Friday, March 24, 2017

1 North: Fort Bragg, Skunk Train, and 101 North: Willits, Skunk Train

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Skunk Train   
Foot of Laurel St., Fort Bragg, (707) 964-6371.  Daily; schedule varies.  $25, 3-11 $15, infants and dogs $10/$10.  Reservations advised.  The Skunk Train was founded here in 1885 as a division of the Union Lumber Company.  The tracks are standard gauge, 4’ 8½”.  The line was extended east to harvest trees for milling and arrived in Willits in 1911.  The railroad took 26 years to build and was once used to deliver mail along the way.  The train gets its name from the fact that the original logging trains emitted unpleasant odors from their gasoline engines.  Loggers said they “could smell ‘em before they could see ‘em.”  It is an interesting factoid that the nickname and logo character was created in 1925, 3 years before Mickey Mouse arrived on the scene.  Today, a few vintage motorcars are still used in winter, but most trains are pulled by steam or diesel engines as they travel through dense redwood forest, through deep mountain tunnels, and over many bridges and trestles.  The Pudding Creek Express is a 1-hour, 7 mile round-trip excursion, turning at Glen Blair Junction. 
 

family gets ready to board Skunk Train in Fort Bragg, California
family gets ready to board Skunk Train in Fort Bragg, California

299 E. Commercial St., Willits, (707) 964-6371.  Year-round.  $84/$109, 2-12 $42/$67, infants & dogs $10/$10.  Reservations advised.  The Northspur Flyer makes a 40-mile, 4-hour round-trip to Northspur.  The journey includes plenty of switchbacks, and you’ll go through a tunnel and see ancient groves of magnificent redwoods.  A BBQ Dinner Excursion chugs along the same route, and traveling to remote Camp Noyo to spend the night camping is also an option.  

Skunk Train depot in Willits, California
Skunk Train depot in Willits, California

passenger boards Skunk Train in Willits, California
passenger boards Skunk Train in Willits, California

riding through the redwoods on Skunk Train in Willits, California
riding through the redwoods on Skunk Train in Willits, California


More things to do in Fort Bragg.

More things to do in Willits. 

Here are some travel articles to inspire and help you plan some spectacular getaways.

images ©2017 Carole Terwilliger Meyers


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

1 North: Muir Beach, Muir Woods National Monument

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Muir Woods National Monument  Off Hwy. 1, on Panoramic Hwy., 12 mi. N of San Francisco, in Muir Beach, (415) 388-2595.  Daily 8-sunset.  $10, under 16 free.  No pets.  Located just off Highway 1 and enveloping 560 acres, this magnificent, fragrant old-growth redwood forest has 6 miles of level paved or boardwalk walking trails.  The easy paved Main Trail loop has interpretive exhibits, and seven more-challenging unpaved trails lead away from the crowds.  Naturalist John Muir, for whom the forest was named, said of it, "This is the best tree lover's monument that could be found in all the forests of the world."  The largest tree here measures 240 feet high by 16 feet wide.  Because nearly 1 million people come here each year, only a visit early or late in the day (before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m.) provides the hope of some solitude; rainy days are also quiet.  And no matter what time of year it is, visitors are advised to bring along warm wraps.  The dense forest lets in very little sunlight, and the weather is usually damp, foggy, and cold.  Children ages 6 through 12 can sign up for a free Junior Ranger program at the Visitors Center when they arrive and receive a sticker badge and workbook that helps them explore nature (download a booklet ahead of time).  Picnicking is not permitted, but a simple cafe dispenses sustainable local foods.  












More things to do in Muir Beach.

Here are some travel articles to inspire and help you plan some spectacular getaways.  
 
images courtesy of venue
 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

San Francisco: Hilton San Francisco Union Square+Urban Tavern+Cityscape Lounge


Hilton San Francisco Union Square  333 O’Farrell St./Mason St., 2 blks. from Union Square.  46 stories; 1,919 rooms+151 suites.  Outdoor heated pool; hot tub; full-service spa; fitness room.  2 restaurants; room service.  Self-parking & valet.  Occupying a full block and incorporating three buildings, this is the largest hotel on the West Coast.  It features a dramatic sunken marble lobby and is always buzzing. 

rooftop pool at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California
rooftop pool at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California


The Urban Tavern (B&D daily; $$-$$$.) restaurant operates on the ground level just off the lobby.

entrance to Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California
entrance to Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California

