Travel | Seaside Tranquility at Palos Verdes’ Stunning Terannea Resort

IMG_4033Pharrell was spotted at this resort the night before I checked in. So. With that in mind, looking to experience the California Coast like never before? Then check out Terranea Resort, located atop Los Angeles’ Palos Verdes Peninsula. This picturesque luxury hotel has left 75 of 102 acres of its private peninsula undeveloped, enabling guests to fully take in the pristine, natural landscape.IMG_4219IMG_3993TR1IMG_3983TRThe resort strives to protect and highlight the environment on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, with its panoramic coastal views; hiking and bird-watching footpaths along the scenic Discovery Trail; educational tours to highlight the property’s ecology and rare flora and fauna; frequent whale, sea lion and dolphin sightings; and temperate weather all year.

Little known fact: even if you’re not a guest at the hotel, you can spend the day at Terranea’s Cove Beach (and pretend like you are!). Aside from the obvious draws — the rocky shoreline, views of the grassy cliffs in the distance, and miles of hiking trails to explore — a major highlight of this beach is the large sea cave that is accessible during low tide. IMG_4229IMG_4339IMG_4226IMG_4894Visitors can enlist the help of the adventure concierge, who specializes in excursions that include horseback rides, paddle boarding, ocean kayaking alongside otters, tide-pool explorations and even falconry (encounters with falcons, Harris hawks and Eurasian eagle owls). I opted for an exhilarating kayak ride which gave me an up close and personal experience with the sea life living within the tall kelp beds on the coastal waters. IMG_4869IMG_4069IMG_4064Another unique aspect of Terranea is its outstanding culinary program which strives to showcase the property’s natural surroundings, as well as the agricultural treasures that grow on its grounds. Lemon trees, honey-filled beehives, seasonal produce such as bell peppers and tomatoes, herbs, and avocado trees are grown on its continually expanding organic farmland at the nearby Catalina View Gardens. Not to mention, the resort also boasts an innovative sea salt conservatory allowing them to harvest their own sea salt straight from the source: the Pacific Ocean.

The Mediterranean-inspired resort is an ideal retreat from the stresses of life. Decorated with elements such as giant clay pots filled with succulents and cacti; wicker lounge furniture with sky blue accents; and lush gardens, mosaics and palm trees, the Terranea maintains a peaceful ambience. Despite the Mediterranean touches, the resort stays true to its California roots, offering guests a relaxed atmosphere to match the tranquil seascape views. You won’t feel out of place in flip-flops or beachy resort wear.

Terranea features 582 guest rooms and suites, including spacious casitas and villas, and the Bungalows, a collection of accommodations that offer spa and wellness-focused amenities. Each guest room has a private balcony, most of which overlook the ocean. The rooms also come with four-fixture stone baths, flat-screen TVs and plush beds with rich linens.

Original article was featured in Travel Weekly and can be read here.

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Getaways | Guerneville, California

img_7650If Napa Valley is the only thing that pops into your mind when you think of California wine destinations, this article is for you. Guerneville, located in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, exudes all the charm and culinary sophistication of wine country, minus the pretentious vibes.

Unique and eclectic, Guerneville has something for everyone: for the ocean-lovers, there’s Johnson’s Beach; the adventurous can do a number of activities on the Russian River such as boating, kayaking, rafting, and fishing; hikers have a number of trail options courtesy of the Armstrong Woods State Park; the foodies can munch at numerous locally sourced eateries and cafés; and of course, there are plenty of picturesque vineyards for the wine enthusiasts.
[big bottom market]
After a drive up to Guerneville you’re going to want to have a bite before your day of exploration. There’s no better place to relax and unwind over artisanal food and drink than at [big bottom market]. The big bottom market’s warm and welcoming atmosphere will have you feeling right at home.

