San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Chocolate

You must go here. It’s crowded but the hot fudge, my friends, is worth the wait. Not many touristy places will get my endorsement, especially in San Francisco, but you must trust me here. If any part of your tooth is sweet bring them here. 

Interestingly enough you can get a hot fudge Sunday just like this at AT&T park while watching the Giants play. Who needs beer and hot dogs when they can have this?

Kitchen Challenge – Part Two

Some of you may remember a challenge my husband gave me when I visited Ireland last year.  He asked me to take photos of cute cafes to print and put on the wall in our kitchen thereby combining three of my favorite things: food, photography, and travel.  Well, the challenge was fun for me so I extended it to Paris thinking I would have no shortage of cafe scenes there.  Here are a few unedited photos that have potential.  Let me know what you think…

Shakespeare & Company Bookstore and Cafe

On my first trip to Paris in 2010 I had the pleasure of staying at The Hotel Esmerelda on the Left Bank across from the Notre Dame.  Little did I know that it would literally be sleeping atop the famed Shakespeare & Company bookstore.  I fell in love with this bookstore and couldn’t wait to take my friend Manuela there.  She has been going to Paris for many years and had never visited so I knew she was in for a treat.  I was initially reluctant only because I had heard that the bookstore, which reeks of charm and age, had opened an adjoining coffee shop.  I hoped that S&Co. had not sold out in order to go all Starbuksy on us.  My heart couldn’t take that.  If it was that BAD I figured Parisians would have revolted and stormed the bookstore so I had high hopes. It would be a great respite from the rain so, I had to see the change for myself.

Well, people I am happy to report that the bookstore’s footprint has changed very little if any at all.  And the ridiculously tiny coffee shop is equally as charming and full of lovely young staff brewing up the best cup of coffee I had in Paris.  (And I drank a fair amount of Joe while I was there so I consider myself an authoritay.)

Please go there.  Please buy a book as a souvenir and a cup of coffee while you overlook the Notre Dame and the bustling city.  You will surely leave smarter than you came merely by immersing yourself in history and looking at all of the covers.  Need a break because you have put too many miles on your feet?  Relax in any number of small comfortable nooks and crack a book like Hemmingway in the same place people have done so on the Left Bank for almost 100 years!  (Never mind a few location changes due to the war…)

For more on France please have a Macaron and Baguette with me by clicking here…

 

Fall in Sacramento means visiting Apple Hill

Apple Hill is an institution in Northern California.  My relatives are from the area so I went to Apple Hill religiously growing up.  So, as soon as the weather starts to turn, my mind immediately goes to a visit to Apple Hill for Apple Donuts and Apple Cider.

Situated in the Sierra Foothills near Placerville, California Apple Hill started as a place perfectly situated to grow apples.  Well, most apple farms create small bake shops to cater to the people coming up for boxes of apples.  Like most things these days it has now blossomed in to more.  (Wineries, breweries, fishing holes, xmas trees, pumpkin patches, and more.)

While things keep changing one things remains the same.  Folks, may I introduce you to the one the only, Apple Donut.  Enjoy warm fresh out of the oven or cool on your day drive to leaf peep.  Whatever your preference ensure you stop in for a spell.

Is it just me or is this an insane amount of donuts?

Caramel apple anyone?

Pretty aren’t they?


  
  

This cracks me up to think about.  But, I actually have two previous posts about donuts.  Click here to see posts on Voodoo Donut in Portland and Maui Donuts!  I’m going on a diet!

My Lake Tahoe is Your Lake Tahoe

I am so fortunate to live near Lake Tahoe.  Growing up in Sacramento I have long appreciated the fact that I live approximately an hour from some of the most epic destinations in the world.  I live close to San Francisco, the wild California coast, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, the Sierra Mountains, big trees, Napa, etc, etc, etc.

Growing up I spent a lot of time in Lake Tahoe.  I have never lived there but I have always felt like it was my go to place to escape the heat and lay on the beach even when the water is generally too cold to swim in for very long!  (Remember it is filled up primarily of snow pack run off. Brrr.)

So, people ask me all the time, “What would you recommend to do in Lake Tahoe?”  Well, how much time do you have?  The answer depends on what you are in to because Lake Tahoe has it all and then some.  Gambling, hiking, watersports, world class skiing, great food, bicycling, tubing on the Truckee river, shopping, antiquing, and more.

So, by popular demand below are some of my favorite things to do in Tahoe starting with the 72 mile drive around the lake allowing visitors the luxury of stopping wherever strikes their fancy.

1. Whether you take highway 50 or highway 80 from Sacramento to Truckee and then highway 89 to Tahoe City one must embark upon the 72 mile drive around the Lake. If you do nothing else other than drive around the lake you will be rewarded with some of the most epic views anywhere this side of Switzerland.  If driving around the windy roads isn’t your bag hop on the Tahoe Trolley and help Keep Tahoe Blue with multiple stops around the lake.

