Posted in Food, For Kids/Parent, Lunch, Peninsula, South Bay, Tips, Travel

Food Adventures Along Highway 1

I have no idea how we got here, but we’re already at the tail end of summer break. I had wanted to go peach, cherry, or strawberry picking with the kids back in June, but we’ve had way too much going on this summer. Time has just gotten away from me.

So after a few days of finally getting the chance to sit around and veg out, we hit the road and drove down about an hour along the coast to pick some strawberries. I was surprised they were still available for picking this late in the season, but I was determined to make ANY kind of fruit picking happen. I think it’s important, especially for kids, to know where your food comes from and to get a sense of the work it takes for it to get to you.

We’ve been to Coastways/Swanton Berry U-Pick Farms several times through the years with the kids, but I feel like this was the first time the 7 year old was old enough to understand and enjoy the experience. Although it’s usually windy (and it was) with the property being by the coast, we were lucky enough to have very minimal fog. The strawberries were tinier than they must’ve been earlier in the season, but they were fresh, juicy, and warm from the sun.

Four pounds of strawberries later, we were ready to eat and headed to nearby town of Pescadero to Arcangeli Grocery for deli sandwiches and some of their fresh garlic herb bread and olalieberry pie to take home. Yum yum!

One the way home we stopped at one of our favorite produce stands and picked up some fresh zucchini, cluster tomatoes, and my favorite local raw honey. And just next store at Repetto’s the sunflowers on display were just too beautiful for me to pass up. It’s like having a little bit of summer in the house.

It might be late summer, but it was good to get out in the sunshine and get away from city life for a while. We got some time by the coast, on a farm, and interacting with folks who work hard to bring us our food. You get a sense of gratitude, and it was good for the soul.

Posted in Dinner, Food, Lunch, Review, San Francisco, Street Food, Tips, Travel

Food Adventures in Chinatown

Roasted meats in the window of Kam Po Kitchen in SF Chinatown.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, popular Asian supermarkets like 99 Ranch, Marina, or HMart didn’t exist. But Chinese food did, and as a home cook, you needed to go somewhere to find all the “foreign” produce and supplies you needed to make a decent Chinese meal at home. So my family and I traveled to San Francisco’s Chinatown every Saturday afternoon from the suburbs to do just that. That tradition of sorts continued every weekend into my early teens, and I haven’t really been back regularly since. You see, all the popular, modern, and frankly better Chinese restaurants planted themselves either outside of Chinatown or even outside of S.F. altogether, following younger, newer immigrants into the suburbs who wanted bigger houses and better schools. And with items like bok choi and ramen easily accessible at almost any neighborhood grocery store, Chinatown got a bit left behind. That’s why you’ll see either tourists (Grant Ave.) or older Chinese folks (Stockton St.) in the area these days. And to be honest, if you’re looking for exceptional Chinese food, you won’t find it here.

However, I was recently inspired to scope out some notable exceptions. So I dragged my family and friends to Chinatown for a short food crawl. After visiting a few bakeries, dim sum shops, and the like, we had two clear cut winners. (And Golden Gate Bakery was not open, so no classic Egg Tarts this time around. ūüė¶ )

We LOVED Kam Po Kitchen (801 Broadway & Powell in San Francisco). Why? Just look at the pics! Beef Chow Fun, Wonton Noodle Soup, Hong Kong Style (crispy) Tomato Beef Chow Mein, Gai Lan (greens) with Oyster Sauce, and some exceptional Roast Duck made for a terrific traditional Cantonese lunch. I equate places like this, where they have roasted meats hanging in the window, to a Chinese deli. The food is casual, unfussy, affordable, comforting, and delicious. Ironically, places that do this type of food well are not as easy to find around the Bay Area anymore. We also spotted locals lining up out the door to grab some roasted meats to go. If you’re in the area, skip the kitschy tourist traps on Grant Ave. and head up here. It’s worth it.

