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San Francisco: The city is the star

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Known for its iconic bridge and painted ladies, San Fran also has a four-legged celeb, discovers Jude Dobson.

My one regret is we didn’t leave enough time to mooch around this charming seaside town. I could have happily parked the bike and swung in for a cool ale or two.

San Francisco is my kind of town, and despite the hills it’s a perfect spot to explore on foot or on bikes.

Lombard Street, in San Francisco. Photo / Jude Dobson
Lombard Street, in San Francisco. Photo / Jude Dobson

An easy destination holiday or a two-to-three-day stopover before your next adventure, its appeal is threefold: it’s one flight away from Auckland, English-speaking and it has a bunch of stuff to do year-round for all ages.

For us, it was the stopover for all ages. “Us” was the tight five of old. Pretty unusual these days, with the oldest two overseas, but as parents of older kids have often said: “Pay, and they will come.” So, there we all were — the bill-paying parents in our 50s, our 22 and 14-year-old daughters and Mr Middle, the 19-year-old son.

Arrival afternoon was spent coming to some form of consensus on what our together-time might constitute. The family’s group chat pinged away via social media from two separate rooms.

San Fran is Wellington on steroids, with generous, gracious homes sprawled over the hillsides. These beautiful old buildings coupled with trams (even the new ones look retro) make for a majestic cityscape.

Lombard St is a classic start to a walking tour. A crazy, suburban zigzag hill that cars struggle to master as tourists strive for photos.

Next stop, about a 45-minute walk away, is the home of Mrs Doubtfire. I loved Robin Williams — Mork and Mindy in the 70s, Good Morning Vietnam in the 80s, What Dreams May Come in the 90s, and then, with kids on board, I introduced them to Mrs Doubtfire.

Robin Williams pictured as Mrs Doubtfire.
Robin Williams pictured as Mrs Doubtfire.

640 Steiner St was the address named in the movie, and it’s a real house at that real address in Pacific Heights, with real people living in it — don’t knock on the door.

From here, head in the direction of Alamo Square. When you get to 710-720 Steiner St, you’ll find more gorgeous Victorian “painted ladies”, some of the thousands of Victorian and Edwardian-style homes that have been repainted from the 1960s onwards, using colours which enhance their architectural details. The ones on Steiner St were made famous when they appeared on the Full House television series.

From Alamo Square make your way to Hayes Valley. Quite my favourite district. Cute boutiques, interesting stores, pretty streets, and my favourite: a designer clothing store called Cary Lane. There’s also lots of fab wee bars and eateries. Noir Lounge was a standout. Beautifully vintage themed, it’s a place to relax, enjoy wine and divine nibbles, all while enjoying the jazz maestro on the piano out front. Or go for the full experience and head out back for a screening of the classic noir films from the owner’s private collection.

Despite the TV and movie stars, San Francisco’s grandest icon is still the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s easily cycled. Get a good brekkie in you first — we found a classic American diner that delivered great food at a good price. Then, wobble out of there and get yourself on two wheels. There are a bunch of places that hire bikes and we chose one that took us through a couple of parks and some city streets before we reached the beautiful piece of architecture that is the bridge. Once over the bay you’re downhill to Sausalito. My one regret is we didn’t leave enough time to mooch around this charming seaside town. I could have happily parked the bike and swung in for a cool ale or two. The ferry back to the city waterfront is efficient and goes right past Alcatraz, so even if you don’t book a tour you’ll have some close-up appreciation of the effort it would take to escape that hellhole.

Back cityside, you might like to wander along to Pier 39 to refuel and rest your weary bones. It’s busy though.

After an afternoon of shopping — lots of great shopping here — we made our way to China Town. I found myself laughing out loud at a shop with an eclectic mix of goods.

Ten differently labelled bottles of hand sanitiser, each with varying comical reasons for use, handcrafted bone erotic art, cannabis incense sticks — you can find anything useful or non-useful here it seems. The street is pretty at night with all the lanterns. Worth a wander.

We went Italian for dinner at Mona Lisa — a restaurant recommended by an airline friend. He was right. It was packed, and good. Get there early or you’ll be lining up outside by the Bambina.

