City Girl

View from Empire State Building

I think I’ve always been a city girl at heart, despite not having grown up in a large city. Although I do enjoy the serenity and tranquility of nature, I am truly satisfied by the hustle and bustle of a metropolis. So when I was planning my short vacation for the summer, I knew I had to visit the largest, most famous city in America: New York City.

View from Bryant Park

I’ve only visited NYC once before, when I was ten years old, which was before 9/11. So, I’ve been way overdue for a visit. My family went two years ago, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to join them since I had just started a summer internship at Stanford. But this year, I decided that I was finally going to visit the city that never sleeps.

Times Square

Since I hadn’t visited New York City in over ten years, I made a fairly long list of things I wanted to see, which consisted of mostly tourist destinations. I only had three days to cram them all in, so each day was packed with running around the city, visiting New York City’s most famous sights. Luckily, I’m the type of person who enjoys doing things all the time at a fairly fast pace. I hate waiting around and wasting time (so much that I can’t stand waiting at bus stops… which often results in me walking to the next stop and then watching the bus pass me by. -_-). In fact, I consider it a good day when my feet are sore and swollen from walking around the whole day. Because of this, I didn’t have too much of a problem seeing everything I wanted to see.

Bethesda Fountain in Central Park

I made the standard NYC tourist stops, including Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the MOMA, Wall St., and Empire State Building.

Wall Street

The steps of the Met

Inside the Empire State Building

I also visited the Highline Park (an urban elevated park that stretches for about 10 blocks along 10th avenue), the NY Botanical Gardens (which is having an exhibition on Monet’s gardens right now, so beautiful!), and Chelsea Market (almost equivalent to the Ferry Building in SF).

View from the Highline Park

NY Botanical Gardens Conservatory

Chelsea Market 

If you’re visiting the city, I highly suggest taking the Staten Island Ferry, which takes you from Manhattan to Staten Island in just under 30 minutes. It’s a beautiful ride with great views of the city as well as the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The best part is that it’s FREE! I didn’t get off and explore Staten Island, which I’ve heard is kinda boring, and instead just hopped back onto the next ferry going back to the city.

Staten Island Ferry and the Statue of Liberty

I also highly recommend visiting the 9/11 Memorial. It’s a truly poignant spot to reflect and remember the lives lost that fateful day. Since I haven’t lived through many historical events, I haven’t felt the gravity and sobering effect of memorials… until I visited the 9/11 Memorial. I couldn’t bring myself take a picture of me standing in the memorial because I knew the pain and sorrow of 9/11 since it was an event that I had actually lived through, rather than one I had just read about in history books. Although it had such a solemn effect on me, the memorial was absolutely beautiful and helped remind me to be thankful for each day of my life.

Overall, I’d say my trip to The Big Apple was a success! I saw the sights and bright lights of the city that so many people, including myself, love. What I love best about New York is that there is always something to do or something to see. The city moves at the speed of light and has new experiences waiting for you at every corner. Consisting of a mix of wandering tourists and brusque locals, the city has a little something for everyone.

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Wandering and Stumbling

One of my favorite things to do is to just wander around my city and discover new places. I love stumbling upon local events going on that day or night, from summer festivals to monthly art walks in various neighborhoods. Luckily, there’s always something going on in the Bay Area, so there’s no such thing as an ordinary day or night.

In early March, my friend and I went to Souley Vegan in Oakland to use up an expiring groupon. After dinner, we walked along Broadway into the uptown area, and stumbled upon an event in which boutiques and art galleries stay open later. For the Austinites out there, it’s like First Thursdays but much smaller. After window shopping at some cute boutiques, we walked into a crowded store hosting a free concert. Although the music didn’t suit my taste, just the energy and environment made it worth staying.

I met up with my friend again last week to use up another groupon, this time to Parada 22, a Puerto-Rican restaurant on Haight St. Our dinner of mofongo and bistec were delicious, but the real highlight of the evening was stumbling upon a retro soda fountain/ice cream parlor called The Ice Cream Bar.

It was like stepping back in time to the ’50s. Lined all along the back wall were tinctures and extracts of every kind of flavor and herb, from cilantro to cinnamon to hellfire, for concocting archaic drinks such as acid phosphates and lactarts. Although the drinks sounded so appetizing and exotic, we refrained from ordering them and settled on sharing a scoop of banana pudding ice cream. As we enjoyed our ice cream, we asked the soda jerk about all of those exotic drinks and got quite an education about old-school sodas, from egg-creams to phosphates and lactarts. All of the drinks on the menu looked delicious, but the most eye-catching ones were the “World’s Best Milkshake,” a pistachio milkshake made from Sicilian pistachios that are only harvested one day out of the year, and a lactart containing chai and tobacco (as a spray). If you are ever in the Cole Valley district of San Francisco, definitely check out this place! Going on little adventures like these, discovering new places and new people, is so satisfying, just like the perfect scoop of ice cream.

