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Travelblog Gone with the Wine Blog

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

Filtering by Category: USA

We Celebrated Chinese New Year in San Francisco Chinatown

Paula Gaston

Well here we go, it is the start of the Year of the Pig! Or to be even more specific, the Year of the brown pig. For some years now I have tried to make it down to the Chinatown in San Francisco, to see the New Year Parade but there has always been some excuses; rain, sick kids and or something. But finally this year I was able to experience this amazing night. Even though it was a chilly evening, we had a lot of fun listening the fire crackers and watching the parade.

If you want to see how it was, just check out my Instastories on my Instagram account.

THE HISTORIC CHINATOWN OF SAN FRANCISCO

Chinatown in San Francisco was established in 1848, and it is one of the top sights to see among the tourists visiting the city. Almost 35 000 people live over there and it is the most densely populated area after Manhattan. During the history, the Chinatown has seen many thing from earthquakes to confrontations of some Asian gangs. Many Chinese living close by come over to Chinatown for shopping and to different events, the tourist come to see the sights and to eat. While walking on the small alleys of Chinatown you can easily forget that you are in the USA and you are likely to hear more Chinese than English. It is definitely a worth of visit when in San Francisco.

 

THE AMAZING NEW YEARS PARADE

Every year couple weeks after the new year starts they organise a big parade in the Chinatown. At the dawn people gather up along the roads to wait and you can start hearing the fire crackers. If you want to get a front row spot, you have arrive at least an hour before the parade starts. And it goes on for several hours. It end by the tent of the judges who then choose the best performer or float.

The parade is a mixture of Chinese traditions and American parade culture. The whole thing started with a police entourage which then continued with other participants. Since it is a year of the pig, all the decorations of course where made to showcase that. Chinese traditions were the many lion and dragon dancers, martial art performers and other dancers. I think the America was represented by the marching bands and the floats. I especially remember the big dragons and the decorated cable cars which this time were on tires.

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The first parade was held already on 1858, but there are many other New Year events in Chinatown too. They have a New Year Run, Miss Chinatown U.S.A. pageant and even a flower festival. Miss Chinatown was part of the parade with her runner ups. The parade was actually so long that we decided to go get some hot tea and a bite to eat, and then head to home before it ended. We managed to see the end of the parade while walking toward to train station. Even it being so cold, we still had to take some photos of the rest of the performers.

The Grand Finale of the parade was the Golden Dragon. The dragon is made in China, and it is over 268 feet long. It need 100 men to carry it through the parade. And it truly was really magical when it danced very close of us almost touching our jackets.

When we left home we decided that this was a good “practise year” for us. Next time we will come over with a bigger crew, will bring some lawn chairs, coffee and warmer clothes. Now we also know which spots are the best to watch the parade. The best ones are right after the bleacher seats where the performers will stop to do their routine. Or you can always get the seat with $35 and be guaranteed with a good view. Otherwise the parade is free of charge.

This was truly a memorable experience! Happy New Year everyone!

 

Champange brunch in San Francisco's iconic Cliff House Restaurant

Paula Gaston

For several years now, we have celebrated Valentine’s Day beforehand or after the actual day. We got tired of the sold out and crowded restaurants with over priced menus. This year the Valentine’s Day was in the middle of the week and we decided to go out for brunch on the next Sunday. For few years already, I have wanted to eat at the Cliff House restaurant in San Francisco which is famous from its long history in the city. Finally we made it to their Sunday brunch and it was totally worth it!

THE LONG AND COLOURFUL HISTORY OF THE CLIFF HOUSE RESTAURANT

Cliff House is located in an amazing spot right by the ocean. It was first opened in 1858, and it has been either rebuilt or renovated for five times. The second Cliff House building was built on the same spot in 1863, and it quickly become a very successful restaurant. The building was later damaged when a schooner ran aground next to it, and the dynamite it was carrying exploded. The building was repaired but it eventually burned down in a fire in Christmas 1894. The fire also destroyed the restaurants’s records of its famous customers such as presidents and others.

