Friday, November 4, 2011

New URL - Please update your RSS!

Hey everyone. The time has come for me to grow-up (or maybe revert to childhood - depends on your viewpoint) and covert to Tumblr. Updated URL:

Drop in and tell me what you think!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dog-Friendly Napa

Great site - I had no idea so many of these were dog friendly!

Napa Valley - Dog Friendly Wineries

Friday, September 9, 2011

Belmont Greek Festival - Labor Day Weekend in the Bay Area

Well, this post is a bit late, but you know - use it to plan for next year! :-)

Labor Day is just all fun-filled festival madness. We were able to make it to two of the three we wanted to attend before we just burned out.

The Belmont Greek Festival was something we've been hearing about all year so I was pretty excited to go. It turned out to be smaller than I expected but still nice. If you have kids, it is perfect - half the space was dedicated to kids' activities! There was a stage area where kids from the church / school were performing renditions of the Greek myths - surprisingly good performances. One kid playing Narcissus was hilarious - totally rocked that role (maybe too much??).

 In the back of the church was another stage area where some serious business was happening - we caught part of a table dancing show. Get your mind out of the gutter - not the first kind of table dancing you think of, but rather THIS:


There were some booths selling arts, crafts and jewelry, but very few. The real draw seems to be the food. There were vendors set up outside but the word on yelp reviews was to head inside the church for the real deal. We went through line and $45 later had spanakopita, souvlaki, tiropita, and so many other things I cannot remember. We topped all that off with the hunt for loukoumades - these deep fried donut things with honey and walnuts were just ...yum.

Worth every penny and the food coma afterwards
Unless you have kids or you are really into the stage performances, the festival goes by pretty fast. We were there two hours at most and left for a food coma induced nap.

-- Happy Festivals!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hiking Sugarloaf Mountain: San Francisco Peninsula

The park has continued to be a bit of a mystery for me - I have yet to find an official site with a trail map. However, Google Maps comes through for me. You can see the starting point and the trails clearly on the map. This park is dog-friendly but full of critters, including a coyote that watched us from up the trail one day.

Starting at the intersection on the map, head west on Bartlett Way. There are a couple of houses on the undeveloped road (one of which has lost the bridge section of it's driveway - yikes!) then a large gate that enters the park itself. As you walk along the creek, you'll see evidence of an old home and horse corral that were on this road. There is a bit of urban myth / history about this area in this blog. Whatever the history might be, this stretch can be pretty lonely and just ... eerie. Can't explain the feeling, but it is odd.

Maybe part of the eeriness is from another random burnt-out car you'll find when you turn right up the Saltson Trail. The trail gets steeper and as you climb, watch the trees on the left. You'll see the car, part of the collective of burnt out cars in this area.

What the...? Not like there is a road nearby....
You'll reach a junction where you have a choice to make. The path the left takes you up to the houses. The path downhill takes you toward Laurelwood Park. To your right is a wonderful, steep trail to the top of the mountain! Go ahead, climb it! It rises at about a 45 degree angle in most places but it really isn't a long climb overall. From the top, you get 360 degree views of the area.

Fog in the distance, coming over the mountains
From the top, you can extend the hike down into Laurelwood Park where the trail narrows and can be heavy with poison oak. You emerge in the well-groomed park itself - a bit disconcerting after the wildness of Sugarloaf! Alternately, you can re-trace your steps - coming back down the path can be steep and there is loose gravel along the way. Watch yourself. 

And watch for coyotes, deer and bunnies watching you from the side of the trail. ;-)

-- Happy Climbing!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Carmel Mission - From the Archives

This photo is from 2005. This California location has not changed much in recent years. Anyone able to guess where this was taken? Twitter bragging rights to the first correct guess!

Update: No one figured this one out! This is the Mission in Carmel, CA. It's full name is Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo and is the last home of Junipero Serra. It is still a functioning church and school, so pick your visit time appropriately. It is one of the most beautiful missions here in California!

Original photo - courtyard of the Mission

-- Happy Travels

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Why am I Anonymous?

