spa de da: Willow Stream Spa

As I mentioned I recently got out of town, and while I don’t always indulge in a spa visit I do find it’s a nice city stop to add a little extra relaxation to the typical travel hustle. Popping into the lovely Fairmont Pacific Rim near the harbor was the perfect luxurious place to get away from it all.

  • Spa: Willow Stream Spa
  • Service: 60 min Deep Tissue/Purifying Detox Facial
  • Cost: $195/$195 CAD (more expensive f-su/holidays) – approx $156 USD ($2.60/min)
  • Amenities: The facilities are just lovely. Standard lockers, robes, slippers then take a pass through the rest of the women’s locker room to check out the amenities including a 360 shower. Then a visit to the most beautiful steam room I think I’ve ever seen with long spacious marble benches and a window overlooking the harbor. Then out to the coed areas including various indoor and outdoor lounges with fireplaces including cozy pods that you can nestle into and rotate looking out into the water giving a feeling a privacy and full tranquility. The staff swung by after a bit to offer some fresh fruit skewers. And two separate semi enclosed Jacuzzis for a cozier effect. Following the service you’re given the standard option of water or a shot of a fresh pressed juice blend. Of course various flavors of water available throughout along with the typical nuts and dried fruits. The hotel also has a full menu just a dial away including their sushi bar which I read was quite good.
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Every so often you just need to get out of town. And July ended up being a good time to visit the lovely Vancouver. Flight from SFO to YVR is just a little over two hours and with an opt to hop in a cab it was a relatively quick jaunt to the lovely Burrard Hotel. Hotel pick was based on a Travel and Leisure posting and it ended up being a great location and home base. The city is quite walkable, up Burrard, past Robson shopping, along the Sydney opera house-esque Canada Place, and then a lay of the land with a trip up the Vancouver Lookout at Harbor Centre Tower; a pretty touristy stop but great views and lots of info on various parts of the city. Then a stroll through Gastown which is just a small hood that’s an interesting mix of touristy and boutiquey (did I mention the US/CAD was good?). Not quite ready for dinner Pourhouse was the perfect stop for enjoying the 1900s speakeasy vibe, listening to Sunday night live music, and a beverage and a snack. Later a taxi ride over to West for a delicious dinner, there was fish, there was pasta, it was good.

The next day started with a walk down to the adorable water taxis that take you the stone’s throw over to Granville Island. It’s basically a perma farmer’s market, restaurant, and shop area which makes for a lovely snack and stroll. After a break to do a beer tasting at Granville Island Brewing Taproom a stroll up to catch what I had heard was great fish and chips at Go Fish, sadly a reminder to check hours because it was closed on Monday. Alas there is good food to be found elsewhere, back heading over to Yaletown and the Homer Street Cafe for a fantastic rotisserie chicken, perfect sides, and a seat at the bar for some pleasant conversation and Vancouver tips from the staff. Later a tour through the Vancouver Art Gallery for a look at impressive Monet and photography exhibits and a stroll down Robson with a little shopping. Since we’re making this all about food this night brought Blue Water Cafe for a very good, very seafood dinner.

Apparently a trip to Vancouver is not complete without a trip for breakfast to Cafe Medina so get ready to wait in line for a worthwhile waffle with a selected topping, I went classic chocolate, a lavender latte, and you know I had eggs. After a little walk/shop around Yaletown, a trip over to Stanley Park and a visit to the aquarium which had quite a selection of lots of good water critters. One could spend days in Stanley Park, there’s a seawall that surrounds it that’s about 9k making for a perfect bike trip (note it’s one way only). Or one can take the internal route via car or taxi checking out sites and then make a stop at The Sylvia Hotel bar and restaurant on your way out for a cocktail and I heard from someone that they make a mean burger. No burger for me because I was saving up my meal to visit the most upscale of my dinner stops yet, Hawksworth, a la carte or tasting menu, everything I had was delicious and a little bit interesting.

