Travel Diaries: Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco

FISHERMAN’S WHARF in San Francisco is a charming tourist enclave located way north of the Bay Area. Founded in the 1800s by Italian fishermen, the place retains many traditional seafood restaurants, along with attractions such as an aquarium and several museums.

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Parking is a bitch and expensive, so I’d recommend taking the public transport. Buses and tram services stop here regularly.

It was early evening when we got to the wharf and there was a crowd milling about watching a street dance-off. They scattered once the performers started handing out collection cups.

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Fishing is still done at Fisherman’s Wharf. You can even pay a boat to take you out fishing, and the catch is all yours. There are also tour cruises and yachting activities.

Visitors can get a closer view of the infamous prison, Alcatraz, from the pier. It looked super foreboding and gloomy in the distance.

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The iconic Fisherman’s Wharf sign is surrounded by seafood restaurants, both the street-kind and bigger, classier establishments.

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The main street along the wharf houses souvenir shops, museums and cafes.

We popped into a Ripley’s Believe it Or Not, which I will detail in the next post because there are too many pictures. After emerging from the attraction, it was already dark. All the boats had already retired to their docks for the night.

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If you’re coming here in spring (or any time for that matter), bring a thick jacket and a beanie because the wind here doesn’t just scream.. it howls. Especially when you’re walking along the pier. While I enjoy being in a cooling place, the freezing gale was a little too much for my tropical blood lol and I quickly looked for a place of refuge…

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Said hiding place was the Boudin Bakery, which specialises in sourdough bread. Downstairs is the cafe and bakery area, while upstairs is the restaurant and mini museum.

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The animal-shaped breads are very popular. You can also join their daily baking classes for a fee.

Travel tip: Come during the night if you want to be a scrooge and not pay their museum entrance fee of 3$ – minus the tour guide and crowd. If you’re lucky, you’ll still be able to see some of the staff + machinery churning out bread.

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View of factory from the museum on the first floor.

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It was packed with people on the inside so we had to huddle under a heater on the patio seats with a bowl of clam chowder in their signature sourdough bowl.

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We also drove down Lombard Street, the place where Bruce Lee used to live with the zig-zaggedy stairs. The photos weren’t good because we were inside the car, but it was a good experience anyway.

Night time in SF is charming, with its tall buildings all lit up with lights. It feels like New York (or how I imagine NY to be). But until I earn enough to  go there, I think San Fran is just as fine a city as any I’ve ever been to.

Getting to Fisherman’s Wharf 

By Tram: Powell-Hyde line on Hyde and Beach Streets (Aquatic Park near Ghirardelli Square), and the Powell-Mason line on Taylor and Bay Streets

By F-Line Street car: between the Castro Neighbourhood and Fisherman’s Wharf. It runs the length of Market Street until it reaches the Ferry Terminal Building on the Embarcadero before turning west to the wharf.

More useful info here: http://www.visitfishermanswharf.com/parking

Why The Legion of Honor Museum In San Francisco Is A Must-Visit For Art Lovers

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Standing on a hill in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, I look down to the foggy grey sea and think about how pretty everything is. It’s easy to forget that this green city sits on a notorious fault line.. and that all the neat museums, well-paved roads, beautiful trees and houses can all be uprooted in mere seconds. Even so, there’s something about San Fran that captures the heart of the weary traveller.

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The Legion of Honor is a popular attraction in the city. It looks like it belongs more to an ancient European town than a park in San Francisco. That’s because it is a full-scale replica of the French Pavilion in Paris.

Built by a wealthy sugar magnate, the building is now a fine-arts museum housing over 6,000 years of art, culture and history by renowned names such as Baroque and Picasso.

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A statue of the Thinking Man sits in the courtyard.

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I’m not an art connoisseur, but it’s hard not to marvel at the beautiful paintings and sculptures, especially those from the medieval era – before the ‘abstract’ or ‘modernist’ concepts came into place. Back then, paintings were done in minute detailing. Not putting down some modern artists, but these days a couple of splotches can qualify as art. Maybe I’m too stupid and low-culture to understand art today.