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2.  From highway 89 Stop by Squaw Valley, home to the 1960 Winter Olympics, and hopeful home of upcoming Olympics. Ski, mountain bike, take the tram to the top and ice skate, shop at the lovely boutiques, or simply sit and eat in any of the wonderful cafes.  My favorite thing to do in Squaw Valley is to walk the trail in the valley and take in the gorgeous views.  You will quickly forget you are in California and immediately start singing like you are in the Sound of Music.

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3.  Take in some sun at Kiva Beach. I have been going to this beach since I was a girl.  It is quiet and easy to park.  And there is a wonderful walking path towards the beach that takes you through original pioneer buildings at Talloc Historic Site.  The buildings have been updated since I was a tot but they are wonderful in the summer and in the winter if you want to snow shoe in.  You will be rewarded with a lovely beach, great mountain views, pine tree shade canopy, and the sound of the lapping lake.  Just try and not relax in this place!  I dare you.

053014 -44.  Visit Taylor Creek and take in the Rainbow trail. Gorgeous views of the lake can be had at this park.  But most importantly visitors can see the wetlands systems that help keep Tahoe so blue.  They also keep local beavers, salmon, and other fish thriving in their local habitats.  Children can take a small trail teaching them about Smoky Bear and hiking/camping wildfire safety.  Visitors can also enjoy an underground glass fish viewing area particularly interesting when salmon are spawning.

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5.  Rent a bike. The lake has a great trail system and there is no better way to see, smell, and enjoy the lake than on a bike.  It allows you easy access and no parking fees along with the quick ability to stop anywhere.  Keep in mind the elevation changes quickly on the lake so monitor this depending on your skill level and desire to sweat.

6. Visit the Camp Richardson Valhalla Renaissance Fair. Don’t forget to dress up and bring a mug for beer.  This event is wonderful for children with multiple activities to keep their interest occupied from meeting the Queen to learning how to shoot a bow and arrow to learning Renaissance games.  You can even see a real life Parrot show.

7.  Eat at the newly remodeled Burger Lounge if not for the food but for the enormous and amusing sign. Stop by Camp Richardson for an ice cream cone if your calorie count isn’t high enough after your burger and fries.

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8.  Rent a kayak, paddleboard, or canoe. Take them out early in the morning before the waves and current get too strong.  (Trust me, I learned the hard way.)  Carnelian Bay, Pope Beach, Crystal Bay, and Kings Beach all are wonderful places to get out on the water.  But, the important part is that you get out on the water anywhere you can.

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9.  Take in an outdoor concert at Harveys outdoor venue. While there is sadly no lake view it is a wonderful place to take in top musical acts outdoors in the cool summer weather.  Afterwards take in a club or some gambling at any one of the great Casinos.

10.  Spend your gambling winnings by eating at the fantastic and comfortable little organic café Sprouts in South Shore.

11.  Take in the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare festival. While there is no lake view at Harvey’s the Shakespeare festival encourages theatre goers to bring a chair and a blanket and some wine and enjoy the show on the beach.  I doubt Shakespeare ever had this venue in mind when he was writing his plays but it makes perfect sense to me!  Et tu Brute?

12.  Stroll along Truckee’s trendy main street. If you would have asked me years ago if I thought Truckee would be a go too destination I would have laughed.  But, consider staying in Truckee or spending a nice afternoon walking along and enjoying the shops of Truckee.  Multiple interesting and trendy restaurants have popped up as well at breweries to enjoy a pint.  Pay special attention to parking restrictions or the meter maid will give you a ticket!  (I also learned this the hard way.)

13.  Learn about California history at Donner Lake and Donner summit visiting the Donner Party memorial. You can better understand what it really meant for pioneers to travel cross country for the thought of a better life.  And most importantly, you will have a glorious lake view surrounded by more glorious mountain views.  Sit back, close your eyes, smell the pine, hear the birds, and feel the sand in between your toes.

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14.  Visit Cal Neva Tahoe Biltmore & Casino for an Old Tahoe Casino charm and nearby Crystal Bay to admire beautiful architecture and pricey wooden boats.

15.  Visit the Concours d’Elegance where tons of vintage wooden boats are on display.  Visitor’s are even allowed to step on board many of the boats to admire the craftsmanship.

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16.  Take the Heavenly gondola up to the top of the Sierras to get a 360 degree view of the lake and the Carson valley on the other side. You will feel like you are in Switzerland.  When you descend back down to earth visit any one of the fun and youthful outdoor sport clothing shops to buy a new bathing suit or pair of sunglasses.

