I’ve talked about this trip a few times in my blog – and frequently on Twitter – because even I myself could not believe I would actually visit the US, because where I come from: trips to the US are expensive. I also wasn’t sure how quick it would be to get a visa, etc, so effectively I never put any effort into planning vacations in that part of the world.
Since I couldn’t go to Malaysia for Diwali this year and the bf was going to be away as well, he suggested I meet him in San Francisco for a few days. This “few days” turned into a complete week when we realized that I have to stay there for awhile to make the best of the ticket price. Interestingly the ticket to US cost less than the ticket to Malaysia (and it’s easier to have self-imposed shopping bans in the US than it is in Malaysia – I have no self control on my spending, when I’m in KL). We got some pretty good rates as we booked the ticket and hotel rooms about 5 months in advance.
So what exactly did I do in San Francisco? I shopped till I couldn’t shop anymore. OK, that’s not really true because throughout my trip I had two words in my mind “baggage weight”. I’m a little bit jinxed when it comes to baggage weight. You know that person at the side of the check-in counter trying to re-pack her baggage with a serious but miserable expression on her face? That used to be me – until I learned how to travel light (from the bf).
But, I digress. Shopping was not the only thing I did in San Francisco :)
- We rode the Cable Car. A visit to San Francisco is not complete without a cable car ride. I think we queued for a good hour to be able to get a spot in the car – but it was worth it. According to Wikipedia, this is “the world’s last permanently operational manually operated cable car system”. It is not a new vehicle and is driven by people. There is also a conductor who comes around to see your ticket or collect the 5 dollar fee. This ride felt a lot like a roller coaster – in a good way. Though I will admit I was a bit on edge as I don’t do well on fast moving vehicles. If speed is your thing, and you don’t have a morbid imagination like I do – definitely try this mode of transportation.
- We drove on the Golden Gate Bridge. It was really an experience. They do charge you 6 dollars for toll when you return, but that’s probably how they maintain that bridge. It seems it took them 27 years (I might be wrong) to repaint it completely, so nowadays they only paint certain spots for maintenance. The Golden Gate Bridge is actually shorter than the Bay Bridge (that connects San Francisco to Oakland and Berkeley) but we didn’t drive through the Bay Bridge.
- We walked along the Marina. This was a nice, calm walk from Fort Mason to Fisherman’s Wharf. From here we walked to Ghirardelli Square. Now this is an interesting spot that Karen mentioned in her blog awhile back. Ghirardelli is a chocolate company founded in 1852. I ate some of the chocolates they gave out as samples and bought two small packets at duty free. At Monterey (near the Aquarium) I tried their delicious ice-cream. At Ghirardelli Square, there are some nice shops like Kara’s Cupcakes and ElizabethW. Kara’s Cupcakes were delicious – I had the Java flavoured one and the bf had the Meyer Lemon version. They were really good. I though Cupcakes are like sickly sweet and it’s impossible to finish one by myself but Kara’s Cupcakes only had sweet icing. The cakes themselves were light and fluffy and not sickly sweet. Another store I visited here was ElizabethW. According to a little information pamphlet I found in my shopping bag (Hah, I couldn’t resist handmade perfume (Vetiver fragrance)), Elizabeth Wightman was the owner’s grandmother and he was inspired by her to create this line of perfumes, candles, etc. He is originally an architect. When I was at the store, they had a glass case with a few handmade jewelry pieces. There was a sterling silver necklace with the Golden Gate Bridge on it. In retrospect I probably should have bought it – sigh, I should be a bit more impulsive sometimes :)
- We visited Palo Alto, Stanford, and San Jose. We didn’t drive through Stanford University because I’m biased :) I don’t really feel like seeing other universities as I sentimentally cling to mental images of my university (The University of Queensland). It’s a bit of a lame excuse, I know :) [The bf has seen a lot of San Francisco as he’s traveled there a few times before.] In Palo Alto we met up with some of our old colleagues. There’s something about this product that we have worked on – no matter where we are, the bunch of us who worked together always seem to find each other. In San Francisco itself we met another former colleague who now runs his own consultancy firm in India. In San Jose, I met up with my uncle whom I have not seen in 7 or 8 years. Technically he’s my uncle but we grew up as cousins. My mother has a very big family (her grandmother had 11 children) so there’s a bit of a generation gap. At the age of 26, I now have a newborn cousin :) How strange is that? When you are far away from home, meeting a familiar face always cheers you up. It reminds of you what used to be, but more importantly, it convinces you that blood is thicker than water – and just because you don’t live nearby anymore, doesn’t mean that you will be forgotten.
- We saw a lot of the Pacific Ocean by driving along Highway 1. Whoever came up with the idea to build a highway that has the view of the ocean (or “hugs the coast” as my uncle put it) was very, very smart. The view was beautiful. As cheesy as it sounds, my photographs could not capture this beauty – I could have used a wide angle lens here :) but I do not have one. (Hint!)
- We saw Santa Cruz. This was a gorgeous view but due to the timing (off season) the restaurants and all were mostly closed and it didn’t feel like a famous tourist spot at all.