A free shuttle makes a trip up to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park for a tour of their major sites: the suspension bridge, the treetops adventure, and the cliff walk. While getting there early to minimize the crowds is helpful, even with the throngs of people it was an impressive setup getting great views of the beautiful rainforest. Then an afternoon lunch stop at Fish Counter for some fish and chips, very low frills counter order but the selection of fish options and fresh and tastiness was well worth it. The area right around there on Main Street also makes for a decent stroll of a few cute shops. And surprisingly that evening getting a little tired of fish Lupo Restaurant for a little Italian food would fit the bill, it was a quaint set up and the food was solid if not extraordinary.

Last full day started with a visit to the Willow Stream Spa in the Fairmont Pacific Rim which was absolutely decadent (I’ll follow up with a spa de da post). Time for more fish, so sushi at Miku Restaurant, the Premium sushi sampler was a great way to get a taste of their signature styles of Aburi and oshi. And another brief circuit ’round Gas Town (I had forgotten to look at the actual gas clock last time I was there, not significant but every 15 it gives a go) and a stop at Vancouver Urban Winery (which was actually a little further than I’d recommend walking for a break spot). Last official dinner dinner stop at the Royal Dinette which although named Vancouver Magazine’s Best New Restaurant was a bit of a letdown. Super cute and I liked the idea of the menu options but both app and main felt a little unbalanced. Fortunately one more meal to be had, an indulgent breakfast at Jam Cafe (there was a wait here as well) before heading home well fed and relaxed!

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spa de da: The I Spa

Well sometimes a deal comes along and you just need to take advantage of it. And the deals seem to come along frequently enough for The I Spa to make it a semi regular stop. With a few extras in the facility it makes it more of a spa day than just a massage but the less kept up, less spacious, and less extensive status of those extras makes it feel not quite A level. The discount makes up for that.

  • Spa: The I Spa (Soma)
  • Service: Swedish Massage
  • Cost: 80 min $205 ($2.56/min) – with $75 discount ($1.63/min)
  • Amenities: There’s access to the hotel’s pool and Jacuzzi, though with a needed escort around the corner and hotel guests it’s not as relaxing as it could be. Within the changing room, along with standard lockers, robes and slippers, is a steam room and showers. There’s a tiny waiting room with water though I can’t remember if there was anything other than some apples.
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another 100

It’s that time of year again, San Francisco Chronicles Top 100 Restaurants! As most folks who know me are aware I managed to make 50 on this list a priority a few years ago. Ever since I have tried to make it less of a serious goal and more of a consideration. This last year I somehow managed to work my way up to 53 before this year knocked me back down. Fortunately, with the eleven removals from my accomplishments I managed to hit a few new and old introductions to keep my number at 47. I’m pretty sure I can work 3 in at some point since I’ve already got a few on my radar.

Some of the noteworthy deliciousness of this year included the super fresh Cotogna and Octavia which didn’t disappoint. State Bird Provisions spin off The Progress made a non Spanish tapas style sampling a win. Plus cute and tasty pizza-licious Del Popolo was good that night and made amazing leftovers.

My second annual wine country restaurant trip hit lunch at Oso Sonoma which made me thankful I risked going cocktail instead of wine for the blood orange margarita to go with my also Mexican slanted shrimp tacos, and after working off a bit of that on to Bistro Don Giovanni for some of the freshest tasting pesto pasta I’ve ever had.

Oh and I can’t forget about Petit Crenn‘s seven course meal, which for a fixed menu did a great job of accommodating a non dairy slant (no cream or cheese but said butter was aok). I also made a couple trips to old faves which have stood the test of time, Zuni Cafe and The Slanted Door.

And my jump on this year includes the return of former faves La Taqueria and Seven Hills to the list and new picks Corridor and In Situ as well as Souvla. Where to next?

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spa de da

I have a tradition that on my birthday I take the day off and get a spa treatment, assuming it’s possible. It’s just a nice way to always do something a little special. So this year whilst searching for a new place to go I realized I had hit most of the hot spots in San Francisco but was having trouble recollecting so I thought I’d start sharing them (a handy way to keep track).