Various goodies from Dim Sum Bistro

If you’re wanting some grab and go dim sum, Dim Sum Bistro (675 Broadway St, S.F.) was our favorite of the places we tried. They had fresh, tasty items like Steamed Chive and Shrimp Dumplings, Shrimp & Pork Siu Mai, Sesame Balls filled with sweet red bean paste, and my childhood favorite, White Sugar Cake (which is really hard to find these days). Seating is very limited, and frankly, you’d be better off just getting it to go instead. It’s crowded and there’s nothing in the way of ambiance here.

The Chinatown of my childhood really hasn’t changed much. And in the case of these delicious delicacies, that can be a very good thing.

Posted in For Kids/Parent, Freebies, Tips

A Simple DIY Display for Disney Pin Traders

20170305_175357-COLLAGEMy kids and I decided to give pin trading a try when we went to the Disneyland Resort a couple weeks ago and if you’re already aware of the practice, you know how addicting it is. It was so much fun that even my husband wanted in on the action!

Now that both my daughters have a lovely collection of pins that they’re proud of, they wanted to make sure they weren’t just left on their lanyards and thrown in a drawer somewhere. They also want a way to admire and display them in their rooms.

I’ve seen many folks put their pins on large cork boards, but we wanted to store them with their pin backs so they wouldn’t get lost. We were also wanted something that wasn’t brown. And do you know how hard it is to find a cork board that isn’t huge? We were thinking something no larger than 8×10.

So I came up with something the girls could easily personalize, keep the backs with their pins, and keep things small and inexpensive.

Here’s what we picked up at our local craft store:

1 or 2 colors of acrylic paint
Paint brush
Adhesive embellishments like foam, felt, or sparkly stickers
8×10 white canvas boards, or any size of your choosing
A tarp or some newspaper to lay down on your table or work surface 

743e4549-9182-4513-90e6-e24dddf6c821-1First, the girls picked their favorite color and each painted the canvas. Make sure they paint in one direction to make sure the color is nice and even. Then, they used a secondary color (they both chose a sparkly silver) to paint the 4 edges. Let dry for a few hours.

Then, they got to embelish the edges of the canvas. Since those areas are unusable with the wood backing, they could decorate with stickers or glued on gems. They turned out so cute!

Then, place your pins on the board and display! The girls decided to hang theirs on the wall. And best of all, there’s still some room to add new pins after our next trip to Disneyland.

It was a great craft for a rainy Sunday that was both affordable and functional! And I love how they could personalize to their heart’s content. Give it a try!

Posted in For Kids/Parent, Freebies, Tips, Travel

12 Tips, Tricks, & Secret Hacks to Know Before You Go to Disneyland Resort

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Sleeping Beauty Castle (photo credit: VirgoBlue)

We just came back from another truly magical trip to Disneyland. But before we headed there for the first time with the kids, I did EXTENSIVE research by reading expert blogs, watching YouTube videos, and talking to friends who have survived their trip with little ones (kids under 10), and lived to talk about it.

Now that we’ve been to a Disney Park three times and have learned to really maximize our time there, I wanted to share some fun tips, tricks, and secret hacks with you to make your trip even more magical. Besides, there’s more than just rides to the most magical place on earth!

THE BEST TIME TO¬†GO – People always ask about when the crowds are lightest or when the best time of year to go to Disneyland would be. Unfortunately, crowds are just a part of life these days at the parks, and ever increasing. The best way to gauge how bad the crowds will be would be to check the annual pass calendar on the official Disneyland website. If SoCal annual passholders are blocked on the days you want to visit, you’ll usually have less crowds. Also check if any events like marathons, Grad Nites, Dapper Days, or the D23 Expo are occurring when you’re¬†thinking about going. You can also check the nearby Anaheim Convention Center’s calendar, since large conventions can also effect park attendance.

