Ye Olde Pub Crawl

It’s no accident that several of the pubs here have “olde” in their names; the most recent among them was created in 1905. This crawl is a great way to while away an afternoon into the evening– particularly if the weather’s chilly and the pubs with fireplaces have them lit while you’re getting lit. Start off at the Holborn or Chancery Lane Tube stop. Try to do this crawl during the week if possible, as pubs in this part of London can have funny hours or be a bit dead on the weekends. NB: This is not a very long walk, so pace yourself with the pints or you will indeed be crawling.

Barrels in London Pub, Cittie of Yorke
Roll out the barrel at the Cittie of Yorke

Pub 1: The Cittie of Yorke, 22 High Holborn, WC1V 6BN
While the building that houses this pub was rebuilt in the 1920s, the Cittie of Yorke’s interior has been deemed historically signficant for its much older fittings, like the large triangular stove that helps warm the high-ceilinged main bar in the winter. Though the main floor is very spacious, the dark wood interior and huge barrels on the walls make it feel intimate.

Particularly cozy and good for conversation are the Victorian cubicles along the wall, once used by lawyers to consult with clients since the Cittie is situated in the heart of legal London. The lawyers and their clients always must have been thirsty, as a pub has apparently been situated on the location since 1430. The Cittie of Yorke is a Samuel Smith’s pub, so serves only its own brand of beers, wines, and liquors (all very good!) for more reasonable prices than a lot of the other pub groups.

Pub 2: Ye Olde Mitre, 1 Ely Court, Ely Place, EC1N 6SJ
This pub can be tricky to find, but that’s part of the fun. The easiest way to reach Ye Olde Mitre is by walking down a very small, doorway-sized alley just off Hatton Garden. Hatton Garden itself is worth a look; there are all sorts of wholesale jewellers on the street, buying and selling gold, diamonds, and other precious doo-dads.

Such finery would have been perfect for the Bishops of Ely, who used to have a palace where Ye Olde Mitre sits, hence the pub’s name and symbol– a bishop’s mitre. The pub was purportedly constructed for the servants of the Bishops of Ely in 1546 and, because the land was owned by the Bishops of Ely, the pub technically used to be a part of Cambridge. According to lore, Queen Elizabeth I danced around a cherry tree in front of the pub.

More recently and better documented by film, Ye Olde Mitre was featured in the movie, “Snatch.” A Fuller’s pub with a lot of great guest ales, the toasties at Ye Olde Mitre are also excellent, particularly when eaten by the fire in the snug bar at the front. There’s a friendly elderly bar man who will enthusiastically tell you much more about the pub’s cinematic appearances and history if it’s quiet and he happens to be working when you visit.

Pub 3: Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, 145 Fleet Street on Wine Office Court, EC4A 2B4
Another Sam Smith’s pub, Ye  Old Cheshire Cheese features a lovely, very dark snug bar upstairs with a sweet fireplace and a cavernous basement– literally caverns. The vaulted cellars may go back to the 13th century, when a monastery stood on the site.

A pub has been situated here since the 1600s and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese has quite a few historic associations as a result, particularly literary ones. Dr. Johnson’s house is around the corner, prompting much speculation about the frequency of his custom. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was also frequented and well-documented by Charles Dickens, notably mentioned in A Tale of Two Cities.

Stained Glass in London Pub, The Bell Tavern
Find illumination at the Bell Tavern

Pub 4: The Bell Tavern, 95 Fleet Street, EC4Y 1DH
Though the interior of this pub feels more modern, particularly since it’s part of the Nicholson’s empire, The Bell is worth stopping by for a pint. The building was constructed by Sir Christopher Wren (whose most notable accomplishment among notable accomplishments is St. Paul’s Cathedral). One of Wren’s other commissions in the 1600s after the Great Fire of London was to rebuild the nearby St. Bride’s Church. Wren constructed the building that’s now home to the Bell to house stonemasons working on the reconstruction.

Pub 5: The Blackfriar, 174 Queen Victoria Street, EC4V 4EG
When considering both interior and exterior, the Blackfriar is the “newest” pub on this crawl, built back in 1905. The Blackfriar is also a Nicholson’s pub, but the interior here is impossible to modernize. The Blackfriar is one of the most gorgeous pubs in London– a lush, amazingly detailed demonstration of Art Nouveau by an architect and artist who were proponents of the Arts & Crafts movement.