Adolph Sutro, who had earlier bought the Cliff House, built the third restaurant after the fire. The new building was a beautiful, Victorian mansion which also got a nick name The Gingerbread Palace. The same year he also started to build the Sutro Baths next to the Cliff House, which become the biggest inside swimming pool complex in the world at that time. The amazing Cliff House building survived the big San Francisco earth quake in 1966 just to burn down the next year. So started the time of the fourth Cliff House. Also the Sutro Baths was distroyed by a fire later in 1966 but you can still see the ruins of the pools if you visit the area.

After the fire the daughter of the Adolph Sutro, Emme Merritt took over, and built a new Cliff House restaurant. After that the building has had several major renevations until it was finally took over by the National Park System, who transferred it into a neoclassical style. Today there is also a souvenir shop in the same building with the restaurant.

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BOTTOMLESS MIMOSAS AND THE DELICIOUS BUFFET TABLE

Cliff House has two separate restaurants; Bistro Restaurant and a little bit more fomarl Sutro’s. Sunday brunch is served in the Terrace Room where they have an awesome views to the ocean. There are three servings and this time, we were on the last on which was at 2 pm. The restaurant seemed very full and I think we might of gotten one of the last tables when we made our reservation.

The brunch comes with the traditional bottomless champagne mimosas, non alcoholic beverages and coffee. And I have to say, our glasses were always full and it many other ways too, the service was seamless. Even our 6 year old was excited since she got to drink some non alcoholic cider out of a champagne glass, and not from a plastic cups that they usually give for kids in the restaurants here.

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In the buffet they had some traditional breakfast foods like eggs, sausages, Egg Benedict (my favourite), bacon and potatoes. They also had plenty of sea food in different ways like fish, shrimp and clams. For us this was a great fit since we love that kind of things. One of my favourites at the buffet was the Miso Marinated Salmon Medallions. We also tried some paella, different kinds of cheeses and sandwich meats, and many salads. There were actually so many sorts that I don’t think I even tried all of them. For example from the giant fruit platter I was only able to try couple things since I was already so full. My ultimate favourite from the desserts was the Butterscotch Eggs made in real egg shells. Nom nom!

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The brunch in Cliff House cost $65, and the kids were in half price. We were happy to see that they didn’t charge anything for our 1,5 year old who nippled some omelette and a tiny piece of salmon. We were not sure if they would charge something of her or not. During the brunch they had some harp music which somehow fit into this space perfectly.

If you have time you can do a little stroll at the Land End after the brunch where Sutro Bath ruins are. In the beginning of the trail at the beach there is a little cave, and if you continue the trail you will see a beautiful of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Sutro Baths

Sutro Baths

How did you celebrate Valentine’s Day?

 

The Snowy Lake Arrowhead Village in Southern California

Paula Gaston

While visiting in California you might have drank some water called Arrowhead. We have a box of these bottles in our garage in the event of an earthquake. But while drinking water you might not always think where it comes from. Well, the Arrowhead spring is located in the San Bernardino mountains, close to Arrowhead reservoir. Lake Arrowhead is a popular holiday destination, especially for those living close to the Los Angeles area. We stopped by on our Christmas trip just for one day. Lake Arrowhead Village is a cute little mountain village basically in the middle of nowhere. I am not surprised that so many people like it so much.

 
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They started developing Lake Arrowhead to be a recreational destination in 1920’s when the name was changed from Little Bear Valley to Lake Arrowhead Village. I am thinking that the old name must come from Big Bear Lake which is also close by, but the new name comes from the hot springs which according to old Indian legend are in the nearby forest. Their name was Arrowhead. Many Hollywood stars bought vacation homes in Lake Arrowhead and they even filmed some movies there. Today, there are 12,500 people living at Lake Arrowhead.

People come to Lake Arrowhead for vacationing and to enjoy the outdoors. You can golf, water ski and hike there. An old paddlewheel boat will take you to the lake to see how beautiful it is. In the winter time there is some snow in the mountains and the ski resorts close by will open up. The whole village has been built to resemble an Alpine village, and it is sometimes called the “Alps of Southern California. Over 4 million people visit the area every year.

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There are many shops, cafes and restaurants in the village center. We walked around for a while and bought some hot chocolate and coffee, since it was a chilly day. Our daughter did the merry-go-round at the end of the walk way, while I took some photos of the lake. It must be very pretty on a sunny day, since even now it was nice. You can see many huge vacation houses or mansions on the lake. Right when we planned to head back home, it started snowing. Slowly the little white snow flakes hit the ground and our kids were excited of course. For once, we almost had a white Christmas!