One step in to the teal-framed entrance and you’re surrounded with the smell of its famed biscuits. With wooden communal tables, stools to sit by the window and people-watch, outdoor seating, and a rustic-yet-modern interior, the market is a modern day general store with “lumberjack chic style.”
img_1797The menu offers a mix of gourmet deli sandwiches, salads, and quality bites — all of which use sustainable, locally sourced ingredients. You can’t come here and start off with anything but freshly baked biscuits with options that include butter and jam; mascarpone and honey; cream and berries; gravy; and BBQ pulled pork. Or opt for one of its house-favorite biscuit sandwiches such as the Sea Biscuit with smoked salmon, crème fraiche, capers, and pickled onions or the Ham + Cheddar biscuit with black forest ham, melted cheddar served warm.
img_1799One of the best sandwiches I’ve had is the muffuletta which is packed with salami, coppa, mortadella, ham, provolone, mozzarella, and giardiniera-olive spread with garlic aioli on a toasty ciabatta. The combination of cured meats and the vinegary-pickled flavors of the spread is perfection. For something on the lighter side, the prosciutto + fig sandwich with provolone, fig jam, and arugula pressed on ciabatta is a great choice.

Also on the menu is a variety of salads that include curry chicken with spiced pepitas and a chickpea artichoke option. There is a fantastic selection of specialty meats and cheeses, along with fresh breads, to create any sandwich you fancy.

Those in a hurry can grab box lunches (complete with your choice of artisan sandwich, chips, and a house-made cookie). Don’t forget to check out the shelves of unique items that include everything from jams, chocolates, and honey, to a variety of locally made products, coffee table books, wines, candles, and more.

Porter-Bass Vineyard & Winery
Porter-Bass Vineyard & Winery offers an intimate, laid-back wine tasting session with the husband and wife duo of Luke and Elana Bass. While sipping wines made from their estate biodynamic grapes on the property, Luke and Elana are more than happy to answer any and all questions about the wines.
img_1839Though there’s no tasting room, you’re offered the opportunity to sit under the shade of lovely, deep-rooted tree, to take in the scenery of the surrounding vine-covered hills and billowing redwoods in the distance.
img_7656The three wines they specialize in are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel — my favorite was the Poco a Poco Sauvignon Blanc (Poco a Poco is one of their other labels). An afternoon tasting at this family-ran vineyard makes apparent how much the vines, grapes, and farming of the land is cared about. Guests can expect gracious hospitality, a welcoming environment sans any pretentiousness, interesting conversation, and delicious wines.

Marimar Estate: Tapas & Wine Pairings
Marimar Torres is the daughter of famed Spanish winemaker Miguel Torres. After traveling to California in the mid-70s, she later began planting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varietals. Since her first wines were released in the 90s she has continued to make some of the area’s best wines and has added some Spanish varietals including Tempranillo and Albarino. Today there are 30 acres planted with Chardonnay and 30 with Pinot Noir at the Marimar Estate.
This winery was built in 1992 to resemble a Catalan farmhouse. Unique to this property is experiencing its Spanish tapas and wine pairings lunch on its unbelievable stone terrace — the terrace faces incredible views of the surrounding redwoods, coastal forest, and an array of wild flowers.img_1851img_1864The wine and tapas pairings included the following sips and bites: 2014 Chardonnay/ Albariño; 2013 ‘La Masìa’ Chardonnay; 2013 ‘Dobles Lìas’ Charfonnay; ‘Mas Cavalls’ Pinot Noir; and the ‘Earthquake Bock’ Pinot Noir; and on the tapas side, zucchini cake Cristina; prawns in a garlic sauce with sweet red peppers; cabbage dumplings stuffed with pork, chorizo, pine nuts, and raisins; and figs stuffed with chocolate and nuts in a chocolate sauce. The authentic recipes came from Marimar Torres’ cookbooks and certainly didn’t disappoint.

Paul Mathew Vineyards
Located in “downtown” Graton is the charming Paul Mathew Vineyards which is known for truly artisan wines by winemaker, Matt Gustafson. His wife Barb Gustafson — who is wonderfully knowledgeable of the wines — manages the tasting room and the business while her husband often is out in the fields carefully selecting and farming the grapes that go into his barrels.
img_1872Treat yourself to a tasting of five wines that include: Bohemian Pinot 2013 with flavors of bright red fruit; Ruxton Pinot 2013 with touches of black berry, cherry and plum; HSB pinot with cherry flavors; TnT pinot with hints of cinnamon and clove; and the Cabernet Franc with floral notes and a touch of bell pepper.