CHECK THE WEBSITE & DOWNLOAD THE APP¬†– Use the website and/or Disneyland app¬†to check park hours (which can vary greatly day to day), the day’s parade and fireworks showtimes (so you can plan accordingly), and also to check which rides are closed for refurbishment. I’ve heard so many instances of people being heartbroken because they didn’t realize their favorite ride was closed for refurbishment until they got there. Now, rides breakdown and can be shutdown temporarily and may not be reflected in real-time on the website. The app, however, is updated more frequently and is a fabulous tool for checking wait times for rides. It’s indispensable for when you’re at the park!

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Paradise Pier at Disney’s California Adventure (Photo Credit: VirgoBlue)

FORGET THE PARK HOPPER (IF YOU HAVE KIDS UNDER 10) – You may think it’s a great idea to hop between parks whenever you want, but the truth is, most times the Park Hopper ticket becomes more of a hindrance than a¬†benefit. With all there is to do at each park, by late afternoon you’ll realize you didn’t even hit up the other park yet. You’ll trek over there simply because you feel like you have to in order to utilize the Park Hopper ticket you bought, while realizing you didn’t do everything you wanted to back at the park you started at. Plus, extra walking after an already long day for the kids is always a recipe for disaster. You’ll enjoy your time more if you tackle¬†one park a day, AND¬†save money.

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Peter Pan’s Flight (Photo Credit: VirgoBlue)

RIDE PETER PAN FIRST – In my opinion, no other ride represents the magic that Walt Disney had envisioned when he created Disneyland better than Peter Pan’s Flight in Fantasyland. The ride has been around since the day the park opened, so you’d think the lines would die down by now! No such luck. If you have any plans to ride Peter Pan’s Flight with a less than 25 minute wait in line, you need to head to the park when it opens and make it the first thing you do when you get there. It’s typical to see a 40-60 minute wait in the cramped, outdoor line just 30 minutes after park opening. Yikes!

CELEBRATING SOMETHING?¬†– If you’ve ever wondered where folks get those buttons that say “Happy Birthday,” “Happily Ever After,” “First Visit,” or “I’m Celebrating…,” head to City Hall as you enter Disneyland or the Chamber of Commerce, both on the left as you enter the parks. There, you can tell a cast member what you’re celebrating and that you would like a free button. But what’s even better is if you have a little tike with you, you can ask if any Disney characters are available for a special birthday phone call. Our little one was celebrating her 5th birthday and was almost in shock when the cast member said that Goofy was on the phone waiting to speak with her!

BRING SNACKS & NEVER PAY FOR WATER¬†– Feel free to bring snacks to the park. It’s totally allowed. In fact, if you have kids under 10, it’s almost mandatory. Everyone gets bored and cranky while standing in line for a meal or a ride. (Then splurge for a Dole Whip or a churro later!) But if you have an empty water bottle and want to save money or just want to cut down on the sugary drinks, there are water stations at many restaurants, including¬†Rancho del Zocalo in Adventureland, the¬†Village Haus in Fantasyland, and French Market in New Orleans Square. And you can always ask for a cup of water at many fast casual or sit down restaurants (Plaza Inn) if you don’t want to buy a beverage.

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Radiator Springs at Dusk at Disney’s California Adventure (photo credit: VirgoBlue)

GO WHEN THE PARK OPENS…AND THEN TAKE A NAP!¬†– If you have younger kids, the excitement of being at Disneyland Resort can be just plain exhausting. So to best maximize your time at the park and avoid long lines that only increase throughout the day, go to the park as soon as it opens. Be sure to check the Disneyland website a few days before you go to check the parks’ hours for the days you plan to go. Then, when foot traffic gets a little nuts at the parks between about 2-5 pm, feel free to go back to the hotel and take a nap, hit the pool, or just veg out for a couple hours. Head back later and everyone will be in a better mood!