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Exhibits are not limited to paintings, but also furniture and sculptures. Some are not allowed to be photographed due to copyright and light sensitivity. Check with the curators if its okay to snap pix, unless you want to be told off in a quiet museum and have all the people stare at you lol.

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A grand tapestry which used to hang in a royal court, featuring gory battle scenes with dead bodies, knights on lions, skewered people and disembodied heads. You can look at it for half an hour and still discover new details – it’s like a story book in painted form.

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On the lower floor is a room housing all sorts of pretty and rare collections. Teapots, ceramic bowls, fine china, porcelain jugs and delicate glass ornaments can be found here.

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Persian tablets and carvings.

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Tribal Bead Necklace.

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An extremely life-like and detailed wood carving of a noblewoman.

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Paintings which you will never see in art galleries in Malaysia.

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Spacious and tranquil gallery rooms. The best way to explore the whole place is to divide your visit by systematic room-by-room order from one end to the other.

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The Legion of Honour is a good place to visit for art lovers and tourists, as there are lots of beautiful/interesting pieces and rich history to uncover. 🙂

LEGION OF HONOR 

100 34th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121, United States

Opening hours: Tues – Sun (930am – 515pm)

Admission: 10$ (Adults), children under 12 (free)

Japanese Garden, Golden Gate Park San Francisco

You don’t have to fly to the Land of the Rising Sun to experience Zen in a Japanese tea garden – you can get that right in the heart of San Francisco! Located within the Golden Gate Park, the Hagiwara Japanese Tea Garden was founded by Makoto Hagiwara, a Japanese immigrant and gardener.

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After the Pearl Harbour bombing, Hagiwara and his family were relocated elsewhere and the park fell into ruin. Today, thankfully, it is a popular tourist attraction and well maintained.

Upon stepping into the compound, one is greeted by a beautiful landscape full of carefully trimmed shrubs, shady trees and aesthetically-pleasing blooms. Some of the plant species and even the pond’s goldfish are native to Japan and were brought in many years ago. It does feel like you’re in a pretty Zen garden somewhere in Japan and not in the middle of a park in San Fran!

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The wooden gazebo overlooking the pond is where visitors can buy souvenirs and enjoy green tea and other Japanese snacks.

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To add to the Japanese feels, there are also statues and shrines scattered all over the area.

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Mushroom trees and cherry blossoms.

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A tranquil pathway lined with tall, shady trees. Some of the small gardens are Zen-style: meaning the rocks, water, trees and shrubs are done in a carefully placed and composed way. It is the same concept of ‘control over nature’ that drives the development of bonsai trees.

We were lucky because during our visit there were not many people around, so it was a peaceful stroll around the park.

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Pagoda atop a hill. Some students were doing graduation photoshoots here.

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A rather naked cherry blossom with sparse blooms.

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A scary bridge.

That is E’s “Don’t be a coward, Eris” face.

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And more blooms!

I think the Japanese Tea Gardens are worth their entry price, because the flowers and plants are beautiful especially in spring time. Also a good place to take your girlfriend on a date.

HAGIWARA TEA GARDEN

Golden Gate Park, 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr,

San Francisco, CA 94118, United States

Open daily: Summer (3/1 through 10/31): 9:00 am to 6:00 ; Winter (11/1 through 2/28): 9:00 am to 4:45 pm

Free admission before 10am on Mon, Wed, Fri.

Adults: 8$ (non-residents), 6$ (SF Residents).

 

 

Music Concourse, Golden Gate Park San Francisco

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IT was late afternoon after our visit to the California Academy of Sciences, but a little too early for dinner. E and I decided to hang out a bit at the Music Concourse, a large, open air plaza located just across the street. Built in 1894, the place has lots of shrubby trees and a bandstand where many prominent musicians and bands have played before.

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There are three fountain features from one end to the other. Only one was on during our visit because Cali is having a drought and they are trying to save on water.