Iron Horse Vineyards
Everyone loves sparkling wines and gorgeous views, right? Located in the heart of Green Valley, Iron Horse Vineyards face stunning views that span from across Sonoma County to Mount St. Helena.
Think: rolling hills, wild flowers, and over 160 acres of lush vines. Known for some of the best sparkling wines in the world, they pride themselves on premiere vintage quality, of which theirs belongs to the category of “Grower Champagne”.
img_1875img_4241Iron Horse produces 12 different cuvées — all estate bottled—ranging from the Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blancs, made from 100 percent Chardonnay, to the bright, bold, and very dry Brut Rosé. The Wedding Cuvée (aged three years) is absolutely refreshing and delicious.

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NYC Spotlight | Big Bottom Biscuit Bar

Fresh biscuitsWhether you’re commuting to work in a rush, on your way to an appointment, or just in the mood to make your morning extra special, forget doughnuts or croissants. Warm, freshly baked biscuits are far superior, and now, they’re just as easy to grab and go. The Big Bottom Biscuit Bar opened today in the Upper West Side’s Italian restaurant, Osteria Cotta. The biscuit bar will be offering the Big Bottom biscuits that were originally made famous by its parent shop — Big Bottom Market —  out of the eatery’s coffee window.

The Big Bottom Market is an unique gourmet food, wine, and general store in Sonoma County. Though most often biscuits are thought of as a Southern thing, these buttermilk biscuits hail from Guerneville, California, and are made using a family recipe that originated from co-owner Crista Luedtke’s grandmother.

Offered atop your buttery biscuits is an eclectic variety of unique sweet and savory toppings that include mascarpone and honey, vegetarian gravy, pork ragu with Parmigianino, whipped cream and berries, and of course, butter and jam.

Or if you’re ready for a satisfyingly rich twist on the classic New York City lox, bagel, and cream cheese, opt for the Sea Biscuit. The Big Bottom Biscuit Bar asserts that this smoky morning favorite is its, “challenge to bagels and lox,” and with smoked salmon, crème fraiche, pickled onions, and capers on a freshly baked biscuit, the old New York City staple might have to step aside.
honey biscuit

It has also partnered with the roasters at Stumptown Coffee and is featuring a selection of drip and cold brews that include flavors like coconut and chocolate (best flavored coffee I’ve ever had).

Co-Owner Michael Volpatt is keeping the focus on the all-mighty biscuit and doesn’t plan to change that any time soon. Just like the Californian favorite In-n-Out, when you have something delicious that people crave, there’s no need to complicate things. New York City is due for its next breakfast classic and these dressed up biscuits fit the bill — because where else can you go to grab a nice, fluffy biscuit on-the-go? Exactly.

Stop by and taste Big Bottom Market’s baked delights Wednesday – Friday from 7:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. and on the weekends from 8:00 a.m. until 11:00 a.m.

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CCC | Corridor Cafe

Cinnamon Toast Crunch Latte
No time to eat a sweet bowl of cereal? Then do the next best thing and get a milk-infused latte. {Corridor Cafe}

Along with my personal favorites, which include Cap’n Crunch (with Crunch Berries), Fruit Loops, and Cocoa Pebbles,Cinnamon Toast Crunch holds a special place in my heart as one of the cereals I most indulged in as a kid, and even now as an adult. That said, I was quite excited when I heard about the recently opened Corridor Cafe’s newest sweet, nostalgic sip: the Cinnamon Toast Crunch Latte.

With a cereal-infused milk, a new spin on concoction that Momofuku Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi made famous, and Lamill Coffee, this latte is a caffeinated treat for those craving the taste of their favorite breakfast cereal. Also in the works is the upcoming milk infusion ― a Huckleberry Coffee Cake Milk ― which will also be used to add an innovative flavor profile to Corridor Cafe’s oatmeal.