One of the important factors of social media is that it is ... well, SOCIAL. So how can you be social and anonymous? pretty much nails this belief in this statement from the Elite Squad site:

"Yelp Eliters are expected to use their real name! We know nicknames and secret identities are fun and all, but if you want to make it into the Elite, we need to know that you are legit, and will stand by your opinionated opinions."

That is all pretty awesome and makes sense. However, here is why I am anonymous:

  • Safety. I am woman and often have to travel alone for work. It freaks me out that everyone in the world (who cared) could know exactly where I am every minute. And then find me. Or rob my house. Either one or both at the same time. 
  • I work for a company who's customers include those airlines, hotels and products that I make scathing, nasty comments about. Our customers also include the ones I really, really like - but to protect myself from massive legal fees and / or losing my job, I try to separate the work person from the snarky person. 
  • If you actually know me well enough and a thing or two about the Internet, I'm really not all that anonymous. I'll talking about you, those few people who have tracked me down. 
So, I stand by my decision to keep posting anonymously. If I ever strike it rich and make a bazillion dollars, I will hire my own security detail for safety, get sharks with laser beams to protect my house and quit my job. Then I will publicly own all my "opinionated opinions" right here. 

Until then, I'm just Sarcastic T.

-- Happy Stealthy Travels

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Random Weird - Photo Fresh

What is fresh? The fish or the restrooms?
Who knows where this is? Bragging rights on Twitter to the person who can answer in the next 48 hours.

-- Happy Travels!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Breaking from the Crowd: Peninsula Chefs

As San Franciscans, we are very proud of our local culinary talents. "Big-box" and francises are frowned on and openly blocked at times. The irony - as you leave the city, folks assume all you have is McDonalds and second-rate chefs who couldn't "make it" in the city.

An interesting trend says the opposite: some chefs have tired of the city or come down the peninsula to do things their way, to find less expensive locations and to take root in smaller, growing downtowns.

My favorite example: The Refuge in San Carlos. The menu: burgers, pastrami, belgian beer, foie gras. Eclectic to say the least, but the shining stars are the beer and the pastrami. I can't say I was a huge fan of pastrami before - it was one of those "meh" things. However, I clearly had never had REAL pastrami - anything pastrami-based on the menu is stunning. The foie gras is always amazing and the seasonal changes to the menu give enough variety that if I ever wanted to try something else, I could. Vegetarians are not left out - there are usually a couple of vegetarian dishes and steamed veggies on the menu. But wait - it gets better! They have a nice covered outdoor area with heat lamps and they are dog-friendly!

In San Mateo, 231 Ellsworth boasts their chef left Masa's in San Francisco to join the peninsula crowd - and clearly, this has worked well for both the chef and the restaurant. They are both Michelin recommended and won the Opentable 2011 Diners' Choice award.

Do you have a favorite peninsula place that highlights an escapist chef? Please share it!

-- Happy Eating!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Eat: True Food Kitchen: Newport Beach

I love food and it really takes something special for me to dedicate a full post to one restaurant. On a recent visit to Orange County, I found that place - True Food Kitchen in Newport Beach.

If you aren't familiar, the menus are designed around the food pyramid created by Dr. Andrew Weil. This pyramid is a bit more diverse than the one we all know and love from our childhood, but also much more interesting (note the addition of red wine - I could really fall in love with THIS pyramid).

The restaurant itself is very hip, with lots of square edges, concrete and steel, and chunky wood furniture. It is noisy. And on a Thursday night it was packed beyond belief. So, while waiting for our table, we ordered from the bar - but not what you'd expect. There was no booze in these drinks (they do have some cocktails and wine), instead they were handcrafted fruit and veggie drinks. I was a bit skeptical but the Cucumber Refresher won me over. Yum!

When we got to the eating part, we ordered the Edamame Dumplings and I thought I was going to devour them all and not share with the table. Thank goodness we had two orders. Simple idea, but simple is good. Amazing flavor combination. For dinner I ordered the Ahi Tuna Sliders. Good idea, not so good for actually trying to eat. Biting into lightly seared Ahi Tuna on a mini-bun isn't easy. I had to break mine down and just go at with a fork and knife. The Kale Salad though - OMG. I snarfed it all down and looked around for me. When I got back home, I looked up the recipe and began making it at home. Who would have thought? Kale. Delicious!

