The city by the bay – San Francisco (California, USA)

After spending 3 days in San Jose for my clients workshop, stopping in San Francisco before we went back home was what we needed.  When one thinks of the iconic symbols of San Francisco, the following come to mind -The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Cable cars and the houses from Full House (yes I grew in that era) known as the Painted Ladies.

San Francisco is the fourth-most populous city in California, after Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose, and the 13th-most populous city in the United States. – source wikipedia

Where we stayed?

Our accommodation was booked at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis, we wanted a hotel that was centrally located and could give us access easy to the city’s attractions. The hotel lobby is a constant buzz, when entering for the 1st time, one would think they were entering a busy mall.

The staff were welcoming and after our awful experience at the Hilton Hotel in San Jose, it was truly refreshing to arrive at a hotel and have no issues with our booking. Things worked out so well, I even scored a room upgrade and stayed in the Deluxe Suite. The room was overkill for me, I felt lost but enjoyed the space and the magnificent views of the city.

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City views from my room

The room has living/sitting area, equipped with flat-screen TVs, high-speed Internet a mini kitchen with minibar and tea and coffee making facilities. The bathroom was ok, for the size of the room they could have used the space better and has a bathroom that has a stand-alone shower not inside a bath. I’m not a fan of bath shower with shower curtains.

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Hotel facilities and amenities

Spa, fitness centre, business centre, barber shop, hair salon, free Wi-Fi in the lobby, drug store, concierge and valet.

Dining

The hotel has a choice of three places to eat:-

  1. Bin 55 restaurant, located in the hotel lobby – offers breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  2. Mission Street Pantry also located in the hotel lobby – deli type concept perfect for guests on the go.
  3. The View Lounge, located on the 39th Floor with spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline – offers small bites and signature cocktails.

Overall great location, well run, friendly staff and comfortable stay (thanks to my upgrade)

What we did?

There’s so much to do in San Francisco, so it’s imperative to have an idea of what one wants to see and do. My suggestion is plan in advance, it does make it easier to navigate through all the things that can be done.

We opted to go on the Big Bus tours, but before we got on the tour we had an idea of the key things we wanted to see. What I like about the Big Bus Tour is the flexibility of being able to get on and off at your own pace, while on the bus you also get to learn about the city through their narrated guide and It also allows you to see a lot more sights in a day.

Sadly thou, due to popular demand we missed out on going to Alcatraz Island.

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Our drive to Golden Gate Bridge
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The Golden Gate Bridge

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The cable car, an icon of San Francisco

Another highlight of our trip was visiting Sausalito, a small town situated across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. (Another town that reminds me of Knysna in the Western Cape, South Africa) Views from there across the bay toward San Francisco are just amazing.

The town is equipped with restaurant, art galleries, souvenir shops and hotels. A place where I could see myself living. I just like the simpleness of this town. We noticed that there were a lot of tourist cycling. I found out that cycling was popular with tourist, they usually hire a bike, cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge, and then down into Sausalito.

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Where we ate

Unless I’m travelling with foodies, I tend not to make food a priority and really prefer the simple meal options. The people I was travelling with were also not fussy as to where we ate.

  1. Mission Street Pantry
  • A deli/café in the lobby of San Francisco Marriott Marquis. They have a wide selection from sandwiches to pizzas to salads to pastries and deli items. They are limited from a vegetarian perspective. I had the Chef’s grilled cheese and ham and requested they remove the ham. The grilled cheese sandwich was really good.
  • The coffee is also good, a great break from Starbucks. Always good to try something new.
    • Lobby Level – San Francisco Marriott Marquis, 780 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA
    • 415-442-6134

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  1. Hamburgers, Sausalito 
  • We came to realise that timing is everything with this place. Just as we were ordering our food the line got really long and were told that’s normal. They are known to have the best burgers and worth the wait. It’s a simple no bells and frills shop with very tight space.
  • Unfortunately they don’t have a vegetarian’s burger option so I opted for a vegetarian burrito. The burrito was good and my travel companions loved their burgers.
    • 737 bridgeway hamburgers, Sausalito, San Francisco, CA
      • 415- 332-9471

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  1. The View Lounge 
  • They don’t call it the view lounge for no reason, located on the 39th floor of San Francisco Marriott Marquis and offers spectacular views of the city through massive arched windows.
  • The view lounge is more of a cocktail lounge and offers small plates of food for sharing. A great place to unwind after a long day of sightseeing.
    • 780 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94103 (Downtown)
    • 415-442-6003

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San Francisco was really great experience and my travel companions were great.

TS!!

