3 Days in the Bay Area


This is in no way meant to be an authoritative guide to the Bay Area. Rather, it’s a simple rundown of an epic weekend. Use it as you will.

Girls at sunset

I’m starting this post in Palo Alto. From a neighborhood studded with lime trees and rose bushes. From a girlfriend getaway scheduled (and fiercely protected) inside my jam-packed calendar. 

I’m writing this in spurts, in the small morning moments when the house is yet to stir. I’ll probably finish when I’m back up north, after I’ve kissed Garrett, gotten pummeled by Zeus, and slept a good long while. (I did! And, I’m happy to report the peppers are still thriving. I’ll need to make another batch of green chili enchilada sauce soon!)

Essentially this weekend was been about eating and laughing and eating some more. And having epic conversations about politics and family and intimacy and bits of insider news. (It’s okay if you just got a little jealous. I’m a little jealous of my weekend self too.)

Laying on the living room couch in the morning, I watched the skylight above me turn from black to misty grey. I could hear the birds start to sing and the house creak. I love that about older homes. I love the way they settle into the day, especially as I too have gotten older. It’s like the home gets that my body aches, my muscles hurt, and I just need a little time to get going.

bits throughout the city

We stayed with Kat, Alice’s good friend. Kat recently moved back from Taiwan where she worked for several years at a medical research startup. Yep, she’s a smarty pants. Which I can say, because as I told Kat – I’ve decided the two of us are going to be good friends and there’s nothing she can do about it.

Like Alice, Kat’s quick to laugh and even quicker to ask thoughtful questions. She’s great at sharing, has a hipster-chic style that’s inspiring, and gives the best directions ever. (Seriously. Looking for a road trip copilot? She’s money!) She also happens to be splendid at picking fun places to go and things to do.

Here’s the rundown of where we ate and what we did. As you can see, this was my kind of vacation. Food was the main event. The stops I’d particularly recommend again have an asterisk (or a few) by their name.

Local Union 271

Local Union 271

Located in downtown Palo Alto, the ambiance was like a sultry loft apartment meets Hernando’s Hideaway. Rough wood flooring, vaulted ceilings, and pillar candle centerpieces dripping hot wax gave the impression we were in a secluded slice of the world. In reality, a street perfect for a leisurely evening stroll was just outside the front door.

The Bacon Dream ($20) appetizer might have indeed been a dream if the bacon had been chewy (like the waiter promised). Unfortunately, it was rather crisp and the six slices of specialty pork had very limited differences in taste. But the chipotle aioli they served with the app was on point. It could easily have been served with rustic bread as its own appetizer.

ice cream

* Scoop Micro Creamery

OH, GOOD GOLLY! This is the stuff of which childhood dreams are made and parent nightmares come to life. It was sweet and drippy ice cream goodness served in your choice of bowl, waffle bowl or WAFFEL CONE (which we all clearly got). The sticky hands were totally worth it.

I had the Bourbon Vanilla with Salted Caramel Swirl – a luscious grownup scoop. Kat went with classic Mint & Cookies, which looked lovely. And Alice reported that her vegan Coconut was tasty as could be.

* FlyWheel Coffee Roasters

Known for its high-quality coffee and plentiful tables, FlyWheel’s coffee house was a hard-working space full of industrial touches. They roast their beans in house and brew their coffee to order using a pour-over technique. If you’re not sure which roast to select, just ask. The staff was uber knowledgeable. As far as a standard cup of coffee goes, it was on the expensive side. ($4+tip for the equivalent of a cup of drip.) However, there was no reason to rush through our cups. Employees didn’t hover like we’d overstayed our welcome. And, the close proximity to Golden Gate Park (it was just across the street) made it easy to take a break as needed.

Insider Tip: You’ll need to pay for parking on Haight Street. But the cross streets are free and are available for two-hour stretches at a time.

merry go round

* Golden Gate Park

By nature, Golden Gate Park is a tourist destination. Home base to the most iconic of San Francisco’s landmark (the Golden Gate Bridge), it hardly needs an introduction. However, it’s the park’s lesser-known features that I think made it shine. The Little League Baseball game, attended by parents and passerby’s alike. The playground where city locals let their children romp and run.

golden gate park

And of course, the merry-go-round. At just $2 a ticket, this tame ride is a steal of a deal. Though the park has had a carousel since it opened in 1888, today’s glistening beauty is only 104. (It was built was installed in 1914.)

vegan burgers

VeganBurg

From the, shall we say ‘eclectic’ Haight Street, VeganBurg offered a light, bright, and clean contrast. Pictures of luscious burgers set our expectations high, but the Creamy Shrooms – a mushroom and vegan cheese loaded sandwich – left us a little disappointed on the flavor front. The Tangy Tartar delivered a bit more kick, but the ‘mock meat’ patty on both sandwiches was closer to an overcooked fish stick than a fast food treat.

As Alice delicately put it, “There are better vegan burgers.”

On the bright side, the Seaweed Fries were delightful. Studded with crumbled seaweed flakes, they offered a tangy, salty bite that wasn’t disappointing.

* Absinthe

Burrata.

I just needed to put that out there. Creamy. Luscious. A hint of salt. The burrata at Absinthe was some of the best I’ve had.

