As our classes finish at 4pm, it was a perfect opportunity for us to take advantage of Enterprise’s Weeknight Car Rental Program that gives students and staff the option of renting a car between 4-5pm for a heavily discounted rate ($10 for the rental + $15-25 for the optional insurance). The only caveat is that it is an overnight rental, and not a 24-hour rental. Despite that, it was perfect for what we wished to do – travel to San Francisco Premium Outlets for some retail therapy. In view of 4thof July, there were special limited time sales during the week leading up to the Independence Day weekend.
A note on the weeknight rental: the best way to go about this is to give the Stanford branch of Enterprise a call to check availability of weeknight cars before heading down there in person. In addition, the rental grants you use of the car between 4pm and 8am the next day – great for trips out at night!
For the night, Enterprise hooked us up with a pick-up truck for our weeknight rental, and we were headed off to SF Outlets (SFO)! SFO is about a 50 minute drive (2 hours with traffic) from Branner Hall. SFO is a sprawling outlet mall with endless rows of shops. SFO caters to a wide crowd of shoppers and there is definitely something for everyone, whether you’re into branded luxury goods to the likes of Furla, Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci, Kate Spade just to name a few, or branded apparel like Tommy Hilfiger, Abercrombie and Fitch, Hollister, or department stores like Barney’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bloomingdales.
The outlet shops had a great range of goods and merchandise on sale. A wide variety of items were heavily discounted and we found many good deals. The attractive range of brands and types of goods available makes it hard to finish SFO in one sitting. On weekdays, SFO closes at 9pm, and we only managed to clock 3 hours of shopping in on Monday. As such, we were tempted to make another trip back to SFO to thoroughly exhaust all that this shopper’s paradise has to offer.
We gave in to our temptations, and satisfied our itch for more shopping by making a third trip to SFO. Today, Enterprise had a convertible Chevrolet Camaro on the lot and they offered it to us for a $15 upgrade. Needless to say, the car fanatic in me took up the offer without a moment’s hesitation. We travelled to SFO earlier in the day to avoid traffic congestion on the way there, thus allowing us to maximise our shopping time.
7 hours later, we finally exhausted all the shops in SFO, having secured some great deals, adding to our haul from America. It was late, 9pm, and in classic American fashion, food options are scarce after dark. With a lack of supper culture, the only options left are fast food which we weren’t entirely keen on. After trawling through Yelp suggestions for dinner, we found this hidden gem in San Francisco city – an authentic late night Korean restaurant. Upon arriving at the unassuming restaurant facing the main street, we were greeted cheerfully by a Korean grandma in the restaurant. Her hospitality and friendliness was instantly familiar despite the fact that there existed a language barrier. After chatting with her for a while, we learnt that she ran the entire operation by herself. We were very impressed. She rustled up authentic warm Korean food in a jiffy and plied us with constant refills of cold water and side dishes. Her restaurant is called Um Ma Son and its located on Geary Boulevard in Central Richmond, SF city. Highly recommended. In fact, we loved her food so much that we patronized it again 3 weeks later, bringing more of our friends along to share in this gastronomic experience.
These days passed by rather uneventfully as we focused on clearing our work ahead of time so that we could enjoy a homework-free weekend.
Without a car, we decided to explore our local area on our bikes. We headed off to Palo Alto (a 15 minute cycle from Stanford). University Avenue is the main street of Palo Alto and one can find many cute shops, quaint cafes, specialty chocolate and ice cream bars, apparel stores, bike shops, and barbers along this 400m long stretch.
For lunch, we decided to partake in classic American diner culture by dining at Palo Alto Creamery. This retro diner located on the corner of Emerson and Hamilton is a time capsule which has perfectly preserved American diner culture in its purest form. Pop by to satisfy your pop-culture-FOMO and relive Harry Met Sally moments at the red leather booths of Palo Alto Creamery over some pancakes and their seasonal smoothies. Highly recommended. After a bit more shopping around Palo Alto, we called it a night and cycled back to Stanford.
Equipped with a car, we drove into San Francisco to soak in what the city has to offer. We kicked off the day with a visit to Japan Town, a district with a concentration of authentic Japanese stores that hawk wares to the likes of artisanal pottery, kitchen ware, stationery, traditional Japanese calligraphy paper and so on. The sheer number of stores is overwhelming and the Japan Town shopping centers are packed with everything and anything Japan-related. We recommend going for Café Maiko’s matcha ice cream in the basement of West Center. The soft serve is to die for and the aromatic flavor of Japanese green tea is thoroughly infused into the ice cream that blends so well with the baumkuchen cake and azuki beans.
Next, we headed off to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf for a re-visit. The sprawling shops, chowder restaurants and endless souvenir shops deserved a thorough perusal. Fisherman’s wharf is filled with everything a tourist could possibly want to commemorate their visit to SF. Shops tout an extensive selection of magnets, keychains, t-shirts, hoodies, sunglasses, duffel bags, chocolates, ornaments, and postcards. The perfect place to pick up a little goodie to satisfy that pesky relative/friend that keeps demanding that you bring back a piece of the US for them. There is an excellent fudge shop within Pier 39 (if you’re into that), and we would recommend sticking around for a bit to enjoy the showmanship of the chocolatier as he humorously rallies the crowd as they witness the fudge-making process.
In the evening, we popped over to Ghiradelli Square (less than a 5 min drive from Pier 39), which is famed for their chocolates. Much like a red-bricked rendition of Charlie’s Chocolate Factory, the entire block is dedicated to Ghiradelli and its insta-worthy setting with strings of incandescent lights hanging overhead, perfectly manicured hedges, and floor to ceiling windows showcasing artistically curated shopfronts. Ghiradelli square goes above and beyond chocolates with its offerings of adorable stationery, aesthetic knick knacks, lush succulent plants and potters, and even tasteful souvenirs for that artsy fartsy friend of yours.
After Ghiradelli, we took the SF Cable Car from Union Square to Lombard Street and watched the sun set over The Golden Gate City from the top of Lombard. Being one of the coldest places in the Bay Area, once the sun set, the wind got quite brisk and chilly. We sauntered over to Chinatown for Spicy King, which whips up some solid Szechuan dishes to warm our souls. After a long day exploring much of San Francisco, we took an hour drive back to Stanford.
written by: matthew