Photo of the Day: Light Trails on 280

California 280 light trails
Jason Rodman, Flickr

California’s Interstate 280 might be just another freeway to most people. Photographer Jason Rodman, however, was able to capture some of those “most people” on their late night travels. With some of our Gadling staff traveling this week and weekend, it got me thinking — where are you going next? Will your taillights be captured like this?

We’d love to feature your photos and videos on Gadling, so please add them to our Flickr Pool (with Creative Commons licensing!), tag @GadlingTravel on Instagram or email us at OfTheDay@gadling.com.

San Francisco’s Mobile Eateries: SOMAny Food Trucks, So Little Time

food truck
In a city like San Francisco, there’s so much to love, it’s easy to veer into bad poetic cliche (the fog rolling in on the Golden Gate; how, on unseasonably warm days, the entire city appears to be picnicking on every available patch of green; the dreamy views of the bay from the top of Pacific Heights).

There are other things about SF that rock, however, despite an obvious lack of romanticism. There’s the food truck scene, for example, which in less than five years has become a firmly entrenched part of the city’s culture. Like SF’s ethnic restaurants, the trucks roam the culinary map, from Eritrea and Malaysia to the Philippines, Hawaii, India, the Deep South, Latin America, and even, god help us, dessertlandia (cupcakes have nothing on the crème brûlée truck).

I’ve written before about Off the Grid (OTG), the ginormous, weekly food truck fiesta held down at Fort Mason (there are other, smaller venues and food truck “pods” in SF, the East Bay, South Bay, and Marin County, as well). Featuring over 40 trucks, music, and stellar views of the Bay, it’s become a beloved celebration of all that’s great about life in San Francisco. My favorite vendors include The Chairman (as in Bao), and Gohan.

I’ve been to OTG before, but until last week, I’d never visited its more urban equivalent, SOMA strEAT Food Park. Located just south of Market Street (SOMA), this formerly dumpy, sketchy block has been transformed into an oasis, complete with landscaping, attractive seating areas, music, a beer garden, and an indoor tent for inclement weather. SOMA has long been an up-and-coming ‘hood for hipsters thanks to its bars, cafes, and restaurants, but it’s also convenient to the Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), Metreon entertainment complex, Yerba Buena Gardens, Moscone Center and the Union Square shopping district.

Unlike OTG, the Food Park is also open daily. A number of the same vendors work OTG and the Food Park (which has different vendors every day), but others are unique to each location. My favorite at the Food Park is Adam’s Grub Truck, which specializes in Pacific Rim-inflected sandwiches that are the bomb. There’s also Del Popolo, inarguably the most famous – and high-tech – food truck/pizzeria on wheels in the nation. It alone is worth a trip down to SOMA.

Whether you head to OTG for the scene, selection and bayside location, or the strEAT Food Park for a convenient shopping or cultural break, you’ll come away stuffed, satiated and waxing a little poetic about SF, yourself.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Gary Soup]

MUJI To Open First West Coast Store In San Francisco This Fall

mujiCalifornia design junkies rejoice: Japanese retailer MUJI recently announced that it will open its first West Coast location in San Francisco‘s SOMA district this fall. With 7,250 square feet of retail space, the new store will be the fifth and largest MUJI location in the United States.

MUJI has developed a cult following in the design community for producing simple, functional lifestyle items that are high on quality and low in price. The MUJI retail environment mirrors this streamlined approach, with spare design, soft lighting and Zen music in each of the chain’s four New York City locations.

While the store sells everything from notebooks to frying pans to organic cotton T-shirts, travelers will be especially pleased to find a wide range of well-designed travel accessories. The store’s assortment of bags, pouches, cases, bottles, containers and dividers will revolutionize the way you pack, as well as introduce a touch of Japanese simplicity into your travel experience.

[Flickr image via Stephen Spencer]

Hotel booking tip: Hotwire + upgrade = deal

Hotel booking tip Hotwire upgradeThere are many strategies for successfully booking hotel rooms on “opaque” booking sites. “Opaque” booking sites, for those unfamiliar with the term if not the thing itself, sell brand-name hotel rooms, among other goods, for discounted prices. The catch is that these hotels are never named in advance. The “opaque” booking sites help hotels fill their rooms at rates often far below hotel rack rates.

Some frequent travelers have developed a science out of gaming opaque booking sites. Better Bidding is one essential tool in this endeavor. It offers bidding tips and other information designed to allow users to figure out which description matches up with which anonymous hotel, thereby allowing customers to pick and choose a favored hotel.

Here’s a less crafty tip, one that can nonetheless be very helpful for finding a mid-range hotel bargain.

Twice in the past two months I’ve booked hotels in London and San Francisco on Hotwire. In both instances the hotel reservation was relatively speaking quite inexpensive: $99 for the London room and $110 for the San Francisco room.

Unfortunately, both bookings resulted in hotel rooms that were far from ideal.

In London, the Hilton London Docklands Riverside room booked through Hotwire ($99) was very cramped and not particularly well maintained. The bed was tiny and the view was of the traffic circle in front of the hotel. A £20 ($32) upgrade option gave us a recently renovated and much larger Deluxe room with a view of the foggy Thames. Our Hotwire-plus-upgrade rate ($131) turned out to be much less expensive than the lowest rack rate I found during research ($217).

In San Francisco, the room we booked through Hotwire at the Intercontinental San Francisco ($110) had two separate beds. We didn’t even take a look at it, instead inquiring about an upgrade. $30 per night later and we had a 17th floor corner king with sweeping views north and west. By our calculations, we saved almost $40 off the least expensive rack rate in the process.

(Image: Flickr / hotelkursaal&ausonia)

Daily Pampering: new San Francisco restaurant debuts $390 truffle dinner

It’s truffle season again. In the Perigord, grizzled Frenchmen scour the forests using specially-trained female pigs or dogs to sniff out the rare black fungi growing from the roots of various tree species. In Piedmont, Italy, a similar hunt is under way for the even more esteemed white truffle. According to The Daily Beast, these little buggers can fetch an average of $3,500 a pound in a good economy (in ’09, the price for white truffles dropped to $1,800 to $2,500 a pound), making them one of the most expensive ingredients on earth.

In celebration of all this fungal goodness, Alexander’s Steakhouse in San Francisco is offering a nine-course truffle dinner for $390, through early 2011. Inside Scoop SF also tells us that for another $110, the restaurant will pair the wines for you. The Japanese-inflected meat temple opened last month in the buzzing SoMa neighborhood, but the sister location in the Silicon Valley is offering the same special.

Why are people willing to spend so much cash on a glorified foraged mushroom that smells like male pig pheromones? Gourmands will tell you the essence of the homely truffle elevates everything from scrambled eggs to pasta to euphoric levels. And truffles are supposedly an aphrodisiac (the scent of swine sex hormones, and all). Fortunately, a little of the pungent fungi goes a long way, and Alexander’s uses a total of 15 grams (roughly half-an-ounce) of black and white truffles on its special menu.

Dishes include elegant offerings like bonito sashimi with salsify, garlic chips, celery, curry foam, and black truffle; binchotan-roasted bone marrow, black garlic panko, citrus jam, and white truffle, and Japanese a5 Kagoshima ribeye cap [in plain English: expensive cut of top-grade imported Wagyu beef] with parsnip puree, butternut squash, chestnuts, and white truffle. Are you feeling randy yet, baby?

Want more? Get your daily dose pampering right here.

[Photo credit: Flickr user cyclingshepherd]