Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Tipsy Pig

One of my goals for the past few years has been to dine at all of the restaurants on the "San Francisco Chronicle's" Top 100 List that are in San Francisco.  I've never made it; and there is always at least one restaurant on the list that just doesn't interest me.

Last night we were meeting some friends from Marin for dinner so the Marina District was a good locale.  Plus, there was an untried Top 100 restaurant -- The Tipsy Pig.  I'd walked by this pub and restaurant and thought it looked nice but not top 100 material.  Having eaten there, I'd recommend it but I think it made the list because so few restaurants in San Francisco serve southern influenced food.

The front of the house has a bar on one side and tables on the other.  We sat in the quieter back which has a wall lined with books to make it look like an English pub.  Our friend, who had just returned from a few months in London, felt right at home.

The food is southern style with a California twist.  Two of us had the baby back ribs with greens and white cheddar grits.  The ribs were full of meat, which just fell off the bone.  Both of us were extremely happy.  Two light eaters had a couple of vegetable sides and were content with their choices.  The fourth had the skirt steak, which he said was quite good.  Dessert was a shared scone with rhubarb compote and whipped cream.  Quite tasty.  There's a good selection of draft and bottled beers and wines.

If you're longing for fried chicken, ribs, or grits, head right this way. If you're in the Marina, stop in for daily dinner or weekend brunch.  On a sunny, weekend day, you can lunch out back on the patio.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Visiting Hearst Castle in San Simeon

A couple times a year, I get a request to take visitors on a day trip from San Francisco to San Simeon so they can see the Hearst Castle.  I politely respond by telling the inquirers that, while the Castle is well worth visiting, the drive from San Francisco takes between 4.5 and 5.5 hours.  That usually scuttle their plans, which is unfortunate.  Hearst Castle is magnificent and well worth a visit.  As I wrote in my last post, the drive to the Castle through Big Sur is beautiful and also worth doing.  So Hearst Castle can be visited in a two-day, one-night round trip from San Francisco or on a drive along the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Most visitors, myself included, take Tour 1, the Experience Tour.  This tour includes a visit to both pools,  some of the large rooms on the main floor of Casa Grande, and Casa del Sol, and includes admission to the film, "Hearst Castle Building the Dream."  This is a terrific introduction to Hearst's country retreat but I had long wanted to take the other tours so I could see more of Casa Grande and well as the other two guest houses, Casa del Monte, and Casa del Mar.

Two weeks ago, I returned to the Castle to take Tours 2, 3, and 4.  Unfortunately, the evening tour was not being offered this spring.  Tour 2 was my favorite as it includes the bedrooms and suites on the second floor of Casa Grande.  Tour 4 includes a walk through the gardens; a visit to Casa del Mar, the largest of the 3 guest houses; and a visit to Hearst's wine cellar.  Tour 3 was my least favorite but was still interesting.  The tour contrasts the 1920s construction of the Casa del Monte guesthouse with the 1940s construction of the North Wing of Casa Grande.  I was surprised to see how simple some of the rooms are in the North Wing.  On this tour, you can see how construction just stopped in 1947.

If you've got the time and have the interest, taking all four tours is worth doing.  Unfortunately, there is no discount for purchasing tickets to more than one tour.  Theoretically, you could do all four tours in one day but you'd probably be numb at the end of the day.  We did one tour per day but you could easily do two tours per day.

Tour 5, the Evening Tour, was replaced this spring with a self-guided tour through the gardens.  The Evening Tour will again be offered this fall.  The guides highly recommended taking the tour between Thanksgiving and New Year when the Castle is decorated for the holidays.  They said tickets sell out fast so book in October.

For a bite to eat, stop by Sebastian's Store in old San Simeon for tasty, and large, sandwiches and salads.  The food is delicious but don't go if you are in a rush as service can be very slow.  You can eat inside, outside, or at picnic tables in the adjacent park.

For more information on Hearst Castle and the tours, click on the title of this post.  To take a tour from San Francisco that includes a visit to Hearst Castle, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or Rick@BlueHeronTours.com.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Driving Through Big Sur

One of the most famous drives in the world is California Route 1 along the Big Sur coastline between Carmel and San Simeon.  I've taken the 2.5 hour drive many times but last week I had the choppy Pacific on my right, blue skies above, and seas of wildflowers along the roadside.

 Big Sur and the Bixby Bridge

As you head south  from Carmel, you'll pass Point Lobos State Reserve, which is well worth a stop for beautiful ocean views.  You might even see an otter floating in one of the coves.  Then you'll pass through Carmel Highlands.  Then it's on to Big Sur.

One of the first attractions you'll come to is the Bixby Bridge, one of the largest concrete arch bridges in the world.

Bixby Bridge
Stop for photos on the north side of the bridge and again after you climb the hill on the south side.

Further south, you'll see a large rock overlooking the ocean.  Atop the rock is the Point Sur Lightstation.  Most of the time it is closed to the public but docent-led tours are available with an advance reservation.

About 45 - 60 minutes south of Carmel, you'll come to the town of Big Sur, home to a variety of restaurants and lodging.  The inns with the best views are Ventana Inn and the Post Ranch Inn.  Ventana is on the inland side of Route 1 while Post Ranch is on the coast side.  Expect to pay dearly if you want to overlook the ocean.  Both inns have restaurants where you can stop for lunch.  

Nepenthe may be the best known restaurant in Big Sur as it is located on a bluff overlooking the Pacific.  Again, you pay for the view but lunch here is cheaper than a night at either inn.  The Big Sur Bakery is also a good place to stop for lunch or to satisfy your sweet tooth; however, there's no view.

View from Nepenthe
Just south of Nepenthe, you'll come to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.  Turn left and park in the lot.  You'll see a trail to McWay Falls.  In the spring, the falls plummets into the Pacific.

McWay Falls
Continue south for many more spectacular views.  You'll pass through the very small villages of Lucia and Gorda, both of which have lodging and restaurants.  The last place to stay in Big Sur is at Ragged Point.  You'll then drop down to San Simeon, where you can visit the Hearst Castle.  I'll write about that in my next post.

The best times to drive through Big Sur are spring and fall as the winter is rainy and the summer foggy.  If you would like to take a private tour from San Francisco through Big Sur, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or Rick@BlueHeronTours.com