Black Friar at the Blackfriar London pub
Follow in the footsteps of friars

Friars appear throughout the reliefs and mosiacs, as the pub sits where a friary once stood, hence its and the train station’s name, Blackfriar(s).  In the back sitting area, the walls are adorned with credos that are worth pondering– particularly now that you’ve likely had a few.

Beer Culture, Prague Style

After arriving in Prague and having the rather dreadful experience of getting ripped off by a prick taxi driver and needing to be saved by the kindly porter at our elegant hotel, my husband and I were naturally wary of what Prague held in store for us. Also rather naturally, we were quite thirsty after the small misadventure and our train trip.

Castle District, Prague
The Sights of Prague (Pre-Pivo)

Though Prague can occasionally frustrate visitors looking for an experience that doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re merely visiting a new section of Epcot’s international village or a run-down suburb of Milwaukee, pretty much anything in Prague involving good Czech beer never lets you down.

And the one place to go in Prague for good Czech beer is the Golden Tiger, or U ZLATEHO TYGRA. (I believe this is truly translated as “At the Golden Tiger” but that’s a bit unwieldy for a bar name, particularly after several steins.) In fact, I’d put my money on the Golden Tiger’s being one of the best beer bars in the world. In terms of the convivial beer hallish variety of beer bars, the Golden Tiger is, thus far, the best I have ever visited and is an epicenter of “Beer Culture.” (More on that later.)

When you go into the Golden Tiger, even if you’re there right when the place opens at 3 p.m., there will already be old guys well into their first stein, shooting the breeze at their regular table. Indeed, some of these old guys may be poets and philosophers, which means that, now, after the Czech Republic’s Velvet Revolution, they may also be politicians. (The extraordinary Vaclav Havel has been known to frequent the Golden Tiger, among other Czech notables.)

As you enter, don’t be alarmed by the very focused man behind the counter who is wielding a knife and smacking it on the tops of the steins. He’s merely knocking the extra head off the top of the beer for your sipping pleasure. Sadly, as an experienced American beer drinker, I’m more accustomed to the popping of can flip-tops than the cheerful slaps of a cool beer head knife.

Some seats will be reserved, and the time the seats are reserved for will be marked on the reserved sign. You can sit in the place if it’s reserved until the time shown. If you get there at 3 p.m., however, you should be able to score a free, unreserved seat. The tables are long and large and meant for all to share, which means that, after a few steins, when the place gets even busier, you’ll get to meet some really cool Czech people, like we did.

A man will come with steins of beer, marvelous beer. And he’ll keep coming until you loudly and forcefully indicate that he should stop bringing you beer. None of this whispered, “Ahem, excuse me…” business.  If you act dainty in your request for no more beer, the beer man will just keep bringing you steins until you are happily boisterous enough to feign passing out while laughing very loudly. (I believe that the beer man does this ritual largely for his own amusement and I relished playing the role of very happy inebriated person so accurately.)    

The more steins are consumed, the louder things get. This is, of course, because everyone starts talking and laughing with everyone else, which is the true meaning of “Beer Culture.” Beer Culture as a concept was explained to us by two really nice Czech chicks. (We were lucky enough to sit with them at a shared table.) 

Here are a few of the Beer Culture commandments. (I think I learned many more, but there is an inverse relationship between quantity of beer consumed and quality of memories retained).   

  1. Beer should have some head on it; beer without a head is unacceptable, flat piss. This is the reason for the knife-wielding barman: to get the head perfect.
  2. Beer should be drunk only from quality glass steins, never from plastic.
  3. Beer should be fairly cold so as to be refreshing, never warm, and definitely not near freezing.
  4. Beer should be enjoyed only with other people present, preferably in places with shared tables like the Golden Tiger.
  5. Drinking beer in public establishments means you will get beer on tap, the best way to enjoy beer (versus beer in cans or bottles which can never truly have a proper head, see rule #1).
  6. Beer should be brought to you continually until you cannot stop laughing. The beer should be brought by an expert beer server who can professionally assess your level of drunkenness.
  7. Beer is best consumed with a plate of cold or hot sausages.

This is where my recollection of the commandments drops off a bit. Around this point in the evening, I do recall that some very muscular Czech men who were sitting next to us generously shared slices of smoked meat from an enormous platter. From what I can remember, the meat and sausage platter was very tasty, and indeed, a fine accompaniment to our great Czech beer, per the rules of Beer Culture.

Though the meat and the beer were excellent, they didn’t hold a candle to the good people of Prague, who were so generous to share one of their local drinking institutions with us. Chalk one up for Beer Culture.