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Seats facing the bandstand, which is done in a Roman/Grecian style with fat pillars.

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Some naked ladies with trumpets.

This is the dome above the focal point of the plaza, called the Spreckels Temple of Music (also called the ‘Bandshell’) which was built in 1899. It has served as a stage, from classical performers such as Luciano Pavarotti to the Grateful Dead.

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The weather was rather cloudy and cold, but the trees and flowers were all blooming in a soft, green spring. This is one thing I like about parks in the US (and Europe, for that matter) because they have such beautiful scenery and its nice and cool to walk around even in the afternoon. In South East Asia, people don’t really go to parks because it is so hot nobody feels like doing anything other than hide in air conditioned buildings.

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The Japanese Tea Garden from the outside. We only took pictures from the outside on that day because it was late and they were closing.

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Academy of Sciences view from behind the bandstand.

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MUSIC CONCOURSE

50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr San Francisco, CA 94118

Getting here: 

The #44-O’Shaughnessy bus which goes directly to the California Academy of Sciences. Walk opposite to the Music Concourse.

The #5-Fulton bus stops at 8th Avenue and Fulton Street, just outside the park. From 8th Avenue, walk into the park and turn right on John F. Kennedy Drive. Then turn left onto Music Concourse Drive.

A good place to relax in between visiting the many attractions inside San Fransisco’s Golden Gate Park 🙂

California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco

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To start off the day, here’s a fluffy fat cat. 🙂 His name is Apu Jukkai. Look at that majestic white beard and white socks awww.

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So here we are again in San Francisco!

I was glad that we got to visit and take a complete picture of the Golden Gate Bridge the day before, because on our second day, most of the structure disappeared under a cloud of dense fog. It felt like entering Silent Hill as we drove into the city.

Golden Gate Park is located just next to the bridge.With beautiful, shady trees and flower gardens, this sprawling 1,000 acre park is also home to several attractions such as the California Academy of Sciences – our stop for the day.

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Dubbed the world’s ‘greenest museum’, the Platinum-certified building is one of the largest natural history museums in the world, with its own planetarium and aquarium.

I’d recommend spending at least half a day here, because there are lots of fun things to see and do, especially for families with kids. Educational and fun!

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As befitting of Californian museums, a dinosaur fossil replica greets visitors at the entrance.

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The first section of the museum is dedicated to the ecosystem, with realistic displays of animals such as zebras and apes. There is also a tank with live penguins.

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An open pool with stingrays and fish.

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Moss and other water plants thriving in clean, filtered water.

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Stuffed possum and babies.

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San Francisco sits on a fault line, and a major quake in 1906 killed over 3,000 people and destroyed 80% of the city. A section of the museum is dedicated to explaining the geology of San Francisco and info on earthquakes.

We got into an earthquake simulator where you stand in a room and it shakes. I wasn’t scared because I knew it was just a simulation, but it would have been terrifying in real life!

There were interactive quizzes to test visitor’s knowledge, such as what to do during an earthquake, etc. I learnt a lot. For example, water in a toiletbowl’s tank is safe for drinking in case of emergency and if you’re trapped in the house while waiting for rescue.

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We caught the Planetarium show, which took us through a show on the Bay Area’s biodiversity. It was my first time in a planetarium dome, and it was a great experience. You really feel like the images are popping out at you and the surround sound makes it more realistic. It’s like you’re flying through space and time.

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Downstairs is the aquarium section.

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Fish of all colours and shapes in the Philippine Coral Reef Tank. The Phils has one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, with many species of marine aquatic life in its waters.

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Glow in the dark polyps.

Museum staff are stationed all around the aquarium to help visitors with interesting and informational tidbits on the exhibits 🙂

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So pretty and colourful! 🙂

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These poisonous blowfishes were adorable.

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“Gimme a kiss there, handsome boy.”

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The Academy also boasts a gigantic, multi-tiered Rainforest ‘dome’, with real birds and butterflies flying around! The air was humid and warm on the inside, just like the tropical jungles of Malaysia.