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On the way back home from the mountain we saw a gorgeous sunset. We just had to pull over and take some photos of it, and just sit there for a while enjoying it.

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Until next time enjoy these beautiful mountain views!

 

Jelly Belly Factory Tour in California

Paula Gaston

A few weeks ago we did a day trip to the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield. The Jelly Belly Factory is the home and headquarters of one of the most famous candy companies in the U.S.: Jelly Belly jelly beans. For the uninitiated, jelly beans are small, bean shaped sugar candies which come in many different colors & flavors. The Jelly Belly Factory is located only about an hour’s drive from San Francisco, in Fairfield, and is a great place for a quick visit, especially on a rainy day. And the best part is, that visiting it is completely free!

 
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JELLY BEANS ARE BORN

The history of jelly beans go all the way back to year 1869 when young Gustav Goelitz opened his first candy store in Illinois. Jelly beans were born in the 1960s when Gustav’s grand kids were testing new candies and flavors. At the same time the famous Candy Corn candies were born which are especially eaten here in the U.S. at Halloween. In 1966 Ronald Reagan, who was the governor of California at the time, tasted their jelly beans and liked them very much. So much in fact, that he wrote a letter and mailed it to the factory, saying that they barely held a meeting without Jelly Bellies offered. Jelly Belly introduced some new flavours like Root beer, Licorice and many others in 1976, and they instantly become a hit. By 1980 they already had 40 official flavours which are all still sold today.

The climax of President Ronald Reagan’s love of Jelly Belly came when he ordered 3.5 tons of candies for his inauguration in 1981. Five years later the company started a major construction project, and built the candy factory in Fairfield; the one that we just visited. At that time the manufacturer was still known as Herman Goelitz Candy Co., but the name was later changed to Jelly Belly Candy Company. They also opened another candy factory to Wisconsin, on the other side of the country.

Today one can find their Jelly Bellies in most any store in the U.S.

Candy art

Candy art

THE FACTORY TOUR WITH KIDS

The factory tours are done in both factories; in Fairlfield and in Wisconsin. The Fairfield factory is also the company headquarters. Our visit to the factory was a great experience, and this was my 3rd time there. Right when you walk in, you will see the factory store and a waiting area for the tour. Tours go often, so we didn’t have to wait for long in line. The earlier you get there, the less people waiting and a shorter line.

In the beginning of the tour the guide is there to tell you how it works, and shows you a short video. You will also receive some samples of the candies. Then you are free to walk through the factory at your own pace. The tour starts with a group photo with the Jelly Belly mascot, and the photos can be purchased at the end of the tour. After that you will see what happens in the factory. They will do everything from candy making to coloring and packing them. On the walk you can stop and see videos about how the candy is made or about the history of Jelly Bellies. Or you can read all about it on the wall cards. They have also taken the smallest members of the family into consideration, and there are two sets of windows at different heights…and you can go in with a stroller if needed.

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Here they are adding some color to the candy…

Here they are adding some color to the candy…

… and then they are packed.

… and then they are packed.

In my opinion the funnest part of the whole tour was the “Jelly Belly Smell Station”. Different jelly beans of course taste and smell differently, and one can challenge oneself here to match the right smell to the right flavor.

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By pressing the button you can smell the candy flavor from the machine. They also give you a hint, and under that you can find the answer.

By pressing the button you can smell the candy flavor from the machine. They also give you a hint, and under that you can find the answer.

So many jelly beans in every color and taste

So many jelly beans in every color and taste

At the end of the tour everyone got a small bag of Jelly Bellies and a Bean Boozled box. Bean Boozled was a surprise for us since it was not one of the 40 flavors. There were a set of identical looking candies in the box, but with one a normal flavor and another some yucky flavor. We tried dead fish, tooth paste, dog food and Minion farts. Quite gross! Another similar candy box that they have is with a Harry Potter theme. Enjoy!

Would you like to try some Stinky Socks or Rotten Egg?

Would you like to try some Stinky Socks or Rotten Egg?