Coordinates:
At the Golden Tiger/U ZLATEHO TYGRA is easy to find and is right in the town center. Just look for a line of old men gathering outside a pub-like shop front around 3 p.m. when the place opens.

Husova 228/17
110 00 Prague
1 STARE MISTO

Web: Though this site is in Czech, they have a nice map showing you where this temple to Beer Culture is located. http://www.uzlatehotygra.cz/uzlatehotygra.cz/Pivnice.html

The Native Sons – A Few Dublin Pubs

Pints in a Dublin Pub
Guinness is good for you.

Back in October of 2009, President Obama had just been surprised to find that he won the Nobel Peace Prize right before I left the States to visit the beautiful country of Ireland. In predictable fashion, rather than celebrate this recognition, the right wing commentators commenced their fantasist ravings about the vast global conspiracy behind the President’s honor and, somewhat surprisingly, the left wing gasbags began tutting over whether the timing was right for the President to receive the honor. (No, I did not leave the States to avoid listening to all this kvetching, but that would have been a good reason for a wee break, to be sure.) 

Landing in Dublin, in a cab to the hotel, the Irish taxi driver (a man from Meath), instantly and genuinely congratulated my husband and me for our President’s honor. Our taxi driver also quickly pointed out that President Obama was “a native son,” being part Irish on his mother’s side a few generations back. Indeed, fast-forwarding to 2011, President Obama tipped a pint of Guinness in the village of his ancestors, aptly observing that they keep the best Guinness in Ireland. In every village he visited and in Dublin’s fair city, the throngs who came to cheer on the President definitely showcased Ireland’s love for President Obama.

To think that President Obama is so proudly embraced by normal Irish folks– when a vocal weirdo contingent in the President’s own country absurdly believe he’s not even born there, and when the President’s own American supporters couldn’t even congratulate the man for receiving an amazing honor– well, that’s why I love Ireland. You don’t have to win the Nobel Prize or be the Leader of the Free World to experience Ireland’s embrace, however. You just need to spend as much time as possible in pubs. Listen to music. Talk to folks. Swap stories. And, of course, drink pints. Lots and lots of pints.

In Dublin, perhaps the best pub city in the world, it’s tough not to overdo the Irish hospitality. There are just too many great places to enjoy a pint while chatting with locals and/or listening to music. To avoid your getting overwhelmed, definitely visit a few favorites (listed below). They meet my criteria for a proper Dublin pub: 

  1. There should be some history or story attached to the pub, one that the barmen and regulars like telling.
  2. There should be regulars who frequent the pub, not just tourists.  There should be at least one regular who had his/her first drink at the pub, or who has been drinking there for over a decade.
  3. There should be woodwork. Real wood bars, floors, wall panels, etc. All contribute to an atmosphere of requisite coziness.
  4. The pub should not be brightly lit, and should definitely not have those halogen lights that blind you when you look at them and burn your head and/or ears if you’re too tall.
  5. If the pub does food, it should not be the pub’s focal point. Rather, the menu should list a few tasty items (soup and brown bread, stew, etc.) to help absorb the pints you’ll have. 
  6. There should be a minimum of those annoying game machines that light up and cling-clang constantly. Not a one is vastly preferable, however.
  7. Last, but certainly not least, the Guinness should be poured well. The other tap libations should taste like the lines are clean.

The true professional could try visiting these pubs in the order I list them on foot. It’s a great walk if you’re up to it, starting over near Christ Church Cathedral and working your way to St. Stephen’s Green. (Don’t worry. Having to walk will help keep you out of trouble. And, if worse comes to worse, you can always have a full Irish breakfast the next day to sort yourself out.)

  • The Brazen Head, 20 Lower Bridge St.  
    You’d be remiss not visiting the pub that claims to be Ireland’s oldest (purported to have been established in 1198). Lots of music, great soup, and a really fine Guinness in a city of fine Guinnesses. See their Web site for what’s on: http://www.brazenhead.com/
  • The Long Hall Bar, 31 S. Great George’s St.
    A Victorian treasure, this pub will take you back to a time when gents drank their pints while wearing top hats. With a beautiful long bar and lots of gleaming brass, this may be the classiest historic place to down a few.
  • O’Donaghue’s, 15 Merrion Row
    With live music 7 nights a week, O’Donaghue’s is true to its place in Irish music history. Catch some traditional Irish music, or “trad,” as it’s known, while enjoying a pint or several. The pub’s Web site has great info to help you brush up on your Irish music education: http://www.odonoghues.ie/
  • Toner’s, 2 Upper Baggot St.
    This is a fantastic traditional pub, which Yeats reportedly frequented. The poetry continues; I was taught to hurl the very poetic “toe-rag” as an epithet by a very funny man named Sean late one evening.