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A mini ‘river/lake’ ecosystem.

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Glass cases with vividly coloured frogs. The bright colours tell predators that they are either poisonous or taste bad.

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A ‘Tomato’ frog. No points for guessing where it got that name.

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Birds flocking to a dish full of food. 🙂

I really enjoyed my visit to the museum because there are lots of things to see and do and I think kids (and adults!) can learn interesting things about our planet and ecosystem.

CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

55 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118, United States

Daily:  9:30 am – 5 pm
Sundays: 11 am – 5 pm

Ticket price: $34.95 (Adult) & $24.95 (child). 

If you’re travelling around SF for a couple of days and visiting various attractions, I recommend a GO San Francisco card. We booked that in Los Angeles and it helped us a lot in saving up on tickets.

 

Cherry Blossom Festival @ Japantown, San Francisco

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So I’ve been in San Francisco for a grand total of one day – and I’m already loving it way more than LA (no offense, LA folks!). I like the beautiful architecture: both old and new all rolled into one; as well as its hole-in-the-wall hipster cafes, museums and science centres, glitzy shopping districts and colourful trams.

The place is very hilly with steep roads, so good luck driving a shift stick around here. 😀

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Every year, SF’s Japantown hosts the Cherry Blossom Festival to celebrate the Spring. Stretching across six blocks, Japantown  or ‘Nihonmachi’ is the largest and oldest of its sort in America; with a towering shrine-like structure in the middle and its own shopping centre. We got there during high noon and the place was packed with visitors.

There were several cherry blossom trees lining the streets, but these were not in full bloom, sadly. Apparently it was much prettier last year.

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We just missed a cultural performance! 😦 SAM_8855-tile

Lots and lots of food booths. These were not even strictly Japanese: there was typical American fare, tacos and burritos, even Chinese food. The lines were super long but we were feeling hungry, so we grabbed something from the one that looked least busy lol.

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We got Spam Musubi, a Japanese-American snack. Basically someone thought up the brilliant idea of putting fried spam on top of sushi rice, then wrapping seaweed around it. Voila!

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The Hello Kitty Cafe mobile van was very popular as people clamoured around it to take photos of cutesy HK-shaped dishes and desserts. There was also a giant inflatable HK.

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Cutting through a back lane to another block.

If you’re going to the Fest next year, I suggest to empty your bladder thoroughly. I really had to pee and couldn’t wait in line at the shopping mall because of the long queue, so I ended up using one of those portable toilets. Let’s just say that I will never look at pudding the same way again…the open toilet was smelly and so disgusting, I couldn’t eat dinner afterwards coz the image kept appearing in my mind lol.

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Not limited to Japanese items, one can find lots of other souvenirs and crafts such as bags, shoes and purses.

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We popped inside the shopping mall for a bit. Booths selling clothing, manga, cute items and merchandise were packed into the hallways. There was a shop selling anime, where they had a section for hentai. Not something you find in Malaysia lol.

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Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

SO after 10 days of fun in Los Angeles, we finally got to Vacaville, California. And guess who I finally got to meet!

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Jeppeh! He’s as soft and fluffy as he looks on camera.

At first he was scared to come closer…But I’d like to think he warmed up towards me the last couple of days…..

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….Or did he?

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Anyway, we were up and raring to explore San Francisco – an hour’s drive from Vacaville. We figured that taking public transport would eat up a lot of our time, so we rented a car instead.

The Californian skies that morning was an expansive, cloudless blue. 🙂

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San Francisco is a bay, and the ocean currents create a dense fog. Immediately upon approaching we could see a very large cloud hanging over the area, as if all the clouds had gathered from the surroundings into one place.

I’ve only seen the Golden Gate Bridge on TV and in pictures, so it was a surreal feeling as our car approached the iconic red structure.

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Entering Silent Hill… D:

It was so foggy we could barely see the ocean. There were many tourists walking and cycling along the pedestrian pathways.