This year’s pick was a return visit to a spot I hadn’t hit in longer than I can recall:

  • Spa: SenSpa (SF-Presidio)
  • Service: Muscle Refresher Swedish Massage
  • Cost: 90 min $215 ($2.39/min)
  • Amenities: It doesn’t look like much from the outside, just another Presidio building, but they’ve done a nice job on the interior. The recent addition is their ‘cafe’ which is an eating space inside with a few pre-prepared options from The Plant as well as a few wine options. The facilities mostly consist of locker rooms with a steam room and all the standard: robe (though I’d prefer they didn’t sew the pockets shut)/slippers, brushes/dryers, lotions and shampoos. Otherwise they’ve got a few areas for restful sitting, included snacks (nuts, dates and the like) and of course water and tea.

And for the record as I recall throughout the years the following have been hits: Earthbody (SF-Hayes), Nob Hill Spa (SF-Nob Hill), Remede Spa (SF-Soma), Bliss Spa (SF-Soma), Spa Vitale (SF-Embarcadero), Cavallo Point Healing Arts Center & Spa (Sausalito), The I Spa San Francisco (SF-Soma), Burke Williams Day Spa (SF-Downtown), The Ritz-Carlton (Half Moon Bay), International Orange (SF – Fillmore), Kabuki Springs & Spa (SF-Japantown).

What should be next on the list?

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prague, budapest, viking cruise, munich…

It all started in Prague, with lots of jetlag and no clear mass transit opting for the hotel pickup to the lovely 987 Prague Hotel was a good call; the hotel’s in a pretty good locale with all walkable though a bit on the outer side of the old city. The Wenceslas Square shopping area was a good pass through to get to the more traditional old town. First stop the Black Madonna, one of the cubist style buildings housing both the cubist museum and the Grand Cafe Orient for a nice coffee. Then further to Tyn Church in the main square where there are some fun old timey car ride tours to get a look at spots near and far including the castle (photo above), the Rasin Building aka Fred and Ginger, the Lenin Wall, and a view of the glass blocked National Theater building, Nova Scena. Heading back for a more detailed look with a stroll across Charles Bridge to funicular number one of the trip up to the Eiffel tower’s little sister the Petrin Tower; some pretty gardens and up top a nice view. Walking the Old Jewish Cemetery is a poignant visit seeing the list of Holocast victims in the Pinkas Synagogue followed by a walk of the small span fitting the hundred thousand graves is beautiful nonetheless. A stop at a recommended hot spot for Hot Chocolate at Hotel Neruda (I can only assume it’s good if the delicious Soy Latte and croissant dipped into a pool of chocolate were any indication), up to the changing of the guard at Prague Castle at noon followed by a bit of a tour and of course an ice cold beer to drink in the cold, but with that view who could resist sitting outside. And they do love their beer, a visit to the Beer Museum (the pub not the museum) to continue to explore the love of pilsners with a flight of samples, not to stick to all things beer there’s also the Champagneria and La Bodeguita del Medio for a quick mojito. And a couple amazing dinners at Kampa Park for a fancy, beautiful, and delicious seafood meal and a more traditional Italian dinner at La Finestra, also stumbling upon Vinograf Wine Bar near the hotel for a perfect merrying of pasta and a little vino.

Then hopping on a train and heading onto Budapest which was Airbnb action, a great location and had the weather been better we would have quite enjoyed our rooftop deck. We were right by the Central Market Hall for a nice look at some of the local fare before journeying out for the sites. The Castle District is worth a visit and not just for my second funicular of the trip. The Hungarian National Gallery was pretty impressive while the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art was not. One can head across the Chain Bridge and check out the fabulous looking Parliament (photo above). Food and drink were had at some hotspots like The Four Seasons which has fancy fare but also amazing architecture, Mai Mano Cafe where the arty hipsters are reported to be, Trattoria Toscana for some delicious Italian, traditional fare at Hung(a)ry, and Csendes one of the ruin pubs for a complete experience. And no trip complete without a trip to the traditional baths at Veli Bej Baths we managed our way through the protocols to great relaxation (basically you should bring anything you need including towels).

