City Guides: San Francisco & Napa Valley

I’ve always known how important mother-daughter time is. It started at an early age when my mom would whisk me away on the Amtrak when I was growing up and take me to NYC. Adorned in pea coats and faux fur mugs, I remember the feeling of dominating the city – walking all over the streets, eating at all the best restaurants and seeing the seasons best Broadway shows. That tradition continued for a decade, and now we seem to have an unspoken rule of a yearly mother-daughter vacation. This year, that vacation was in California.

As someone with a transient soul, I was curious how I would feel about San Francisco after I had some time in another major metropolitan city under my belt. San Francisco is large, spread out and sophisticated. The first day started with a Philz Coffee Mojito and a lacing up my good walking shoes. Fine, my shoes didn’t have laces, I was wearing Soludos espadrilles, but you get the point – those hills will get you! My mom set off with coffee and map in hand to explore the different neighborhoods of San Francisco. We walked from Downtown, to Chinatown, to Nob Hill, to North Beach, to Presidio, all before lunchtime! My newfound “hack” is taking uber pools in cities you don’t know well because this allows you to see the city from the comfortable seat of car and gain a different vantage point. My mom and I stopped in Cha Cha Cha in Haight-Ashbury for sangria, small plates and people watching. During lunch it started to rain, so we decided to escape the rain at the San Francisco Botanical Gardens. All the botanical gardens I’ve ever been in have been indoor, but of course, CA gave us a challenge and the flora and fauna were all outdoor. The gardens are beautiful and a great opportunity to experience the park – plus it’s free for California residents! After the walk we took an uber (pool of course!) to Union Square and managed to sneak in a shop at Nordstrom.

We met up with my cousin and his girlfriend for drinks at the Instagram-friendly, Leo’s Oyster Bar. I wish I could bundle this place up and take it back to NYC with me! It reminded me of Charleston meets the west coast. After a spicy margarita for me, and a lavender champagne drink for my mom we were off to dinner – a highlight of the trip.

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I found out about The Morris when I was searching through Resy. I like using Resy in unfamiliar cities, because it filters the restaurants that in my opinion, are more sought after. I narrowed down my list to a select group, and after further research, clicked “reserve” for our one dinner in San Francisco. Always an exhilarating click for a foodie. If you have one day in San Francisco, do not miss The Morris. The restaurant is located outside of the Mission district, and is the kind of place every corner restaurant wants to be. Homey, minimalistic and delicious. We started with foie gras dumplings, and avocado and crab toasts, before moving on an insanely delicious broccoli dish and their signature plate, duck with root vegetables. Not before ending with an espresso martini! One of my favorite features of the restaurant was the pay for what you drink concept. Only a restaurant that’s owned by a sommelier would offer such a thing. We ended up having a lovely conversation about the house wine with the somm, who we would only later figure out was a waiter. We give this place 11/10 stars!

We picked up a rental car and made our way through Sonoma to Napa Valley, but not before a failed attempt at the John Muir Redwood Forest. While we did see some redwoods, the parking lots at 10 a.m. were stuffed to the brim! Napa is only about an hour and a half outside of SF, and it is the most incredible getaway from the city. Now that I think about it, these getaways are cities’ partners in crime. San Fran has Napa, New York has the Catskills, DC has Annapolis or the Blue Ridge Mountains, etc. etc. Our first official stop was for brunch at Auberge du Soleil. The food and views were magnificent – every single dish that was place before us was impressive, and for dessert I had a peach that was in its’ perfect moment of ripeness and I don’t think I’ve ever had anything more delicious.

Then it was time to get down to wine tasting business, over the two day we visited the following wineries:

A few tips for wine tasting in Napa

  • There are free tastings, but most cost around $25. If you purchase a bottle, the tasting fee will be taken off your bottle.
  • Aside from the wine, what kind of experience are you looking for? Educational, a good place to relax, a tasting menu, outdoor/indoor, classic or trendy? There are so many vineyards that you can find multiple that fit your selection.
  • The drive vs uber debate. If you are contemplating whether to rent a car vs. uber, I liked doing tastings throughout the day that would probably amount to 1-2 glass es of wine and then drive in our rental back to the hotel to drink the bottle leisurely by the pool.
  • You won’t believe Napa Valley until you see it, wineries fill each side of the road for about a 20-mile stretch, so you will have plenty of opportunities to find your favorite vintages or be spontaneous.

Napa Valley in One Day

Do

  • Mud baths in Calistoga – crazy cool spa experience

Stay

  • El Bonita Motel – cutest Americana roadside motel that was our perfect base for wine tasting

Eat

  • Auberge du Soleil
  • Gott’s Roadside – The most delicious roadside diner offering burgers, fries, salads and shakes.

No matter how you slice it, Napa Valley has something for everyone. It is a magical slice of our country that will have you setting up flight alerts so that you can jump at an opportunity to come back. After all, all you need is one night in Napa to accomplish all the things listed above.

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Copenhagen City Guide

Copenhagen wasn’t on my list, but then again, what isn’t on my list? When I found $400 RT tickets from JFK, I knew I had to jump on the opportunity – even if only for a long weekend to spend my days in between coffee shops, museums and boutiques. Copenhagen isn’t for every traveler, but if it’s for you, boy are you lucky.

The city blew me away with the understated complexity of its dishes, the sleek design elements on every corner and the effortless fashion choices of its inhabitants. Windy cobblestone streets guide you to canals lined with blanket-strewn outdoor cafes, bikes leaning against pastel-colored homes and expansive gardens, where the scent of chocolate waffles fill the air.

As bikes whizzed by me and the outdoor flower markets bloomed with ranunculus – it was easy to understand why Denmark is consistently rated one of the top countries in the world.

