USA

Two Harbors, Catalina

I visited Two Harbors 2 years back, in December of 2012. We took a ferry (Catalina Express, if I remember correctly) from LA. It is a 45 minutes ride from the shore. Beware, if you suffer from motion sickness!

Two Harbors is actually a small village located on Catalina Island. The biggest town there is Avalon, which is 18 miles before Two Harbors. Your ferry will first stop at Avalon and then more on to Two Harbors. Avalon is the more popular destination of the two. We went in for Two Harbors for a more serene weekend.

Avalon island

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Because we went there in December, it was obviously cold. Nights were unbearably cold (at least for me because I was new to USA that time and I was too used to the Indian tropical climate). Most of the people who were there during that time were looking at relaxing and we didn’t see a lot of activity around. Otherwise, you can involve yourself in activities like fishing, cruise, glass bottom boat rides, night walks and camping. There are lots of camping facilities available.

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Evening views

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This side of the island is pretty small and walkable. There are hiking trails which will be your best way to explore the area and look at the entire shoreline. I unfortunately do not remember the name of the trail we took but it was fairly flat. It had a very low incline. It was pretty long and endless – I won’t be surprised if it went all the way to Avalon. The views were brilliant, the trail was flat and wide and quite a pleasurable experience.

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The trail

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First views from the trail

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The shoreline

On the other side is the Isthmus Cove. There wasn’t much to do there except walk around, have picnic in any of the open areas and take in the beauty of the place. This area contains some private properties like cottages and boat houses. It was relatively empty and we could just wander around anywhere.

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View of the Isthmus Cove from The Banning House

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Way to Isthmus Cove

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These pretty things were the only company on that serene weekend

There is one General Store and just a couple of restaurants. The restaurant we had food at was pretty cosy and food was delicious. No regrets about scanty choice there!

Of all the lodges, I would recommend The Banning House. It is a historic place converted into a B&B place. It deserves a post of its own!

If you go there during summer, there is lots you can do. You can even explore Avalon while staying at Two Harbors. I will definitely like to visit Two Harbors again in a warmer season and explore it well.

More information: http://www.visitcatalinaisland.com/island-info/two-harbors

two harbors flora

The typical flora

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Categories: California, Photography, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Big Sur Food

I do not expect exceptional food when I go to a place merely 2 hours away from SJ. I mean, how different can things be?

Boy, I was so wrong!

We drove down to Big Sur during the 4th July extended weekend. As usual, the trip was about lot of hiking. But unlike typical touristy spots, where food options are limited and expensive, Big Sur had a lot to offer. Big Sur has wonderful restaurants offering all kinds of cuisines along PCH 1. It is a tourist place that has some worthwhile stuff to offer to tourists. Restaurants are done up thoughtfully, interiors are artistic and food is top of the line. Along with restaurants, you will see art galleries. Sometimes, art galleries and restaurants are combined. Imagine the combination?

We tried 4 restaurants in our 3 day stay and were completely blown away by what we got. Here is an account of my experiences and my recommendations.

Big Sur Coast Gallery & Cafe

You cannot miss it. It is strategically located right on the coast on a curve of the road. Ample parking and brilliant views of the ocean, not to mention the pleasure of looking at artsy stuff, makes this a must-stop place. We were tired after a tough hike (Ewoldsen) and wanted something to cheer us up. Coffee and a turkey sandwich, each exceeding our expectations, did the trick. Yummiest cafe-stop in recent times. We managed to get a place with a good view on the deck and then, we were in no hurry to get up!

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The exterior

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The view!

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Turkey Sandwich

Big Sur Roadhouse

Another place where art and food come together. Tastefully done in wood, abstract art and greenery, the mid-priced restaurant is also located right on Highway 1. We went there for dinner and it was a good thing we reached early because soon this place was packed with couples, families and groups. Roadhouse offers local Californian cuisine with some Cajun flavours and Louisiana / Traditional Southern American dishes thrown in to create an interesting mix. Everything about this place was delightful – the servers, the interiors, the food, its presentation. Here are some appetizing pictures. Apart from all this, we also ordered a bowl of Gumbo, which was near perfection. My sweet white wine was a great accompaniment.

I wonder how their coffee must be.

big sur roadhouse restaurant

Southern Chicken Drumsticks

blackened catch big sur

Blackened Catch of the Day

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They don’t have this on the menu anymore but it was chocolate cake, chocolate and vanilla icre-cream with custard. Interestingly, their dessert menus keep changing according to the season.