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Opened in 1937, the SF Golden Gate Bridge has become a symbol of modern America and is considered by many as an engineering feat. Before the bridge was built, people had to take a ferry across the bay.

We took a stroll in a park overlooking the bridge and bay area. There were helpful signages and info boards for tourists, as well as local tour groups which you can join for a fee.

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It was quite foggy, but the bridge was still visible. We were lucky because after our visit, visibility was so low on subsequent days that the top of the bridge couldn’t be seen at all.

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Alcatraz, just visible as a rocky outcropping in the distance. One of my regrets is not visiting the prison because the tickets were so expensive. Perhaps next time..

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Facebook cover photo lol.

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The park itself was pretty, although not very well maintained as there was litter and random stuff lying around and graffiti sprayed across some of the structures. The ones shaped like tunnels reeked of weed and urine.

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That aside, Golden Gate Bridge itself is a marvel and as they say, you can’t come to SF and not visit this place.

Getting There 

The San Francisco MUNI bus will take you to and from the Golden Gate Bridge. The MUNI route that takes you there is #28. If you wish to take public transportation across to the other side of the bridge, you will need to use the Golden Gate Transit system. Routes 10, 20, 80 and 101 on that system cross the bridge.

Kaya Street Kitchen, Los Angeles

Being Malaysian, I’m so accustomed to just walking out onto the street for amazing food – Malay, Chinese or Indian – that I tend to take it for granted. After 10 days in LA, I was sorely craving for some authentic Asian food. The ones that we tried (especially the Chinese takeaway) was horrendously bad. 😛

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Thankfully, LA redeemed itself with Kaya Street Kitchen – a small, simple-looking eatery along Fairfax Avenue that serves South East Asian food (Malaysian, Indonesian and Singaporean). You won’t believe how happy I was when I saw the word Malaysia lol. Finally, a taste of home! The restaurant serves dishes Subway-style – meaning that you get to choose from either a rice bowl or a taco and fill it up with veges, meats and sauces.

I got the coconut lime rice (which is basically nasi lemak – Jasmine rice cooked in coconut milk with a fragrant, creamy taste) and coconut lemongrass steak (inspired by beef rendang, the dish is cooked in serai, but unlike the Malay version, the one here is non-spicy). I opted for more meat so I skimped on the veggies. The serving is large and can feed two small eaters.

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E got chicken satay. The rice is topped with fried garlic that lends it a real oomph, as well as a side of sambal (mixed chilli paste. You can go for mild, medium or hot. What can I say, the food was amazingly delicious! You best believe that when a Malaysian says food is good, it is: Because we live to eat and we love our street food. The meat (both beef and chicken) was tender and flavourful, while the rice was done well (no clumped up bits or soggy grains!). Although the beef dish was not traditional, it was great! Sort of catering to new customers with a not-so-accustomed palate to spicy food, but still with that great flavour that locals love. Great job, Kaya Street Kitchen!

If you, like me – and any other Malaysian worth their salt – like your food hot and spicy, they have original condiments like Sambal, all the way from Indonesia. This really packed a punch, even for someone who eats spicy food often.

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They even have Kaya (coconut egg jam) toast for dessert! I always feel that kaya has a great potential to be popular overseas because it is so underrated. To those who don’t know, Kaya is a Malaysian dessert spread made from coconut, eggs, sugar and sometimes pandan flavour. We serve it with a fat pat of butter on toast, and down it with coffee or Milo. Staple breakfast right there. Anyway, if you’re looking for good Asian food, DROP. BY. THIS. PLACE.

Kaya Street Kitchen

FAIRFAX 109 North Fairfax Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90036

Open: 11am – 10pm

Phone:+1 323-879-9288

More details: http://www.kayakitchen.com

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After our meal we took a flight to Sacramento. The airport is a lot smaller than LAX, but they have this interesting ‘baggage pillar’ at the conveyor belt area.

Had dinner at Denny’s before finally going back to Vacaville.

What an awesome time in LA! 🙂