So, I left you with a real cliffhanger on Monday by splitting up my vacation recap into TWO parts! I’m sure you were all anxiously awaiting today’s epic conclusion of my gluten-free traveling food-ventures through the mountains, vineyards, forests, cities, and many restaurants of the San Francisco Bay area! Am I right? 😉 Well, read on, my friends, for more photos, reviews, and my reveal of our favorite restaurant of the week!
If you missed Part 1, get yourself caught up by reading Monday’s post! Otherwise, buckle up and join me as I take you on a virtual visit to Muir Woods, Muir Beach, Stinson Beach, the Mission District, Alcatraz, and Sausalito, featuring plenty of foods we devoured along the way!
**Please note that I am not being commissioned to review or advertise for any of the restaurants or locations in this post. This is purely an account of our travel experience for informational and entertainment purposes only. Enjoy!**
Day 4: MUIR WOODS, MUIR BEACH, STINSON BEACHAfter having several days on vacation packed full of activities, this day of our trip was a little less planned. We knew we wanted to see Muir Woods and Muir Beach, but we were able to do so at our own pace with a full day free. I had read in a guidebook to visit Muir Woods early in the morning, to beat the crowds. The park opens at 8:00am, and it gets much busier by 9:30am. Since parking was limited, we definitely wanted to get their when it opened! And with the jet lag, getting up early was NOT a problem! 🙂The best perk about going early on this particular day was that we got in for free! Score! It was so incredibly beautiful to walk around in the quietness of the forest, marvel at the gigantic redwoods, and wander on the many trails and bridges of the park. You always hear how big the redwood trees are, but you can’t quite grasp it until you see them in person! Mark is 6′ 3”, so this gives you some perspective!It’s hard to believe that the towering trees and lush forests are only about a 30 minute drive from Sausalito! It’s a must-visit if you spend time in the San Francisco area, so definitely make time for this! We had an absolute blast! (The gift shop was really neat, too! Lots of items made from the redwood bark!)
After our morning walk in the woods, we fueled up with protein bars that I packed (read about them in this post) and drove the short few miles to Muir Beach, which I had heard was one of the prettiest in the area. I was not disappointed!The rocky shore, grassy hills, and crashing waves made this beach look like something straight out of a movie. I really could have stayed here all day, if it had just been a teeny bit warmer! We really enjoyed hiking around this area and just chilling on some of the huge ocean rocks. Happy sigh. While we were out and about, I had seen signs for another popular beach called Stinson Beach. This was a larger beach with a less rocky shore, where locals typically went to swim and sun-bathe. The cool thing about our drive to Stinson Beach was that we got to drive along the famous coastal Highway 1. The drive takes you around hairpin turns on roads built into cliffs of the mountainous park area. It was SO beautiful! Literally, it took my breath away. Photos from my car window didn’t quite do it justice, but I tried!Stinson Beach was actually quieter than I expected, but probably because we were there early in the season. It was really pretty, too, with white sand, framed by the mountains in the background. This was the only beach where I actually found a few shells that weren’t smashed to bits! Free souvenirs!After our morning in nature, it was time for some good eats. We had heard some rave reviews by several SF natives about a local Puerto Rican restaurant called Sol Food. This eatery was in the Mill Valley area, about 10 minutes from Sausalito. It’s hidden away in a small shopping center, but that didn’t stop people from swarming it, even in the late afternoon!
Sol Food wasn’t on my list of places to try, but I’m so thankful that I deviated from my plans! This place was our second favorite restaurant of the week! Almost everything on the menu was gluten-free and very paleo-friendly, since Puerto Rican cooking utilizes plantains as a staple starch. I’m a huge fan of plantain chips, but I haven’t had many cooked plantains, so I was in for a treat! You also know you’re in good shape when you want to try everything on the menu! 🙂 I ended up ordering a dish called Mofongo Relleno de Camarones. I don’t know the direct translation, but in my mind, those words mean “heaven on a plate.” The dish consisted of prawns in a garlic tomato sauce served on top of mashed green plantains and served with fresh salad and avocado. The prawns were perfectly cooked, the sauce was extremely flavorful, and the plantain mash was hearty and garlicky. (I need to add this to my recipe experiments and create a Fed and Fulfilled version!)