The staff were helpful and pleasant, though I think our server might have been a bit new and wasn't 100% on what to suggest on the menu or how to explain the dishes. We managed. Oh boy, did we manage....

Dessert? No room left, had to skip it.

-- Happy Delicious Travels!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hiking the Bay Area: Best tools for finding the best spots

One of the amazing things about the San Francisco Bay area is all the open space and protected green space around us. For such a densely populated area, we are really fortunate in how many accessible parks and open spaces exist. Even better, the terrain varies significantly within a small radius: hike the redwoods, walk the beach, jog along the Bay, hike in the golden hills. Your pick.

So how do you find the best hiking?

I've been in the Bay Area over 10 years and one of my favorite sites is still Bay Area Hiker. The author takes you on a turn-by-turn of each hike, rates the difficulty level, tells you the distance and the time to complete the hike. It is also sorted by kid-friendly, dog-friendly, easy hikes and more. It is the first place I visit when looking for something new to hike.

BA Hiker now has a blog at

Another long-time favorite has been When this first hit the scene, we were living in Seattle and it was a big hit there. It still seems to be a bit of an obscure "sport" but it is a fantastic way to find hiking trails you would not normally explore. Even if you don't play the game, you can use it find great spots in your area.

These days, mobile apps have made hiking even more accessible. Of course, the first awesome hiking app is Google Maps on your phone. In most areas, you can see the trails marked on the map for those times when you make a wrong turn. This saved my a*s at least once when I stubbornly kept going on a washed out trail and had to find my way back to something that was actually a trail.

For those of us needing dog-friendly hiking areas (on-leash or off-leash), the Dog Parks app is very good. It gives you the basic information you need to find locations that are dog-friendly. On a recent trip to Half Moon Bay, this became an essential tool to find a beach that allowed dogs.

And my new favorite app: Geocaching on the iPhone. I have always been a bit annoyed by having to run batches, download them into my GPS and then remember to take my GPS with me. Or have batteries in the device that aren't dead. I know, get over it right? I was always hoping for something that would just tell me what was around me - I may not always have time to plan ahead and download caches to a GPS. I guess I wasn't the only one - has an iPhone app that totally rocks. Even though my mobile is on ATT and my coverage is ... "spotty" at best, I can almost always get enough signal to track and download the cache info. It has only failed me once when I was deep in a creek canyon.

I'm always looking for the newest and greatest - what is your favorite?

-- Happy Trails!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

PHOTOS: San Francisco Weird

Corner of Haight and Laguna in San Francisco:

Random along a street on the peninsula, near San Mateo:

-- Happy (Weird) Travels!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Huntington Beach: No Dogs Allowed

On a recent trip to Orange County to attend a big Shiba Inu meet-up in Anaheim, those of us traveling in from other areas decided to stay in Huntington Beach. After all, it has a huge dog beach and was voted one of the most dog-friendly cities in California.

View from HB Dog Beach

Not so anymore. It was very dog UN-FRIENDLY overall. The Dog Beach is still very good - it goes on for a good long stretch and has enough of a bluff to keep the dogs from escaping onto the Pacific Coast Highway. However, it is pretty crowded and narrow and folks hang out there with their kids. For someone use to Fort Funston, it was a bit of a difference.

The bigger issue was the "no-dogs allowed" policy for all restaurant patios in the downtown / Main Street area and through-out the city.

Every patio had an iron fence around it with a large sign stating no dogs. I asked one of the owners and he said they had gotten multiple tickets, so they had to enforce the rule.

Shorebreak Hotel continues to be dog-friendly - check out this little Shiba's own review of the facilities. Because it is their own property, Shorebreak can continue to allow dogs on their restaurant patio.

Overall, it was very disappointing that they had limited things so much in Surf City - but with California being what it is, there are plenty of other places to go that are dog-friendly! (I'm looking at you Carmel-by-the-Sea and San Francisco)!

