Second Cities

Written by Brianne Sanchez

San Francisco

Des Moines artist and photographer King Au loves San Francisco’s diveristy in culture, landscape and residential architecture [1]. Au and his wife, Ann, a jeweler and the owner of 2AU Ltd. in West Des Moines, have a residence in the Hayes Valley area in the heart of San Francisco.

Au recommends exploring San Francisco on foot or via public transit. If you want to take on the challenge of driving the city’s steep hills, pay attention to strict and obscure parking rules, he advises.

He loves exploring neighborhoods and finds they each have distinct specialties and a unique feel. Au goes to Hayes Valley, the Fillmore district and Union Street (in the Cow Hollow neighborhood) for the shopping and dining, Valencia Street for galleries, and the Mission area and Chinatown (Grant Street, especially) for what he calls their “ethnic flare.” For a scenic destination, stroll or bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, he suggests.

If you do take a drive, Au recommends taking Market Street south and up to Twin Peaks, known as the best place to catch a San Francisco sunrise or view the twinkling lights of the city at night.

Au’s Picks

Art appreciation: Head to museums like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art [2] or M.H. de Young Memorial Museum [3], where visitors can climb the observation tower for a panoramic view of the city. Au says a world-class collection of photography and contemporary art can be found at galleries on Geary Street near Kearny Street, such as Fraenkel Gallery. (Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St.,; M.H. de Young, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive [Golden Gate Park],

Dinner and a movie: Foreign Cinema [4]
is a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant that screens foreign and independent films in a covered outdoor atrium (2534 Mission St.,

Sushi: Kiss Seafood serves traditional Japanese style sushi in a tiny, reservations-only space (1700 Laguna St., Blowfish Sushi, is another hotspot to try (2170 Bryant St., Or, Au says, “any one that looks crowded” is worth a gamble.

Cocktail hour and beyond: Meet the “green fairy” at Absinthe Brasserie & Bar [5], wine and dine at Kuleto’s, and try craft cocktails at The Alembic or the Boom Boom Room, which used to be owned by John Lee Hooker and features funk, jazz and blues. (Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, 398 Hayes St.,; Kuleto’s, 221 Powell St.,; The Alembic, 1725 Haight St.,; Boom Boom Room, 1601 Fillmore St.,

Coffee: Skip Starbucks and opt for Blue Bottle Coffee (

Live Music: Au says Yoshi’s [6] is the spot for jazz and The Fillmore is a historic auditorium with great shows. (Yoshi’s, 1330 Fillmore St.,; The Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd.)

Puerto Vallarta

Des Moines attorney Allyn Dixon was looking for a sunny spot that would transition from convenient getaway to retirement residence. During a port visit to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, during a cruise, he instantly fell in love with the city and made buying a property there before his 50th birthday a goal.

“As a lark, I put my lake house in Panorama up for sale, and it sold on the first day,” Dixon says. Then, like a marathon episode of “House Hunters International,” he looked at 20 homes in Puerto Vallarta in the span of about 36 hours. He got his keys to a condo in the Centro district a day before he turned 50, after sweet-talking local officials into opening their offices over the holidays. Backed up to the mountains and two short blocks from the beach, the getaway has become his personal bliss.

Dixon’s Picks

A romantic dinner: Hacienda de San Angel [1] is a rooftop restaurant atop a boutique hotel that Dixon says was once Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s love nest. The outdoor dining area features a live mariachi band and ocean views (Miramar 336, El Centro;

The outdoors: Whale-watching [2] season is a delight, and sea turtle launches are a wonderful way to celebrate wildlife. Dixon says a zip line [3] adventure is a must-try. For visitors who want to stay grounded, a trip to Vallarta Botanical Gardens in the mountains is an engaging stop. Be sure to try the wood-fired pizzas at the casual restaurant there (

Restaurants: Superb gastronomical experiences abound in Puerto Vallarta. Dixon recommends bringing a group to Barcelona Tapas, which has four levels overlooking the ocean (Matamoros and de Octubre, Café des Artistes [4] offers a fine-dining experience that also includes its own gallery and cigar and brandy bar (Guadalupe Sanchez 740, Col. Centro; Late night, get adventurous by trying street cart food [5]. If possible, plan your visit during the city’s Gourmet Festival in November (

Culture: Dixon says Puerto Vallarta has a vibrant arts scene, from jaw-dropping sandcastle sculptures [6] to a number of galleries. Plot your visits with the handy walking tour map ( Galleria Dante is off the path, but a must-see (Calle Basilio Badillo 269,

Siesta Key

When Susan Knapp isn’t busy breeding American quarter horses and her husband Bill can get away from business, they head to their home on Florida’s Siesta Key, near Sarasota. Located on Crescent Beach, their penthouse home overlooks a more secluded 3.5-mile stretch just south of the top-rated public Siesta Beach. Knapp likens the pure white sand to powdered sugar.

“It’s a different type of lifestyle when we’re down there,” she says. “We’re very engaged in the community and business in Iowa, and being in the Keys is kind of like being on the moon. It’s very, very free. We just disconnect from everything.”

Knapp adds that she likes the cosmopolitan feel of the metropolitan area as well, where dining and shopping options abound. Of all the can’t-miss things in the Sarasota area, Knapp says her favorite is simple: watching the sunsets.

