Hobbits and Kiwis | New Zealand

New Zealand, a country that I’ve always heard so many great things about and a place I never thought I’d see myself. Or at least, not as an American 23-year-old. A land whose natural beauty rivals that of fantasies; and for that exact reason, film crews flock to New Zealand (and rightfully so). A country where there is no shortage of sheep, Hobbit holes, and super friendly locals.

New Zealand, you are marvelous.

New Zealand

After a whirlwind of a week in literal paradise, my sister and I hopped on a plane to Auckland, New Zealand. We flew over the International Date Line on this flight, and doing so “lost” a day (RIP June 5, 2017 – I never really knew you) when we landed in the capital city. We were greeted by much colder temps and rain, as we realized we were no longer in Bora Bora anymore.

After a quick airport shuttle ride into the heart of the city, we settled into our AirBnB by taking a little power nap. By that time, it was already getting late and we were in dire need of food. On the shuttle ride in, we saw a Nandos, so we had to for sure hit that up. We actually fell in love with it when we were in London, and because there isn’t one near where we live in the States, we ate here twice.

During this first evening in the city, we also learned how to cross the street diagonally. It’s what the Auckland locals do, and I wouldn’t be opposed to adopting this practice here in the States… It saves so much time!

Hobbiton 

Our second day in New Zealand started off on a bus down to Rotorua, with a stop at Hobbiton. Now I have never seen any of the Lord of the Rings movies, definitely didn’t read the books, and only watched the second film in the Hobbit series.. However, I am a fan of fantasy (I’m talking Game of Thrones and Harry Potter, woo!) and can appreciate a movie set.

The amount of detail that went into these Hobbit holes is unreal. Each Hobbit hole is decorated to represent the different residents of the Shire. Everyone knows Bag End, the home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. However, there’s also the Baker, the Beekeeper, the Inventor, the TOWN DRUNK (lol.) And knowing their occupation, you can easily identify their respective homes – the Baker has pastries and bread in their windows!

I really enjoyed touring the film set despite not really knowing the film/s. Though, I think I would have appreciated it more if I was a LOTR fan. (I did end up watching the first Hobbit film on the flight back to the States). We ended the tour with ginger beers at the Green Dragon!

Rotorua

Janelle and I only spent about 12 hours in Rotorua; half of which was spent asleep as it was only an overnight stay. Rotorua – the city that smells like rotten eggs, due to the sulphur in their world-renown natural hot springs. It was FREEZING (for southern Californian standards) but we rallied and spent our evening literally soaking in a hot spring pool at the Polynesian Spa. The hot water felt so good on our sore muscles, and the natural minerals did wonders for our skin.. Or at least, that’s what we had hoped!

Although there is so much more to the little town than the hot springs, it was all we managed to see and do during our short overnight stay. When I go back to New Zealand, Rotorua is on my list to visit again!

 

Auckland – The City of Sails

Back in Auckland for the last couple of days, Janelle and I froze our buns off, but enjoyed the city life for all that it’s worth. I could definitely imagine myself in Auckland; it definitely gave me San Francisco vibes. Although, if you know me, London is the goal and forever the standard I hold all cities to (just kidding, but not really).

On one of our last days in the city, we took a harbor cruise and got the greatest views of the Auckland skyline. We spent some time on those benches just watching the sailboats go by. Did you know that Auckland’s nickname is “City of Sails”? Over 135,000 yachts and sailboats are registered in Auckland. With a population of 1.4 million, that’s a good amount of boats to people!

Although it was a short stay, it was as the Kiwis say, “Sweet as!”



My Tahitian Photo Diary – Part Three

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My Tahitian Photo Diary – Part Three

So it may have taken the whole summer, but the last installment of this photo diary is finally here! Here is my Tahitian Photo Diary – Part Three !

I think it’s pretty safe to say that my week in Bora Bora was a week in literal paradise. The temperature never dipped below 73 degrees, the turquoise waters were always clear, and I could always count on an Ia orana from every resort employee. Oh how I miss hearing that greeting! (I also really miss the French pastries. Like really bad.)