“The Country”

In my last post I talked about the city, and now we’re going to travel to the country… wine country, that is. About a month ago, my friends and I spent the weekend in St. Helena, a small town in Napa Valley. Thanks to my friend Rachel, we got to stay in a beautiful house in wine country, where we drank good wine and ate delicious food.

We spent Saturday touring three wineries: Castello di Amarosa, V. Sattuii, and Sutter Home (we had a lot to drink by that point and plus it was free, so don’t judge! :P). Castello di Amarosa aka “The Castle” was a beautiful, medieval castle that happened to also be a winery. Luckily I had done some research and found a 50% off coupon for the tasting tour. (I strongly suggest going online to find coupons for wineries. There are tons out there.) Touring the castle was a great way to start off our weekend. We saw beautiful views, drank delicious wine, and even visited a torture chamber!

The tasting actually opened my eyes up to the actual taste of wine. I’ve never really been “into” wine and didn’t know much about wine, except that I liked sweeter, white wines the most (basically moscato). But the wine tasting made me pay attention to the difference in tastes between Merlot and Cabernet Savignon. And through the tasting, I found another favorite, Gewürztramine.

After touring the castle, we were pretty hungry. So we headed to Gott’s Roadside Diner (formerly known as Taylor’s Refresher), a classic favorite in St. Helena. When we arrived shortly after 1pm, the line was so long! A good and somewhat bad sign. But the weather was absolutely gorgeous, so waiting outside in the warm sunshine wasn’t a bad thing. I feel that Gott’s is typical California – offering classic favorites, but with a twist. I heard the fish tacos were amazing, so I knew I had to try them. I got the Mahi Mahi tacos, but most of my friends got the Ahi Tuna tacos. And don’t forget to order a milkshake! I tried the white pistachio flavor, but I thought it was lacking in the pistachio flavor, until I reached the bottom of the cup which was filled with whole pistachios. (They probably should have chopped up the pistachios and blended them with the milkshake instead of leaving them whole on the bottom.)

After our late lunch, we headed to the next winery, V. Sattuii, which is rated as one of the most visited wineries in Napa. It wasn’t so much a winery, as a tourist destination, with a large shop selling cheese and other goods as well as a large open area where they served barbeque. The wine tasting was one of the cheapest I found ($10) and you can share it too. Even though they advertised a tasting of 5 wines, we definitely got more than that. Again, my eyes were opened to more wines as I tasted Port, Madeira, and Muscat. After getting our fill of wine, half of my friends decided to head back to the house and sleep off a bit of the alcohol consumed that day. The rest of us headed to Sutter Home, known for their cheap wine and pretty good Moscato (in my opinion). Since it was free and we couldn’t say no to free wine, we headed over there. And again, my eyes were opened, not because Sutter Home has good wine, but because it has so many wines! I naively thought they only sold Moscato!

Once we had our fill of wine, we headed back to the house to relax and cook a delicious dinner. Our menu included baked brie with honey and walnuts, grilled corn and asparagus, basil and pistachio risotto, pork tenderloin, and pear almond galette. Although our dinner was amazing, I enjoyed the time we all spent cooking the dinner the most.

That weekend was one of the most fun and relaxing weekends I’ve had. Good times don’t depend on where you are or what you’re doing. It’s who you’re with that really determines how much fun you have. And that weekend was definitely proof of that.

“The City”

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 “I left my heart in San Francisco.”

I silently nod in agreement every time I hear this quote. San Francisco is a city that I can never tire of, even though I’ve visited almost every year since I was born. And even now, living just on the other side of the bay from it, I still feel excited each time I head into the city.

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A Beautiful View from Lombard Street

It’s a city filled with so much beauty, from the spectacular views of the beach and bay to the lovely Victorian houses that populate the city. I could spend all day just walking through the city, admiring the architecture.

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Looking out at the Bay from Ghiradelli Square

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The Beautiful Painted Ladies 

And although I’ve been to the tourist destinations countless times, I still enjoy showing friends the beauty of San Francisco. Walking through the Ferry Building and along the Embarcadero, getting scared by the Bushman, marveling at the sourdough animals at Boudin, and eating a gigantic sundae at Ghiradelli is something everyone needs to experience.

ImageSourdough Bread Animals from Boudin

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“The Earthquake” Sundae from Ghiradelli

From the Mission and the Castro to Japantown and Pacific Heights, from the Marina to North Beach and Chinatown, from Richmond and the Sunset to even yes, the Tenderloin, you can always find something new, different, and exciting to do or see and of course, something delicious to eat or drink! That’s what I love the most about the city. I’d be completely satisfied spending my days wandering around the city, stumbling upon its hidden treasures, and soaking up its beauty.

And even if I move away, my heart will permanently stay in San Francisco.