Should you ever find yourself leading the free world and winning a Nobel Prize without getting any appreciation from your countrymen for it, take solace. Someone in Ireland claims you as Irish and toasts your success, embracing you as a native son. If your life’s pursuits are less lofty, the welcome you’ll receive in a Dublin pub (after a few shared pints, of course) will be no less.

A Great Reef, but No Snorkeling

Rainbow Vista from the Best of the Westerns
Rainbow Vista from the Best of the Westerns

Though there is no snorkeling in Utah’s Capitol Reef, it is one of the best places for an introduction to the geology lesson that the Great American West provides from the Western edge of Colorado to the chasm of the Grand Canyon. Along with impressive insights into the natural forces that made the 100-mile long monocline known as the Waterpocket Fold, Capitol Reef National Park also provides a glimpse into the people who have left more temporary traces on the area’s landscape, including the First Nations, pioneer settlers, the likes of Butch Cassidy, and the modern ranchers whose cattle are the most dominant life-form in the area.

One of the best and most “western” hotels in the Best Western chain, The Capitol Reef Resort, can be found right at the gate of Capitol Reef National Park. A great base camp for park exploration, the hotel even has a hot tub where you can contemplate how the changing light alters canyon hues while soaking hike-weary bones.

To wash down the trail dust and fuel up for back country exploration, a bar/restaurant across the street from the hotel, The Rim Rock Patio/Spaghetti Western Cafe offers some of Utah’s finest beers and a very satisfying pizza. The outdoor dining area has some of the nicest dart set-ups I’ve seen in any bar, and, if you’re able to extend your arms after a full day’s hike, it’s a fun way to spend the evening. The night we visited, the very kind-hearted woman proprietor showed us where we were on her groovy, vintage topographical wall map on which decades of rubbing fingers from all over the world had lovingly erased our location.  

Before and/or after getting beered, hot-tubbed, and generally satiated, you will, of course, want to visit the main attraction, Capitol Reef National Park. You could spend one or several days hiking, biking, and off-roading in this geologic marvel.

One of the best ways to get oriented to the park is the self-guided drive. A map of the self-guided drive stops (along with fabulous fun facts) are available at the park’s visitor center for a nominal fee. At the end of the self-guided drive’s car-based route, a 4-mile round-trip hike takes you through Capitol Reef Gorge, where you can see some of the park’s odd sandstone formations up close, along with the signposts of people who came before.  

The most visible of the earliest human traces in the park are amazing

Fremont Petroglyph on Capitol Reef Gorge Trail
Fremont Petroglyph on Capitol Reef Gorge Trail

petroglyphs, left by the Fremont people, some of the area’s earliest inhabitants. On the Capitol Reef Gorge hike, you can get right up close to a few of these rock carvings, and ponder whether they were made for religious and/or informational purposes. It’s hard not to ge excited when standing inches away from something carved by human hands thousands of years before. Elsewhere in the park, on a large canyon wall, giant Fremont petroglyphs are visible from hundreds of feet away. Gigantic shaman, bighorn sheep, and other animals carved into the red rocks leap off the rocks.

After the First Nations, pioneers traversed the area to head Westward, and on the Capitol Reef Gorge hike, you can also see their names lining the walls, some dating back from the 1840s and 1850s. Butch Cassidy didn’t sign any rock walls, but he allegedly hid out in the area. (Butch Cassidy connections are touted a lot in this particular neck of the woods.)

Later in the 1800s, Mormon settlers recognized that the valley’s ample water supply would be good for farming, particularly fruit trees. Orchards of apples and other fruit trees planted by these intrepid settlers still line Capitol Reef’s valley.

Apple Tree in Capitol Reef
Apple Tree in Capitol Reef

The National Park Service still maintains these fruit trees, and, when the trees are bearing fruit, you can eat an apple, pear, or other fruit for free when you’re in the orchard. If you’d like to take any fruit with you, bags and picking equipment are available, along with a box to leave payment.

If DIY fruit picking’s not up your alley, or if you visit out of fruit-bearing season, you can always enjoy the valley’s fruits at the Gifford Homestead. Located in the old Mormon settlement in the valley, the historic home sells pies made from fruit grown in the area, along with other baked items and preserved goods– great for a pre or post-hike picnic.  (The pie made from apples grown in one of the orchards was particularly tasty after hiking the Capitol Reef Gorge trail.)

