Every year, in the middle of July, we go away for a conference for Kelvin’s work. More often than not, a trip for the 3-day conference will turn into a week-long (or more) vacation of the surrounding area. Last year, we kept it domestic, as the conference was in Vancouver. This year, however, corporate opted for a slightly wilder city – Las Vegas. Now, let it be known that Vegas is not my type of city. There is something about extreme dry heat, gluttony, and drunken, scantily clad people that just doesn’t strike my fancy. But, seeing as how we were on that side of the country anyways, we took this as an opportunity to visit a slightly cooler (in temperature…and otherwise) city – San Francisco. And since we were flying out from Syracuse, we figured it wouldn’t hurt to stopover in NYC on our return leg. Here are some things that we did.
Where to begin to share the things that we saw on this trip. Because Kelvin’s family had been to San Francisco pretty recently, I was the one who wanted to do all the touristy things. Kelvin and I got ourselves one CityPass each, and proceeded to visit many of the “must-see” destinations in San Francisco – Alcatraz, Golden Gate Park and Cal Academy, the Ferry Building, and Fisherman’s Wharf/Pier 39. Getting that CityPass was one of the smartest decisions, especially for our trip to Alcatraz, because all the tickets were sold out and the next available tour was for a date about a week and a half from that day we went. With our unlimited MUNI pass, we rode the streetcars, buses, and light rail everywhere.I have a National Park passport in which I collect cancellations or stamps for US national parks, and I filled a page or two with stamps on this trip. That made me happy.
We also took the Cal Train out to Mountain View, CA to visit Kelvin’s cousin who works at Google, and what FUN that was! They have delicious food, and the complex is really like a university campus. If only we had a skill set that they desired! The train ride itself was an experience – we sat in the bike car, and watched as all these people wandered up to the top deck hoping for a spot from where they could keep an eye on their valuable belongings.
In Vegas, we knew we wanted to watch a show, so on our first night there, we walked over to Bellagio to eat the buffet and watch “O” at the theatre. In true Cirque du Soleil fashion, the show was great, but we had no idea what the plot was really about. I was mesmerized by the swinging seesaw and diving act, and am still reeling from the fact that people willingly threw themselves into a tiny pool from such towering heights. The next day, we took a trip with sweetours out to Grand Canyon West, which was an interesting experience. We learned a lot about plants from our bus driver (and he quizzed us later too, though we all failed horibbly). The food there was also surprisingly good, though I don’t know if we can say the same about this “Skywalk” experience. The building wasn’t even finished yet, and they really shouldn’t have charged us as much as they did.
In NYC, we attempted to tone down our tourist behaviour. We paid a visit to Central Park and to the 9/11 Memorial, and we watched Lion King (which was conveniently located right across the street from our hotel). Other than that, it mostly consisted of eating and shopping, and it was wonderful.
Trips with Kelvin’s family always means that we will eat well. Some meals were more expensive than others, but the common vein across them all was the level of deliciousness. In San Francisco, we dined at a disproportionately large number of Asian-based establishments. In Vegas, most of our food was provided by the conference. And in New York, we mixed it up with some new and some familiar restaurants. Also, let it be known that I developed tonsillitis about a week into our trip, and it persisted until our second day in NYC. This greatly impeded my ability to eat, but alas, I made it in the end, thanks to a doctor at Duane Reade, and the beckoning of ramen noodles at Ippudo. Here are some of the places we visited:
- Penang Garden (Chinatown, SF) Our first meal in San Fran – a go-to restaurant for Kelvin’s family with absolutely delicious mango sticky rice and deep fried banana ice cream for dessert
- Mama’s on Washington Square (SF) We got there at 7:15 to wait in line for breakfast. The french toast and hot chocolate were delicious. And the chunks of dungeness crab that you got in your meal were absolutely huge
- The Slanted Door (Embarcadero, SF) Asian fusion yumminess right in the Ferry Building where we ordered iced tea and forgot that they don’t sweeten it in the States
- lers ros thai (Hayes, SF) An authentic Thai restaurant where we ordered way too much food, with a Tom Yum Goong that packed a serious punch of spice
- Tartine Bakery (The Mission, SF) The line up was totally worth the croissants and croque monsieur
- Pizzeria Delfina (The Mission, SF) Super thin-crust pizza that tasted like heaven, but that you need to eat before it gets cold! And they also have ridiculously good breadsticks, which they store in a drawer. It was fascinating