In addition to the great hospitality and postcard scenery, the highlight of our trip was the Shark and Ray Feeding. I think what really made it, aside from the sharks and rays themselves, were our tour guides (Crazy Uncle, specifically). He’s the one that actually took those crazy underwater GoPro shots! And he was also the one who would ask me if I was ready to get back on the boat after each pit stop. I was always the last one to come out of the water, sue me :)

There are not enough words to describe the feeling of being amongst these beautiful and majestic creatures. Being in their domain, we were visitors to their home. I’ve never experienced anything like it, and I get chills just thinking about it. We swam with black tip sharks, lemon sharks, sting rays, TWO manta rays, and an octopus during that half day excursion. And believe it or not, I still have the tan lines from that day!

Those will forever be my favorite memories. And throughout the whole day, Noho and Crazy Uncle would break out the ukulele and sing us songs. They even sang “We Know the Way” from Moana.. We were 100% living the movie. Moana takes bits from all the various Polynesian cultures, but I definitely saw a lot of it in Tahiti. I mean, look at that sailboat!

I feel incredibly blessed to have visited French Polynesia. It is unreal that I am able to say that I’ve been to a lot of people’s dream vacation destination at the ripe ol’ age of 23. I feel extremely fortunate, and I seriously owe it all to my parents. Thanks Mom and Dad, for showing me Tahiti and all its beauty.

And finally, MERCI BEAUCOUP French Polynesia! You are an absolute dream.

Here are Part One and Part Two!



My Tahitian Photo Diary – Part Two

My Tahitian Photo Diary: Part Two

Et voila, part Two of my Tahitian Photo Diary !!!

Every morning we’d start our day having a buffet breakfast. I’ve lost my sweet tooth, but even I had to pay some visits to the crêpe bar! Also, pro-tip for anyone visiting Bora Bora: Take FULL ADVANTAGE of the buffet breakfast!! Eat as much as your tummy can handle because Tahiti is very, very expensive. And if you’re feeling extra frugal, make yourself a sandwich to wrap up and save for later! But bottom line is this: eat a big breakfast so you can skip lunch to somewhat offset the likely-to-be pricey dinner you’ll be having later that night. You’ll be thanking yourself later!

For the second half of our Bora Bora vacation, my family and I had the privilege to stay in the world-famous overwater bungalows. My sister and I were originally supposed to stay in a regular bungalow, but the AMAZING resort staff insisted that the family not be split apart. So, we were given two neighboring bungalows right at the end! Seriously still pinching myself.

While these bungalows were much smaller than our Beach Villa, there was still something so cute and cozy about them. Yes, these are intended for honeymooners. And yes, I’d be so down to return one day with my future husband. The fact that you can just jump off the bungalow and be in the turquoise waters is a selling point in itself! These bungalows are also equipped with glass bottoms so you can see all the fish and sea life swimming beneath you. My dad was certain he saw a barracuda one morning.

When you’re in Bora Bora, you are literally living in a postcard. If only for the week you’re there. It’s no wonder that the resort employees and locals are so happy to take care of all the guests. Shoot, I would be if I had these views every day! And if I got to wear a fresh flower crown all the time, too. I think I seriously could wear a flower crown every day.

See Part Three here! Check out Part One here.



My Tahitian Photo Diary – Part One

Tahiti Photo Diary: Part One

Part One of my extremely delayed Tahiti Photo Diary post, but better late than never I always say.

My family and I vacationed in the French Polynesia right at the beginning of summer… It’s now August. Between then and now, life/work/time got in the way, as well as the feeling of being uninspired. Keeping a blog is hard, and I commend anyone and everyone who writes one. You are amazing.

A little insight behind this first set of Tahiti photos: for the first half of our week long trip, my family and I stayed in a beach bungalow. Complete with an infinity pool, hammock and lagoon view, it was the perfect introduction to our Tahitian vacation. My parents also celebrated their 25th Wedding Anniversary at this time, which meant fresh floral crowns to celebrate with! We also ventured over to the main island town of Vaitape, where we really got to be with the locals. Fresh fruit smoothies and baguettes – I was in literal heaven! Bless French Polynesia.