Though the apple trees and the settlement and the pioneer grafitti and the Fremont petroglyphs all seem to point to the permanence of man’s hand in the landscape, Capitol Reef leaves you with the feeling that we humans are newcomers and short-timers on the planet. The greater permanence of nature, as evidenced by Capitol Reef’s 100-mile long sandstone monocline, endless canyons of every color, harshly dry landscapes that suddenly swell with water– all formed over eons– dwarves our feeble human efforts to leave a mark. In short, we should enjoy the apples, and the apple pie, while we can.  

Do:
http://www.nps.gov/care/index.htm

Eat:
Rim Rock Patio/Spaghetti Western Cafe, Right across from Best Western

Stay:
Best Western Capitol Reef Resort, 2600 East Highway 24
http://www.bestwesternutah.com/torrey-hotels/ 

In the Land of Giants

Grant's Tree in Parts, Sequoia National Park
Grant's Tree in Parts, Sequoia National Park

When you hear words like “the largest living thing,” or “the widest,” you know you have to see them, though you’re also slightly afraid that the object(s) in question may not live up to the hype.

The sequoias at Sequoia National Park do not disappoint. The fact that they adjoin a valley, Kings Canyon, that rivals Yosemite (and may actually be superior due to lack of crowds), makes this location all the better. (Warning: if you’re driving from SF, you will most likely take Highway 198 to get to the park. On Highway 198, you will encounter a series of bad smells until you reach the town of Three Rivers. These smells include, but are not limited to: the massive stench of industrial stockyards, an overwhelming aroma of pressed garlic, an acrid sulfuric chemical odor,  and more oppressive odors emanating from super-sized stockyards. However, in spite of these perils, Sequoia & Kings Canyon are well worth the trip down the Road of Bad Smells.)

The Sequoia visitor center provides a lot of interesting background about the world’s largest trees, along with a good orientation to help you plan your visit.  Though there are several hikes to take through the various groves, you shouldn’t miss the two most notable walks: the Sherman and the Grant. The Sherman Tree walk takes you on a descent to the base of the world’s largest living thing by volume. The walk through the lovely grove around Grant’s Tree (the widest of the giant Sequoias) has some of the prettiest tree specimens and a lot of amazing sites, including an old, dead sequoia, “The Monarch,” you can walk through that was once a miner’s refuge and a bar.

When you’re peckish in Sequoia and in need of a food/wine stop, Wuksachi Lodge has a nice restaurant with a lovely mountainside view. (Thankfully, food has come a long way in our national parks since the days of foil-wrapped cheeseburgers.) The wine list has a good variety and is surprisingly reasonable given the relative remoteness of the location.

Don’t miss a good hike or two in Kings Canyon, even though it’s a bit off the beaten path. The majestic peaks frame a verdant valley with a babbling river running through it, culminating in lively falls rolling over large boulders. Camping spots seem a lot sweeter in Kings Canyon than in Sequoia, so if you’re up for a few nights in a tent,  do the Kings thing.

For nights with a roof over your head, a good base camp outside the park can be found in the town of Three Rivers. The affordable Comfort Inn has shuttles into the Park (shuttles are mandatory at certain times of year), along with a swimming pool and hot tub. 

Two great places to spend your post-hike evenings can also be found in Three Rivers. The Cider Mill Restaurant stays open later and has outdoor seating. Many of the selections are grilled by a nice guy tending the BBQ out front. The wood-grilled Carne Asada (along with several ice cold Tecates) was the dining highlight.

The River View Restaurant & Lounge has a nice perch above a perky river run, where you can sit outside and listen to the river race by. There’s often live music here, and if there’s not, the kind folks at the River View were playing some awesome live concert Grateful Dead tracks the night I visited. Even better, the beer was ice cold, and the onion rings were some of the best you’ll ever have.

Cold beers. Big trees. Bigger canyons. Fewer crowds. Sequoia/Kings Canyon are definitely worth a visit.   