Big Sur Lodge Dining

I usually do not eat at the place where I stay. Stay and food are two different things. Never ever have I had great food at the very place I stayed – until the breakfast at Big Sur Lodge. Amazing ambience (patio surrounded by trees and slight sound of water flowing in the stream below) and fantastic food. We went for Eggs Florentine and French Toast. The eggs were one of the best I have ever had. Breakfast is highly recommended here!

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Eggs Florentine

big sur birds

Steller’s Jays regularly haunt the patio and they don’t seem to be afraid of humans.

Nepenthe

I do not have to sing praises about Nepenthe. It is one of the oldest and probably the best restaurant in Big Sur. Might be a little pricey, but you pay for the view here. So, it is best to come here during day time or in the evening to watch the sun set. We did not have a complete meal here; just a cocktail (which was wonderful, by the way). Being a busy long weekend, the place was packed. Servers scurrying around, barely managing to answer questions, people sitting inches away from each other and a never ending stream of waiting crowd. I wouldn’t want to dine in this situation but otherwise, when crowds are low, this would be a delightful choice.

Do you have any other recommendations for Big Sur food? It is close to SJ, so I may end up visiting again and food is always a highlight for me during travels!

Categories: Bay Area, California, Photography, Restaurant Reviews, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Henry Miller Memorial Library, Big Sur CA

I had a chance to visit Henry Miller Memorial Library when we visited Big Sur during the 4th July long weekend. Big Sur is a beautiful place with lovely restaurants, excellent food and breath-taking views. It also houses some art galleries and this quaint library dedicated to the American writer, Henry Miller.

Miller lived in Big Sur from 1944 to 1962. He wrote his memoir on life in Big Sur here where he described the joys and hardships of escaping ‘the air-conditioned nightmare’ of modern life. His writings were unconventional and often controversial with topics ranging from character study, social criticism and philosophical observations. His language was often explicit and several of his works have been banned over various time periods.

His writing style was a mix of memoirs and fiction that gave a surreal impression.

The library is a non-profit organization showcasing Henry Miller’s writings and some of his possessions. It has converted into an art centre where some or the other culture event is always happening – be it book signing, music shows or local artisan displays. It is indeed a very interesting place.

The interior of the library is eccentric, quirky and has a very artsy vibe. Books, posters and vintage records are available on sale. While most books are by Henry Miller and on Big Sur, you will find popular bestsellers too.

We almost missed the place but I am glad we dropped in. it is a beautiful place. One can wind up their Big Sur trip with a trip here.

Information sources: http://www.henrymiller.org/, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Miller, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Sur

Location: Highway One

Landmark: Opposite Nepenthe Cafe

Verdict: Must Visit!

Big Sur Art Culture

Big Sur Art Culture

Big Sur Art Culture

Can you spot a cow head skull on the top?

Big Sur Art Culture

Preparing for a book reading event in evening

Big Sur Art Culture

Big Sur Art Culture

Don’t forget to peek into the bathroom

Big Sur Art Culture

The housecat. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Big Sur Art Culture

Magical, surreal world

Big Sur Art Culture

Big Sur Art Culture

One can spend hours looking at the wall posters, paintings and slogans.

Big Sur Art Culture

Vintage records on sale. A collector’s paradise.

Categories: Bay Area, California, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Gilroy Garlic Festival–Interesting sights

After missing it last year, I was able to attend the Gilroy Garlic Festival this time. And I can safely say that it was a good experience.

Gilroy is known for its garlic farms and garlic flavoured food. If you pass Gilroy on 101, you will see lots of garlic farms and restaurants. This festival, held in July last week every year, brings all food creators together under one roof. On one ground, actually. The festival is held on a huge barren land. There is dry grass and dust as far as the eye can see. More on that in a little while.

This festival has attributes of a typical summer fest – music, food, shopping, kid stuff and fun sights. It can be a family outing or a chill out excursion with friends.

Of course, the highlight is food. All foods have one thing in common – an obvious tinge of garlic. Garlic egg rolls, garlic mussels, garlic pasta pesto, garlic veggie wrap, garlic popcorn, garlic pistachios – garlic is an intrinsic part (and not in a bad way) in everything. If you are allergic to or have a dislike for garlic, there is not much you can eat there.

I delved into some stuffed garlic mushrooms and garlic bread, both of which were heavenly. Must try for everyone. But mind you, the garlic bread was super heavy. I was done with just these.

