San Francisco & The Gift of Adventurous Friends

Preface:

Meet Ana. Full Russian, Ana was born and bred in Sweden for the first 16 years of her life before immigrating to America to finish high school and go off to the University of Maryland for college. She has no concept of time or distance (seriously, I wouldn’t put it past her to drive three hours and back just for a lunch date) and somehow possesses an endless repository of energy. The first time we ever went out together, I came home without any shoes on.

In short, she’s “my crazy Russian friend.”

Naturally, though, she is much more than this. She’s cultured, kind-hearted and very sharp. However, her open-minded, adventurous spirit is pretty unparalleled and, to me, that makes for the best of friends.

Having recently moved out to San Francisco to work for Apple (#bosslady), I purposely conjured up time between jobs for a trip to visit her in her new digs. Here’s how it went.

Part 1: Taquerias, Redwoods & Sea Lions, OH MY!

Upon arriving, Ana instructed me to take a cab downtown to a taqueria named “lolo.” As the cab pulled up to the address, I noticed two things: a shady-looking place across the street called “The Make Out Room” and a sign on Lolo’s door that was being flipped to “Closed.” Oh, Ana.


Luckily, Lolo had a sister restaurant down the block so I made my way over to Valencia Street and met Ana and her boyfriend Luke. Unfortunately my taste buds overthrow my brain when food is in front of me and I didn’t get any pictures of the spread, but it was phenomenal. Here’s a small idea of what it’s like, thanks to #Instagram.

While Ana had to go to work the next morning, her boyfriend, Luke, who is also coasting on his last days of funemployment had plenty planned for a solid first day.

Instead of touring the city, we skipped town and drove through the uniquely winding hills that are so synonymous with the California coastline. We dipped in and out of fat pockets of gorgeous redwoods and emerged each time to find an expansive view of mountains beside a crisp, rolling ocean. John Muir State Park welcomed us onto roads with fitting names like “Panoramic Hwy. The fog was nowhere to be found.

Finally landing in a tiny community in Stinson Park, we took out the stand up paddle boards for an epic session. While Luke played in the waves, I snuck into the nearby estuary to do some exploring. Almost immediately, my curiosity was rewarded. I had a close up encounter with a sea lion, followed by a 5-minute paddle alongside a large stingray and my first-ever baby sand shark sighting!

The coolest part came about an hour into the mini-exploration. I heard some noises and couldn’t figure out what they were. As I paddled around the calm back area, I skimmed past a few large sandbars at a distance but didn’t notice anything much.

At first, that is.

When I looked and listened a little closer, I noticed around fifty beached seals, hanging out on a sandbar about 50 yards from me. Having rolled around in the sand, they were difficult to discern from far away. A few more strokes toward them and about 20 seals started flopping their way into the water.

So as not to frighten them, I slowed down and took a seat on my board. Soon enough, I had a whole group of interested,  new friends just a few feet from me! I am really bummed I didn’t have a waterproof camera of sorts to capture the moment, but as my mother likes to say “sometimes the greatest moments are best left to be captured only in memory.” I’ll trust you on this one, Mama bear.

Before leaving, I did get some photographic proof. Lucky for all of you, not only is there this solid shot...

but there are all of these leading up , too: 

To top things off, Luke introduced me to The Lunch Box and I had my first-ever salmon po’boy.  BOOM.  

The Weekend Getaway: Saratoga Springs, NY

Saratoga Tips on Gambling, Fried Chicken, Mob Mentality & MORE!

My number 1 rule when it comes to gambling is if I don’t hit my first bet, I walk away.

However, my #1 rule when it comes to everything else in life is don’t ever give up. So you can see how after I lost my first bet on Friday, I felt conflicted. Then I continued betting. And losing. For about 14 races. Eventually, the karmic gods praised me for my fortitude and awarded me with a $196 exacta in the last race, so I only walked away about $50 down.

Stick with me and you’ll be alright.

I had planned on sharing betting tips on this post, but considering my strategies led to me more to posting pictures with the hashtags #spiraling and #theyrecomingformypinkyfinger, rather than raking in the cash, I'm going to expand the topic matter.

Tip 1: Learn how to bet on the horses from the professionals.

         Download the One-click Pony app!

         Download the One-click Pony app!

Tip 2: Indulge in Hattie’s Fried Chicken. It is more than worth it

Lucky for me, Saratoga isn’t just about gambling. It’s also about traditions; some of which date back to over 150 years ago when the races first began and others that have sprung up over time. During our visit, it was “Hats Off to Saratoga” weekend, which meant I was able to whip out my favorite accessory – the hair piece – and go wild. And if there’s one thing I enjoy more than betting, it may be playing dress-up at the track.

Because there’s just nothing like putting on a fancy dress and eatin’ fried chicken. 

Tip 3: Dress up! See the Saratoga dress code rules here.

While the style in Saratoga ranges from conservative to casual and everything in between, there are some basic rules to abide by. If you’re sitting in the regular Grand Stand or hanging in the picnic grounds, a tee-shirt and shorts will fly – BUT, keep in mind that they don’t have to. Even in the picnic area, many people choose to honor the age-old tradition of summer hats and sundresses. On the flip side, if you’re seated in the Clubhouse, Box Seats, or any of the other luxury options, definitely be sure to get a little dapper.

Tip 4: Rush The Gates!

Mama once said, “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?” to which my answer has now been forever altered to: “Depends on how much fun the jump is."

Every morning during the fleeting 6-week racing season, track-goers line up with their chairs and tablecloths as early as 5AM to wait for the gates to open at 7AM. Once the gates open, the crowd charges forward like angry cattle breaking free from a corralled-off, grass-less space. People sprint into the park to slap belongings down on picnic tables and lay claim to grassy sections for chairs, umbrellas, etc. Since we were sitting in the picnic area on day two, our fate was inevitable. We had to join the mad dash. I was not let down.

To give you an idea of how seriously people take this tradition, here are a few sound bites from my experience:

“Once the gate opens, it’s free game.”

“Yeah man, we’re blowing past all these people.”

“I got my Nikes on and everything. I’m ready to GO." 

Then, as the time drew nearer and tensions mounted...

 “Stick to the original plan!”

“Hold the line!”

And my personal favorite, “We just got married last night. This is our wedding run!”

While 7AM may seem early, it’s hilarious and so worth the experience – plus, you can go back for a nap afterward. 

Tip 5: Check out some live music! 

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The most unexpected part of the weekend came when we were wandering around the downtown music festival. Home to a fabulous summer line-up, it is very common for DMB, Phish and a slew of other uber-talented artists to frequent the Saratoga stages. Of course, the hometown bands also contribute their fair share of surprise rock sessions and street parties. In fact, one band really struck a chord. Having strolled over merely by chance, we came across the band Better By Morning in none-other than the obscure post office’s parking lot on Saturday night – and, in a sweetly serendipitous moment – fell in love with their sound. I reached out to the band, (essentially, a group of teenagers) and asked for a sample. Turns out, they are just producing their first single.

From open mics to cover bands to primetime performers, Saratoga has it all, every night of summer. Take a look at the full concert calendar here.  While the summer’s first weekend music festival has passed, there are plenty more to attend to, including Wine and Music Fest Sept 5-7.