However, I’d say that the highlight of this first half of the week was seeing a Turtle Release. Le Meridien Bora Bora is the only resort that has an on-site turtle rehabilitation center. And we just so happened to be there during the release of Dixon! Turtle releases happen about once a month there, and they hold a whole ceremony for each turtle they release. It’s quite a once-in-a-lifetime experience, with ukulele music, prayer and the actual release! I still get goosebumps just thinking about it. Hoping Dixon is somewhere in that big ocean out there enjoying his newfound freedom!

It still baffles me that I had the chance to visit Bora Bora. Incredibly lucky to have opportunities like this, and another huge MERCI BEAUCOUP to my parents for bringing us along!

Check out Part Deux here and Part Three here  :)



Desert Bloom | Anza-Borrego Springs

The heavy rains in southern California produced what news stations are referring to as a super bloom. You can best believe that I had to get in on some of this wild flower action. Desert Bloom is what we’re calling it, and Anza-Borrego Springs was the place to be these first few weeks of spring.

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Desert Bloom

My go-to adventure buddies are my mom and sister as they’re always down to go on these “crazy” escapades with me. So, we hopped in the car before sunrise to make the 2-hour car journey to the desert. I almost forgot how hot the desert can get. To be fair, I also almost forgot that I grew up in Las Vegas. But that’s another story. By the time we reached our destination, it was 10AM and already 80 degrees!

After a quick bite to eat and chat with the state park volunteers, we drove to the wildflowers and were treated to quite the sight. And I’m not just talking about the yellow and purple flowers… We weren’t the only visitors that weekend, thousands of caterpillars were admiring the fields as well! There aren’t any photos here because it gives me the heebie jeebies just looking at them. But trust me when I say that there were a lot, and they were EVERYWHERE!!!!

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Anza-Borrego Springs

After visiting Joshua Tree for the first time a week before, I was actually happy to be surrounded by cacti again. I personally found the cacti to be more photogenic than the wildflowers, and was most excited to see these tall, spiny things! I’ve become such a sucker for desert vibes, or maybe it’s just because it reminds me so much of Coachella. (Kinda bummed to not be attending this year, but happy that I’ve already experienced it for myself!!)

While we didn’t enjoy the heat, I can say that being surrounded by nature was a sweet treat. I think it’s really good to visit national parks. And more importantly, to respect them!

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Views from the Six | Toronto

Every Toronto local I crossed paths with seemed surprised when I’d list every place I saw in the Six in the short span I was there. Each day’s list would be an upwards of 4 city attractions, which I guess is a lot. What can I say, I don’t play. Especially when it comes to exploring.

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The city of Toronto is small despite being geographically large. It’s also pretty walkable, but I totally understand the need to take transit. It helped knowing I had TTC tokens once my feet started to hurt. I just needed it for this purpose twice, and it was only because it was also raining.

During my three days in Toronto, I found myself all over the city. I like to believe that is plenty of time for all the must-see’s, especially during Canada’s cooler seasons. Aside from much colder temps than I’m used to, I’d say I came right when the weather was still manageable. Layers really helped.

Day 1

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For my first day in Toronto, the universe conspired to give me the most perfect and beautiful autumn day to explore in. It also happened to be the one day that a good exchange friend of mine, Sudiksha, took off work (and that was before I told her I was coming!) How it all worked out amazes me. We started off in the northern part of Toronto at Kensington Market and worked our way south. We braved Chinatown in the daytime, walked through Graffiti Alley, took Queen Street West all the way to Toronto City Hall, and ended our day at the iconic CN Tower.

Day 2

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The second day of my Canada visit brought the clouds and rain. Not wanting to get wet, this is the day I also braved the TTC subway on my own. My destination was way up north again – the Royal Ontario Museum. I spent a good chunk of my day walking around the exhibits before a brief stroll along all the posh shops in Yorkville. Realising that I didn’t want to shop yet, I decided to jump back onto the subway and head towards west Toronto. This part of the city is much more residential, so I spent the rest of the day admiring the cute and charming homes before venturing back to Kensington and home.

Day 3

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I was whisked away to Ottawa and Niagara for the weekend, so the third day in Toronto was also my last day. I dedicated it to shopping and all the tourist stops I missed earlier in the week. Beginning in St. Lawrence Market, I was sent by Amanda to Paddington Pump to partake in a Torontonian staple, the Peameal Sandwich. Needing to walk it off, I headed over to the Distillery District before making my way over to the Eaton Centre. This shopping centre is insane! I spent a good 2 hours in there before treating myself to a BeaverTail.