Do:
National Park Info, http://www.nps.gov/seki/index.htm

Eat:
Cider Mill, 40311 Sierra Dr. (Highway 198)
River View Restaurant & Lounge, 42323 Sierra Dr. (Highway 198)

Sleep:
Comfort Inn, 40820 Sierra Dr. (Highway 198), http://www.comfortinn.com/hotel-three_rivers-california-CAA26

A Guide to the Outerlands

Ocean Beach Sunset, San Francisco, California
Sunset in the Outer Sunset

Having lived out in the Avenues for a decade, I always enjoyed it when the rest of SF came out to our neck of the woods for events like Outsidelands and the Bay to Breakers. There’s something amusing about drunk people asking how far away Haight-Ashbury or the Ferry Building is, when most of them have just walked from there.

But you shouldn’t wait for a special event to bring you out where the streets have numbers and alphabetically sequenced names. The Outer Sunset (also indicated on old maps as the Outerlands when it was a somewhat barren terrain of rolling sand dunes) is one of San Francisco’s most original, authentic neighborhoods– a groovy mix of surfers, artists, folks starting cool local businesses, and just plain ordinary people (if anyone residing in San Francisco can ever be described as merely ordinary).  Here’s a few things to do before or after a good walk in Golden Gate Park or on the beach, or anytime you’re lucky enough to find yourself out in OB (Ocean Beach).

Community Coffee Klatsch
If you head down in the morning to enjoy the beach, you may need some caffeine. For some of the best espresso in the city, head to Trouble Coffee, on Judah between 45th & 46th Avenues. You can also recharge with the excellent toast and the refreshing juice from freshly cracked coconuts.

At the end of Judah where the street car turns around is Java Beach, which offers coffee, some light fare, and beer when the time’s right. The outdoor patio and garden across the street are perfect places to sip a beverage and watch the neighborhood go by if it’s a sunny day. (Some nights, Java Beach also has music, and you can check out the calendar here: http://www.javabeachcafe.com/)

Picnic Items
The Outer Sunset is a zone of independence against the tyranny of encroaching chain stores. So much so that the neighborhood’s residents successfully got chain stores banned from the neighborhood when the mermaid-logo people from Seattle tried to muscle in.

The epicenter of this independent, up-with-people movement in the Outer Sunset is Other Avenues (http://www.otheravenues.coop/),  a worker-owned co-op offering natural and organic foods and merchandise since the 1970s. Other Avenues is located on Judah between 44th and 45th Avenues, and you should pick-up a kombucha drink, micro-brews, or organic vino along with cheeses, fresh breads, and great organic produce for a beach and park picnics here.

Surfer Gear
If you left your board at home and want to catch some sets at OB, swing by Mollusk Surf Shop at 45th and Irving (one block toward Golden Gate Park from Judah). The apparel’s also great here, particularly the brilliantly designed t-shirts with sea/surf motifs. Year-round, Mollusk hosts a lot of fun events, from yoga classes to art shows to movie screenings. You can find out more here: http://www.mollusksurfshop.com/

Eat Your Veggies (It’s a Treat)
For organic, contemporary fare, Outerlands, at 4401 Judah (on the corner of 45th), offers a menu that changes with the seasons, with a real focus on vegetables that will make you forget they’re not the main dish. (I had brussel sprouts here once that would have changed any sprout-haters mind!) The soups and fresh bread are super-stars on an already tremendous menu, and the wine list offers several interesting options, along with a beer menu that changes daily.  Take a look at what’s on offfer at Outerlands here: http://outerlandssf.com/

Currying Favor
Good, solid Indian food can be found at Golden Gate Indian & Pizza, in a little strip mall on Judah, right off 46th. The veggie samosas are some excellent fried goodness, and you can get your chicken tikka as spicy as you like, if you ask. The Indian pizza is also a novel combination of two awesome foods: pizza and tandoori chicken. Mmm. When worlds collide.

The Locals Local
If you’re out in the avenues for a special event or on a banner weather day, don’t try to fight the crowds and claw your way back downtown. There’s a place for you called Pittsburgh’s. One of the only places that’s open until 2 a.m. in the area, Pittsburgh’s attracts an eclectic crowd: surfers, sports fans watching a game or two, locals shooting pool, and professional drinkers who could give Bukowski a run for his money. The bartenders are always friendly, and never bat an eyelash if you walk in wearing cowboy hats or other costumes. As long as you’ve got the green to pay for your ice cold PBR, it’s all good.  Cruise over to 4207 Judah, at 47th Avenue for a solid, old-school American local.

Festivals that Find You in the Outer Sunset
If you’re an SF resident who’s skeptical of the Avenues, you’ll already know about these festivals. If you’re a tourist, here’s some things you should definitely take part in when you come to SF for a visit.