LUNCH AT JELLY BELLY STYLE AND THE GIFT SHOP

Since we left home early, we hadn’t had lunch yet. This time we decided to eat at the Jelly Belly Factory, since it was raining and we didn’t want to drive around finding a restaurant…and we were hungry already. I was surprised to see that they had a lot to choose from; everything from salads to sandwiches, soups and burgers. I was debating whether to get a salad or bean shaped pizza, but ended up ordering a burger after all. They had some nice, fresh condiments, so one could fill out the burger oneself, and everything looked fresh and tasty. Nice!

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After eating we headed to the gift shop. One has to get some candy after all while in a candy factory! They also have a Sample Bar at the gift shop where you can taste different candy flavors. Everyone gets to choose three flavors they would like to try. I tried some more exotic flavors like Strawberry Daiquiri, Mojito and Peach Bellini. We also got some fresh fudge from the Chocolate Shop. So yummy!

How about some Chocolate pudding or Pancakes & Maple Syrup…

How about some Chocolate pudding or Pancakes & Maple Syrup…

…or something spicier like Tabasco?

…or something spicier like Tabasco?

We had a fun day at the Jelly Belly Factory, and the kids especially liked it. This place was actually on our older daughter’s wish list, but we all enjoyed the visit. So if you are visiting San Francisco or the Bay Area, this isn’t a bad way to spend a few hours!

 

Dining at the Rainforest Cafe, Las Vegas

Paula Gaston

On our last trip to Las Vegas, we had an early dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. This is a restaurant chain where you can hop into the middle of a rainforest. Even though it might seem a little comical with its howling animals, it is a fun place and kids especially love it. Animals at the Rainforest Cafe are not real of course. They are all mechanical and even the plants are plastic. We went to this same restaurant some years ago, and I have also visited the one in San Francisco which was closed in 2017. I am almost positive that I have also been to one in Chicago. We have had good experiences in this restaurant and our daughter had a blast on this visit too.

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TROPICAL ANIMALS AND NORTHERN LIGHTS

The Rainforest Cafe is a chain which was first started in 1994 at the Mall of America, Minnesota. From there it expanded to ten different states, and even outside the USA. Usually you can recognise the Rainforest Cafe from far away, because there are lots of plants and steam at their front door. Every now and then the animals inside the restaurant will start moving and making noises. The elephants will flap their ears, a monkey hanging in a swing closed his eyes and even the snakes were sticking their tongues out at us. There was also a bizarre thing going on in this rainforest. After the day turned to night, a sky full of stars lit up the ceiling…and with Northern Lights! I bet that the countries that actually have Northern Lights don’t have rainforests also.

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While visiting the Rainforest Cafe one should take a little stroll around it while waiting for the food; just to check out all the animals they have. They usually also have a souvenir shop in the lobby where kids can find all kinds fun things to take home.

WOW, WHAT A DRINK AND SOME DELICIOUS SHRIMP

Since we were in Vegas, I decided to have a drink before dinner. I was looking at the Margaritas and wanted to try something new, so I ordered a CoronaRita. It wasn’t until I saw the drink that I realised what I had ordered. It is two drinks in one; a margarita with a beer bottle. And I don’t even like beer. For some reason my brain didn’t register that I was ordering something with beer. But hey, since we were in Vegas, the rest of the drink was given to us to go.

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CARIBBEAN COCONUT FRIED SHRIMP

CARIBBEAN COCONUT FRIED SHRIMP

This appertizer we shared with a bigger group one year and it was so yummy! AWESOME APPETIZER ADVENTURE; Chimi-Cha-Chas, Spinach & Artichoke Dip, Cheese Sticks, Chicken Strips, guacamole

This appertizer we shared with a bigger group one year and it was so yummy!
AWESOME APPETIZER ADVENTURE; Chimi-Cha-Chas, Spinach & Artichoke Dip, Cheese Sticks, Chicken Strips, guacamole

The Rainforest Cafe menu is a pretty typical American restaurant menu. There is plenty to choose from and something for everyone. Salads, snacks, burgers, sandwiches, pasta, pizza, fish, chicken and meat… and of course, a separate menu for kids. I wasn’t terribly hungry, so I chose some coconut shrimp with mashed potatoes. This was easily sharable with our little one too, who still needed pureed type of food.

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If you are traveling with kids or just want to experience something different, the Rainforest Cafe can be fun. The food is good but a little bit pricier than a normal restaurant. We left the place for the streets of Las Vegas with full bellies and with an emptier wallet.