Mark chose the daily special, which was Arroz con Pollo – “chicken and rice.” Sounds simple, but the chicken was super flavorful and falling-off-the-bone tender, and it was served with seasoned rice and tomatoes, a bowl of homemade spicy black beans, salad, and avocado. The real star of this plate was the plantain side dish! The plantains were cooked two ways – one savory, one sweet. The savory plantains were fried and smashed into almost a flatbread. They were crispy and would actually make a great bread substitute! (And Sol Food is one step ahead of me, because they use their fried savory plantains to do just that!) You can get a plantain bun with any sandwich! The sweet plantains reminded me of bananas foster – sticky and loaded with cinnamon.
I could go on and on about the food here, but I have much more to cover in our trip! In short, Sol Food is a local favorite for a reason! Definitely pencil it into your trip plans!
Since our late lunch was basically dinner, too, we spent the evening strolling along the Sausalito shoreline. Our walk led us to Driver’s Market, a local, organic grocery store full of gluten-free and paleo-friendly products. Their motto is “passionate about food,” so it’s my kind of store! The walls were lined with with artisan chocolates, along with fresh organic produce, prepared foods, and plenty of gluten-free and paleo-friendly snacks. I wanted to fill a suitcase with items from this place! Instead, I limited myself to a couple organic, paleo chocolate bars that were dairy and soy-free: LuLu’s Smoked Sea Salt Almond Raw Chocolate and Endorfin Dark Mylk Chocolate. We loved both, but the Endorfin chocolate was one of the creamiest I’d ever had, and it was made with coconut milk! Chocolate craving satisfied. Another wonderful California day in the books.
DAY 5: MISSION DISTRICT, ALCATRAZ ISLANDThis was possibly our most exhausting day of the trip, since we literally were on our feet from 10:00am until about 10:00pm. BUT, it was worth it! This was the day that we discovered our FAVORITE restaurant of the entire week! I never thought we would top Sol Food, but it got edged out by a place we visited that was in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District.
Since we felt like city pros after our extensive walking tour (highlighted in Part 1 of my recap), Mark and I took a ferry back into downtown San Francisco to explore on our own. Before we set out to our lunch destination, we spent some time in the San Francisco Ferry Building, which is loaded with cute shops and cafes. There were tons of gluten-free options in the Ferry Building, along with several gourmet markets. I could have spent many hours and many calories here, but we were on a mission to find the Mission! 😉Mark and I took the BART (subway) to 16th and Mission Street, which was a short walk from Valencia Street, home of Pica Pica Maize Kitchen – the restaurant that had been at the top of my list to visit. While even some locals had never heard of this place, it has been featured on Food Network’s Diner’s Drive-Ins, and Dives, and for good reason! This restaurant is tiny, but it’s bright and colorful inside, with a kitchen that is a flurry of activity, thanks to their take-out menu. And again, this was ANOTHER fully gluten-free restaurant! Be still my heart!
Pica Pica is known for their arepas. If you’ve never had an arepa and have no clue what I’m referring to, I’ll let Pica Pica explain.I couldn’t have said it better myself! While we wanted to try one of everything on the menu, I knew we had to go with the famous arepas, so we ordered two different varieties, along with a basket of their Yuca Fries, made from the yuca root vegetable. The Yuca Fries came out first, and sadly, my photo of them didn’t save. 🙁 You’ll just have to trust me! These fries totally trump potato fries in my book! They were super thick, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and loaded with garlic and herbs. We dipped the fries in each of the many sauces that were on the tables – a hot sauce, a ranch-like sauce, and a spicy mayo.