And onto the cruise up the Danube on the Viking riverboat! So it’s basically set up like a floating hotel (rooms, restaurant, bar…) that mostly travels overnight to give you the most time in each port city each day. And of course meals are included as is Julie McCoy cruise director to let you know every day what you’re going to see and coordinate your included tour, as well as some options. We arrived for our first outing (we skipped the organized Budapest trip) in Bratislava, Slovakia with a bus tour including the Castle followed by a walking tour of downtown. Our freetime was capped off by our special outing for drinks and dinner at the UFO Restaurant atop the “new” bridge – it only sways a little in the wind! (photo above). Then three separate days in Austria. Vienna, which after a morning of walking tour and history was followed by a Viennese coffee at Cafe Hawelka and an afternoon of good museums both Belvedere and Leopold. November is too early for the Christmas Markets but the structures were starting to pop up everywhere (which was actually kind of annoying). I skipped our next port stops of Melk & Dürnstein, which were undoubtedly charming, mostly due to a minor onboard injury. And then went for the day trip outside of Linz (which was a bummer not to check out more of) to the Czech Ceský Krumlov which was in fact a charming site (photo above) including a nice pop in to the interesting Egon Schiele Art Centrum. And then on to Germany with a stop in Passau for another walking tour covering days of yore including yet another church differentiated by the largest church pipe organ and a lackluster exhibit at the MMK Modern Art Museum was balanced out by a charming lunch stop at Anton coffee house and winebar before wrapping this part of the trip.

After a decent bus ride an amazing final respite in Munich (here’s to a cheap Flixbus that took us from Passau and caught a few of the more architectural highlights on the way in). Our hotel Deutsche Eiche was on an adorable street and as we took off our first evening to see what we could see and turns out we were right by the Viktualienmarkt (market), where it was actually warm enough to pop in to the beer garden with the most giant soft pretzel you’ve ever seen in close proximity of the amazing St. Peter’s Church (photo above). Museum day started with a walk through the impressive but never ending Residenz, then the four part Pinakothek der Moderne, which houses Design, Architecture, Contemporary, and Classical Modernism, followed by a pop over to the slightly too modern Museum Brandhorst. For the Sunday where it turned out most things are closed we went through the large Englischer Garten with a stop off at the Chinese Tower. And lest one worries there is also good food to be found, from a fun Burger & Bier to Italian at L’Osteria Kunstlerhaus to more traditional fare at Wirsthaus in der Au we were more than covered.

A good time was had by all! Where to next?

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another 100

A few years ago I made it my goal to up the number of restaurants that I had visited on the San Francisco Chronicle Top 100 list. I was counting restaurants I’d visited in years prior to the current list and since there are 100 restaurants all over the Bay Area I had what seemed like a manageable goal to up my number to 50. And I did!

Though once that goal was complete, a new list came out and with new restaurants introduced and others removed from the list I was back in the situation I find myself at with each new list, less than 50 attended. So moving forward I’ve refrained from making it an official goal but do tend to take a look each year. This year not only did I up my number back up to 49 including some new faves The Cavalier, Oenotri, and surprisingly now dropped from the list Farmshop, I also attended a couple of old favorites that I hadn’t been to in a while, Delfina and Boulevard (yum).

So with the new list out this year my number is back down to 39: 

Where to next?

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another 100

frenchlaundryAnother year another bay area top 100 restaurant list! For those of you who missed the year I focused on this you can check out the page or the post. And here’s the latest:

And no I didn’t focus on this list last year, though I did manage to hit Monsieur Benjamin, Poggio, Tosca Cafe, and Trou Normand as well as a long awaited return to Slanted Door. With this year’s updates that brings me back down to only having visited 40.

While I won’t necessarily focus on conquering any number of these, it does make a handy reference. And who knows maybe this will be the year for Gary Danko or French Laundry, or maybe I’ll just try for The Progress. I’m getting hungry just thinking about more restaurants! Where to next?

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my passion for paper

The search for the perfect notebook is like the search for the perfect black shoe, there’s always something new to look at and you really need more than one.

Not long ago we heard that San Francisco favorite Flax is moving from its current location. Now it is supposedly relocating but its current spot walking distance from my apartment and so it is often by default my office supply spot. And although it costs a ‘bit’ more there is something so delighting about finding a notebook that’s just a little something special. Following are a few that I’ve gravitated to. To check them all out view my board at pinterest.