Toronto aka The 6ix

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The city of Drake treated this California girl very well. I loved exploring a new city and always have to pinch myself that this is real life. Feeling really grateful for these opportunities! Thanks again, Toronto!



Oh Canada!

A couple of months ago, I had this crazy idea to visit our great neighbor up north – Canada. The reasoning behind it was because of two long-overdue goals: to see the changing colors of fall and to visit some exchange friends after 2 years. And just like every trip, it crept up on me and ended too fast. So, in more ways than one, “Oh Canada!” is the perfect title for this post.

For one whole week in October, I decided to leave my warm California sunshine to experience a real autumn. I’m talking changing colors, chilly air, and falling leaves. We aren’t so lucky in that department here in so Cal. But little did it occur to me just how cold my destination would be. We’re so spoiled here, and I was going to our great neighbor up north, of course.

Toronto, Ontario

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Starting off in Toronto, its much milder climate was perfect to try and get me acclimated to Canadian weather. When I first arrived, the 6ix was so humid that I was perspiring! The next day? I just wore a long-sleeved shirt and sported a scarf when the sun went down. This was the kind of fall weather I’ve been used to. And it was perfect weather to get my bearings in Toronto. The next day brought the cold and rain, but I didn’t let this ruin my exploring. Read more about this in my last post here.

Parc Gatineau, Quebec

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After our little road trip up to Ottawa, Amanda then drove us over the province border into Quebec – into Parc Gatineau, more specifically. We were met with rain all day, which is such a shame! That’s what I get for visiting Canada during a season other than summer. Or that’s what I was reminded of during the whole weekend. It rained the whole time. But LOOK AT THOSE COLORS! We don’t get that in southern California.

Ottawa, Ontario

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The capital of Canada, Ottawa is home to PM Justin Trudeau, world diplomats, and Amanda’s family + friends. It’s a super cute town that again would probably be 100x cuter in the sunshine and warmth. It was wonderful regardless and I genuinely enjoyed meeting all of my host’s childhood and university friends. I experienced the famous Canadian hospitality and it’s something I will forever cherish. Thank you again Amanda for everything.

Niagara Falls, Ontario

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And finally, the grand and majestic Niagara Falls. No trip to the eastern part of Canada would be complete without a visit to the Falls. It was probably the highlight of my trip to Canada (aside from seeing my exchange friends, of course!). If you are ever in Ontario, you owe it to yourself to experience this natural wonder of the world. I caved in and took the Hornblower cruise that brings you and a whole bunch of other tourists face-to-face with Horseshoe Falls. It was a bonding moment for us all as we were pummeled by the mist.

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The sights, the people, the BeaverTails – Canada was amazing. I loved my first taste of Canada and I look forward to visiting more of it in 2017! Vancouver, I’m coming for you!



Bad Owl Coffee | A Harry Potter Café

Potterheads come one, come all to the cutest Harry Potter café in the Las Vegas valley! I was finally able to check out Bad Owl Coffee during Fourth of July weekend. After hearing about this new place opening up in the city I grew up in, I knew I’d have to pay a visit the next time I was in town.

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Bad Owl Coffee – Henderson, Nevada

We arrived to the magical café at 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon. All the tables (each adorned with different HP expressions and quotes) were taken when we first walked in. However, by the time we ordered, the “Everyday I’m Mugglin’” table cleared up, which stood across their own Platform 9 ¾.

As we waited for our drinks and dessert, I sat fascinated with the number of customers that this café brings in. Every table sat a customer, and there was constantly someone giving their order. For such a small shop, they seemed to be doing quite well. Big kudos to all of them for supporting local businesses!

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The Menu

For being a small coffee shop, Bad Owl has a great selection of coffees, teas, and foods. Going in, I knew that I wanted to try the most Harry Potter-esque drink, in addition to their new waffles.