An inviting, spacious venue, it offers a variety of seating arrangements--booths, tables and chairs, banquettes, counter seats, long communal table.  Decor includes a dramatic full-size horse sculpture made with recycled metal and rustic ceiling beams made from reclaimed wood.

dining room at Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California
dining room at Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California

Living up to its name, the drink menu highlights 50 wines from wineries within 50 miles, plus Bay Area beers and indigenous spirits.  I chose a tart Melon Ball Margarita cocktail that combines Tequila, Midori melon liqueur, and  honeydew puree.  My dining partner had a Stormy Weather made with Blackwell Jamaican black rum, fresh lime, and ginger beer.

cocktails and spicy cucumbers at Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California
cocktails and spicy cucumbers at Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California

Another delicious, sweetish drink is The Improved Whiskey Cocktail, prepared with fruit-infused bourbon made in house.

The Improved Whiskey Cocktail at Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California
The Improved Whiskey Cocktail at Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California

fruit infuser at Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California
fruit infuser at Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California

Appealing Mocktails are an option for those who don’t drink alcohol.  The kitchen makes good use of San Francisco’s bounty of seasonal ingredients.  We started with a light appetizer of spiced cucumbers accented with sesame and peanuts.  I chose well--a flavorful skirt steak served as a mound with wonderful wee baby potatoes, wild mushrooms, blistered cherry tomatoes, and balsamic onion marmalade.

skirt steak at Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California
skirt steak at Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California

My partner had a thick lightly-smoked pork chop with chunks of garnet yam, Brussels sprouts, and cracklings.

smoked pork chop at Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California
smoked pork chop at Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California

On another visit I tried the Garganelli bolognese which was divine--a penne pasta topped with a large portion of long-cooked “melted” short ribs mixed with aged goat cheese.

Garganelli bolognese at Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California
Garganelli bolognese at Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California

The gigantic house burger arrives stabbed together with a steak knife.

house burger at Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California
house burger at Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California
burger held by FancySchmancyWino.com blogger James Lovaas 


I was intrigued by the wine-bottle roasted chicken which was described as roasted on a full wine bottle, with the fumes permeating the meat and the remaining wine used in a sauce.  Next time.   It is unusual nowadays to find a menu with so many enticing mains.  For dessert we chose the TCHO Sea Salt Brownie Skillet, which was served attractively in a cute little 6-inch cast iron skillet that was hot from the oven.  It had a molten center and was topped with brandied cherries, honeycomb candy pieces, and orange-whiskey jellies.

brownie skillet dessert at Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California
brownie skillet dessert at Urban Tavern at Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California

The kitchen seems to hit the perfect note on almost everything, so order fearlessly.  A doorway leads from the back of the restaurant into the lobby of the Hilton hotel, which is a great place to sit for a while and people-watch. 




On the 46th floor, Cityscape Lounge features 360-degree views through 14-foot floor-to-ceiling windows.  It is open daily from 5 p.m. to midnight with a menu of small plates and appetizers along with signature cocktails, wines by the glass, and a variety of beers on tap.  My favorite tidbit is the positively addictive house-made Kennebec potato crisps with garlic aioli sauce, and my favorite drinks are the Noe Valley Old Fashioned made with rum and orange bitters and the Berkeley Bramble made with The Botanist Gin, blackberries, lemon, and club soda.  “No two days look the same from Cityscape, where San Francisco weather flows over the ever-changing skyline,” says General Manager Lenny Gumm.  A nice feature is that you can freely walk all around the venue, being on one side for a while and then moving to the other side perhaps for sunset.  

view from Cityscape Lounge in the Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California
view from Cityscape Lounge in the Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California

cocktails at Cityscape Lounge in the Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California
cocktails at Cityscape Lounge in the Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California

potato crisps at Cityscape Lounge in the Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California
potato crisps at Cityscape Lounge in the Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California

avocado hummus at Cityscape Lounge in the Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California
avocado hummus at Cityscape Lounge in the Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California

sunset seen from Cityscape Lounge in the Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California
sunset seen from Cityscape Lounge in the Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California

night view from Cityscape Lounge in the Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California
night view from Cityscape Lounge in the Hilton San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco, California


More things to do around Union Square.

More things to do in San Francisco. 

Way more things to do in San Francisco.