Other coffee beverages that sound delicious are the Crème Brûlée Latte, the Salted Caramel Latte, as well as the iced house-made 18-hour Cold Brew, and Iced Mocha made with Valrhona chocolate.

This San Francisco cafe has an eclectic selection of flavored milk infusions, milk teas, and refreshing (non-alcoholic) tea cocktails. Creamy milk tea flavors featured are Masala chai and classic Hong Kong. For those in the mood for something more on the light and fresh side can opt for any of Corridor Cafe’s organic tea creations. Guest can chose from flavors that include St. Tropez, made with green tea, and mango and pomegranate notes; Mr. Woods, made with fresh-squeezed lemonade and plumberry black tea; and the green tea mojito, made with mint, lime, green tea, and sparkling water.

Unique breakfast bites are also offered on-the-go. Items such as the “Mimosa-style” yogurt parfait made with vanilla and Champagne yogurt, citrus, and house-made honey granola; and the Corridor savory ‘cruffin’ (croissant/ muffin hybrid) made with Cheddar, prosciutto, and chives, are solid choices to treat yourself in the a.m.

Outside-the-box pastries such as a blueberry muffin top and cinnamon-apple streusel cake baked by pastry chef Tara Lewis in-house and are available all day. Also offered is a selection of baked goods by Oakland-based Firebrand that includes a morning bun with cinnamon, sugar and cream cheese frosting; goat cheese pretzel; blackberry danish; and ginger-molasses bars.

Next time you need to grab breakfast and feel like changing up your routine (or creating a new one), head to the Van Ness Corridor, right by City Hall and the opera house.

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Your Next Top-notch Liquor, Starring Karl the Fog

Hi Karl the Fog! {Credit: Antony Quintano/ CC-BY 2.0 license}

Not a Bay Area native? Then you probably won’t know who Karl is. You’d be even more confused if I were to tell you that now you can literally taste Karl, in liquor form. Karl, ladies and gentlemen, is San Francisco’s lovely fog.

Bay Area-based Hangar 1 distillery has managed to take vodka in a direction the world hasn’t seen before ― its team has produced a limited-edition batch of vodka that is made of San Francisco fog (Karl).

Each bottle of this unique spirit, called Fog Point, will cost a pricey $125. According to Time, head distiller Caley Shoemaker’s impetus behind this one-of-a-kind libation was to “create something that embodies values the Bay Area worships: sustainability and local production. She also wanted to make something that nods to the drought that has starved the state for several years running.”

Shoemaker says, “We really wanted to come up with some sort of sustainable water.” Once her team found FogQuest, a non-profit that utilizes “innovative fog collectors as well as effective rainfall collectors to make optimum use of natural atmospheric sources of water,” Shoemaker was able to turn their idea into a reality.

Over the course of six months, using fog catchers at four locations in the Bay Area, including San Francisco’s famed Sutro Tower, Hangar 1 managed to collect enough fog water to make 2,400 bottles. For those that have never heard of fog collectors, they are described as sheets of mesh that become water-logged as a result of the passing fog and, eventually, drops of water begin to collect in troughs.

Partnering with a biodynamic vineyard, Bonny Doon, this fog spirit is distilled from the grape wine, 2012 Le Cigar Blanc. Shoemaker says of the final product that it’s “made of California because truly, you’re tasting the Bay;” moreover, “You’re tasting the soil and the grapes and all of that comes together really well in this interesting little project we’ve done here.”

Hangar 1 is donating 100 percent of profits from this fog transformation back to water conservation. With only 2,400 bottles in existence, vodka connoisseurs will not want to miss out on this limited-edition offering from the City by the Bay.

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Dessert Alert | Mission Pie

This inviting and caring neighborhood bakery turns out heavenly pies like none other. {Mission Pie}

This inviting and caring neighborhood bakery turns out heavenly pies like none otherYou’d be hard pressed to find an establishment that stays truer to its core values than Mission Pie, the pie heaven located in the sunny Mission District of San Francisco. Since 2007, this charming spot has been baking up a glorious selection of pies, muffins, galettes, quiches, 7-grain cereals, pot pies, and soup and salads, for those trying to eat a bit healthier. They also offer coffees and teas to accompany your baked goods. In addition, they sell local artisanal products like jam and honey to take home.