USA Adventure: Miami – Los Angeles (LA) – New York (NY)

It’s #TravelTuesday!! I get to reminisce about a trip we took to the US early in the year. Brace yourself for some reading, so much to share, I will try and not make this blog post a Thesis:-)

The trip sure had its own share of drama – misplaced passports with our US VISA’s, lost luggage when we landed in NY on our way to Miami. Finally arriving in Miami after 18hrs30min of flying to discover that another bag had gone missing. At this stage we had lost our sense of humour.
We decided that we would NOT let these unfortunate turn of events ruin our holiday so we made our way to the hotel.
Acqualina Resort and Spa is a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of the South Beach scene, its located in Sunny Isle Beach, Florida.

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We were booked in a 2 bedroom apartments which has king size beds in the bedrooms with plasma TV’s, two full bathrooms, a separate living room, fully equipped kitchen, a private terrace and spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean.

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PhotoGrid_1441741218834_resized Hotel Amenities, Activities & Services:

  • Beach front access, 4 pools – from family friendly to ADULTS only pool, In-Room Dining, Wi-Fi, Business Centre and Meeting Rooms
  • State of the art fitness centre
    • This hotel has a proper ‘state of the art fitness centre it’s spacious and has proper equipment, it made training extremely enjoyable.
  • Spa
    • Described as the ‘a sanctuary of relaxation’ – The Acqualina Spa by ESPA is fully equipped with sauna, steam room, his and her relaxation lounges, his and hers lockers, an outdoor spa veranda with outdoor spa pools.
    • Signature treatments and wellness programmes are available on offer.
  • Kids Clubs
    • I love hotels that cater to families with kids, it just makes planning for family holidays less stressful for parents.

Nearby Activities:

  • Access to golf and tennis at nearby private clubs, site-seeing tours & visits to points of interest, shopping at Aventura Mall, the Design District and Bal Harbour Shops and Access to Williams Island Marina.
Taking it all In - Tea, Tablet, View!
Morning Tea with a View – Taking it all in!!

Our overall dining experience was pleasant, for me breakfast was by far the best meal of the day. Their waffles and pancakes were amazing, I also loved their Watermelon Smoothie. (Don’t normally like posting food, but I just had to share this pic.)

Waffles Pancakes & Watermelon Smoothie
Waffles, Pancakes & Watermelon Smoothie

The hotel has three restaurants on the property,

  1. The Costa Grill – This is the beachfront restaurant that serves lunch, light snacks or afternoon cocktails.
  2. Il Mulino New York – Is their award winning Italian restaurant, renowned for its market fresh daily specials, extensive selection of fine Italian wines and exceptional staff and service. Overall great food and great dining experience.
  3. AQ by Acqualina – This restaurant is a perfect combination of chic and relaxed vibe and serves modern American cuisine and sushi.
    • Located adjacent to AQ by Acqualina you will find the Piazzetta Marketplace – this place has a variety of gelato, desserts, pastries, teas and specialty coffees.

Even though we spent most of our time lounging at the hotel beach, Miami is one of those holiday destinations that has something to offer for everyone. We did venture out and explored a bit of Miami. South beach definitely has a vibe to it and I see why people love going there. It reminds me of Camps Bay (Cape Town) during the December season.

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Next stop Los Angeles (LA) – ‘The City of Angels’

I have such mixed feelings about this place, television has done an amazing job at marketing LA as a place full of life. To me, there’s a bit of coldness and in some areas, there’s too many people trying to fit into LA lifestyle, saw a lot of poser especially in Beverly Hills.
We had a jam packed itinerary with some awesome activities planned, LA was a true adventure for us.

What we did

1.A visit to LEGOLAND
It took us an 1hr45m to get to LEGOLAND from LA but the drive was so worth it.
LEGOLAND is a theme park in San Diego, with over 60 rides, shows and attractions, a Water Park and the LEGO® World of Chima.
There’s a hotel on the property which has more than two million LEGO bricks which make up over 2,000 LEGO models throughout the Hotel. If your patience for kids is minimal, I would suggest you stay clear from this hotel.

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LEGOLAND was AMAZING, when you see what they have done using LEGO pieces, you cannot help but just be in complete disbelief.

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There’s a lot to do and so many exciting games. Our highlight was the Robotic Arm Ride, this ride is insane, it has 5 intensity levels – level 5 is definitely not for the faint hearted. We loved this ride, a great way to end the day.

Robotic Arm Ride
Robotic Arm Ride

The weather was not great, it rained but we scored theses really cute rain Ponchos, unfortunately we missed out on the Water Park.

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2.  A visit to DISNEYLAND Park & DISNEYLAND Adventure Park 

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“I think most of all what I want DISNEYLAND to be is a HAPPY PLACE…where parents and children can have fun TOGETHER” – Walt Disney
The above, pretty much sums up Disneyland!!

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So much to do and so many amazing rides, some offer a pure adrenaline rush and others just laid back. Our favourite rides were:-

  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain, California Screaming, Radiator Springs Racer and Tower of Terror.

The lines can get a bit LONG. My advise, if you can, get a FAST PASS. It comes in handy.

