San Francisco: Best bay views
San Francisco is a beautiful city, as reader photos in my Budget Travel will show you. Tom Stienstra, an outdoors columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, has listed his top 10 spots to see and capture the best bay views.
The spots are reachable via car or on foot; many are the culmination of hikes or bike rides. One that caught my eye was Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands, where you can see the Golden Gate Bridge and, through early winter, migrating raptor birds. Stienstra calls it "one of the best spots for photos in California."
Naturally, many of the Chronicle's readers responded; see their suggestions here.
More on San Francisco
Paris: How to connect with travelers and locals
One of the challenges of visiting Paris, especially when going solo, is finding a way to interact with other people despite the language barrier. In this blog series, we'll be offering tips and suggestions to help you connect. EnjoYourParis Launched by two twentysomething French men, Remi Brichant and Guillaume Giler, this new website is designed to help both visitors and Parisians. How does it work? Visit EnjoYourParis (in either French or English) to create a free profile. You'll be asked to indicate what sort of events you're most interested in attending. You'll then receive a weekly email with a roundup of possibilities. As student Laura Carroll wrote in this review, "after a quick e-mail confirmation, I was informed of a slew of events. Do I want to (Re)discover Saint Germain des Pres with Soundwalk? View the latest exhibition, Elles, at the Pompidou? Yes, and yes!" The idea was inspired by Giler's own travels as a student in Australia — a trip that started out lonely but improved dramatically after he managed to meet local friends. Back in France, he and Brichant created this site a way for new arrivals (both temporary and permanent) to crack the tough nut that is Paris. Rather than simply inform readers about upcoming events, it organizes outings based on individual interest. Their video teaser sums up the friendly spirit of the venture. Another recent outing included a visit to the Mexican wrestling bar La Lucha Libre. "Join us in that very special bar, with a wrestling ring in its basement, to have a couple of mojitos and other cocktails, and, for those who dare, wear the special inflatable sumo costume and fight on the ring ! That for sure will be a night you'll remember!" More traditionally French outings are also in the mix, like an autumn picnic that was recently reviewed by the Associated Press. "On a recent evening, they brought out the pastis, some water to mix it with, fruit juice and Coca-Cola for an international happy hour al fresco. With the Eiffel Tower in the background, people opened snacks and bottles and started chatting." The upcoming calendar includes art exhibitions, an organic market lunch, concerts, and much more. To check them out and register for events, visit EnjoYourParis. And please let us know about your experience!
Edible Advent Calendar: Week 1
PARIS TREAT Dec. 6: Pain des Amis There's much to love inside the handsome hundred-year old bakery Du Pain des Idées. So much, in fact, that I wrote a post about it recently. However much I may love the apple turnover or the banana pain au chocolat, the foundation of my craving is this bread. Christophe Vasseur's pain des amis (friendship bread) is a long and rectangular loaf that's sold by weight. The chewy interior, slightly charred bottom, and nutty fragrance have contributed to Vasseur being recognized by Gault Millaut as the Best Baker in Paris. The locals who line up for their daily bread all seem to agree. A 250 gram hunk of pain des amis costs €2 ($3). Du Pain des Idées, 34 rue Yves Toudic, 10th arrondissement, 011-33/1-42-40-44-52 PARIS TREAT Dec. 5: Camembert from Quatrehomme For food writer Jeffrey Steingarten, a good Camembert "represents the pinnacle of human achievement in the field of soft and semisoft cheese." Finding the real stuff—a cheese that smells properly of God's feet (les pieds de Dieu), is almost impossible inside America. While in Paris, be sure to visit this cheese shop to taste a creamy Camembert. Aged on the premises by master cheesemaker Marie Quatrehomme, these raw milk rounds are only sold when perfectly pungent and oozy. A full round in its little wooden box costs €4.80 ($7.25). Crèmerie Quatrehomme, 62 rue de Sèvres, 7th arrondissement, 011-33/1-47-34-33-45 PARIS TREAT Dec. 4: Gourmet marshmallows I love a good s'more as much as the next girl scout, but these here are marshmallows at their best. Made without preservatives by Didier Mathray and Nathalie Robert—two pastry chefs who used to work for Pierre Gagnaire—these guimauves will surprise you with their bright flavor and melty interior. The pistachio is hugely popular, but my personal favorite is "le whiskey." One of these, roasting over a campfire and destined for a chocolate/graham cracker sandwich, would make the s'more to end all s'mores. But you don't need a fire to enjoy it—merely €1 ($1.50). Pain de Sucre, 14 rue Rambuteau, 3rd arrondissement, 011-33/1-45-74-68-92 PARIS TREAT Dec. 3: A sachet of chocolate marvels Patrick Roger is one serious chocolatier. He travels the world to select his raw ingredients, and then creates bite-sized marvels for his Paris chocolate shop. A sachet of 4 or 5 chocolate confections costs under 5€ ($7.50). My current obsessions are the "Instinct" with almond praline and the "Delhi" with lemon and basil. Patrick Roger, 108 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 6th arrondissement, 011-33/1-43-29-38-42 PARIS TREAT Dec. 2: A chocolate mousse bar The Patrice Chapon shop window in the 7th arrondissement presents chocolate from São Tomé (fruity, spicy, long on the palate), Ecuador (notes of jasmine and dried fig), and other exotic spots, for only 4€ ($6) each. Step inside the shop—decorated with traditional brass molds—to find plenty of other delicious things. Patrice Chapon, 69 rue de Bac, 7th arrondissement, 011-33/1-42-22-95-98 (Thanks to the food blog Serve it Forth for the heads-up. This spot is now a favorite haunt of mine.) PARIS TREAT Dec. 1: A classic apple tart This beautiful object looks like a whole poached apple, yes? But a slice reveals hundreds of fine layers. The core has been replaced with a caramelly compote, and the stem has been re-inserted. This dessert would be right at home in a three Michelin-starred restaurant like Le Bristol, where Fabrice Le Bourdat once worked as a pastry chef. Here, in his bakery in the neighborhood known as Quartier d'Aligre, it costs only 3.30€ ($5.50). Blé Sucré, 7 rue Antoine Vollon, 12th arrondissement, 011-33/1-43-40-77-73 MOREThe photoblog of our expat correspondent in Paris
San Francisco: A list of gifts for foodies
Procrastinating on your holiday shopping? One of the San Francisco area blogs I follow, Bay Area Bites, just published a Foodie Holiday Wishlist, and I've got to say, it has me drooling. Who wouldn't want truffles, or salami from foodie favorite and Ferry Building fixture Boccalone? If you'll be visiting San Francisco over the holidays, be sure to check out the city's light displays, especially in the Fisherman's Wharf area, where boats are also decorated with lights. Just back from San Francisco? Going there soon? Our new city page lets you post questions, recommendations, photos, and more—and you might hear back directly from our editors.