We were already in food paradise with the Yuca Fries, and then the arepas arrived and just completely bowled us over! These might have been the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. And since going gluten-free and (mostly) paleo, I don’t eat many sandwiches. So, this was an incredible treat! Our first arepa was the Shredded Beef Pabellon, which was marinated beef with sweet fried plantains, black bean puree, and queso fresco, all stuffed inside a white corn pocket. Our second offering was a Crispy Chicken Arepa, which was crispy, fried chicken breast, lettuce, jicama, pickles, tomato, and mayo stuffed inside a sweet yellow corn pocket. Both sandwiches came with refreshing, crunchy slaw. SO MUCH YUM. I wish we could order Pica Pica arepas from Pittsburgh and have them delivered to our door, but if you live in the San Francisco area, you actually CAN do this! Consider yourselves blessed!
Hands down, Pica Pica wins our best restaurant of the week award!
After stuffing ourselves with arepas, we were full for the rest of the day! No dinner needed. We had several hours to kill before our evening Alcatraz tour, so we walked through Fisherman’s Wharf, which I wasn’t crazy about (very loud and touristy) and headed back to Ghirardelli Square to buy some chocolate souvenirs. After standing in front of a wall of chocolate bars in about 50 flavors, we selected several bars to take home to our family, and of course, a couple extra for ourselves! I’m a dark chocolate fanatic, and anytime “sea salt” is in the title, I can’t resist. We tried the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Brownie bar and the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel bar, and both were blissfully rich, with creamy, sweet and salty centers. I preferred the brownie bar, while Mark liked the caramel bar best. Not dairy or soy-free, but it was totally worth the splurge! 😉After walking up and down the city piers for the afternoon, we reached Pier 33, which was where our Alcatraz Cruise was setting sail. We decided to do a night cruise, since there are more activities in the evening, and I had been told that seeing the sunset over the city should not be missed! If you’re thinking of doing an Alcatraz Tour, make sure you buy your tickets through Alcatraz Cruises, since they are the official tour company of the island.
Pulling up to the island by ferry was a really neat experience. The island looked larger than life and had a creepiness factor, with the gray sky and the huge waves spilling onto the rocky cliffs. When we arrived, we walked up the steep hills to the Cell House and went through an interesting and informative audio tour, narrated by former inmates and prison guards. It was surreal seeing things in person that you’ve read about or seen in movies! I wished I had paid more attention to the audio on my tour, but I was just a bit distracted taking photos! 🙂One thing that did stand out to me, aside from the prison riots and the famous 1962 escape, was the food in Alcatraz. The audio tour described the food as being quite good, with fresh eggs, meats, and produce being brought in regularly. The prisoners ate well, with three full meals a day – including dessert! This really shocked me, so I had to share one of the informative banners detailing what a typical Alcatraz day of food looked like! Mocha cake? Apple pie? Wow.After a couple hours of wandering the cell block, hospital, and docks, we took a moment to watch the sunset before we boarded our ferry and headed back to the city. By the time we arrived back, it was completely dark. This was our first time being in San Francisco at night, and with the bridges lit up, it was a stunning sight! We were tired, travel weary, and our feet were killing us, but the events and eats of the day made it entirely worth it.
DAY 6: SAUSALITOOur last full day of vacation was spent in our favorite location – Sausalito. While the little town is bustling with tourists who ferry over from the city to shop and dine by the water, the pace just seems a bit slower here. We welcomed this more relaxed atmosphere and decided to savor every moment of beauty in our corner of the San Francisco Bay.Without any real plans, except for a dinner reservation, we mulled over our options. We were leaning towards kayaking, but the winds were too strong to do it safely. After checking out our travel guide and TripAdvisor, we discovered that there was a free museum nearby, with the prime attraction being the San Francisco Bay Model, constructed by the US Army Corps of Engineers. They designed a huge multi-acre model of the bay, with landmarks and real flowing water, to replicate the tides so that research could be done on the currents and patterns of the water. It was an impressive display that was multiple football fields in size! I really wanted to see a rubber ducky float through this thing! Maybe next time… But, it was a pretty cool attraction and FREE. Can’t beat that.
