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!