my favorite), including a few with a view of Lake Tahoe!

In fact, they have some unique events like the Santa Crawl, where you can get heavily discounted lift tickets by dressing up as Santa for the day while you’re on the mountain. They also do a Beerfest, New Year’s Eve spectacular, poker runs and many other events throughout the year. Recently, they also added a “Magic” lift, a dual conveyer belt for one of their hills (it’s the 1st one in North America and only the 2nd one in the world!).

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I always have a great time when I go to Mt. Rose. Usually, I stay in Reno and then it is just a 20-minute drive up the hill, but it is also easily accessed from Incline or Kings Beach; even from Northstar. They have a newer lodge on the old Slide side of the hill and many locals on a nice day will tailgate in the parking area. The Mt. Rose lodge is more crowded, but the bar is my favorite, with no kids allowed and a taco/burrito bar.