  • Bay to Breakers – Third Sunday in May traditionally. People walking, running, and drinking from the SF Bay to, you guessed it, the “Breakers” of Ocean Beach. Wear a costume. Mexican wrestling masks count as a costime. The Beach/Park Chalet is a hot spot on the finish line. I’d give you the link, but every year, they annoyingly/intelligently change the URL to include a corporate sponsor’s name. Google will show you the way if you’re game.
  • Outsidelands – Mid to late August, this music festival combines top name acts with the best up-and-coming artists. For the festival’s first year, I saw Radiohead play at night when the fog rolled in, and I’ll never forget it. I’ll also never forget the deep-fried fancy macaroni and cheese sticks with a side of spicy tomato sauce. It’s like all the other festivals…without the crappy camping! Get details on the upcoming hoo-ha at: http://www.sfoutsidelands.com/
  • Hardly Strictly Bluegrass – Mid to late September/Early October, the park plays host to multiple FREE venues where you can hear acts like Joan Baez sing “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.” It’s free because a very nice man made a lot of money in Silicon Valley/investment banking and decided to put on a music party for his favorite kind of folk/bluegrass tunes. I have never heard of a better expenditure of cash, which probably makes Warren Hellman (the funder of said festival) the smartest money human on the planet. Bravo, Mr. Hellman. Bravo.  

Coastside Weekend – Ano Nuevo & Half Moon Bay

Yellow Flowers in Pescadero
Yellow Wildflowers in Pescadero

In addition to the myriad delights of the city itself, one of the best things about San Francisco is the ability to get away from it all fairly quickly. In just over 25 minutes, you can find yourself in the Marin Headlands, in the middle of the Bay, or, if you head south down the coast, to the charming enclave of Half Moon Bay. On weekends when everyone in San Francisco seems to be heading up to Marin for a daytrip, cruising south is a great way to get out of town while fighting less traffic and crowds. The towns of Half Moon Bay and Pescadero help you instantly forget city stress, and get the cool, chill vibe of the coastside lands.

Day One – Elephant Seals & Pocket-Sized Pescadero
Starting out from San Francisco on a Saturday morning relatively early in the a.m., head south on the Great Highway and keep following signs for Highway One. The drive’s a beautiful one, particularly once you get to the open stretches of coastal road that dramatically hover above the coast past Pacifica. The coastline’s dramatic, the water’s blue, and there are scads of lovely little beaches if you want to get out for a leg stretch, or just to marvel at the great waters of the Pacific.  

Your destination this morning is Ano Nuevo, a California state natural reserve. Ano Nuevo is a beautiful landscape, representing coastal dune vegetation and the NoCal coast as it was before modernity began to forever change these habitats.

Though Ano Nuevo is a beautiful place for a nature hike anytime of year, the best times to visit coincide with the presence of the elephant seals. Ano Nuevo is an important spot for elephant seals, where they haul out to recreate, reproduce, and rest. And they do need some rest; Ano Nuevo is also a popular haunt of Great White sharks, who feed on the abundant elephant seals here. Marine scientists have deemed the sharks of Ano Nuevo a significant population for understanding the mysterious Great Whites’ behaviors overall. Before you go, be sure to check out any permit requirements. Because Ano Nuevo is so important for the elephant seal population, there are times of year when visitation of the beaches is restricted: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=523

After 2 or 3 hours at Ano Nuevo, the sea air and the hiking should have amply whetted your appetite, preparing you

Duarte's Tavern, Pescadero
Yum. Duarte’s Tavern.

 for one of the best meals you’ll ever eat at Duarte’s Tavern in Pescadero. (Also affectionately known as “Doo-arts” by some SF locals.) To get to Duartes from Ano Nuevo,  just need to head north on Highway One, and after about 30 minutes, turn right when the sign for Pescadero appears. The restaurant’s one of the only things in the sweet, pocket-sized town of Pescadero, so you can’t miss it. Give your name at the front of Duarte’s for a table, and then, go wait in the wood-paneled, wonderfully old-school bar. Sample a local beer, Anchor Steam, or try one of their refreshing bloody marys.