- Chairman Bao (Food Truck, SF) Three words – Baked Spicy Chicken. I could have eaten that forever – it was that good
- Kung Fu Tacos (Food Truck, SF) The food truck that made us run all over town trying to find it. Their tacos trumped their burritos, which weighed approximately 3 pounds
- The Buffet (Vegas) Crazy long line up for a $30 meal. I am still undecided about whether I liked this place. The interior could have used an update
- Shake Shack (8th Ave & 44th St, NYC) We ate this…twice…All I need is a Shackburger with fries. It also helped that this location was about 2 blocks from our hotel
- Ippudo (4th Ave & 10th St, NYC) The go-to ramen place for Kelvin’s family. The first meal that I essentially inhaled once my tonsillitis started to disappear. I love ramen
- Momofuku Noodle Bar (1st Ave & 10th St, NYC) We ordered the fried chicken – 2 whole chickens to be precise – and it was amazing. Especially the Korean flavoured one. I took some home with me and proceeded to eat them in the stations while waiting for our subway. And Milk Bar is just around the corner, to satisfy all of your cookie cravings
- ‘Wichcraft (SF and NYC) So clearly we love ‘wichcraft, because we ate it multiple times on the trip. These sandwiches are delicious – I always get the one with pear…
Kelvin and his mom are big shoppers, and they are serious when they do it. Whenever we are in the city, they always make sure to pay a visit (or more) to Uniqlo. They are all about quality over quantity, but it’s best when they can get both. I, on the other hand, tend to shop at my local H&M, hesitant to spend more than $25 on a pair of jeans. Living close to Union Square was amazing in San Fran, though we wish we lived even closer. I spent many hours in that area, perusing the XXI, Levi’s, and Macy’s stores.
I must say – I quite enjoyed the hotels that we stayed at on this trip. When we were little, both my family and Kelvin’s family stuck with the Best Westerns, Sleep Inns, and Super 8’s of America. Then, one summer, it was as if a light went off, and our parents respectively decided that they had had enough of motels, and that it was time to fast track into the world of SPG properties. Our hotel rooms now had safes, bathrobes, duvets, and ample space, and we never looked back. The plan is to do a TripAdvisor review for each of these hotels, but I will give you the Reader’s Digest version of them here.
In San Francisco, we stayed at the Palace Hotel for 5 nights. My parents came here a few months ago and absolutely loved it, but I will rate our stay as average. For a Luxury Collection hotel, it should have been cleaner, and it shouldn’t have taken us 20 minutes to check in. However, it more than made up for everything when it came to location. The BART and MUNI were right there, with Union Square a few blocks southwest, and the Ferry Building a few blocks northeast.
In Las Vegas, we stayed at the Cosmopolitan – a beautiful and new hotel with a pool that I could have spent weeks at. We had our share of fiascos at this hotel, and I am still confused as to why there was a big window into the shower, with a curtain that could not be operated by the person actually taking the shower, but I think I would come again. I’m glad we left just before the weekend started to get rowdy.
Last but not least, we stayed at the Marriott Marquis right in Times Square – and we had a Times Square view! Another stellar location, but the hallways are not for those afraid of heights. It’s a long way down to the lobby…
We went to Service
Our trip spanned two Sundays, so we were able to make it out to church once in San Francisco, and once in New York. Both were more “traditional” services, but oh how they were filled with the Spirit! We sang and made music, and listened intently to these dynamic speakers. Their weekly bulletins were small magazines, complete with lead sheets, quotes, responsive reading, and perforated connection cards. We visited CityChurch on Sutter Street in San Francisco, and Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian in New York, and I would gladly return to both. As we make the transition into a new church, it is always nice to visit other churches to see how they do things, and how they leave room for God’s presence and action. I particularly loved the way that CityChurch was so cognizant of their place in the city, and how they intentionally loved on those around them.
This was one of the most eventful trips I’ve ever been on. I got sick, and Kelvin’s parents got sick. We got locked out of our room, but then got to ride in an Escalade. We saw a wealth of both natural and man-made wonders, and we got a chance to just relax as well. Despite the hiccups, I had a lot of fun. It had been quite a few years since I last went to Vegas and San Francisco, so to be able to see them once again was very special. Oh, and a tip for those of you travelling to SF or NYC and are planning on taking transit – make sure you download their transit apps. These were hands down the most useful tools on the trip. I’m saving them on my phone under “Travel”, just in case we venture there again in the near future :)