-- Happy Travels (woof!)

Monday, July 18, 2011

California - The Big Empty

Sometimes I forget just how empty California can be - it is such a very big state and population hubs tend to be along the coast with a few spots in the central valley.

Driving back from LA the weekend of Carmagedden, I was forced to take a back road here and there. From I-5 to Hwy 101, there is a long winding highway: 166. It is gorgeous, lonely and reminded me of the sheer diversity of California's plant life and terrain.

-- Happy Travels!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bay Area: Treasure Island Flea Market

On a recent Saturday, we decided to brave the bridge and head over to Treasure Island for a new flea market. Treasure Island is one of those Bay Area places you tend to forget. It is an odd place to reach - you have to halfway cross the Bay Bridge and exit to the left. If you are coming from the San Francisco side, you don't have to pay the toll coming or going - but from the Oakland side you will have to pay up. The views are worth the effort though.

The city on the Bay: View from TI
The Bay Area flea market has seen a bit of a boom in the past year, growing from one major event a month to three a month. The grand-daddy of them all is the Alameda Flea Market (technically called the Alameda Point Antiques Faire) - never been, but I hear it is madness. The Candlestick Flea Market opened last year and again - haven't been. It was rained out most of last fall and we haven't made it yet this year.

The flea market at Treasure Island was an un-expected pleasure. It is still small so parking was simple at 9:30am and even getting there on the Bay Bridge was traffic free (shocking). The space between booths was wide enough that you could move freely and there was a good mix of vendors: steam punk jewelry, vintage clothes, new clothing, furniture (old and new), wine barrels and such, organic plants, costume jewelry, antique metal "stuff", and so on.

As an added bonus, FOOD. The mini-donut booth was awesome. Fresh made donuts with choices of topping. Yum yum. There were hot-dogs and a greek booth. Then there were the food trucks: garlic noodles, waffles and a few others I don't remember because I was so focused on getting garlic noodles.

The final bonus: the venue is dog-friendly and for paying our $3 entry, we received a card for free entry next time. 

And did I mention the totally awesome finds? Thankfully they even have an ATM on site. 

-- Happy Shopping!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hiking: Burned out cars in Belmont

The San Francisco peninsula has tons of open spaces and terrific hiking areas. One of my favorite sites, Bay Area Hiker, does a great job of giving you all the info needed to find good hikes. Armed with an iPhone and the Geocaching app (or old school, using a GPS and the website), you can find all sorts of unexpected things along the trails.

Recently the little dog and I have been hiking in Belmont and we've noticed an odd thing: burned out / rusted cars. On the trails, far from any actual roads.

No road nearby
The first we found was off the Chaparral Trail in Water Dog Lake Park. At the time, I didn't have my geocaching equipment with me, but there is a geocache around here I think. A note on the website says this car is "maintained" by the park rangers.

The second one we found off the trail in the Sugarloaf / Laurelwood Park. We came in via the entrance off Laurel Creek Road, taking the Salson Trail. This was a weekday hike and the park was silent - when something shifted in the car, little dog and I both startled. It was almost guaranteed to be wildlife moving around, but too many years in San Francisco made me suspicious someone was living in it and since there was no cell coverage in that area - I didn't stick around to take photos. Next time!

Finally, the third one we've found was again in the Belmont open preserve space, along the Rambler trail heading toward Canyon Creek Trail. 

Car Bridge?
This one was just super-cool in my opinion. How on earth that car got there, I can't imagine - but to make it part of the trail was a very cool idea. 

Hipstamtic shot of the car bridge from the other side

It's still a mystery to me how these got down into these canyons. All of the cars seem to be from around the 50's, so maybe there was a road through here before. Highway 280 isn't far away, so there could have been a road through the hills and mountains. 

I'll leave you with this final mystery:

The sign is so old the tree grew around it. Trail is only 2 feet wide.

-- Happy Hiking!

Friday, January 21, 2011

London Heathrow: Terminal 3

Don't expect to get through LHR quickly for international flights out of T3.