17.  Lastly, No stop to Lake Tahoe is complete without visiting Emerald Bay. The Bay gets its color from the lake soil and the reflection from the sky.  This spot on Tahoe is one of the most spectacular sites on the lake and arguably in anywhere in California.  Hike down to Vikingsholm to see a wealthy pioneer home built in the style of the Vikings.  See the tea room built on a small island dotting the middle of the Bay.  If you still have energy go the other direction and walk up to Eagle Falls to cool off in the brisk mountain water.

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There is something in Tahoe for everyone.  I have been going here all my life and Tahoe always seems like the place I want to go to relax, to think, to have fun, to go swimming, to hike, to enjoy by myself, with the bulldog, or with a group of friends.  Everyone loves something different about Lake Tahoe, but I dare you to find someone who doesn’t fall in love with it in their own way over and over again every time they visit.

Have you ever visited Lake Tahoe?  Did you visit in the summer or the winter?  Tell me your favorite part of Lake Tahoe!

Rocky Mountain High – Fort Collins, Colorado – New Belgium, Odell, and Cooper Smiths Breweries

After Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park for the day my brothers and I decided to get refreshed in Fort Collins.  As previously mentioned you can’t walk five feet without stumbling upon a Pub, Tap Room, or some beer related establishment.  So, we took a quick tour of New Belgium and Odell Brewery before they closed and wound up at Cooper Smiths for dinner.  New Belgium and Odell’s were packed, I mean, packed with people who love beer or people who were just out enjoying the nice weather with their families.  These breweries are family and pet friendly and do everything they can to encourage visitors to stick around a while.

New Belgium has a self guided tour that takes you through their philosophy and beer making mantra.  Its an enjoyable walk while you enjoy your beer.  I love that they provide beer coasters as postcards you can send to all of your friends and family free of charge.  They even pay the postage.  The environment is electric.  Pick up a hula hoop, pet people’s dogs who are allowed inside the facility, sit a while in the New Belgium camper, or people watch the new age folks doing yoga on the lawn.  Oh, and drink some beer.

Odell’s didn’t have as much pomp and circumstance as New Belgium.  Well, maybe it did.  They had food trucks and a band.  It was just a different more festival vibe. But still, I was amazed at how many people were at this brewery and how many of them brought their young children.

Next we went in to town and enjoyed dinner at Cooper Smiths after walking around for probably thirty minutes trying to decide upon the perfect place.  Finally, worn down to the point the three of us didn’t care any more we figured we would stick with the theme and go to another brewery with food.

Have you been on any interesting brewery tours?  What’s your favorite beer or brewery?

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New Belgium

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New Belgium Tap Room

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New Belgium Outside Patio

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Self Powered Beer tour.  Sign me up!

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Sit and relax a while in the New Belgium trailer with your glass of beer.

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Campy little “Snap Shot” display.

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Cheers!

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Odell’s Storefront

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Odell’s Tap Room

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Cooper Smith

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A little pie and Apple sauce to go with your beer

For other Rocky Mountain posts please click here…

Road Trip Food – What’s your favorite?

My husband and I went up to Oregon for the weekend to visit his family.  His Dad was having an important number birthday so we made the drive up for his shindig.  It’s mandatory that we fill the car console up with tasty junk food to make the drive more palatable.  (Especially the boring bit between Sacramento and Redding before it starts getting really pretty!  Hello Mount Shasta.)

The road trip and various stops at dirty gas stations got me thinking.  What is your favorite road trip food?  Do you use road trips as an excuse to eat junk food?  It certainly isn’t healthy but boy does it make the time go by a little faster.

   
    
   
If you like this post you might like some other posts I have made about my food adventures…

Click here to enjoy the road trip baguette whose glorious-ness I once enjoyed from a French gas station on a road trip…

Rocky Mountain High And Ball Park Hot Dogs

In honor of my youngest brother’s impending summer nuptials both my brothers and I embarked on a “sibling bachelor party” weekend trip.   Much negotiation commenced on location of said trip.  We ultimately decided upon Denver.  Two of us had never been there for more than a layover and tickets were cheap!  With John Denver songs running through my mind it sounded like a brilliant idea.

Upon arriving to Denver we set out for a pub downtown.  (When you mention Denver to anyone they will regale you of stories of awesome tap rooms.)  We set out for a tap room called the Great Divide and immediately noticed a cultural shift between Colorado and California.  No food in Tap Rooms…and we were hungry.  We wound up next door at The Lobby where we had some fun food and great beer.

We next checked in to our hotel and began to explore the downtown.  We set out walking and saw any number of attractive buildings and interesting architecture.  We walked by The Mint and the Federal Reserve.  The Capitol.  The large art museum/slash Monty Python looking castle.  Ton of government buildings…

And finally Coors Park.  One of the two reasons we came.  The brothers and I took in a Colorado Rockies versus San Francisco Giants game.  Thank you Colorado for being good sports whilst we walked through your town bundled up in Giants gear.  Thank you for startling me anytime the Giants made a bad play.  (I have never been to a Baseball Park where the home team was not the one I was rooting for.)  Every time I clapped they booed and every time they stood up and clapped and high fived I was confused.