On our walk back from the Bay Model, we stopped by a San Francisco coffee chain called Philz Coffee. We had been told on our SF walking tour that this was the place locals go. Philz has a very homey vibe, where customers are treated like friends and everyone has a favorite mug to use for their crafted coffee brews. Each cup is made individually and you won’t find espresso or lattes here. Just amazing, flavorful coffee. The barista we met was awesome – he explained the history of the company and how even the highest on the corporate ladder has to spend a week as a barista. We purchased a bag of coffee to take home, but the barista insisted that we also try one of their brews, and he custom-made us a fresh cup to taste, on the house! Yay for free (and delicious) coffee!
Following an afternoon of packing, cleaning, and making sure we could fit all of our souvenirs into our bags, we got ready for our final dining experience: one of the area’s best sushi restaurants! Sushi Ran is a Michelin star sushi restaurant, which pretty means they do all the right things when it comes to sushi. And if that wasn’t enough, they an even accommodate gluten-free diners like me! YES.The restaurant is on quiet Caledonia street in downtown Sausalito and has a very zen atmosphere. Our server took extra time to go through the menu and highlight the gluten-free options, which were numerous. (My grain-free diet went out the window this evening, since I decided to try rice again, and thankfully, it agreed with my stomach this time!)
We started off with a fresh Seaweed Salad while mulling over our sushi choices. I’ve had seaweed salads in the past and while I know seaweed is really good for you, I’ve never been crazy about the texture or flavor. THIS Seaweed Salad, however, was easily the best I’ve ever had. It was light and refreshing, with Japanese cucumber, seaweed, and micro-greens, and the dressing was infused with lime oil. It totally opened my eyes to how good seaweed could actually be!We chose 4 sushi rolls, which were pleasing to the eye and the palate! We devoured the first two with plenty of pickled ginger and gluten-free tamari. One was a Creamy Scallop Roll with avocado, scallops, and topped with tobiko (flying fish roe). The other was a beautiful Salmon Citrus Roll, with cucumber and avocado, topped with fresh salmon and lime slices. The Scallop Roll was my favorite of the evening!Our final two rolls were a Spicy Tuna Roll – tuna, miso aioli, and cucumber, topped with a 7-spice blend, and a Futo-Maki Roll, which was modified to be gluten-free with shrimp, cucumbers, carrots, tobiko, and mushrooms. (We were eating these so fast that we’d finished off half of them before I snapped a picture!) Mark claimed the Spicy Tuna Roll as his personal favorite.We left Sushi Ran with full stomachs and full hearts as we walked the Sausalito Bridgeway one last time and reflected on our favorite moments (and foods) of the week. It was a glorious, action-packed trip, with so much to do, see, and eat! And I couldn’t have asked for a better travel buddy. Love you, Mark! 😉
DAY 7: FAREWELL, SF!I wasn’t going to blog at all about our trip home, but it would be wrong of me not to share with you the highlight of our travel day back to Pittsburgh. And that, my friends, was our 2 hour layover in the Denver airport! If you happen to visit this gluten-free friendly airport, then you must make a pit stop at ModMarket. This place has the best airport salads we have ever had! For real.
I forgot to take a food pic of my Thai Coconut Chicken Salad, but you can actually view a photo on ModMarket’s website! The salad was loaded with greens and topped with shreds of sweet potato, roasted chicken, cucumbers, toasted coconut, and creamy peanut mango dressing. Mark got a Market Steak Salad that had grilled medium-rare steak, field greens, feta cheese, walnuts, pickled onions, cherry tomatoes, and a horseradish ranch dressing. Both salads were huge and worth the price. These salads were a blessing on our long day of travel and kept us full all the way home to Pittsburgh!And now, as I wrap up our week in beautiful San Francisco, I want to say thank you to all of the restaurants we visited, our tour guides in SF, Napa Valley, and Alcatraz, our rental host, and all of our friends and family who gave us great trip recommendations! I’m hoping my travel posts will serve as a help to anyone who is fortunate enough to be visit Northern California in the near future – gluten-free or not!
As always, thanks for reading! You will be rewarded with a new recipe SOON! 🙂