Each freshly baked pie consists of a flakey and handmade pastry and ripe, naturally sweet fruits, all chosen based off of what’s in season.  The crust — which is more akin to a croissant, than a traditional crust — is made of pure butter, 1/3 white and 2/3 wheat pastry flour, and rolled by hand. Flavors include apple raspberry, shaker lemon, rhubarb chess, pear blueberry, and banana cream, and these are just a few flavors currently in season. These slices are insanely delicious with a dollop of ice cream or whipped cream (or if you’re me, with both).

Mission Pie’s goodies are made with the best ingredients out there and are locally sourced from farms and produce distributors in the area. It’s a green-certified bakery and it even has an adorable communal sidewalk garden its staff and the surrounding neighbors tend to. Another thing that’s awesome about this welcoming eatery is that the decoration featured is actually created by community artists.

With its cozy and inviting atmosphere, vibrant flower vases, ornate yellow wallpaper, an incredible just- baked pie aroma, and genuinely friendly staff, this is dessert spot is one of my favorites in San Francisco.

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CCC | Suppenküche’s Biergarten

Beer, bratwurst, and friendship and come together at this Hayes Valley gem. {Credit: Yelp/ Jeanne C.}

Though San Francisco isn’t known for blazing hot summers, there’s never really a “bad” time to enjoy fresh air, delicious food, and drinks with good company, right? Unless perhaps it’s snowing outside, but luckily for San Franciscans, it never snows here. Those who don’t frequent Hayes Valley often may not know about this neighborhood jewel — I’m shocked I didn’t; but with warmer weather comes the desire to be out and about, and that’s when I discovered Suppenküche’s Biergarten.

The Biergarten is located on a vacant, concrete lot that was converted into rentable space in the form of shipping containers, as a part of Hayes Valley’s Proxy Project. The project, which was originally a temporary collaboration between the city and Envelope Architecture+Design, was conceived out of the idea that San Francisco can either squander opportunities for positive growth, or transform this desolate location into a new, revenue-making area for some of the city’s best eateries, artists, and retailers. Five years later, the gang of shipping container shops — now known in the area known as Proxy — has been granted another five years in business, until 2021.

The 100-seat open-air Biergarten is a charming, Bavarian style, neighborhood beer garden, which is an extension of its parent restaurant,Suppenküche. Suppenküche is a friendly and welcoming German restaurant, whose specialty is Bavarian cooking. Known for its traditional German fare, this cozy eatery emphasizes camaraderie and is one of the first places in San Francisco to offer communal seating. With hearty food that includes sautéed pork loins, braised beef, and, of course, authentic bratwurst mit sauerkraut (pork sausage with sauerkraut), it’s hard not to stuff your face. And, obviously, Suppenküche has an enormous beer (and wine) list featuring a variety of top-notch German, Austrian, and Belgian Beers I cannot pronounce.

The vibrant, lively, and bustling beer garden has communal tables, like Suppenküche, sun umbrellas, illuminated tea lights, and blankets for chilly nights. The ambiance is unbeatable on a warm, San Francisco day — or night. The food goes amazingly well with the extensive list of beers, wines, and ciders it offers. Snack bites include freshly baked, soft pretzels; pickled vegetables (including dill pickles); and bright, fuchsia-colored, pickled deviled eggs. The Biergarten also features a mouthwatering, half-pound, and grass-fed beef burger that’s dressed with a new set of toppings daily. Also available are pork belly sliders and the Gnomeburger, a mini-burger with avocado and a garlic herb aïoli.IMG_5579There’s also a selection of buttered pretzel sandwiches that include the Guest Knot, made with crispy prosciutto and aged Cheddar, and the salty/ sweet Banana Knot, made with banana, house-made hazelnut butter, and local honey. The star of my beer garden visit was the bratwurst with curry-roasted potatoes. The bratwurst is outstanding in flavor and the curry potatoes serve as an unexpectedly delicious and mouth-cooling side. The Biergarten also features the currywurst and bratdog, which is bratwurst with house made curry ketchup and the other with house-made kraut, respectively.