I tasted samples of garlic pistachios and popcorn. Both were really good. Worth buying and stocking in your house.

Now for the tricky parts.

There is an entry fee of $20. I think that’s a bit too much.

The parking lots and the main festival area are far away. You need to park your car in the parking lot and take shuttle buses to the ticket counter. And if it is as hot and dusty as yesterday, that experience won’t be pleasant.

Some exits from the freeway may be choked up. I took the Monterey exit on 101S and experienced slow moving bumper to bumper traffic. Do not follow your GPS. As the website recommends, many roads will be blocked. Only some main exits are allowed. Cop cars and signs will lead the way to the parking lot. I suggest taking the Masten Ave exit on 101S. It was deserted (I took it on the way back and sailed through).

If it is going to be hot like yesterday, be prepared. Hats, bottles, tissues and if possible, your own mats, chairs and umbrella to put up under shade. There were 2 free water service counters. Keep an eye for them; they will not be easily discernible.

I would love to visit this festival again next year and try more food items.

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I said interesting fun sights, right?

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Garden sticks being sold at a stall. This place was swarming with parents and kids. I did pick 2 for my balcony garden.

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Strawberry+Banana+Peach smoothie from Fruit Fritz. Without this, I would have been dehydrated. This was yummy. $9 for this big glass; $4 for refill. Worth it.

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Sauteed mushrooms, shrimp and garlic bread (uh-uh, that’s not my plate!)

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Flat bottle trays. To be used to serve cheese, sushi, starters, etc. Some interesting labels on these.

Categories: Bay Area, California, Photography, San Jose, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Art Around San Jose

Wikipedia defines Street art as ‘an umbrella term defining forms of visual art created in public locations, usually unsanctioned artwork executed outside of the context of traditional art venues.’ A lot of street art in and around San Jose is hardly unsanctioned, thanks to the Art Box Project SJ driven by Tina Morrill. She identified several utility boxes across SJ (especially in Downtown), collected contribution from the community, recruited artists and got the boring grey metal boxes converted into beautiful art pieces. As of January 2013, 40 boxes were done and more were in progress. Check out their FB page to see more beautiful paintings and know more about the project..

Here are some pictures I could capture. Unfortunately, I do not have artist names.

art box project

downtown san jose art

painted utility boxes

san jose street art

The first three pictures were taken in Downtown SJ. The fourth one is on Bascom. This one is my fav.

street art meridien ave

Outside University of Art, Meridian Avenue

See how SJ is so decked up?

When I came to SJ a year ago I was looking for walls filled with graffiti and art. I didn’t find those walls but these paintings made up for it.

Here are some more pictures I took in several cities.

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Wall Art on Museum of Monterey, Monterey.

street art san louis obispo

street art san luis obispo

The above two were taken in San Luis Obispo Downtown

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Categories: Bay Area, California, Photography, San Jose, USA | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Spring

Spring officially started on March 20th. And with that, we said goodbye to harsh cold, dead trees and fallen dried leaves. By now, trees are full of green leaves. The transition is beautiful. I watched the barren tree in front of my house for days, searching for some sign of life. Then one day, I spot a few green leaves. The next day, there are some more. And after a few days, whoosh! The tree is loaded with bright green leaves!

My dry Bougainvillea and reduced-to-nothing Minuteman have sprung back to life.

Nothing makes me happier than seeing a dead plant come back to life.

Taking walks in the neighborhood has become a pleasure. Birds are chirping away to glory. Fragrant flowers are everywhere. Everything is so cheery.

I spotted these rose plants on one such walk. I never liked roses. But this one looks magical.

When nature is blooming with so many pretty colors every where, who am I to defy??

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Ps: Even though I had just 3 pictures (that too instagram pictures), I could not resist sharing them. I will probably keep adding more.

Categories: Bay Area, California, Photography, San Jose, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey

Old Fisherman’s Wharf is located in Downtown Monterey. It is a very old, historic wharf used for trade in the olden times. Now, it houses several souvenir stores and sea food restaurants. It is a pleasure walking along the wharf. Competitive restaurants give out samples of Clam Chowder soup. There are so many souvenir shops selling cute items that can be bought once in a while for keeps’ sake.

Catch hold of some ice-cream (if you are feeling adventurous because it is always so cool and windy there) or coffee and stroll along the wharf. Sometimes, there are street shows going on. Otherwise, it is just fun to watch people making merry.