An aerial view of Lombard St. Photo / Getty Images
An aerial view of Lombard St. Photo / Getty Images

If you’ve got access to some other wheels, get out of town for the day and head to Silicon Valley. Take a picture outside Hacker Way at Facebook’s entrance, ride those multicoloured bikes around the Google campus, or visit the playground and its huge android sculpture. Drive through Stanford University’s extraordinary campus, get out and have a wander and feel learned or buy some merch at the store.

If you want a view to cap off your San Fran visit, grab a nightcap at Top of the Mark, at the very top of the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental on Nob Hill. Have a nosy next door, too, at the magnificent Fairmont — the one with the 2.5m-tall bronze statue of Tony Bennett on the lawn. The singer has been a regular guest, having cemented the union with his 60s hit I Left My Heart in San Francisco.

If you’re lucky you might meet another famous local, as we did, having a little wander around Huntington Park. Lilou the pig was out for an evening stroll with her human. She is the only non-canine member of San Francisco Airport’s Animal Assisted Therapy programme (aimed at stressed travellers), and also visits hospitals and rest homes.

Having met her, I can see she would take your mind off things. As I watched her (nail polish and all) totter up her portable stairs to the bespoke porcine-friendly car seat for her drive home, I mused she definitely added to those great San Francisco memories.

Jude Dobson in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo / Jude Dobson
Jude Dobson in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo / Jude Dobson

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GETTING THERE

House of Travel

has return Economy Class flights with Air New Zealand and United Airlines from Auckland to San Francisco from $1925, with three nights at the Hotel Carlton from $465pp twin share. (Based on November travel.)

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Travel & Escape

Why your hotel mattress feels like heaven (and how to bring that feeling home)

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(NC) Choosing the right mattress is a long-term investment in your health and well-being. To make a good choice for your home, take a cue from luxury hotel-room beds, which are designed to support the sound sleep of tens of thousands of guests, 365 nights a year.

“When we’re shopping for a mattress, we do lab testing, identify the best materials, bring in multiple mattress samples and have our associates test them,” explains David Rizzo, who works for Marriott International. “We ask for ratings on comfort level, firmness, body support and movement disruption. It takes 12 to 18 months just to research and select materials.”

Here, he shares his tips to pick the perfect mattress for your best sleep:

Understand your needs. People have different food and exercise preferences, as well as different sleep cycles. So, it’s no surprise that everyone has unique mattress preferences. Not sure whether a firm or a soft mattress is better? Rizzo says the best gauge is to ask yourself, “Do I wake up with aches and pains?” If the answer is no, you’re golden.

Foam versus spring. All mattresses have a core that is made up foam or innersprings or a combination of the two. Today’s foam-core mattresses contain memory foam — a material engineered by NASA to keep astronauts comfortable in their seats. It’s special because it retains or “remembers” its shape, yielding to pressure from the sleeper’s body, then bouncing back once the pressure is removed.

An innerspring mattress has an encased array of springs with individual coils that are connected by a single helical wire. This wire creates continuous movement across the coil that minimizes disruption if the mattress is disturbed, such as by a restless sleeper. According to Rizzo, the innerspring is “bouncier.”

Temperature preference. Consider how warm or cool you like to sleep, and factor in the construction of the mattress to find one with a temperature that suits you. The air space engineered into an innerspring mattress promotes ventilation, which some people find keeps them pleasantly cool. To accomplish the same purpose with a foam mattress (or the foam layer of an innerspring) it may be infused with metal, usually silver or copper, to help dissipate heat and humidity.

Need to test out the right mattress for your needs? Find the right fit during your next trip by booking your stay at marriott.com.

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Travel & Escape

How to make the most of summer travel

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(NC) One of the best parts of our short Canadian summers is the opportunity to enjoy them a little bit extra on long weekends. If you need ideas, check out these creative things to do whether you decide to stay in town or go away.

Do a dinner crawl. Pub crawls are fun for couples, friends and also families with older kids. For an exciting twist that stretches your dollars and lets you taste food from several spots before you get too full, try a dinner crawl. Eat apps at one restaurant, mains at another and dessert at another.