The Biergarten serves a rotating selection of the best beers out there, from breweries around the world. Moreover, they offer hard ciders — a personal favorite — and an Australian white wine, one red, and daily surprise additions. Beers come in huge mugs, in liter or half-liter sizes, and are perfect for quenching your thirst alongside your savory selections of German fare.

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CCC | The Spice Jar

spice jar
Chef Ryuichi Hamada bring the home-cooked flavors from across Asia into his inviting, eclectic, and lively neighborhood eatery. {Credit: Yelp/ Geraldine R.}

As a general rule of thumb, I do my best to avoid dining at restaurants that have more than one cuisine going on. You know the type I’m talking about — the confused restaurant that can’t seem to figure out what they cook best and end up having sections for burgers and Chinese food, while also claiming it has the best doughnuts in the city. Then my family took me to the cozy, welcoming, and surprisingly affordable restaurant, The Spice Jar, which turned out to be the exception to the rule.

While every heritage has its own version of comfort food, so does every family, and even every individual. This concept is embodied in the menu at the still fairly new eatery (it’s not yet one year old). This Pan-Asian eatery prides itself on successfully incorporating the best flavors, ingredients, and of course, spices, of comfort food from across Asia, into its own interpretations of family-style comfort food. Owner and chef, Ryuichi Hamada’s menu takes common dishes and reinvents them with an unexpected, though delightful, deviation from the norm.

Starters range from traditional steamed dumplings and refreshing chicken lettuce cups to more creative small plates such as the seafood cast iron fondue, which features a mix of seafood and black olives in an olive oil fondue. A personal favorite is the super fresh albacore carpaccio, which comes with chopped jalapeños in a house-made spicy ponzu sauce. For those looking for a heartier appetizer, definitely get the bone-in braised spare rib bao — the meat falls right off the bone, perfect for wrapping within the warm, soft bao bun. The Spice Jar also offers inspired salads like the crispy calamari salad with vermicelli and a red curry honey dressing.

Those of you that are of Asian descent — I’m half Filipino myself — know that no proper meal can be complete without noodles and/ or rice! At The Spice Jar, offerings range from the Vietnamese chicken noodle soup (Pho Ga), to the savory ramen selections that include the tonkotsu-shoyu ramen, that features tender braised spare rib meat in a rich, silky broth, and the spicy sesame miso ramen that features ground chicken. It also serves coconut-based soups such as the Laksa, a curry broth with seafood and noodles, and the seafood Zen noodle soup with basil.

Furthermore, chef Hamada’s fried rice dishes are incredibly delicious, especially when paired with other courses. My favorite is the egg, spinach, and garlic fried rice, but it also has its own version of combination fried rice with chicken and shrimp. Bigger main dishes accommodate any palate, whether you’re craving a warming green curry or more carnivorous meals like the “Mongorian” beef, chick or lamb, or the hanger steak mushu wraps with a Korean BBQ influence. Also available are the vegetarian options of the lightly spice-crusted salmon atop a bed of brown rice and the tofu Portobello steak.

Next time you’re near the corner of 23rd and Bryant, stop by The Spice Jar for an eclectic and lively atmosphere, and its locally sourced, Asian-inspired, comfort-food filled menu.

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The Pretty Pink Hello Kitty Café Truck Soon Brings Its Adorable Presence to the Bay

The famous bowed not-cat will be bringing the hordes of cuteness-seeking fans to the 2016 Cherry Blossom Festival {Credit: Yelp/ Gio R.}

Cuteness Overload Alert! Everyone’s favorite bowed cat (although purportedly not a cat and actually a girl, according to Sanrio reps) will be once again fill our hearts with joy and nostalgia, and fill our stomachs with Hello Kitty-shaped delights, at the 49th annual Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco’s Japantown. The pink Hello Kitty Café truck, which is adorned with your favorite Sanrio character’s face, is returning once again to the festival to bring all things darling to the celebration.