Travel articles to inspire and help you plan some spectacular getaways.  

images ©2017 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

San Francisco: The Dorian


The Dorian  2001 Chestnut St./Fillmore St., Marina District, (415) 814-2671.  D Tu-Sun, Sat-Sun Brunch.  Anchoring the east end of busy Chestnut Street, The Dorian provides a comfortable and spacious interior. 

dining room at The Dorian in San Francisco, California
dining room at The Dorian in San Francisco, California

You can sit in the area surrounding the mega bar, where there are inviting half-moon booths and raised nooks, or you can move on in to the striking interior dining room with its high ceiling and gigantic chandelier plus booths, banquettes, and tables with posh velvet-covered chairs.  I sat in a booth that provided me with a great view of the room and my dining partner with a great view of the street and bay beyond. 

bar at The Dorian in San Francisco, California
bar at The Dorian in San Francisco, California

bar seating at The Dorian in San Francisco, California
bar seating at The Dorian in San Francisco, California

We began our brunch with The Mimosa Experience, which consists of a bottle of sparkling wine plus three fruit juices (we chose passion fruit, pear, and classic orange); each additional bottle of sparkling wine that you order costs less.  This was oodles of fun.  Classic and creative cocktails are also available. 

The Mimosa Experience at The Dorian in San Francisco, California
The Mimosa Experience at The Dorian in San Francisco, California

waiter Greg pours sparkling wine at The Dorian in San Francisco, California
waiter Greg pours sparkling wine at The Dorian in San Francisco, California

We began brunch with a fragrant, gooey sticky pecan bun that reminded me of the ones my mother used to make sometimes as an after-school snack. 

sticky bun at The Dorian in San Francisco, California
sticky bun at The Dorian in San Francisco, California

For mains, I chose crispy buttermilk fried chicken with an also crispy cheddar-bacon Belgian-style waffle topped with a lovely honey syrup,

fried chicken and waffles at The Dorian in San Francisco, California
fried chicken and waffles at The Dorian in San Francisco, California

and he chose a tasty wild-mushroom and goat-cheese frittata. 

frittata at The Dorian in San Francisco, California

Many diners here each choose a dish and share from the center of the table.  Additional inviting items include a kale Caesar salad, lemon-ricotta pancakes, and spicy chorizo avocado toast.  A burger with “fancy sauce” and more is also an option.  Dinner brings on heftier dishes that also share well--a seafood tower; steak tartare with smoked quail egg, and a ribeye with bourbon steak sauce.

The Dorian Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

More things to do in the Marina District.

More things to do in San Francisco.
 
Way more things to do in San Francisco. 
 
Travel articles to inspire and help you plan some spectacular getaways.  
 
images ©2017 Carole Terwilliger Meyers
 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

80 North: Benicia, The Inn at Benicia Bay + Shorelight Inn Benicia


The Inn at Benicia Bay  145 East D St./First St., (707) 746-1055.  8 rooms.  Continental breakfast at sister inn, 2 blocks away.  Formerly a sea captain’s home, this 1854 mansion is now a B&B.  It is situated on a quiet side street, just steps from downtown, and the short walk to breakfast in the morning is pleasant. 

exterior of The Inn at Benicia Bay in Benicia, California
exterior of The Inn at Benicia Bay in Benicia, California

lobby at The Inn at Benicia Bay in Benicia, California
lobby at The Inn at Benicia Bay in Benicia, California


Commandants Quarters guest room at The Inn at Benicia Bay in Benicia, California
Commandants Quarters guest room at The Inn at Benicia Bay in Benicia, California


Commandants Quarters bathroom at The Inn at Benicia Bay in Benicia, California
Commandants Quarters bathroom at The Inn at Benicia Bay in Benicia, California
 
Shorelight Inn Benicia  153 West E St./First St., (707) 297-6313.  6 rooms.  Continental breakfast.  This sister inn is located bay-side, and the breakfast room has a water view.  It was formerly The Anderson Hotel, but known as the Pink Palace, and relocated here from a few blocks away.

exterior of Shorelight Inn Benicia in Benicia, California
exterior of Shorelight Inn Benicia in Benicia, California

buffet breakfast at Shorelight Inn Benicia in Benicia, California
buffet breakfast at Shorelight Inn Benicia in Benicia, California

guest room sitting area at Shorelight Inn Benicia in Benicia, California
guest room sitting area at Shorelight Inn Benicia in Benicia, California

More things to do in Benicia.

Travel articles to inspire and help you plan some spectacular getaways.  

images ©2017 Carole Terwilliger Meyers