Weekend Adventure: Carmel-by-the-Sea

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Point Lobos State Reserve

I have some great very early memories of Carmel- my enormous family used to make the trip to the Carmel Valley Ranch each year until I was about ten. However, after my early childhood, I have very few memories of visiting Carmel Valley or the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea (why do towns do that to their names? It seems a bit silly, no?). So returning for some quality time in Carmel nearly 20 years later was a wonderful surprise. Just two hours by car south of San Francisco, Carmel is a uniquely wonderful town on the central California coast. While its main street, Ocean Avenue, ends at the beach, it doesn’t try to hard to be a “beach town”. In fact, most of the year, Carmel can be foggy/chilly/sunny/warm- all in the same day- which is why I actually recommend Carmel any time of year. It really doesn’t need sunny or warm weather to be enjoyed. I would describe almost everything about Carmel as “cozy”. The restaurants are outfitted with roaring fireplaces, the Inn’s are small and personal, the architecture of the homes can be best described as “storybook” and shops are tiny and inviting. While I love the Carmel Valley, I highly recommend staying in town. We visited in March of 2009 (during the depths of the recession) and got ourselves an amazing deal on a room at the Auberge Carmel. However, there are really a ton of great places to stay downtown. Here are my recommendations: 

Eat: 

Mission Ranch Carmel- I liked going to Mission Ranch at sunset. It has a great deck with a  view of the water and a fireplace outside (I’m such a sucker for those). Its owned by Clint Eastwood and we hear that he’ll sometimes stop by play the piano for patrons.

Il Fornaio– Its located in the base of the Pine Inn (the oldest hotel in Carmel) and in addition to having great food in a classic old building, it is also is one of the only places in Carmel with a bar scene after 8pm. 

Aubergine– At the Auberge Hotel. If you are looking for fancy, you found it. I really liked it once but its a bit schmancy, with very tiny servings and confusing items on the menu (for me at least!).

Stay: 

Auberge Carmel-Monte Verde St. (between Ocean & Seventh) 

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Courtyard at the Auberge Carmel

Cypress Inn-I returned to Carmel for an amazing wedding in 2012 and was able to stay here with our dog, Woody! If you have a dog, or are looking for a great hotel with an adorable outdoor patio and tasteful rooms- stay here.

Play:

 Point Lobos State Reserve– While we had a specific hike in mind when we parked outside the Reserve, just south of Carmel, we ended up wandering various trails for hours. The hiking is pretty easy, and the trails follow the shoreline along multiple secret coves. On any given day you will see seals, sea lions, sea otters and, from December to May, migrating gray whales.  

Monterey Bay Aquarium– Monterey is only a short drive from Carmel. I promise the aquarium is not just for kids. We visited as grownups and spent 2 hours wandering around, staring in awe at the sea otters and jellyfish.

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Monterey Bay Aquarium

17 Mile Drive– Do this. Seriously. At least once in your life. 

 

 

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Weekend Adventure: Small Summer Music Festivals in Northern California

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Main Stage: High Sierra Music Festival

If you like music festivals and don’t mind camping, but are overwhelmed by the idea of Coachella or Bonnaroo, here are two smaller summer festivals located driving distance from San Francisco. I’m not a huge camper myself, but don’t mind a weekend of it, and like music best when its outdoors, and especially when its against a beautiful backdrop in California…

High Sierra Music Festival

2012 marks the 22nd annual High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, CA about 1 hour from Truckee. I attended in 2010 and was lucky enough to watch such incredible acts as Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Avett Brothers , and Widespread Panic under the stars with the Sierra Nevada mountains as backdrop. Its hot during the day, can be cold at night, but it was one of the best weekends of my life. This year’s acts include Ben Harper, Railroad Earth, Toots and the Maytals, Ryan Bingham and my friend Annie’s favorite- Big Light.

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South Yuba River

Daytime at High Sierra: We looked for a swimming hole near the concert grounds in 2010 with no luck. This article might be helpful to anyone heading up this year looking for a place to swim on the South Yuba River.

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Yoga at High Sierra

Kate Wolf Festival
Started in 1996, the annual Kate Wolf Music Festival is held at the end of June at the Black Oak Ranch in Laytonville, CA. This friendly little secret on the festival circuit is attended by several thousand people each year. The music is a mix of folk, americana and bluegrass. While I’ve never experienced the Kate Wolf Festival myself, two of my very favorite bluegrass bands – Poor Man’s Whiskey and Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit are playing this year. Black Oak Ranch, the Mendocino home to the Hog Farm and Camp Winnarainbow-a circus camp for kids, is three hours north of San Fancisco and two hours south of Arcata. 