- We rode a bus through China Town and Union Street. Now a bus ride is usually nothing to write home about – but if it’s a bus ride in San Francisco, it is really cool. Similar to the Cable Car, it feels a little bit like a roller coster ride.
- We visited Monterey Aquarium. I’ve been to two other aquariums before – Singapore’s Underwater World as a child (I think I was 11) and Melbourne’s Aquarium (this was in 2005). Monterey Aquarium is beautiful. The way it is constructed and the amount of effort that has gone into getting the details right is impressive. They had a glass tank where they showed you what low tied and high tied looked like – with real water. The sound of that water rushing, illustrating a big wave made us feel as if we were going to be hit by the wave. That’s not the only exhibit though – they have others too like the Kelp and what fish live around it, the Jelly fish exhibit, the Seahorse exhibit, the Tuna and Mackerel exhibit, and finally the Flamingo exhibit are all worth visiting.
- We went to the Cartoon Art Museum in Mission. It is a quaint, unassuming museum where you walk through the hallway, similar to an art museum but the walls are filled with cartoons. Their exhibit at that time was KAL from The Economist which were a really good range of cartoons.
- We ate Indian street food. I have never been to India (this mistake will be remedied next year ;)) but I am a big fan of Indian street food like Pani Puri, Papri Chaat, Samosa, Bel Puri, etc as these dishes are replicated in many cities around the world – London and San Francisco for example. So I’m always a happy camper when I get to have some Indian street food. The combination of ingredients creates fireworks in your mouth ;) It’s not really the spice that does that – it’s just a great combination. You have to try it to believe it.
- We tried out Peruvian food. There’s a quaint, unique and cool restaurant known as Destino. They serve Peruvian cuisine, Tapas style. The food was amazing. I had never eaten those kind of dishes before so in a way it was like a whole new experience for my taste buds. If you are ever in San Francisco looking for something different to eat – do try this restaurant. According to the guys who ate here with me – their Pisco Sour cocktail is delicious.
- We stumbled upon La Boulange Bakery which is a little piece of France in the middle of Little Italy (North Beach). Actually we wanted to eat elsewhere but the queue was crazy and we were quite hungry so we though we’d check out this slightly busy looking French cafe, La Boulange. The food was wonderful, service was quick and efficient, and the Chai Latte was heavenly (it’s hard to complain about lattes when they are served in bowls). I’ve never been to France (also a mistake I hope to remedy next year ;)) but if this is what French cafes look like, I probably have to starve a week before to make allowance for the calories.
- We had an overdose of garlic – thank goodness it was not on the day that we were flying out. There’s a really cool restaurant in North Beach known as The Stinking Rose. If you’re a Vampire or not a fan of garlic, then you might want to steer clear of this restaurant. But, if you’re looking for a new kind of food experience, please stop by. I had the Prawn Pasta and the bf had their Lasagna. Both were really good dishes even though the Lasagna was vegetarian but with food that good, you don’t need meat. When you eat the food, the garlic taste is not really evident. I mean it is garlicky, but it’s totally edible. You only notice that you have overdosed on garlic later ;) You start to smell a bit garlicky and might need some chewing gum to mask the “fragrance”.
- We tried out the Koeran BBQ. This is probably old news in Malaysia, I’m sure, but for me, it was something new as I have never tried it before. The closest I got to eating Korean food was a trip to a small, cute restaurant on the top floor of MidValley Megamall in 2004 or something with my former college-mate Kimberly. The food was so good (I keep saying that, right?). It really helped to see a bus full of Korean tourists leaving the restaurant the moment we were walking in. My philosophy is “If it’s good enough for the locals, it’s good enough for us”. It’s a trick a lot of people use, I believe.
Now let’s move on to the shopping forefront ;) I’d advise you to stop reading here if you are male.
Here’s an obligatory photo of some of my haul.
I spent a lot of time in Westfield in the city. This is an amazing mall as there’s Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, and a lot of other shops in the same building. Opposite the street outside is Gap (one of my favourite stores). Further down was Sephora – which is probably what Makeup Heaven looks like.
- My favourite counter in Nordstrom was MAC because they were really helpful. I met a very nice MUA by the name of Andreia and she was so helpful. She convinced me to get the MAC Pro Longwear concealer as I’ve been having concealer meltdown situations the past year and I was really wondering what was wrong. Turns out my concealer (MAC Studio Finish) is supposed to give a dewy finish but I have oily skin and I am using MAC’s Studio Fix foundation that is supposed to give a matte-like finish. So here’s the clash. I tried the Pro Longwear instead and it has made a world of a difference. She also taught me how to use blush and I got Gingerly – my first MAC blush ever. On that particular day, Nordstrom was having a 3 for 2 Mascara deal. Basically there was a counter full of mascaras from various brands and you could pick any 2 and the 3rd one was free. The only catch here was that all 3 mascaras had to be from the same brand. I contemplated getting NARS or Laura Mercier mascaras – but I later caved and got 3 MAC mascaras: Plushlash, Haute and Naughty Lash with Studio Fix Lash being the free one. I got two in black and one in brown. If you haven’t tried brown mascara, please do, because it is a really nice look with purple-ish eyeshadow as well as for subtle-makeup-days. Did you know you could return makeup to MAC in the US and they will gladly accept it? Seriously. I tried out the Pro Longwear foundation in NW45 but it turns out I’m actually an NW43 so the foundation was too dark for me. MAC gladly took it back and let me swap out the used bottle for my regular Studio Fix in NW43. How cool is that? In Norway unless the foundation is unopened and not used, you cannot possibly return it.