You must end your walk with lunch at one of the many restaurants offering wonderful variety of fresh seafood (Try calamari and crab). Clam Chowder in sourdough bread bowl is a must-try! All restaurants are on ocean front, so that’s a plus. While you are waiting for food, watch seagulls fishing around for food.

From here, you can go for whale-watching (when the season is right), take a glass-bottomed boat ride, watch otters and sea-lions lounging around or go on a fishing trip if you have the right amount of patience!

Monterey is a very interesting location that has a lot to offer – everything from hikes to museums, aquariums, golf resorts, historic walks and parks. You can plan to spend a couple of days in Monterey exploring all your interests.

Other places of interest in and around Fisherman’s Wharf: Cannery Row, Monterey Bay Aquarium, 17 Mile Drive, Museum of Monterey, Old Custom’s House (both located at the Wharf), Carmel.

Interesting fact: The Monterey Bay Aquarium runs a “Seafood Watch” program, and keeps a list of which sea life is overfished and which are safe, and environmentally friendly, to eat. Pick a copy of the list up at the Aquarium, or around town. Many local restaurants have signed on to the Seafood Watch program. (Source: Wikitravel)

Personal Opinion:

– I prefer Clam Chowder at The Golden Gate Grill, SFO. In fact, that’s the only clam chowder I have ever liked. Fisherman’s Wharf at Monterey is known for its Clam Chowder and you must taste it yourself to decide.

– The Wharf is a fun, family place. There is something for everyone. It is a busy place on holidays and weekends and yet that place has something very calming about it.

– There isn’t much to do on the wharf itself. It is attractive during the first visit. If you want to go there the second time, it is a good idea to plan other places in Monterey as well.

british pub monterey

You get a feel of the Wharf’s old world charm even before reaching the main wharf.

fisherman wharf model

An old model of the wharf.

fisherman's wharf birds

A great option for kids.

monterey whale watching

Whale watching season has begun and will be on through mid December. Look for deals online to enjoy this experience.

clam chowder wharf

Open counters like these display mouth-watering, luscious breads, pastas and seafood. Go ahead. Drool. And then try ‘em.

Look around the wharf and you will see many rustic, antique-looking items that are true to its archaic nature.

fisherman's wharf

fisherman's wharf old

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monterey bay sights

old fisherman's wharf

If you want to have coffee and relax, try Coffee House (and give Starbucks a pass). It is located in the beginning of wharf (on the right) but in a secluded portion. You can enjoy coffee with crepes on the deck along with the sounds of water lapping against the wooden columns.

coffee house monterey

coffee house

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Categories: Bay Area, California, Photography, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Solvang In Pictures

California has its own little Europe corner. Head to Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County to enjoy your slice of Denmark. Solvang is known as the Danish capital of California. Solvang literally means ‘Sunny Fields’. Quitely aptly named, Solvang was created by a group of Danish teachers who were looking for a settlement away from Midwestern winters. But it was only in 1947 when Saturday Evening Post ran an article on the “spotless Danish village that blooms like a rose in California’s charming Santa Ynez Valley” that Solvang gained attention and attracted visitors.

Solvang decided to retain its Danish look and constructed buildings that offer a taste of Denmark in California. There are several quaint windmills all over the town and the half timbered houses are very typical Danish. Some other well known pieces are the copy of Little Mermaid statue from Copenhagen, bust of famed Danish fable writer Hans Christian Andersen and replica of Copenhagen’s Round Tower.

Solvang is a cute place to spend half a day. You can walk around enjoying the Danish feel of the place, take a surrey ride, browse through cute souvenir shops, lay around on the grass of one of their parks, enjoy some ice cream and Danish pastries. Oh yes, the food there is a highlight. I had had lunch at Paula’s Pancakes. Their French Toast was amazing.

Solvang residents celebrate many festivals. If you are lucky, you can experience one of their festivity celebrations.

Attractions: Solvang Festival Theater, Vintage Motorcycle Museum, Elverhoj Museum (check out old B&W pictures on their website. Quite enchanting).

Interesting facts: Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch is 10 miles north of Solvang.

Windmill @ Solvang

Brewery in Solvangsolvang main square

art shop solvang

 

copenhagen inn solvang

Hamlet square solvang

 

vintage bench solvang

Categories: California, Photography, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Isabella’s Restaurant, San Jose

Isabella’s is a Peruvian food restaurant at Winchester Boulevard (near Santana Row). I was excited to have a look at the restaurant interiors menu because this was my first experience with South American cuisine. I had no clue what kind of flavour this fare has.