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A map of the Jungle Cruise! (Photo Credit: VirgoBlue)

GET A MAP AT THE JUNGLE CRUISE – This one is a lesser known secret for Disneyland fans, and it’s so cool! When you get off the Jungle Cruise, ask a cast member at the ride if they have any maps. If they do, you’ll be rewarded with an¬†awesome free souvenir… Love it!

YOU’RE WAITING IN THE WRONG DOLE WHIP LINE! – Don’t let that intimidatingly long line along¬†the exterior of the Tiki Room Lounge fool you. I know a lot of people have aborted¬†their plans to get that deliciously famous Dole Whip (a frozen pineapple flavored non-dairy treat) after seeing that line. But don’t abort! Instead, just step through the Tiki Room gates and swing a quick right. You’ll see an alternate line for the Dole Whip counter. The line isn’t reserved for Tiki Room patrons and is no different than the impossibly long one on the other side of the wall. It’s just usually¬†shorter and quicker!

ASK (NICELY) FOR SOME MAGIC – My oldest kid is a big fan of magic. So a trip to the Houdini’s Magic Shop on Main Street is mandatory. But did you know¬†that when you say the magic word “please” to a cast member at the shop, they will show you a magic trick? Now that’s magic!

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Pete’s Dragon at the Main Street Electrical Parade (photo credit: VirgoBlue)

CATCH THE LATER¬†PARADE – This tip came directly from a cast member! If there are two scheduled evening parade times at Disneyland park and you think your little ones can stay up just a little later than usual (take that nap!), then it’s worth it to stay and catch the last parade of the night. While¬†the first parade is going on, hit the rides since lines will be a little less crazy. Then, while folks file out of the park or return to their regularly scheduled waiting in lines, you can comfortably find a primo seat on Main Street, Town Square, or near Small World (the three locations I’d personally recommend for best parade viewing). But remember¬†you won’t be seeing the fireworks show again. There’s only one fireworks show a day¬†and it’s usually right after the first parade of the night ends.

HAVE A MEAL WITH CHARACTER(S) – The first time I went to Disneyland with one of my kids we made the horrible mistake of being lured by the thrill of meeting Mickey and Minnie. We ended up waiting for almost an hour in the blazing hot sun. We wasted so much time! Never again. Now, I book at least one character meal a trip so we can enjoy a nice meal and have the characters come to us! Most of them have at least 4-5 characters show up at each seating. Characters and prices will vary, and online or phone reservations are always advised. Please note not all meal times at these establishments are character meals, as noted below.

There are five character meal restaurants at the Disneyland Resort:

GOOFY’S KITCHEN¬†at the Disneyland Hotel (Goofy is guaranteed, but Minnie, Pluto, Chip and Dale are frequent visitors) – Breakfast and dinner buffet character service only.

MICKEY’S SURF’S UP¬†at the PCH Grill in the Paradise Pier Hotel (Mickey is guaranteed, but Minnie, Daisy, Pluto, and Stitch are frequent visitors) – Breakfast buffet character service only.

ARIEL’S GROTTO¬†at Disney’s California Adventure park (Ariel is guaranteed, and three to four other princesses show up) – This is the only Disney Princess dining experience at the Resort. Breakfast and lunch character service only.

BREAKFAST WITH MINNIE AND FRIENDS at the Plaza Inn in Disneyland park (Minnie is guaranteed and Pluto is a frequent visitor. The other two to three characters vary greatly and are sometimes quite rarely spotted at the park, such as Pinocchio or Max!) РBreakfast character service only.

CHIP ‘N DALE CRITTER BREAKFAST¬†at the Storytellers Cafe in the Grand Californian Hotel (Chip ‘n Dale are guaranteed, but other characters are almost always woodland creatures like Meeko from Pocahontas) – Breakfast character service only.

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“it’s a small world” (photo credit: VirgoBlue)

If you have any other tips, feel free to leave me a comment. And like they say at the parks, “Have a magical day!”