I am soo lucky.
I have a wonderful mother and two beautiful sisters, and I just got to spend a week with them all city hopping in California. (Never mind that what I really should have been doing was honeymooning. Doug and I will get to it—eventually. I cannot WAIT for that trip. We’re thinking Barbados.)
The reason for this trip was twofold: My sister Annie, an event planner, was organizing a conference in Laguna Beach earlier in the week, and I won a trip to the 3rd Annual Foodbuzz Food Blogger Festival in San Francisco courtesy of Australian Lamb the following weekend. When we realized that the events were only days apart, we knew we had to make a girls’ week out of it.
We all met at LAX airport before renting a car and making our first pit stop at the California classic, In-N-Out Burger. California chain restaurants are required to put calorie counts on their menu, so we all stuck with the single cheeseburger (those numbers really are scary!), but we got an order of the off-menu Animal Fries, which are basically French fries loaded up with every topping In-N-Out has to offer.
Then we made the 1.5-hour drive to Laguna Beach, where we got to stay at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Nigel with Annie. Talk about FABULOUS! We jokingly call the Ritz “The Land of Yes,” because you can do pretty much anything you want to—if you’re willing to pay, of course. But then again, the Ritz is known for its top-notch customer service, and we had never experienced a more friendly hotel staff. In fact, one Ritz employee even brought us a complimentary bottle of sauvignon blanc when he saw we had purchased some wine downtown to bring to the room.
We had an amazing time living the life of the “Ritz and famous,” although we were sad Annie couldn’t join us during the day as we explored the beach towns around Laguna. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch (my sister Paige finally got to have that tuna tartare she’d been craving) at 230 Forest Avenue downtown, where we’d been doing some shopping.
Although it was fall, the weather was gorgeous for the most part, and the public beach underneath the Ritz (located on a cliff) was constantly dotted with surfers and body boarders in wet suits. At night it got chilly, but the staff at the Ritz was happy to bring us blankets as we enjoyed our cocktails on their rooftop bar.
We enjoyed jerk chicken and fish stew at Eva’s Caribbean Café—and Eva even joined us at the table for a little while, telling us about her journey from NYC to Laguna and treating us to shots of a truly amazing South African liquor, amarula.
The next night we had delicious Mexican food at Javier’s after my mom treated us to a luxurious afternoon at Burke William’s day spa not far away in Mission Viejo. If you want a relaxing day, I highly recommend Burke William’s, which has locations all around California. We were thoroughly impressed, and Annie and I both agreed it was the best facial we had ever received.
It was truly difficult for us to leave Laguna and the beach, but we had to make our way to San Francisco, a city we hadn’t visited for many years and were unsure of what to expect. But first, we had to sit by the pool for an hour and enjoy something truly amazing—breakfast poolside!
I, for one, was happy to be back in a bustling city. I only moved from Chicago to Cincinnati about a month ago, but I can’t help it—I’m a girl who loves the fast-paced rhythm of the city, the plethora of eccentric people, the sites and smells and crazy cab drivers (minus the one we had in San Francisco who had to use a GPS to get around the city; he was absolutely the worst cab driver ever). I was happy to see both big-name restaurants and tiny corner joints, all boasting the best food in the city.
On our first night in San Fran, after checking in at the Galleria Park Hotel, we headed to Tyler Florence’s Wayfare Tavern near Union Square, where businessmen, tourists and townies collide. Tyler Florence is the host of Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race and Tyler’s Ultimate, and his fried chicken truly was the ultimate. We loved it so much we took our leftovers home, shoved them in the mini-fridge, and ate them for lunch the next day.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting one of the Linnemann girls, you know shopping runs through our veins, and there was no way we were going to come to San Fran and not do some serious shopping. In fact, we went crazy and decided to do some wedding dress shopping for my sister, Paige, who is getting married next year to her Polish male counterpart, Bartek Pindella. An amazing wedding gown was on Paige’s priority list for the wedding, much like serious Italian food was on mine, so we headed to a gorgeous wedding boutique on Maiden Lane in the Union Square district where brides from all over the country fly to try on their brand-name gowns: Marina Morrison.