Cool town.  Cool beer.  Cool stadium.  Cool time with my brothers.

Stay Tuned for the second reason we came to the Denver area and a few fun extras because we had more time than we anticipated…

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Tater Tot lunch at The Lobby in Denver

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Random art throughout the city.

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The Mint provides tours if you have a reservation

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More interesting public art

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Capitol

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Siblings downtown

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Federal Reserve has a free small museum

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Federal Reserve gives away free money.  You can test your hand at making your own money.

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Coors Park Rock Pile

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Lovely murals at Coors Park

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Sunset at Coors Park

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One must try the hot dogs at every major league park one visits

Negative Star Dining

I am going to say something that could seem rather controversial.  (Or, at least it does to me anyway.)  I am not a professional food critic.  Nor am I even a novice food critic.  I am just a lover of food and a lover of travel.  But I have a thought.

I believe local street food or local dining, whatever one wants to call it, can and often does beat a four or five star restaurant in quality and ambiance any day.  What?  Who does she think she is making a statement like that?  I am no Anthony Bordain, Food Chanel critic, or French Michelin star aficionado by any means.

But, I want you to look at a photo for a moment and bear with me.  The below photo of this little boy was taken outside of Maggie’s on Caye Caulker in Belize.  He was trying to be like his Grandmother who owned the restaurant.  He was trying to clean and BBQ his own fish.  He was very proud and showed off his fish cleaning prowess to all of the guests much to their pleasure and his grandmother’s chagrin.  He even got a curt warning when he tried to BBQ it himself.  Clearly he wasn’t old enough to do so per his family.  This little interaction in front of this beautiful view was one of my favorite and sweetest memories in all of Belize.  Small local places often have ambiance that one would not necessarily expect.

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While in Belize I had glorious street food daily.  (See another post on Street Food.) I had meals that were extremely inexpensive, fresh, and local.  But, what’s more the ambiance of these places added to the food experience.  Eating lobster that was no more than four hours old from the sea at a restaurant where the owner’s children were running around barefoot and free is what eating and traveling is about for me.  Additionally one’s expectations for a knock-out experience are far lower than when that same person makes reservations, valet parks their car, gets all dolled up, and orders four courses off of an expensive menu full of items that are hard to understand.  Now mind you, I have had some delicious and memorable meals at fancy places and I don’t mean to discount them necessarily.   Doing so would probably be silly and against the better judgment of people far more knowledgeable than me.

But eating at a local place feels good for a number of reasons.  I feel like I am giving money to people who truly need it.  I feel like I am getting away with something by paying little to nothing for fresh, local, and interesting cuisine.  I feel like I am learning something about the local people and their food history.  Eating at small places often sparks conversation with other locals or the owners of the establishment.  And, I feel like I often have a memorable experience that oftentimes makes a trip.

I would argue that fresh local “negative star” restaurants outshine any four or five star place any day.    I have experienced this over and over again traveling throughout the world and felt like talking about it on the blogosphere.

Tell me, have you ever had a fresh local eating experience that was memorable that you care to share?  Do you share my regard for street food?

Relics of trips gone by

The number of souvenirs I purchase and bring home has ebbed and flowed through the years.  When I first started traveling I brought lots of things home for lots of people.  Interestingly enough I now have more money but less willingness to carry heavy things home.  I occasionally buy special items that remind me of a place or a time or a moment.  Sometimes it is a piece of clothing sometimes a trinket or art.  Sometimes I buy things for friends and family and sometimes I don’t.  I suppose now I just buy souvenirs for myself or for family and friends only if the item moves me or I think someone will really enjoy it.

But one thing remains true. I always try to bring my mother a can or bottle of Coca Cola from every country I visit.  It is especially exciting when the can or bottle identifies the country I visited on the label or glass.  It started on my first trip to Ireland in 1999.  I found her a Coke that had been bottled in Ireland that she got a massive kick out of.  It is a fun and inexpensive souvenir I can bring home to her.  Later, I brought her Cokes from Germany, Ireland, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Mexico, France, Spain, Belize, and so on.  Her collection is getting pretty impressive if you ask me!

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Some of them are getting pretty old.  Taking the opportunity to photograph them allowed me to give them a good dusting.  Cheers Mom!

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Do you have any items you religiously buy from any country you visit?  Do you have any collections?  Or do you just bring items home that move you?

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*This post was inspired by an interaction I had with one of my favorite travel bloggers Indah Susanti a while back.  She asked me to write a post on souvenirs and here it is!   Please see her delightful post and gorgeous macro shots of her favorite souvenirs at  http://indahs.com/2015/02/25/travel-souvenirs-that-matter/

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