Tuesday 4 March 2014

California: Day One - Toronto to San Francisco

Our trip to California started off with another early flight – this time leaving Toronto at 6:40am. As they did for my Mexico trip, my parents were awesome and drove us to the airport. While I may not like super-early mornings, I do prefer them when travelling because it gives you an earlier start to your vacation. The airport was busy, especially the American Airlines counter. They have multiple hubs throughout the US and had a number of planes departing that morning. The longest wait was the check-in counter, after that security and customs moved quickly. We stopped for something quick to eat at the terminal and were on the plane by 6:00am.

Our flight was booked using miles, and AA doesn’t fly directly to San Francisco, so we had an hour stop in Dallas. Fortunately, we had flown in to Dallas back in November when we went to Brian’s grandmother’s funeral so we had an idea of the terminal layout. This knowledge allowed us to make the connection with time to spare – that airport is huge! We also had a chance to grab sandwiches and coffees for the plane, which we were happy about as the flight was 5 hours. We were on a pretty cool plane – one that had in-seat entertainment and wifi which is always a plus. I find that being able to watch movies, or surf the internet helps the flight time pass quicker. I did have the middle seat for this flight, which is never fun but it was only fair. We had planned for me to have the middle seats on the flights to San Francisco (and Brian the window) and then have Brian take the middle seats on the way home with me on the aisle. It was our way of compromising and ensuring each of us got the type of seating we preferred. But the woman beside me was nice, and spent the entire flight on her laptop working, so I didn’t have to worry about waking someone up to get out of the seat or while reaching over to take something from the flight attendant.

It was only 1:00pm when we arrived in San Francisco – time change that works in your favor is always awesome when traveling. Getting our luggage and rental car was an easy process, though we did need to upgrade the car that had been rented for us. Again it was on points, and was booked as a compact. The woman took one look at our 4 pieces of luggage and told us it wouldn’t work. I really need to work on my packing skills! But it wasn’t a big deal, as the upgrade charge was reasonable. They ended up being out of mid-size vehicles anyway, so we got an additional (this time free) upgrade to a full size. It was a Chevy Impala and a nice car. It wasn’t Elmo (my beloved red Mazda 3) but it worked great for our travel needs.

Navigating out of the airport and into the city center was a bit of a challenge, but Google Maps didn’t let me down. I seriously have no use for my Tom Tom GPS these days, as Google Maps and Waze are amazing navigation tools – especially when you want to be aware of any problems ahead or alternative routes. I don’t think I have forgiven my Tom Tom for the time it directed us to a fuel plant when we were in dire need of gas. Not only did the plant not have a gas station near, it was a super sketchy area in Virginia and late at night. With the street view feature on Google Maps, that type of mistake will never be repeated.

Our hotel for the first night was the Holiday Inn on Fisherman’s Warf and it was great. A bit out of the way from the main sights, but close to a cable car stop and BART (San Francisco’s transportation system). It was also only a few blocks from Ghirardelli Square which was a fantastic feature. The rooms were clean, the people nice, and the parking reasonable – definitely a hotel I would return to.

Once we arrived we took a two hour nap, needing it after very little sleep and a busy day. I made sure were awake and ready by 5:00 so we would have some time to sightsee. After talking to the concierge (Yup, a Holiday Inn with a concierge!) we got directions to a recommended restaurant in Ghirardelli Square. This worked out well as it was an area we wanted to see.

Ghirardelli Square is such a cool area. The Ghirardelli chocolate shop is the main attraction, but inside the square there is a bunch of cute shops with things like – wine, cupcakes, oils, paper products, pet products, and gifts. There is also a Fairmont hotel that looks gorgeous. We spent a bit walking around the square, and then down to the water near it. The sun was setting, so it was a great time to take some photos.

The restaurant we had been referred to was “McCormick and Kuleto’s” which specialized in seafood. When we heard the name we had asked if they were associated with the McCormick and Schmick chain and were told no – both by the restaurant and the concierge. It wasn’t that we cared – both of us like McCormick and Schmick, but they tend to be pricier then what we wanted to spend. The menu looked great with reasonable prices, and the hotel had given us a coupon so we went with it. The food was incredible! Awesome clam chowder, delicious Mahi Mahi and the best crab/avocado appetizer I have ever tried. I would fully recommend that restaurant to anyone in the area. On the way out I noticed the computer screens all had McCormick and Schmick on them – so obviously they are aligned with them in some way. Not quite sure why they felt the need to hide that fact.

After dinner we went to Ghirardelli for desert. We were both to full to eat anything, so we bought some chocolate to-go (yummy Peppermint Bark) and got a hot drink. Brian of course got a Mocha, whereas I went with hot chocolate and wow! The best hot chocolate I have ever tasted… their chocolate product makes a huge difference.

We walked around a bit more, but soon went back to the hotel. It had been a long day, and by this point it was 11pm Toronto time. While it was only 9:00 in San Francisco, we were ready for bed. 

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