Luckily we were put with the store’s head fitting expert, who could answer my sister’s one million questions and meet her somewhat confusing dress requirements. Three hours later we walked away with a stunning Amsale dress that met my sister’s many requirements and was just as romantic and fabulous as the dress we had all pictured for her. (I wish I could show you all pictures of her in the dress … but it’s a surprise, of course.)
Of course, a wedding dress wasn’t enough, and after we scarfed down the leftover fried chicken in our hotel room we headed back into the city for more shopping (Nordstrom’s half yearly sale is DANGEROUS!). As always we got a little carried away, so we canceled our dinner reservation at Gitane and decided to fly by the seat of our pants, which turned out to be an amazing idea.
I spotted a nice looking bistro called Scala’s, and the restaurant happened to have a cancellation when we walked through the door—and two Top Chef contestant chefs! As you can tell, my mama was so so happy to spend some quality time with her girls.
Three bottles of champagne later, we left Scala’s and headed up, up, up to Harry Denton’s Starlight Lounge on the 21st floor of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. There we enjoyed hand-mixed cocktails and live music with almost 360-degree views of San Francisco. My sisters and I might have been the youngest people there at the beginning of the evening, but things picked up as the night wore on. We couldn’t help but be awed by how many men asked the somewhat ragged (and old) female escorts sitting next to us to dance. Apparently it’s a hot spot for escort pick-ups, which I found thoroughly amusing.
The next morning I had to check in with the Foodbuzz team at the Grand Hyatt before schlepping over to the Federated Media Building for the Foodbuzz break-out sessions. I have to say, I was pretty disappointed that Foodbuzz didn’t think it was necessary to provide transportation to the sessions from the hotel. To me, the sessions were the most important part of the conference—I wanted to learn something new and be inspired. While eating is well and good (obviously we like that at the Kitchen Bitch blog), if I’m gonna travel to San Fran to go to a food blogger festival, I want to learn something new about my craft.
I really enjoyed the first session of the day, Taking Your Blog to the Next Level, because it included one of my new favorite bloggers, Joy the Baker, as well as Peas and Thank You and several other panelists who had moved their blog to the next level through book deals, podcasts, etc. While I didn’t take learn anything particularly tangible, these fellow bloggers really inspired me to get my act back together. I love being able to communicate with my readers about life and food and everything in between, and with the wedding and the move I lost sight of how important this little blog is to me.
I’ll be back to posting at least twice a week in no time—just you wait.
The other session I attended wasn’t particularly helpful, which made me kind of sad. It was called “Moving Beyond DSLR.” I wanted to learn new ways to make my good old point-and-shoot work better for me, but instead I was told that iPhones can take good pictures (umm, duh?) and that I could invest in an expensive Micro Three-Fourths camera if I didn’t want to splurge on a DSLR (which is pretty much the same price and has zoom, although it’s more clunky). After taking a real photography class, this session just wasn’t up to snuff.
After my sessions I walked over to the amazing Ferry Market to meet up with my mom and sisters for a light lunch. The market is incredible—there are vendors touting any kind of food product you can imagine, from “tasty salty pig parts” and “far-west fungi” to farm-fresh cheeses and homegrown vegetables. In a matter of minutes we tried homemade jellies, donuts, steamed pork buns, astoundingly delicious pears, aged cheddars, stinky blue cheeses and what my mom called “the best ever” bagel with lox and cream cheese.
We finished our week in California with an afternoon exploring the famous Haight-Ashbury hippie district, where I happened upon the Bettie Page store—aka KB heaven! I couldn’t walk away without buying something, and you’ll no doubt see pictures of me in my snazzy yellow romper (with matching skirt for modesty if necessary—hee!) next summer when the weatheronce again allows me to show a lot of skin. By the end of the day we had worn my mom out, and she even took a mini nap on me while we waited for my sister to try on clothes. And instead of going out on our last night in San Fran, we ordered in Chinese to the hotel room and planned our upcoming Thanksgiving menu. Ah, vacation. I love you.
Every girl needs a week away with her mom and sisters for some serious bonding time, and we’ve decided this will become a yearly event. Question is: where will we go next year? Only my sister’s 2012 conference schedule will tell :0