Knapp’s Picks

Wine and dine: Cafe Gabbiano [1] serves Italian food near the beach
(5104 Ocean Blvd.,

Cuban cuisine: Try the Columbia Restaurant [2] for an outdoor lunch in a shopping district setting (411 St. Armands Circle,

Boat to lunch: Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant and Oyster Bar is Knapp’s spot for oysters on the half shell or a grouper sandwich. Boat or drive in (5353 S. Tamiami Trail,

Serious shopping: The Met is a one-stop shop for upscale fashion and glamour. It blends salon spa services with high-end labels for men and women (35 S. Boulevard of the Presidents,

Golf: Knapp favors TPC Prestancia [3], a private golf club that features two 18-hole championship golf courses—a club course and stadium course. Perhaps that’s because she once hit a hole-in-one on the 16th hole of the stadium course, a feat she says Bill has yet to accomplish there (4409 Tournament Players Club Drive,

Arts: Knapp says the late David Kruidenier of Des Moines was instrumental in supporting Sarasota Museum of Art [4], a new modern art museum that is still in development.

Special event: Over the Fourth of July, catch the Suncoast Super Boat Grand Prix Festival [5]. The Knapps watch the event from their deck as watercraft whiz from the mainland to the Gulf of Mexico (


Sunnie Richer and Roger Brooks were drawn to Scottsdale, Ariz., after visiting friends Mary and Stan Seidler, also from Des Moines, in the Mirabel golf community. They enjoy top-notch golf, clubhouse dining, and spa and exercise facilities, and they’ve formed strong friendships in the neighborly 250-member community.

“My husband Roger and I chose Arizona as a second home because it gives us a good balance of major-city options in a relaxed-living setting,” Richer says. “Our choice of Arizona was purely accidental. About seven years ago, we had a long business trip in Scottsdale. We visited our friends Stan and Mary and fell in love with Mirabel and the area. Without planning to do so, we purchased
our home!”

Richer’s Picks

Dinner: Richer and Brooks celebrated their anniversary last year at LON’s [1] at The Hermosa Inn, located in an old hacienda (5532 N. Pala Cristi Road, Paradise Valley; Lower-key and closer to their home, they enjoy Italian at both Gianfranco Ristorante and Pane e Vino in Scottsdale. (Gianfranco, 10434 E. Jomax Road,; Pane e Vino, 8900 E. Pinnacle Peak Road,

Special event: Arizona Music Festival, which runs from late January through early March, presents exceptional classical, chamber, Broadway, jazz, pop and country concerts and programs at venues throughout Scottsdale’s foothills (

Laid-back breakfast: Richer and Brooks enjoy long, leisurely breakfasts with their Sunday paper at Black Mountain Coffee Shop [2] (7204 Ho Road, Carefree;,).

An artistic lunch date: The Phoenix Art Museum [3] is among Richer’s favorites. “The fashion and photography exhibits are first class,” she says. She recommends the museum restaurant, Palette, for lunch or Sunday brunch (1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix;

Theater: Richer and Brooks regularly visit the Herberger Theater Center [4] for its wide range of plays and ballet performances (222 E. Monroe St., Phoenix;

Hiking: Richer says Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Conservancy has 60 miles of trails (16435 N. Scottsdale Road; Pinnacle Peak Park is another favorite spot (26802 N. 102nd Way;


Kathy Stuart and her husband, Ted, have spent summers in Okoboji for the past 25 years, hooked after a few fall tennis weekends with friends. She loves the laid-back, lakeside vibe of the northwest Iowa destination. “Everything revolves in and around the water,” Stuart says. “We boat just about everywhere at night.”

During the day, it’s all about paddle and pedal power. Outings with both her Tuesday morning bicycle and Thursday morning kayaking groups always include breakfast. “One of our spots has been the Dry Dock Lounge, where you can sit outside by the lake,” she says, adding they also enjoy the French toast at the Family Diner in Spirit Lake.

Summer weekends, you might find Ted, who is president of Architectural Arts Inc. in Des Moines, hanging out in the hammock, and Kathy playing with their grandchildren or planning a charitable fundraising event. She’s been part of a group that has helped raise money for a bike trail along the west side of the lake.

Stuart’s Picks

Dinner: Take a boat ride to the southwest corner of the lake to Kazarelli’s at Millers Bay. Order lasagna, fish or a steak (1127 Lakeside Ave., Wahpeton;

Breakfast: Stop in for pancakes at O’Farrell Sisters [1], enjoy the view at Dry Dock Lounge at Four Seasons Resort, and order the French toast at the Family Diner. (O’Farrell Sisters,1109 Lake Shore Drive, Okoboji; Dry Dock Lounge, 333 Highway 71, Arnolds Park,; Family Diner, 1604 Hill Ave., Spirit Lake.)

Culture: On rainy days, visit Pearson Lakes Art Center [2], where you can take classes in sculpting and painting and enjoy live entertainment; and the Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum [3], which highlights local history. (Pearson Lakes, 2201 U.S. Highway 71, Okoboji,; Maritime Museum, 243 Broadway St., Arnolds Park,

Arnolds Park [4]: Thrill seekers might opt for a roller coaster ride, but Stuart says there’s nothing quite like the Ferris wheel at sunset (

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