Here is my take on four days in this delightful European city:

Day 1

Off the plane, and straight to Copenhagen Free Walking Tours to stretch your legs. The tour gave us a great overview of the different neighborhoods in Copenhagen and their distinct flavors. This city owes a lot to brew master, Carlsberg, whose name is plastered all over the city (As for the beer, I’m not that fond of it, but I’ll save that story for another time). After three hours, a little history, and a lot of walking, we were ready for a drink and dinner.

We stayed in Vesterbro, at the perfectly located Absalon Hotel. It was the perfect place for us – close to the train station, centrally located and in the hip meatpacking neighborhood,. They served an amazing and authentic continental breakfast in the morning that was the perfect fuel to start our day. It was so major having breakfast provided – now is a good time to tell you that Copenhagen is one expensive city and being able to save on breakfast and put that money toward other meals was very appreciated by the end of the trip.

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Threw on heels and lipstick, and headed out to Fiskebarre in the meatpacking neighborhood. This was our first exposure to the amazing gastronomy in Copenhagen. The drinks were frothy, and garnished with velvety sage, and the local Danish oysters came with a fork and knife due to their enormous size.

From here, we walked to our reservation at nearby Kul. The bartender at Kul was just named the best bartender in Copenhagen, and upon sitting at the bar and being served by him, it was easy to see why. Bert’s drink was shaken, stirred, garnished, and served in a Viking horn. Authentic? Check. When the cheese came out as our first course, instead of our last, the waitress rushed out champagne on the house and took care of our cheese board – this was our first glimpse into how kind the Danes are and their warm hospitality.

Day 2

We heard so much about the Danish brunch – we had to give it a try. At Mad & Kaffe, you take your pick of 3, 5 or 7 menu options – ranging from brown sugar brûléed blood oranges, to local blackberry yogurt (Danes have the best dairy products –  cheese and butter included) and homemade cinnamon rolls – their was something for everyone.

A short stroll brought us to MOSS, my new favorite store where I wished every item was in my closet. After stocking up, we walked to Toverhallene, a Danish food market with stalls including Smørrebrød, Danish open-faced sandwiches, to chocolatiers, and fresh fruits and veggies. A walk into Nørrebro brought us to shopping street, Jægersborggade, where we were ready for our next meal – gruel, ala Grød. Yes you read that right, gruel – something that only Copenhagen could make cool again. We opted for a risotto flavored dish, and it was one of our best meals on the trip.

From here, we ubered to Glyptotek museum, where we wandered through medieval busts and spent time relaxing in the palm tree adorned atrium.

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As if we hadn’t done enough on this day, we headed over to Paper Island, a food stall market where all the best flavors of Copenhagen collide. Our picks included a top-notch succulent duck burger from DuckIt!, a Moroccan flatbread garnished with mozzarella, herbs, grilled chicken and onions. This is the spot to be on any night, but especially on Friday nights when the beers are flowing and the Danes are out for the weekend.

Day 3

The day I had been waiting for – shopping day! Since the moment we arrived, I ogled at the Danes fashion. Minimalistic, yet made a statement, classy yet edgy, a silk blouse with Nike sneakers.

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We spent our day tackling design stores (Stilleben, HAY Market, and Illums Bolingus) and clothing boutiques (Acne Studios, MOSS, basically anything on Strøget). If only I had a bigger suitcase…We stopped for a gourmet hot dog at Hanegal wishing our budgets and waists could accommodate a few more.

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You can’t go to Denmark without marveling at the design: every restaurant, coffee shop and place to rest your head is an Instagram dream – pure hygge, which is a special Danish word for cosiness. We made a point of visiting the Denmark Design Museum, where we realized how much intention goes into creating the chair, and how there can be so many interpretations (shout out to Arne Jacobsen).

A short afternoon walk led us to Cristiana, the free neighborhood that is known for selling marijuana and having “no rules.” It felt a bit too like Disneyworld to us, and a bit forced, so we weren’t that impressed, but after talking to some friends we met, we learned that the neighborhood stretches much further than we realized, where you can see the hand-built houses and shops that truly amaze.

After dinner at Neighbourhood Pizza, we stumbled into 1656 cocktail bar, where my drink was served with a glittery froth. A glitter cocktail!! Not sure why this is the first time I’ve had this. The cocktails in Copenhagen were some of the best I’ve ever had: innovative, refreshing and picturesque.

Day 4

On our last day, we boarded a train and travelled 45 minutes north of the city to see the Louisiana Museum of Art and Sculpture Garden. Taking the train in Europe is one of my absolute favorite moments of any trip – it’s a time to see how people live outside the city limits, reflect on the memories made and the people encountered thus far, and what lies ahead. This train ride was particularly nice, as we sped by an ocean that separated us from Sweden.

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The museum itself was beautiful – nestled in an old home that mimicked the Dowargess’ in Downton Abbey, and covered in vines. The art was modern. Funky, fresh and thought-provoking. We enjoyed a lovely, albeit cold walk through the sculpture garden following the indoor exhibits.

To escape the cold and gray Danish day, we made our way into turquoise colored Mikkeler & Friends beer bar where we imbibed in sours made from local cherries, pear ciders and vietnamese coffee flavored stouts.

We made our way back to Vesterbro, and had one final dinner at Madklubben – a restaurant with Danish aesthetics,  and diverse menu.


If you ever stumble upon cheap roundtrip flights to Europe and think, is it worth it for a long weekend? 100% yes. The days were full but we got a wonderful sense of what Scandanavia has to offer. And after seeing all that it does, it’s easy to see why so many people love this city. Skâl!

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Cheers, Copenhagen! xc