Weekend Trip: Glen Ellen

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If you’ve wandered the streets of St. Helena, wine-tasted your way down the Silverado Trail, and are an expert in the restaurants of Yountville, then you are well-versed in the gorgeous Napa Valley. But summer can mean massive traffic up and down Highway 29 from Friday-Sunday, lines out the door at Dean & Deluca and limos full of drunk winery-hoppers lining the roads. If you want to escape the fog of San Francisco, but don’t want to dive into the deluge of tourists, I recommend you visit tiny, bucolic, lovely Glen Ellen tucked into the western slopes of the Sonoma Valley- Napa’s quieter, still beautiful neighbor. The wineries aren’t quite as grand, the restaurants not quite as packed- it might be just what you are looking for. 

Eat: 

Glen Ellen Star: Glen Ellen Star is a brand new restaurant that, like the town itself, is small in size, but packed with good things. The casual atmosphere spills out of the restaurant and onto its patio. The menu has lots of small plates for sharing, and a few larger entrees. The restaurant sources seasonal, local organic ingredients from their friends all over Sonoma County. The menu depends on what ingredients are in season. Their wood oven churns out dishes like whole roasted cauliflower, corn kernals with queso fresco and a variety of wood-fired pizzas. Check ou their menu here.
13648 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen

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Fig Cafe and Wine Bar: A really cool thing about the Fig cafe is their no-corkage fee policy, which is sort of unheard of in the region. It serves “Country French Home Cooking” which includes steamed muscles and a yummy arugula and yes, fig, salad. Show up early or be ready to wait- no reservations. 
13690 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen

Sleep: 

Gaige House: This place is fancy but not overdone. Gaige House has 23 guest rooms with a slightly Asian claire. For extra relaxation, it has a great spa, outdoor swimming pool, hot tub and even a hammock under oaks. Complimentary breakfast in the morning, and an afternoon hors d’oeuvres reception. 
13540 Arnold Dr., Glen Ellen
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The Chauvet: If you are looking for something nice, but not quite Gaige House, a friend recently recommend The Chauvet to me. It offers six 3 bed, 2 bath designer condos in the restored Hotel Chauvet. Especially if you are heading to Glen Ellen with a group (or a dog!) this place could be perfect. It also has a lovely outdoor pool. 
13756 Arnold Dr., Glen Ellen

Play: 

Jack London State Historic ParkLondon moved to 800 acres here with his wife Charmain in 1905 and they lived here together until his death in 1916. After London’s death, his wife continued to live at the Ranch until her death in 1955. It was her wish that the ranch be preserved in memory of Jack London and his work. While you can visit for the history, you can also check it out for some amazing hikes. Hike straight up Sonoma Mountain for great views of the surrounding area. Knowing that this park was the first to be taken off the State Park closure list earlier this year (by the Valley of the Moon Historical Society) makes me appreciate it even more. 
2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen

Day Trip: Cheese Tasting in West Marin and Sonoma

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While I’m sure many of you have visited the Napa, Sonoma or Anderson Valley on a wine-tasting adventure, you may not have embarked on a cheese tasting odyssey. I highly recommend you try one. Cheese, like wine, can inspire feelings of goodwill and make you happy. Unlike wine, cheese will not make you say things you regret or throw up. I recently had the chance to be part of a cheese tasting led by Nicasio Valley Cheese Company’s Rick Lafranchi. Their organic farmstead dairy operation churns out some of the best cheese I’ve ever tasted including their aptly named Foggy Morning, San Geronimo and my favorite: Nicasio Reserve. His talk was so informative, and so interesting, that I plan to visit West Marin and Sonoma in the near future to follow the Sonoma Marin “Cheese Trail.” The map on the Cheese Trail website can point you to many of the incredible local cheesemakers dotting the northern California coast including Barinaga Ranch, Cowgirl Creamery, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, Toluma Farms, and Straus Family Creamery.

The history of West Marin has always been about cows. Many of these cheese producers have been creating cheese, milk and butter for over a hundred years. Visiting their tasting rooms or buying their cheese helps these farms continue their craft for generations to come. Happy eating! 

Nicasio Valley Cheese Company is located at 5300 Nicasio Valley Road, Nicasio, CA 94946. Open 10-5 7 days a week.

Cowgirl Creamery is located at Tomales Bay Foods, a restored barn at

80 4th Street in Point Reyes Station. There is a cheese counter for tasting and purchasing cheese. While you are there, you can also pick up cheese books, knives, boards and condiments for cheese or food and wine at the Cowgirl Cantina. Watch them make cheese Weds-Sun from 10am-2pm or visit the shop until 6pm.