Q&A on Baja and Cabo San Lucas
Nikki Goth Itoi has been exploring the Baja Peninsula on land and under the sea for more than a decade. A few years ago, she took over the best-selling Moon Baja and Moon Cabo guidebooks. Here, she shares some tips for planning an unforgettable Baja adventure. BT: Baja is well known among eco-travelers as a place to see gray whales up close. Where is the best place to catch the action? Nikki Goth Itoi: The gray whale migration is truly a wonder of Baja. Mothers come into the shallow lagoons on the Pacific side of the peninsula to give birth to their calves. During the January-April season, you can observe the whales breaching offshore from just about any coastal vantage point. A number of companies offer traditional "whale watching" boat trips out of Cabo San Lucas, Ensenada, and other major ports, but the only-in-Baja experience is to observe the whales up close from a small panga boat in one of three lagoons along the central coast: Laguna Ojo de Liebre near Guerrero Negro, Laguna San Ignacio near San Ignacio, and Bahía Magdalena, near Loreto and Todos Santos. Since the lagoons are several hours from the largest tourist destinations and the observation process is carefully regulated to protect the whales, most travelers book an organized trip through a professional outfitter. BT: Though some travelers worry about food safety abroad, others plan their trips around culinary experiences. What are the must-try foods of Baja, and where do you go to get them? NGI: Tecate beer and fish tacos are the signature Baja foods, but you can get much more adventurous than that. Ceviche is a seafood cocktail made of fresh white fish marinated in lime juice and often served in a martini glass with a tomato-based sauce. Lobster platters are big in Puerto Nuevo, Baja's lobster capital. The fish tacos are especially tasty at the Mercado de Mariscos in Ensenada, but you can find them on the plaza of any town on the peninsula. (Look for the longest line in the evening and order there.) If you are preparing your own meals, be sure to seek out the local tortillerîa, as nothing compares to freshly made tortillas (corn or flour)—order them by the kilo and enjoy them while they're still warm from the press. My personal favorite, the refreshing michelada, is kind of like a beer margarita, often served spicy like a bloody mary. The current trend in gourmet Baja dining is to create menus that emphasize "alta cocina Mexicana"—innovative dishes that blend traditional flavors with fresh, local ingredients. Tijuana, Ensenada, La Paz, and San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas all have restaurants offering this type of cuisine. Wineries in the Guadalupe Valley make outstanding reds, and these labels are available on the menus of many restaurants, or you can visit them in person if you are planning to be in the Ensenada area. BT: Mexico is known for its large-scale resorts, like Cancun and Cabo San Lucas. But many travelers want to go to Mexico for a more authentic experience. Which towns in Baja are less crowded and touristy? NGI: To me, La Paz, the capital city of Baja California Sur, still offers the most authentic and least touristy experience for visitors, although a number of resort developments are taking shape on the outskirts of the city. For other options, Loreto in Central Baja and San José del Cabo at the tip of the peninsula both resemble "real" Mexican towns, as opposed to purpose-built destinations for travelers. BT: Is Baja a suitable destination for young children? What about food safety and access to emergency medical care? NGI: Baja is very safe and fun, especially for kids who like the water. Families have many options for a memorable trip, from week-long beach vacations to longer stays that might include Spanish language classes or scuba diving or kayaking instruction. Some of the most family-friendly locations include Loreto, Cabo Pulmo, La Paz, Cabo San Lucas, and Pescadero. The best way to guarantee food safety for yourself and your kids is to rent a place with a kitchen and prepare meals yourself. The Los Cabos area has organic produce stands and large, modern supermarkets, so you can choose the ingredients you like and then drive to a more remote location. Bottled water is always a good idea; just be sure you don't buy the flavored kind for teeth-brushing, as I once did for my son! San José del Cabo and La Paz both have modern medical facilities, and there are professionally staffed medical clinics in many towns along the peninsula. BT: For travelers who are based on the east coast of the United States, is it worth going all the way to the west coast of Mexico? What are the benefits of Baja vs. the Mexican Riviera? NGI: The desert/tropical scenery of Baja is unique and very different from the lush jungle of the Mayan Riviera. If you're looking for a resort experience where you can relax by the pool and take a dip in the sea, then the mainland would be more convenient. But if you plan to explore the surrounding area, learn a new water sport, or get involved in conservation, then I believe Baja is absolutely worth the extra time and effort. To learn more, pick up a copy of the Moon Baja or Moon Cabo guidebooks online or at your local bookstore.