One you get past security you will find the "World of Shopping". I don't know
what it this area is really called but it is extremely annoying. The bright lights and strong
smells of perfume stop people in their tracks. Eyes glazed over, they
stare around while blocking the narrow winding pathway through the
mega-duty free shop. If you can muddle through and pass up all the
lovely (fake) deals, you come to an open seating area where a sign
clearly informs you that if you are headed to gates 20-22 you may want
to plan for a 20 minute walk. Son of a .....

I made it to my gate in 10. I also think I knocked over at least one
person along the way. Folks have a tendency to lollygag in Heathrow.

Don't get me wrong - I actually like London Heathrow overall. But the
standard international flight rule of getting to the airport two hours
before departure is a bit misguided for this airport.

The Star Alliance Lounge is nice but always very busy. The World of
Shopping is extensive but I've never had time to browse. Food stops
seem good but again: no time to stop and enjoy.

Really, my biggest complaint is just the sheer size of the place and
the comatose passengers wandering aimlessly. Due to these factors, I'd
get there a bit earlier than two hours. See my note on Virgin Atlantic systems
on more reasons why you might need the time.

-- Happy (Fast!) Travels

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In flight experience: Virgin Atlantic

I do not know how United Airlines manages to make their seats so
hideously uncomfortable, but they are indeed masters of making even
simple things complex and horrid.

It was therefore a nice change to have an economy seat that was at
least comfortable on my bum. While I am never happy to fly economy,
the in-flight experience on Virgin Atlantic was a big change.

The seat bottoms were more comfortable and they have about one more
inch of pitch than United. The in-flight entertainment is a larger
screen than I expected and all of the movies, games, audio and TV were
free. The headphones were even slightly better (though still cheapies)
than what you would receive on other airlines. The audio quality was
good and clear. My only major problem was my system freaked out and
went to a command line and would not reboot. I rang for an attendant
and she immediately reset my system. The game / remote controller was
a bit touchy and took a bit to get use to. I could see some non-techie
travelers getting frustrated with it.

The amenities during the flight were very nice. Food was of decent
quality and alcoholic drinks are free on all international flights. A
kit was handed out that provided you with a eye mask and socks.

An upgrade to Premium Economy is really much closer to being in
Business class. The seats are bigger and wider - it isn't just about a
few extra inches of legroom on this airline. Beverages, including
sparkling wine are served before take-off. The food is a bit better
and the amenity kit includes earplugs. I was seated in a bulkhead
 and the flight attendant brought us footrests after take-off.

Finally, the Virgin staff are lovely people. Very helpful, very
friendly. They seem to like their jobs, enjoy working with people and
want to help make your flight pleasant. In a time where most airlines
seem staffed with bitter, jaded individuals, this attitude was a
welcome change.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Virgin Atlantic: You can do better with your systems

I have frequently discussed how much I love Virgin America and how
much I loathe United Airlines even though I am a Premier Executive
flyer with them. On a recent trip to London I decided to fly Virgin
Atlantic. One month before I had flown United to London and as usual,
it was horrid. Their seats are super uncomfortable and despite having
status I was trapped in horrible coach seats both directions.

In another post I discuss the in-flight experience with Virgin
Atlantic. This post is about their systems. Compared to the ease of
use of the America line, Virgin Atlantic has a way to go. Check-in
online is not intuitive. When asked about your checked luggage, it
shows you a graph of your allowed bags and then asks you how many
EXTRA bags you need. Once you decipher this, you check-in but cannot
pick your seat until after you have checked in.

I changed my seat after check-in and received a confirmation saying if
I had changed my seat, it would not be reflected in this confirmation
message. Really? How incredibly backwards.

Next issue: upgrades. They are available but not through online
check-in nor at the check-in kiosk at the airport. When I inquired at
the bag drop counter (which had a very long line at both airports) I
was able to upgrade to Premium Economy. The agent there assigned my
seat then directed me to ANOTHER line to actually make the payment and
get my boarding pass.

And this is why I was knocking people over as I hurried to my gate in
Heathrow, despite getting there early.

I expected better from Virgin Atlantic given how smooth systems are
for Virgin America.