 

 

Website of the Day: Weekend Sherpa

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While I’ve become a bit lazy about posting my favorite western adventures onto this blog, I wanted to share a site I use for ideas about new hikes and outdoor adventures in California. Each Thursday, I receive a new email from Weekend Sherpa with cool things to do in San Francisco/Northern California. While the site can be a bit crunchy at times, recommending backpacking overnights, or massive full-day hikes climbing Bay Area peaks, its awesome if you are feeling a little adventurous and don’t quite know what to do with your weekend. Your email can be tailored to either Northern or Southern California. For example, this weekend, it recommends unique overnights in Northern California- including a lighthouse, a hike-in hut, or a luxury tent cabin. Sign up for weekly emails here!

Evening Adventure: Sing-along at the Castro Theater

Happy Friday everyone! Here at Wanderwest headquarters we generally focus our adventure-seeking efforts outside of the 7×7 but today I’m tired and looking forward to a weekend in San Francisco. This week has been a big one- summer awkwardly arrived on Sunday and left on Wednesday, making me sad that I work at a windowless desk with a potted plant during the week, and tired from outdoor Happy Hours during the normally quiet M-W. Tonight, I’m going for round two of an adventure we call sing-along movies at the Castro Theater. This weekend’s movie is The Little Mermaid, one of the greatest films of all time. Earlier this year, I participated in sing-a-long Wizard of Oz with five other slightly inebriated and tone deaf friends (I am by far the loudest and most tone deaf). We were initially mortified, having not realized that excellent costumes are required, but so thoroughly enjoyed our experience that we’re doing it again. Tonight. So while I think about how to dress like a lobster, please enjoy one of the best songs. Ever:

Sing-a-long Little Mermaid at the Castro Theater: Friday 7:00; Sat & Sun 2:30, 7:00. Admission: $15.

 

Eat: Outdoor dining during San Francisco’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it summer

San Francisco summers are about 4 days long. This period of time is marked by warm, windless days and calm, fogless evenings. It is a small window of time that arrives sometime in September, driving San Franciscans completely nuts for a few days and emboldening them to leave work early and stay out late, ride their bikes for no reason, drag their couches onto the street and create makeshift living rooms, picnic for the first time in their lives or head to the beach- all without layers. I try to eat outside as much as possible during this incredible little moment. I’ve already written about a few places for enjoying summer evenings including Bar Bocce, and Moss Beach Distillery. Here are a few more spots with great outdoor dining in and around SF:  

El_paseo

El Paseo’s patio in Mill Valley

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El PaseoTyler Florence and Sammy Hagar’s new restaurant is located just above the town square in Mill Valley. It’s a chop house, so the menu is meat heavy. It also looks back in time to the space’s early days as a restaurant- there is tableside Caesar service and even a flambé cart. 17 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley; (415) 388-0741  

The Tavern at Lark CreekNew casual menu, great cocktail list and outdoor dining at the edge of the creek. 234 Magnolia Ave, Larkspur; (415) 924-7766

 San Francisco

Contigo– Spanish and Catalan restaurant in Noe Valley with a little covered outdoor patio beside the restaurant’s vegetable garden. 1320 Castro Street San Francisco, CA 94114; (415) 285-0250

Foreign CinemaGo at night, when classic movies play against an enormous wall above the heated patio while you eat. This is one of those classic SF restaurants that everyone should experience at least once. 2534 Mission St., San Francisco, (415) 648-7600

La TerrasseWith great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the bay, I’d recommend this restaurant patio for brunch or lunch. 215 Lincoln Boulevard, San Francisco (in the Presidio); (415) 922-3463

Presidio Social ClubThe small, open patio is located behind the restaurant, next to a set of tennis courts, and receives unobstructed sun nearly all day. Perfect for brunch or lunch. 563 Ruger St. (near Lombard Gate, in the Presidio), San Francisco; (415) 885-1888

Day Trip: The long way home…from Tahoe

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As I prepare to drive towards Lake Tahoe tonight, I can’t help but think with dread about the incredible awfulness that has been the commute from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe this summer. The road construction, delayed by our epic winter, will continue through the first snows and has managed to turn a normally 3 hour drive into a gruesome 4-6 hour haul.

To avoid this traffic altogether, my brother and I recently decided to drive from Truckee to San Francisco without hitting Interstate 80 until Vacaville. I threw out the idea to my little brother in part to get a little more time with him before he moved to Los Angeles. I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye. While this trip is long, clocking in at 6 hours, it is an incredible day trip through some of the prettiest scenery in California.