- At the NARS stand in Sephora I picked up the Eurydice eyeshadow duo and Night Porter mono. The packaging for the mono is adorable – it’s tiny :) I also got the Bad Influence nail polish as well as Tokaido Express (this I picked up at Nordstrom, actually).
- MAC Pro at Union Street – Oh my goodness, this shop was amazing. I had to ride the bus from the city to Union Street but it was worth it. Okay the bus was a bit scary as San Francisco is a hilly city and the bus goes up and down. It’s not very quick but you definitely feel like you’re moving a lot more than you would have if the city was flat. The hills are quite steep! But back to MAC Pro, this store is really, really cool. I didn’t take a photograph while I was inside, so I’m kicking myself now. But they have so many nice things here. I also did my B2M here with 18 empties and got 3 items in exchange: Touch Lustre Lipstick, Satin Taupe Frost Eyeshadow and Lovechild Lipglass.
- I went to the Premium Outlets in Gilroy. My sister wanted a Coach handbag so I got one for her here. The prices are amazing – like 40% cheaper – but you need a car to get here and you also need a car to drive from one outlet building to the other (they are all nearby, like 3 minutes drive and then you have to find a parking spot). Gilroy is about 2 hours drive from the city in good traffic. You can get Levi’s jeans for 24.99 USD which is a fraction of the price (in Norway, 25 USD is about 150 NOK; a nice pair of Levi’s jean here is at least 800 NOK). I picked up some Calvin Klein merino wool sweaters (for the bf) at 40% off and Timberland winter shoes for myself at 30% off. Even though the shoes were 30% cheaper, compared to the price in Norway, they were 1/3 of the selling price here. Talk about steal. Now the Cosmetic Company Outlet in Gilroy is a bit of a hit or a miss. In my case it was a miss – the Studio Fix Powder that I wanted to get (I use it for touch-ups so it’s nice to have a backup) was used so I didn’t get it. I left with MAC Mercenary nail polish for 8.50, which is quite reasonable as the regular price for MAC Nail Polish is 13 dollars.
- In Sephora, I picked up Urban Decay’s Crash eyeliner and Too Face’s Shadow Insurance.
- At the Laura Mercier counter in Nordstrom, I got Secret Camouflage. Let’s see if it conceals well ;)
- We walked around Stanford Shopping Mall and got a “taste” of See’s Candies. It was good stuff but I have had sensitive teeth for the past two years or so, so I have to be quite careful with how much candy I eat. If it weren’t for my teeth, I’d have gone crazy here.
- I picked up some nail polish at Peninsula Beauty in Palo Alto. They had some really nice colours from Essie, Orly and OPI.
- I went to the Levi’s Flagship Store in Union Square. It’s like 4 huge floors full of jeans. The basement has a few tailors who will customize the length, etc of your jeans to make it fit you perfectly. I got only 1 pair of jeans (much to my surprise, trust me, I was so tempted to buy lots of jeans but I had to remind myself that I was going to Gilroy a few days later, so I resisted) but it’s from the latest Curves ID collection. Mine is a pitch black Demi Curve that fits like a glove. I got it shortened by 1 inch as well. If only Curves was cheaper in Norway (950 NOK!)
- I picked up a winter down jacket at Calvin Klein for 50% off. The thing about buying good brands, in my experience, is the fit. The jackets always fit really well and if you take good care of them, they will last for a long time.
- I’m hunting for a good moisturizer to use in winter so I bought Kiehl’s Ultra Moisturizer and Clarins Hydra Quench Creme Gel. I hope these two moisturizers work well for me so I can just keep stocking up each winter. I’m so tired of experimenting with skin care.
- At duty free, I caved and got the Chanel Les Tentations eyeshadow quad along with the Paradoxal nail polish. The eyeshadow quad was the last piece. These items were really, really reasonably priced hence they are the only items I got in duty free. I was quite impressed with myself for resisting most of the duty free in Munich airport.
Overall I had a wonderful trip. This trip is my longest vacation apart from the full month I spent in Malaysia last year. Fortunately there was no luggage drama – everything was properly checked in and arrived safely. I didn’t have to pay any excess baggage fee either so I was relieved. I think I am done traveling for the year. As fun as it was, jet lag is tough. I also had to save for a few months to have enough spending money here – but the stinging was worth it.
San Francisco is a very beautiful city. We were very lucky with the weather – it was slightly foggy but mostly sunny; there was only one rainy day.
I’m back to work tomorrow and I really hope I can wake up in time :)
P/s – I intend to post some photographs soon, so keep checking back!