There’s nothing like summer fun in the sun, especially when it’s done in style and across the country with your very best friend. I’ve been on this active mission to just get out and enjoy what the sun-filled season has to offer, especially the great outdoors.
The super affordable and friendly Hampton by Hilton is solid on understanding the importance of taking breaks and exploring beyond our predictable circles. They took note of my passion for traveling, eating like a boss, and generously invited me and a friend to get to know a city before summer’s out. My childhood best friend, Rashaun, and I got cute and took off for San Fran for a much-needed girls’ getaway weekend. Our seekender agenda: absolutely nothing. The kind of nothing that feels amazing knowing you can meander through 72 hours and not know where you’ll end up. The only requirement I had was to dig up great food and sip as much pink bubbly as possible.
Our non-agenda agenda got that much better when I connected with a sweet friend from Atlanta now living in San José, exactly where the Hampton put me up. I can’t make these things up. Truthfully, we were there to see Kelly Clarkson in concert in Mountain View (more on that on a second post) but I wanted us to be equidistant to the venue and San Francisco, where the real action was. It worked out too well since the property was no more than 15 minutes from her quaint abode, 20 to Mountain View and 50 to Lombard. We were good.
Catching up with Chris within the hour of checking in changed the entire agenda. We instantly went from nada in motion to amazing sushi in downtown San José to a whimsical day trip to Carmel. I was there 16 years ago and’ve never forgotten its subtle allure, bucolic streets and egg-shelled coloured sand.
CARMEL BY THE SEA
A beautiful Saturday morning coast ride along the forested 17-mile drive treated us to a magnificent pre-brunch stop at Pebble Beach. My first time on that side of Rt. 101 and I was hooked. I won’t go into detail, but the golf carts carrying well-clad, birdie-chasing players zipping through cutesy pathways facing the ocean was my exact cup of tea. Maybe not my girlfriends’ but definitely mine. At least the contrasting cashing waves and towering pebble structures were the backdrop for our free-spirited photo session along the barren beach.
It was fun but after a point-by point overlook along the touristy path, we were hungry. A quick “Siri” query seated us at Caramel Belle. Typical by all aesthetic standard in my brunch manual, the airy café dished out some incredibly sexy bites. My dish was all that. Runny eggs over a decadent mushroom medley and crusty bread…all sublime. Paired with bottomless mimomas and I was set. We were set. We ate, we sipped, we laughed hard and rolled out.
From what I recall, Carmel’s not changed much. Posh boutique shopping, colorful flowered beds with exotic species, cobblestone streets lined with storybook-perfect house, Maseratis and a cool breeze. I really wanted to show my bestie the glory at the end of Ocean Drive I first experienced over a decade ago, but time cut into our “plans” and we had to make a quick u-turn back to San José. Just another perfect excuse to go back. I left Carmel with deeper attraction than even my last tryst.
San Francisco was our final exploratory day. With only 5 hours to zip through a hilly city, we had to be intentional about our non-agenda agenda. If you’re in SF for a fews hours and really want to maximize your time, here’s my surefire itinerary that’ll get you through.
SAN FRANCISCO in 4 HOURS
“That song helped make me a world citizen. It allowed me to live, work and sing in any city on the globe. It changed my whole life.” Tony Bennett on his classic song ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’
Park your car on Union St. Make sure to turn your wheels if you’re on a hill. Otherwise, you’ll get a nice ticket. A couple was nice enough to stop me as I walked away to inform me of the rule. Thanks to him for sparing me a nice check.
Brunch at Bulga. Admire the cute shops, vintage movie theatre and soul cycle studio before making your reservation at this relatively new German-inspired hipster spot. Honestly, it wouldn’t have been my first choice for brunch with its underwhelming menu options but another good local friend raved it fantastic. My flatbread was great with you guessed it, runny eggs atop. The “beignets” were more like fake-me-out small doughnut rounds. Good, but nothing to really to scream about. The grapefruit mimosas my bestie and I enjyed made it all right.
Get lost. Take 10 minutes to get lost driving UP the hills. Stop and take pics looking downward to Alcatraz.
Drive through Golden Gate Bridge State Park. Even get out and take few pics of the beautiful people roller skating around. Just make sure you know that’s not where the Bridge is. We landed at this park by accident but loved the massive territory it covers.
Drive to the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m not a touristy traveller, but even here I had to be one. I’d not seen it in over 15 years and my recollection of it was no where near on point. In fact, barring any Google searches, I could have sworn it was much higher and a different colour. No less, exercise patience in trying to find a parking spot if you want to take selfies and all the typical #Iwashere posed pics. But do stay at least 30 minutes and enjoy its beautiful architecture. Snap a few pics of Alcatraz.
Drive Lombard St. It’s just a must, really. I didn’t do this time, and I regret not taking a few minutes.
Union Square. If this is your fist time in SF, I’d recommend this only for purposes of people watching and some high-end shopping. You’ll enjoy the lovely heart statute on two corners, each representing different themes waiting the cities’ culture.
Hop on a street car. I mean you just have to. It’s kind of iconic. But you have to practice patience again. The line to board is quite exhaustive. But it’s so fun.
And that’s all. It’s barely peeling back all there’s to do, see, learn, experience and eat but it’ll give you a panoramic view of the city. With more time or a true agenda, my bestie and I would have made it to Oakland for some al fresco salsa dancing. I probably would have gone to the wharf and chuckled our way through Madama Tussauds. But next time. We were pressed for time. The Kelly Clarkson concert was calling our names.
Our hour drive back to San José was a picturesque afternoon laughing at how hungry we were but knowing we were going to get down for dinner before the show. Fortunately, the Hampton by Hilton had some basic amenities we noshed on before taking a quick cat nap. You know, hazelnut coffee and a quick email check in is all you really need for a pick-me-up. I was very ambitious though, and hit the gym for 45 minutes before even thinking of my evening. I needed to burn off the entire pie of eggy goodness I devoured just a few hours before. Gyms may not be a needed amenity to most travelers but for this girl here who knows how to put it down in front of a plate or two, it’s basic. I need a treadmill.
Thank goodness for super chill girlfriends that go with the flow and can enjoy the simplicity of random exploration. Check out Hampton by Hilton and their fun-filled #WeGoTogether campaign celebrating awesome togetherness! Their goal is for us to get out and seek the thrill and enjoy what’s out there. Affordable lodging with key ingredients to make your travel a memorable one is what they’re about! And I’m all about that.
*this post is part of an adventurous campaign Hampton by Hilton has activated wherein I’m a paid influencer. All images, content, experiences, and recounts are honest, true and authentically my own.
Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.