Once you get your table, prepare to be delighted. This James Beard award-winning restaurant serves some of the freshest seafood around, along with the best of local ingredients in general. Start with a cup of “half and half” soup, a combo of their cream of artichoke (made from chokes growing down the road) and chile soups. For your main course, the cioppino (the Italian fisherman’s stew) never disappoints, nor does the abalone sandwich. Whatever you order, be sure to save room for pie; pies served at Duarte’s are nothing short of fantastic, particularly the ollalieberry. For more detailed directions or some other info, check Duarte’s out online at: http://www.duartestavern.com/

After lunch, you’ll need to walk off whatever you gorged on at Duarte’s. You should check out the shops on Pescadero’s main street, which showcase crafts made by local artists, and also, foods featuring local ingredients. Stop in Arcangeli Grocery/Norm’s Market (http://www.normsmarket.com/store/) to pick up some wonderful breads and foccacias, cheeses (especially the local, delicious, Harley Farms goat cheese), more pies, and local treats like pickled garlic, artichoke spreads, and more.  (Be sure to stock up on items that will keep until tomorrow to enjoy at a picnic.)

If you still feel like a little more nature as you leave Pescadero, on the way back out of Pescadero at Highway One, there’s a wetlands for bird watching and a beach with some tide pools. If you go to this beach, be careful: the surf is treachorous here, and the rocks very jagged. Make sure you know which way the tide’s running so you are more certain to keep sure footing. (Particularly if you’re one of the lucky passengers who got to have more than one Anchor at Duarte’s.)

Smoking bus at Camerons Pub
Double-decker bus at Camerons Pub

Once you’ve enjoyed all of Pescadero’s delights, you’re heading back to Half Moon Bay, and after the intersection with 92, you will see Camerons (http://www.cameronsinn.com/) on the left of Highway One. You should definitely stop for a pint, and, if you’re hungry even after Duarte’s, some decent pub grub. (Camerons also has a little shop with British goods, should you need a Cadbury Flake fix.) You won’t be able to miss it, as the pub is surrounded by double-decker buses from England. (You can even smoke in one of them, if you’re one who still indulges in tobacco products.)

After a quick pit stop at Camerons, continue north on Highway One, until you get to the Beach House on the north side of Half Moon Bay, where you’re staying for the night (http://www.beach-house.com/half-moon-bay-hotels.html) Rooms are spacious, and can sleep 4 if you’re trying to save a penny or two, as they have living areas with pull-out beds. Enjoying a bottle of wine on your patio while the sun sets from your perch right on the coast is a very nice way to end a busy day. You can also soak your troubles away in the hot tub or the small pool.

If you feel a bit more peppy in the evening hours, walk on the coastal path a short distance to Sam’s Chowder House, conveniently located just next door. Sam’s has good seafood staples, and really nice ambiance outdoors, where you can sit on a deck above the sea next to communal fire bowls and enjoy a cocktail or several. Sam’s also has music on weekends, and you can see the schedule here: http://www.samschowderhouse.com/ 

NB: Though there are many fine places to go in Half Moon Bay for drinks and/or dining, particularly in the charming downtown that’s inland from the coast, Sam’s is the best evening pit stop when staying at the Beach House, as you can walk back to your bed rather than driving after imbibing. If you actually have a designated driver with you, your evening options are a bit more open, though Sam’s is a very worthy place to spend an evening regardless of its proximity to the Beach house.   

Day 2 – Beach Walk & Bocce
In the morning, be sure to make the most of your coastal location, and have a great walk on the shore and/or coastal path from the Beach House, after enjoying the complimentary continental breakfast. Have a soak in the hot tub, and enjoy yourself until check-out.

Before you leave your hotel, pack up your picnic lunch that you assembled yesterday. You’ll head south a bit on Highway One to 92, and turn left, going to La Nebbia Winery.  (The entire trip will take you about 15 minutes.) On 92, you’ll pass by a lot of the garden/farm supply places that Half Moon Bay is known for, and see a lot of pumpkins if you’re here in the autumn before Halloween. (Half Moon Bay is the pumpkin capital of NoCal, and has a festival to prove it.)

La Nebbia gets surplus juice from a lot of different wineries in Sonoma/Napa/Santa Cruz and bottles it, meaning you get some wines that normally cost $40 for more like $10 when you buy them at La Nebbia. The folks who work here are always really informative about what’s being poured and very fun and friendly. The property has picnic tables and a great bocce court, so have your picnic, raise a glass or two, and enjoy some bocce for the afternoon. La Nebbia also has many events, so see what’s on before you go: http://www.lanebbiawinery.com/

Depending on the weather (fog or lots o’ fog in the summer), after La Nebbia, cruise home on Skyline or take Highway One back. For either route, signs of city life will appear quicker than you think, shaking you out of the cool, laidback coastside ambiance. You’ll be so restored you won’t believe you’ve been gone from the city for only 24 hours.