Work staple


Home list must


For more special lists


Daily lists


Mini Pads always come in handy


Or a mini notebook


Browsing can always happen at Flax, Maido, or Patrick & Co. Where do you get the best office supplies and what’s your weakness?

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bruges, amsterdam, copenhagen


So you’ve heard about the impetus for some of my trip planning and a week’s worth of activity, check out this post if you missed it. But wait there’s more! Before and after the cycling I spent some time on our bookend cities, plus while I was there seemed like a good time to dip my toe into something Scandanavian. I’d been to Belgium before but not to Bruges (Brussels only) or the Netherlands or Denmark, fun! I booked flights and hotels ahead of time, SFO to Amsterdam to Copenhagen back to good ol’ SFO. Upon arrival to Amsterdam with the help of a nice guy at the train ticket center, two transfers and what felt like a million hours later, the fun could begin.

Upon arrival and a quick taxi ride in Bruges I checked into the lovely Fevery Hotel. The location was good, breakfast included plus jellybeans offered in room, a bit outside of the city center but just a short walk. And the front desk gave some lovely recommendations. Most notable recco was my map marked for a stroll through sites including churches, canals, windmills, and my first Belgian beer of the trip at the oldest pub Café Vlissinghe. In some ways Bruges was my favorite city in that it was the most charming and unlike other cities, though of course that trades off for lack of some of the perks of a big city. As noted it’s walk-able, though put on a cushie comfort shoe because it’s all cobblestones which it turns out is murder on the foot. I also enjoyed the canal tour, you don’t necessarily see anything you wouldn’t on foot but the perspective and the historical narrative are a nice way to spend the time. Three days was really enough to feel like I saw things. I picked up one of the museum passes which gave access to the Groeningemuseum as well as a series of other options. And don’t miss the climb up 366 stairs for a great view of the city and Belfort itself. Not covered by the pass but totally worth it was a Picasso exhibit which showcased some great pieces of his and some peers. And a stroll through the main market square and the two key shopping blvds Zuidandstraat and Steenstraat didn’t leave me empty handed. And yes chocolate, fries, and waffles.

Post cycling and upon arrival to the harbor at Amsterdam we had a nice view of Nemo as well as the Maritime museum, though neither got an inside visit from me. A taxi to drop stuff at the bizarrely ‘hip’ and modular CitizenM hotel, which was a little too far out of downtown but right on an easy rail line. The main city area is walk-able but it’s extensive enough that you don’t necessarily want to walk it all every day so a one or three day pass makes on-and-offs the central transpo that much easier. About four full days in Amsterdam can be enough and too little. I had a little museum overload as I tried to take in the biggies Van Gogh, Stedelijk, and Rijksmuseum which were all well worth the visit. Each day post museum it was on to strolls through neighborhoods and parks as well as ordering meals back in restaurants, mmm pastries and apple pie, and another canal tour. Shopping could of course also be found around the neighborhoods and the Nine Streets area again didn’t leave me empty handed.

And then on to Copenhagen. Hotel Alexandra was in a great location and I again took off on foot for a walk through shopping areas to the Nyhavn for a beautiful view and a much needed meal and cold bevvie. Available but skipped this time was another canal tour. I will admit that two plus weeks in my energy was maybe starting to wane. But with a new city to stroll, more sites to see, more museums to hit I was mostly up for the challenge. I’d also been restauranting pretty well along the way and with world famous Noma not being an option (booked well in advance) and the prices being more significant than anticipated I still somehow made due. Favorite find was the Torvehallerne, an in/outside market with meals and meal fixings aplenty, and plenty of good restaurants to be found in the Meatpacking District. The shopping surrounding the main strip of Strøget as well as on the main bits of Istedgade continued to offer lots of options for purchase and just plain pretty design views. And of course museums, both the Statens Museum (located in a great park area) and the Designmuseum were worth a look. The highlight though was heading just outside the city for a day at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, the landscape, architecture, and art are worth the visit and I could and did spend all day between viewing art inside and out and just looking at the beautiful coast view past amazing sculpture, and of course eating.

For more check out my Pinterest boards for mapped sites for BrugesAmsterdam, and Copenhagen.

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