First we wandered north on Hwy 89 through Sierraville, CA. Only 30 minutes from Truckee, this broad, open valley is breathtakingly pretty- with a smattering of large working ranches and wetlands crisscrossed by cold clear mountain creeks. I’m a sucker for historic barns and this valley has some great ones.

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Barn- Sierraville, CA

 As we began to climb out of the valley, we joined Hwy 49 and headed south through incredible gold rush towns like Sierra City and Downieville.

If you want to make it a leisurely drive, stop for lunch in Sierra City and enjoy Mountain Creek Restaurant’s gorgeous, a –creek-runs-through-it and you -can -see -the -Sierra Buttes -from-it, outdoor dining area.  

If you want to make it a night, stop at Downieville’s Lure Resort. Its cottages and cabins are located directly on the banks of the Yuba River- perfect for those who like to fly-fish.   

Continuing on our way, we took a slightly risky “shortcut” leaving Hwy 49 for Pleasant Valley Road. It ended up taking us by an old Wells Fargo building (dated 1853) and then on to the Bridgeport covered bridge– one of only 10 covered bridges left in California.

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 You can take 49 all the way to Auburn (and meet up with 80 there) or take our route, which took us from Bridgeport to Hwy 20, to 505, to 5 and then to 80 near the Nut Tree. Either way, the back roads are all especially fun on a sunny summer Sunday when you’ve got nothing better to do than drive towards home slowly…

 EAT: Mountain Creek Restaurant, Sierra City, CA. 225 Main St.; 530.862.1171 ;

SLEEP: Lure Resort, Downieville, CA;  $160-$260  ¾ mile before Downieville on the left. Cross over private bridge. 530.289.3465. info@lureresort.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Trip: Ad Hoc’s Addendum

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Thomas Keller recently opened "Addendum," a little shack added to Ad Hoc's backyard in Yountville. Out of this shack flies 200 orders of $16.50 boxed lunches from Thursday through Saturday. There are only two options on the menu: buttermilk fried chicken or barbeque. Two sides are included- I enjoyed the corn and mashed potatoes during my visit. Ordering is a bit annoying- you can wait in line or call by phone for pickup from 11:00am-2:00pm by calling 707-944-1565. However, the line is frequently busy. Large orders of 10 or more are accepted 24 hours in advance via email at addendum@adhocrestaurant.com– a good option for a large wine tasting group. While the ordering system could be improved, the food is excellent and the atmosphere lovely- scattered throughout the quiet Ad Hoc garden are picnic tables for guests.
 
 
Addendum6476 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599 707. 944.2487, Open Thurs-Sat only 11am-2pm, http://www.adhocrestaurant.com/addendum

Day Trip: Saratoga Mountain Winery

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Above: view of stage at Saratoga Mountain Winery

Saratoga Mountain Winery is the best place to see live music outdoors in Northern California. While it’s a bold statement, considering the wealth of outdoor venues in the Bay Area, I’m ready to defend it. The one hour trip from San Francisco to Saratoga can seem daunting, but is absolutely worth it if only to briefly escape from the bitter cold of summer in the city to the warm hills of Saratoga. The 2011 summer concert schedule is so spectacular that the most difficult decision is deciding what act to see. This summer alone, the Mountain Winery will play host to incredible performers such as Melissa Etheridge, George Thurgood, The Doobie Brothers, the Gypsy Kings, Huey Lewis and the News, Willie Nelson, Boz Scaggs and Chicago.  

I was lucky enough to see a childhood favorite of mine at the Winery on Sunday, July 24- The Indigo Girls. It was 75 degrees, a solid 15 degrees warmer than San Francisco, when we arrived in Saratoga after 6pm. My friends and I planned it right and brought a trunk full of snacks and drinks for a pre-concert picnic behind our car. Even the parking lot has stunning views of Silicon Valley and the coastal range. After a short walk, we reached the amphitheater and were surrounded by an older, wine sipping, happy crowd. The venue is extremely intimate- with a seating capacity of less than 2000- and the acoustics are fantastic. From the general admission seating, I could not tell the difference between the sound on the Indigo Girls CDs I’d listened to in high school and their live performance.  “Its’ 100 degrees back home, this weather is a miracle,” Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls exclaimed as she looked out to the crowd enjoying the music on this mild evening. For the Saratoga Mountain Winery, it was just another summer night.

 

 

 

Saratoga Mountain Winery, 14831 Pierce Road, Saratoga, CA 95070