  • Butterbrew latte – my friend Angela and I both ordered this Hogsmeade classic, and were pleasantly surprised with their rendition. Had it iced, without the optional espresso shot. Wasn’t overpoweringly sweet like some Butterscotch flavoring can be. I would definitely recommend this drink.
  • Matcha latte – my sister ordered this and said that it was very creamy (from the milk presumably) but also very sweet.
  • Toffee coffee – my mom opted for an iced coffee, and really enjoyed the flavor.
  • Matcha waffle – this was as perfect as a waffle could be: crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Served with maple syrup, matcha sauce, butter, and Thrifty’s vanilla bean ice cream. Best sweet treat, ever.

 

A Harry Potter Café in Las Vegas

You don’t have to be a wizard to understand that J.K. Rowling’s beloved book series has become something bigger than itself. With successful film adaptations and a Wizarding World of Harry Potter on either side of the country, it’s no wonder that Potterheads are finding new ways to keep it alive! There’s now Bad Owl Coffee.

Next time you find yourself in Sin City, make sure to venture away from the Strip and check out this Harry Potter café!



6 Disneyland Must Do’s From an AP Holder

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The past year has seen an upwards of 10 trips to Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure for myself, and it’s all thanks to this bad boy: my Annual Passport. But fortunately, my 6 Disneyland Must Do’s don’t require the expensive Annual Pass – just the standard Disney ticket. Before you head out for your next Disneyland trip, check out this list!

1. Get a FastPass for Space Mountain

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My number one tip for anyone who loves rides (but hates waiting in long lines) is to get the FastPass. It’s honestly one of the greatest concepts; it lets you skip the lines and gives you more time to enjoy the park. Most of, if not all, the popular rides issue their respective FastPass – including (Hyper)Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, California Screamin’, Tower of Terror, and Radiator Springs Racers! Noticeably missing is Matterhorn, but they do have single rider passes for those keen on getting in and out quickly.

You are limited on how many FastPass tickets you can have at a time though, so plan accordingly. If tackling Disneyland, I recommend getting a FastPass for Space Mountain first. California Adventure? Definitely Radiator Springs Racers. Though, they do have a separate line for single riders.

2. Order the Pomme Frites

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Don’t get me started on the food. One of the best parts of Disneyland, if not the best part, is the food. They have something to meet everyone’s dietary needs and wants. We’re talking turkey legs for meat-eaters, veggie burgers for vegans, and delicious snacks for even the pickiest of kids.

There’s an Instagram account completely dedicated to the food, and I suggest following @foodsofdisneyland before your trip to the Magic Kingdom. I’m craving the pomme frites at Café Orleans right now; and dream about those Disneyland pickles on the daily.

3. Enjoy drinks by the Pier

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If you’re of age, you should know that all your adult beverages will be found in California Adventure. The only alcohol in Disneyland is in Club 33 and probably with Jack Sparrow and crew on the Pirates’ ride (*disclaimer: the latter part is a joke).

Check out Cove Bar to enjoy drinks, appetizers, and the view of Paradise Pier. Funnily enough, as I write about alcoholic drinks, I elected for the non-alcoholic Cotton Candy lemonade.

4. Rub noses with Winnie 

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Some of the older guests are quick to dismiss meeting the characters as child’s play, but it really is part of the magic that Disney is known for. What better place to be a kid than at the Magic Kingdom?

I’ve seen everything from babies crying in fear to grown adults crying of happiness when meeting their favorite Disney characters. The overall sentiment, though, is always one of awe. I like to believe that Disney was one of the first places where people were able to meet characters they read in books and saw in films. My personal favorites (and where to find them) are Princess Jasmine at Aladdin’s Oasis, Peter Pan in Fantasyland, the main Mouse himself basically everywhere, and of course Pooh bear in Critter County. Bonus points for cute poses!

5. Learn how to draw Minnie Mouse

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Learn to draw your favorite classic animated characters! I took my first drawing class with Animation Academy during my last couple of months as an AP holder, and I wish I discovered it sooner. You follow step-by-step instructions from a Disney artist to draw either Mickey or one of his friends. It is a lot of fun, and as I said, I wish I had checked it out sooner. I’ve drawn Winnie the Pooh, Pluto, and Minnie (as seen above).

6. Take the Cliché Photo-Op

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The typical Disneyland picture is one with the castle. If you don’t take a picture with Sleeping Beauty’s castle, did you even go to Disneyland? Some may argue otherwise, but it’s definitely something that needs to be done. My favorite spot is off to the side of the castle; it’s in a little nook on the way to Snow White’s wishing well.