The impeccable service, swanky décor, and the high-class people watching didn’t hurt either. Several of the patrons were there before the opera and boy were they wearing opera clothes! One lady even walked in wearing a floor-length fur coat. After I admired how beautiful it was, all I could think was, “It’s 70+ degrees outside!”

The Pei Mussels & Manila Clams were loaded with flavor. You’ll definitely want to request some extra bread for soaking up the broth. The table also ordered Coq au Vin which arrived in a cast iron skillet. The big chunks of chicken were smothered in a thick, decadent sauce that had deep earthy notes. The Mac ‘N’ Cheese didn’t disappoint (as they so often seem to do). And, if you’re looking for a gourmet burger, Absinthe’s handheld monstrosity looks to be loaded with flavor. (The fried egg and bacon additions definitely seem like a good choice. Hello runny egg yolk.)

Fleet Feet Run Squad

Based on the reports from Alice and Kat, Fleet Feet’s Run Squad offers a great, low-key option for running with others. Totally casual, the Saturday run had runners of all abilities and ages. The day’s chosen path included a mix of paved and unpaved terrain.

coffee and bagel

* Philz Coffee

This was a fun little Bay Area chain. We visited two Philz. One was more refined than the other, but both used the same pour-over method. (I preferred the less-refined location in Palo Alto. It had a more authentic feel, though the coffee was just as good at both.)

making coffee at philz

Ordering was quite quaint, as we walked up to one of three baristas who ground our bean selection to order and seasoned our coffee right there. Two of the coffee blends came with mint and cardamom. I tried both and preferred the lighter of the two roasts.

shrek donkey

* Barron Park Donkey Barn

I met the real life ‘Donkey’! You know the totally

I met the real life ‘Donkey’! You know the totally stubborn, in your face, going to force you to be his friend Donkey from Shrek? Yep! Met him! And he happens to be a she named Perry. She’s a miniature donkey and lives with her friend Jenny at the Barron Park Donkey Barn.

tiki cocktails

*** Cielo Rooftop Bar

This is tied for my favorite stop during the weekend. Located at the top of Hotel Valencia on Santana Row in San Jose, the open-air terrace offered sweeping sunset views and a tiki menu that, as one of my cohorts explained, was perfect for tiding you over until your next Hawaii vaca.

Comfy lounge chairs. Flowers. Personable service. It was a spectacular place to grab a drink. The only hiccup was you had to order at the bar and the poor bartender was all alone.

Oren’s Hummus Shop

Located in Mountain View, Oren’s Hummus Shop was a pretty casual joint great for families and groups. The hummus was exceptional. The Babaganoush Eggplant was light on the eggplant flavor. And, the whole wheat pitas were a little doughy, so don’t try and be healthy. (Stupid me.) Go with the traditional pitas.

I liked the Sabich sandwich I had, though I’d probably get beef next time. The hardboiled egg wasn’t as broken up as I’d expected. The falafel received good reports. And, if you’re a fan of people watching, this is a great space to do so.

* Stanford Dish Loop Trail

Though heavily trafficked, this 3.7-mile-loop offered stunning views of the Stanford Campus and beyond. Following a quick 574-feet elevation gain, the trail leveled as we passed several research dishes. A sign warned to be on the lookout for cougars and coyotes. However, the most dangerous animal we saw was a curious squirrel.

dim sum

*** Dynasty Chinese Seafood Restaurant

If you’re going to dim sum and have the choice, go with someone who speaks the language. As the classic, relatively uninformed white girl, my past dim sum ordering technique could be summed up as, ‘guess and point.’

I was introduced to said technique by my brother, who came by it as many a white fella does, out of pure necessity. And if that’s the technique available to you, it’s not a bad way to go. Because dim sum’s down right tasty. While the ‘guess and point’ method isn’t without its duds, you’ll still end up with a pretty amazing selection.

Going with two gals who are not only familiar with the food, but know enough to order ‘off cart’ is epic!

(‘Off cart’ is the term I use, as dim sum typically involves multiple older women pushing carts of food from which you can choose. However, some items might not be out on the floor. In which case, you have to know to ask for them – which my lovely host did!)

dim sum

We had shrimp dumplings and shrimp-pork dumplings. We had BBQ buns, steamed and baked. There were egg tarts and coconut-red bean custard-esc squares. There was sticky rice served in a banana leaf. It was studded with chicken, sausage, and egg. (Hello comfort food!)

dim sum

We ate daikon and slow marinated meat that came in a rich, flavorful broth. We had balls of all varieties, many of which were filled with a decadent sesame paste.

My favorite was a scallion dish. I’d had a few of the other items before, but the scallion thing was brand new to me. A patty of sorts, it was lightly pan fried and topped with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. It was like a flavor bomb, especially against the other dishes as the scallion was bright and fresh. I’m glad we had it at the end. It probably would have overwhelmed my palate and kept me from appreciating the subtle differences between the other dishes.


About Mikaela Cowles

I’m a food-gobbling, book-reading, aspiring photog. Born and raised in Seattle, I love dancing in the rain, bouquets of fresh basil and green grass between my toes. I like how kneading butter into flour makes my fingers soft. I’m passionate about all things sweet potato. I prefer my coffee black, my scotch on the rocks and my steak bloody. I hunt, when I have time; play basketball; and hike. I’ve been known to laugh so hard I hyperventilate. And, I’m the owner of Making Language Count, a boutique freelance writing business.

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