3. A visit to Universal Studios Hollywood

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Universal Studios Hollywood – “The Entertainment Capital of L.A.” This place has a movie-based theme park, Studio Tour and Universal CityWalk® – an entertainment, shopping and dining complex, which includes the AMC Universal CityWalk Cinemas and the “5 Towers” state-of-the-art outdoor concert venue.

The studio tour is INCREDIBLE, we went on the set of State of Affairs and toured some of the sets where some of the BIG movie scenes were shot.

Universal

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From Top Left: Jaws, Psycho, Desperate House and War of the Worlds Set
From Top Left: Jaws, Psycho, Desperate House and War of the Worlds Set

The theme park has the coolest rides and attractions. We went on the Transformers, Jurassic Park®, Revenge of the Mummy and the Simpsons Ride. Unfortunately for us, the Fast and Furious Game was still being built so we missed out on that one.

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4. Touring Tinseltown aka LA
Our driver was amazing, and he knew the INS and OUT of LA-LA-Land. We did all the typical sights: the Hollywood Sign, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, we took a drive around Beverly Hills, visited other studios – Paramount Pictures,CBS, Sunset Bronson Studios…etc.

Snapshot of LA
Snapshot of LA

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Where we ate
LA has plenty of places to eat, from your healthy foods to fast foods and not forgetting the fine dining restaurants, one is really spoilt for choice.

  1. California Pizza Kitchen (CPK)
    • Fantastic vibe coupled with a great menu selection and service.
    • Loved their Pizza.
  2. Kreation Organic Juice
    • My kind of place, a healthy organic juice bar. Came at a good time, so glad we stumbled upon this one.
    • I love the fact that they have an ATM where you can buy their freshly squeezed juice should the store be closed. Very clever ideas.
  3. Burger Lounge
    • A burger joint with a health conscious. We stumbled upon this after a long day of exploring, all we wanted was a quick meal. Our quick meal became one of the BEST burgers we had eaten, their organic quinoa veggie burger is a must.
  4. Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop
    • I popped in here for a salad, they have a build your own salad bar, which I really like. Great service and food.
  5. In-N-Out
    • Their philosophy ‘Quality is everything’ sums up their food preparation. Their menu selection is limited, no veggie burgers so I settled for french fries, which i believe are prepared in 100% vegetable oil and hand-cut.

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When we arrived in LA and discovered Sprinkles Cupcakes,Ice Cream and Cookies, this place became my dessert heaven. I tend to get a bit obsessive when I find food that I like. They also have the ATM which came in handy on the evenings where I felt like a late night dessert snack. 

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Finding My SOUL!!
Anyone who’s ever traveled with me knows that I never leave home without my running shoes and gym clothes. I love running in new places, it’s my way of discovering the place I’m visiting.
While running in Beverly Hills, I stumbled across a place called Soul Cycle.

Soul Cycle is a SPINNING class on steroids!! Same concept as SPINNING but they have added upper body training which involves using light weights. Soul Cycle takes you on a journey – you jog, climb, sprint and dance. I was hooked and managed to fit in 3 classes. I must say, the workout came in handy after indulging on Sprinkle Cup Cakes almost every night.

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Where we stayed
We stayed at the Four Seasons – Beverly Wilshire, the hotel is in the heart of Beverley Hill a mere walking distance to the famous Rodeo Drive.

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Spacious, elegant rooms come with free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs and iPod docks, as well as 24-hour room service.in-room amenities (iPod dock, flatscreen TV, in-room safe, minibar, coffee / tea making facilities, complimentary newspaper daily)
Hotel Amenities, Activities & Services

  • A spa, a fitness centre and an outdoor pool with a poolside bar, plus a business centre.
    Dining
  • From an eating perspective, you will find the CUT a steakhouse by chef Wolfgang Puck’s ,THE Blvd restaurant for all-day dining and the Pool side café and bar.
    • We unfortunately did not eat at the CUT but had a great dining experience at THE Blvd and Pool side café.

If you are a fan of Pretty Women, you can pop in at the hotel, they have created a display to celebrate the 25th year anniversary of the movie. The hotel has also arranged a few Pretty Women Experiences, they are a bit on the DUUR (expensive) side. 

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LA was a true adventure, so glad that I can tick it off my bucket list.

FINAL STOP – New York (NY) – The BIG Apple!

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I have such a LOVE and HATE relationship with NY, it truly is the city that never sleeps.
NY was our stopover before we headed back home on a 16hr flight. Having done the touristy stuff on our previous visit, we used this opportunity for relaxation.
I did manage to squeeze in a run at Central Park, still one of my favourite running spots.

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We also managed to stop by the Converse store in SOHO. I felt like a child in a candy store, so much to choose from. Love the clever use of the shoes to create the wall mural.

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Another Splendid Experience, Another EPIC trip…!

TS!!