Disneyland Must Do’s 

I am heartbroken to say that my annual pass expired back in May, and I have no plans to visit the parks in the near future. But this past year as an AP holder has been one of the most fun. Should you be heading to the Anaheim parks soon, I do hope you keep these in mind! They were a MUST every visit I took.



5 Must-Visit San Francisco Eateries

For my recent trip to San Francisco, I took to my favorite iPhone apps (Pinterest, Instagram, and Yelp) for restaurant recommendations. Hands down, one of the best parts about traveling to a new city is checking out the local food scene. We managed to visit all my bookmarked places, which I’m sharing with you today. Here’s 5 Must-Visit San Francisco Eateries!

Mr. Holmes Bakehouse – Lower Nob Hill

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Now, when it comes to choosing somewhere to eat, I admit that I am a complete sucker for the aesthetically pleasing. You know, places that just scream Instagram. (I’m keen to pursue a career in social media, forgive me.) Mr. Holmes’ Bakehouse is exactly that.

I came across the trendy Mr. Holmes Bakeshop on the @breakfastinsf and @sfbucketlist Instagram accounts. Their claim to fame is their croissant muffin hybrid, or more fondly known as the cruffin. You’re encouraged to get there early because those are always the first to sell-out. Unfortunately, Diana and I missed out on these legendary cruffins BUT we were able to walk out with half a dozen other baked goods. Including this Mint Chip donut, mm.

Shanghai Dumpling King – Outer Richmond

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Trusting overwhelming positive Yelp reviews, we ventured out to the Outer Richmond area for dim sum. Reviews of China Town eateries were all over the place, citing food safety issues. We weren’t feeling adventurous in that sense. Plus, it gave us the opportunity to see another part of San Francisco. We can appreciate efficiency.

Ever since I started eating a more plant-based diet, I have felt anxious traveling to different cities and eating out in general. Though, being the thorough researcher I am, I realised that there’s nothing to worry about. Shanghai Dumpling King had plenty veg-friendly items on their menu; we enjoyed vegetable dumplings and potstickers.

Plentea – China Town

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We did end up checking out China Town, however for their boba drinks. Diana, the Boba Queen, discovered this spot and treated us to the yummy beverage. She had Thai Tea with boba, and I had their Ice Milk with brown sugar + boba.

This place was very cute. They serve their drinks in these glass bottles with “Plentea” embossed on the side, which you can take home. It is actually quite amazing. We walked out with nice souvenirs and post-boba smiles.

Gott’s Roadside – Ferry Building

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On our first full day of exploration, 5 PM quickly turned into 9PM as we quickly learned that SF isn’t a 24-hour town. We arrived at the Embarcadero to closed stores and closing restaurants. After a walk-through the Ferry Building, we were losing hope. Then, as we were walking out we came across Gott’s Roadside. Your typical casual dining joint but with a San Franciscan touch.

I loved every bit of its ambience, from the neon letters spelling ‘EAT’ to the industrial-style lighting fixtures. I was thrilled to see they had a veggie burger as I was craving one, but mostly a side of fries. Happy to say that we didn’t go to bed starving that night.

Café UB – Castro District

Café UB was another @breakfastinsf recommendation, and it brought us to this cute little café near Dolores Park. I had a veggie breakfast sandwich and English breakfast tea.

I’m gutted to say that my photo proof has been lost in the digital space, but thankfully I traveled with a fellow blogger. Check out Diana’s post for another take on San Francisco dining and let her know I sent you!

Foodies in San Francisco

I’ve mentioned this already, but I am following a more plant-based diet. I have only recently switched over to this vegetarian (technically pescatarian) diet, and with that comes new challenges. Traveling can make it pretty tricky, but it isn’t impossible. I’ve seen it done many times before and I think it just comes down to how much research you’re willing to do.

Thankfully, in all the hustle-and-bustle of San Francisco, eateries are realising the demand for good vegetarian food. It is, after all, a foodie paradise. But honestly, if I can recommend anything, it’s to do your homework and research ahead. Google is your friend! As am I (and this blog!)

If you’re heading out to San Francisco anytime soon, I do hope you check out these places!