If you didn’t grow up loving Hello Kitty and her best friends like Keropi, Badtz-maru, and Tuxedo Sam to name a few, then this isn’t quite as big of a deal. But if you like dessert — and who doesn’t — you’re in luck. Hello Kitty Café will be offering a delectable assortment of sweets that include: macarons, petit mini-cakes, cookies, and doughnuts, all in the likeness of the iconic queen of cute, Hello Kitty. And of course there will be plenty of bow-adorned, Sanrio character-themed swag, such as t-shirts for sale. Make sure to mark your calendars because the truck will only be in San Francisco at the festival from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 9, Sunday, April 10, and Saturday, April 16.

Aside from the Hello Kitty mayhem, the Cherry Blossom Festival also features delicious food from a slew of San Francisco’s best vendors. Festival favorites include takoyaki (Japanese octopus balls slathered in a savory sauce), Hawaiian poke, yakisoba bowls, sushi (obviously), yakitori skewers, ramen bowls, and Japanese sweets such as mochi waffles and red bean-filled pancakes. The parade itself is reason to come, as it features live taiko drum performances, ornate floats, lots of beautiful kimonos, martial arts demonstrations, folk dancing, and more.

As San Francisco’s biggest celebration of Asian traditions, and particularly that of Japanese culture, cuisine, and diversity, the Cherry Blossom Festival is an awesome event that shouldn’t be missed!

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CCC | Dandelion Factory & Cafe

This dedicated chocolatier meticulously ensures that its entire chocolate making process is handled thoughtfully and with care. {Credit: FB/ Dandelion Chocolate}

San Francisco’s Dandelion Chocolate  turns merely eating chocolate, into an indulgent, insightful, and thoughtful experience. Located on the trendy Valencia St., this unique destination offers much more than your average chocolate purveyor. At the core of Dandelion is the belief that the best chocolate can only come from the best beans. Makes sense, right? The artisanal chocolatier sources its beans from the world’s highest quality producers from locations that include Kokoa Kamili, Tanzania; and Maya Mountain, Belize.

At the Dandelion Factory and Café (and online), you can read extensively about each bean it uses to produce its chocolate. Knowing facts like what region the beans come from, the fermentation style, and tasting notes make eating its chocolate an even more delightful experience. Since Dandelion only uses two ingredients in its chocolate — cocoa beans and organic cane sugar — every step of the chocolate making process is important.

As one of the coolest places to satisfy your sweet tooth, Dandelion has a café full of pastries made in-house by Executive Pastry Chef Lisa Vega, a nice list of inventive chocolaty drinks, and has its entire chocolate factory on display for its patrons. I could sit there watching the chocolate-makers transform solid cocoa beans into pure, decadent chocolate all day! Dandelion’s chocolatiers execute everything from the roasting and grinding of the beans to the tempering and hand-molding of the finished bars; it’s pretty interesting to follow along.

With an inviting atmosphere provided by the delicious chocolate aroma, exposed brick walls, unfinished wooden beams, and general happiness from both the chocolate-makers and eaters, Dandelion is unparalleled in the bean-to-bar chocolate game. The menu has a topnotch drink menu, with sections that include hot chocolates , such as the spicy Mission hot cocoa, and the thick, rich European drinking chocolate; and cold chocolates such as the decadent frozen hot chocolate, the Nibby Horchata made with almonds and hazelnuts, and the unique cacao fruit smoothie — made from the actual fruit of the cacao tree. Lastly, it has a solid list of mochas that include a frozen and spicy variation of the chocolaty coffee treat.

One of my favorite things about Dandelion is that it always has a variety of chocolate bar bites — and their accompanying cacao bean pods — on display, ready to be tasted. You can also read all about the chocolate types you test out and see what their origins are. Moreover, you can read through all the shop’s pretty, chocolate focused books that cover subjects like sustainability, history, and the sources of the best chocolate beans and bars out there.

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