Go on a mini getaway. You don’t need to go very far to enjoy a vacation – exploring a Canadian city over a summer weekend is great way to treat yourself to a holiday. Whether it’s checking out the museums in Toronto or the parks in Vancouver, there’s something for everyone. For upgraded benefits, special experiences and the best rates guaranteed, join Marriott Bonvoy and book direct on Marriott.com.

Host a potluck. Perfect whether you’re staying at home or going to your cottage, gather friends and family together for some food and fun. A potluck is an easy and affordable way to host a big get-together and lets everyone try something new and swap recipes. Make the festivities extra special with a fireworks potluck, too – ask everyone to bring some fireworks or sparklers and put on a light show. Just be sure to follow local regulations for consumer fireworks.

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Travel & Escape

Lottoland: Here’s why Canadians love it!

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Lotteries have been in existence for many centuries now and it’s an open secret that most people enjoy playing a good lottery.

Asides from gauging your own luck, the thrill of playing, the anticipation of the results and the big wins every now and then is something most people look forward to. Since 1982, the lottery has been in Canada, but now there is a way to play both the Lotto and other international lotteries from Canada, all from the comfort of your home.

With Lottoland, all you need to do is register and get access to numerous international lotteries right from their website. The easy-to-use interface has all the information you need, and great amount of care has been taken to ensure that the online experience is similar—and even better—than if players were to visit each location personally.

The Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries are hitting record highs with their prize money, in what the organizers claim to be the largest jackpot in the history of the world. However, the U.S. has gambling laws that are state controlled and buying your ticket through an online broker can be considered gambling.

“No one except the lottery or their licensed retailers can sell a lottery ticket. No one. Not even us. No one. No, not even that website. Or that one,” Powerball’s website says.

Therefore, to stand a chance to win the $1.5 billion-dollar lottery jackpot it means you have to purchase your lottery tickets directly from a licensed retailer such as Lottoland.

Since 2013, Lottoland has been operating in Canada, rapidly growing in popularity amongst Canadians. Due to its easy of use and instant access to lotteries that were previously considered inaccessible—as Canadians had to travel all the way to the U.S. to purchase tickets in the past—Lottoland has attracted lots of visitors.

Currently, there about 8-million players on Lottoland, a figure that points to the reliability of the website.

One of the core values of Lottoland is transparency and that’s why a quick search on the website would show you a list of all of their winners. Recently, a Lottoland customer was awarded a world-record fee of $137 million CND.

Also, due to the incredibly slim chances of winning the grand prize not everyone would take home mega-dollar winnings, but there are substantial winnings every day.

Securing your information online is usually one important factor when registering on any platform and as the site explains, “Lottoland works very hard to verify your information.”

The site has a multi-verification process that will ensure that you confirm your identity and age before giving you a pay-out. However, in the rare case that a player has immediate luck and wins a lottery before completing the verification process, Lottoland will hold on to the winnings until they complete your verification.

While this might seem like a tedious process, it is very important as these safety features would ensure that your information wasn’t stolen and ultimately your winning routed to another account.

Lottoland is licensed with the National Supervisory Bodies For Lotteries in several countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Ireland and Australia—where it is called a wagering license. Typically, most gaming companies don’t establish insurance companies as it entails that their activities have to be transparent and the must be highly reputable in the industry.

Nonetheless, Lottoland has no issues meeting up to these standards as they have established themselves as the only gaming sector company who has its own insurance company—an added advantage for new and existing users.

Lotteries aren’t the only games Canadians enjoy playing and Lottoland recognizes this by providing players with other types of gaming. As an industry leader, video designers of online games often make them their first choice when it comes to publishing their works.

Online games such as slots, blackjack, video poker, baccarat, keno, scratchoffs, roulette and many others are always on offer at the Lottoland Casino. There’s also the option of playing with a live dealer and a total of over 100 games.

Lottoland has received numerous rave reviews from its growing list of satisfied customer and their responsive customer service agents are always available to answer any questions users may have, along with solving challenges they may have encountered.

More and more Canadians are trooping to Lottoland in droves due to the unique experience of going to a casino without having to leave the comfort of their homes.

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