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The interiors are done simply with some wall art and some artefacts, probably depicting SA cultures. The place was full even on a Tuesday evening. We were lucky enough to find a corner table.

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Our server quickly asked us for drinks. They have some speciality regional drinks also on the menu. You can try those if you feel adventurous.

They are more known for their seafood. They had the best dishes to offer in seafood. Chicken dishes did not seem special. So, we went in for 2 seafood dishes – Fresh Fish Cebiche and Arroz con Mariscos (sautéed seafood with fried rice).

We had to impatiently wait for a while before the dishes arrived. And the seafood-rice dish looked amazing! We barely took a few compulsive photos for this post and divulged! And the taste was heavenly. The seafood (shrimp, mussels, clams) was absolutely fresh. The rice was pleasantly sautéed in peas and light spices (pretty similar to Indian preparation). We stared with remorse at the empty dish after 5 minutes.

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Next arrived the Cebiche. This cold dish was served with corn, onions and yam. As many reviews mentioned, it was more lime-y. It was sourer than necessary. If you really like Cebiche and want to order it here, do inform them to make it less sour.

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For dessert, we ordered Peruvian Banana Sundae. They did not have Peruvian ice cream and used ice cream. The ice cream (orange and strawberry) was as such good but I did not like the fried banana much. Some people may really like the taste and maybe this dish would actually be nice.

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Green sauce served to spice up your meal. Mind you, this sauce is very very spicy

My conclusion is that this place is known for its warm seafood dishes. Their flavoured rice, sautéed seafood and speciality sauces are your best bet. I would love to try the other dishes mentioned under ‘Seafood’ in their menu. The photos look so attractive (check out pictures on their Facebook page). I wish we had not ordered the Cebiche and ordered another rice dish instead.

They are a tad expensive (each main dish costing 15 to 17 bucks). Hence, one can make use of the discount coupons they offer on their website.

I would love to visit them again. The memory of soft, juicy and flavoursome shrimps with delicious rice is still fresh on my taste buds.

Categories: Bay Area, Restaurant Reviews, San Jose, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Scrambl’z, San Jose–Restaurant Review

Of all the places we stumbled across using Groupons, Scrambl’z has to be the clear winner. We have been visiting this ‘fun place to eat’ every other month, especially with guests visiting us from out of SJ. It is just our excuse to go there again and again.

Scrambl’z is a breakfast and brunch place. Essentially, breakfast. It is open from 7 am till 2 pm every day (oh yes. Please remember this lest you want to land up there at 7 pm and be disappointed, like us). They have a huge menu with a huge variety of eggs, omelettes, pancakes, waffles, juices, crepes and sandwiches. Many of their main dishes (like omelettes and benedicts) come with one or more sides. And you won’t believe it, the side is as big and heavy as a main dish. Greed will naturally overcome you; you will order a lot of food and struggle to finish it.

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Lot of yummy food along with Hazelnut Coffee. I never give this one a miss

Their menu is overwhelming. First they astonish you with statistics like the number of eggs broken each week (18000), number of oranges squeezed each week (10000) and amount of flour used (1 ton). And then confuse you with the vast array of breakfast dishes.

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Chocolate Crepes

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Bread Pudding French Toast

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Whole Grain Waffle

Rarely have we been disappointed there.

Our personal favourites there are Whole Grain Waffle, San Francisco Omelette, Florentine Eggs Benedict, Bread Pudding French Toast and Biscuits. Of course, we are yet to try many, many other dishes.

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Florentine Eggs Benedict

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San Francisco Omelette

For 3 people, choice of one main dish and 2 side dishes would be perfect (along with some coffee and / or juice). An omelette, for example, comes with 2 sides you can choose. That would be perfect.

Their interior is worth mentioning. They have a very American feel. Lot of B&W photographs of stars, witty signboards and vintage posters crowd all the walls. You can easily spend the wait time gazing across these. Scrambl’z can be crowded in mornings and you can expect a 15 minutes wait.

It’s going to be a while before I get bored of this place. I am already looking forward to my fourth visit there.

Breakfast happens to be my favourite meal of the day. I have a seed of thought growing in my head. Maybe I should try out all Breakfast / Brunch places in SJ???

Categories: Bay Area, Restaurant Reviews, San Jose, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

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