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Posts Tagged ‘Escapes’

It’s been 3.5 years since we moved from the East Coast to sunny California!  In that short time, we’ve been so fortunate to have visited so many of California’s great attractions and cities.  Seriously, California truly has it all.  Where else can you go soak up the rays on a beach, ski down powdery slopes, hike to through a breathtaking national park, and eat amazing food, all within a few hours of each other?  I highly recommend a roadtrip through this great state!  Here are the breathtaking sights and cities that we’ve visited.

San Diego/Coronado/La Jolla – Highlights include over 300 days of warm sunshine a year, pandas at the San Diego Zoo, and a laid back Cali vibe:

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Los Angeles – Where to begin? Santa Monica beach and boardwalk, Hollywood hike, Venice Canals, and food trucks!  Stay tuned for future posts on La La land!

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Joshua Tree National Park – Love those Joshua Trees!

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Santa Barbara/Solvang/Santa Ynez Valley – Great wineries, quaint Danish town, and gorgeous Spanish style architecture:

cali 4 San Francisco – I love this city! SF is a charming city with amazing views throughout and an overabundance of great food!

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Napa Valley – Delicious wine and food, and gorgeous scenery to boot…. what else do you need?

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Tahoe – Powdery slopes in the winter, beautiful lake and hikes in the summer:

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Yosemite National Park – One of country’s most beautiful national parks, Yosemite has breathtaking scenery and if you visit from May through September, gushing waterfalls!

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Mendocino – Rugged coastlines and a slower pace of life, this is the perfect area for rest and relaxation!

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And 2 places I haven’t visited  yet, but will eventually!

Death Valley National Park:

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Redwood National Park:

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The hubs and I celebrated our 3-day President’s Day weekend with a getaway trip to Mendocino.  I’ve been wanting to check out this northern coastal town for a while now and I’m so glad we went.  Mendocino is like stepping back in time, the pace is a little slower, the people are friendlier, and the landscape is amazingly raw and beautiful.

First off, Mendocino is 3.5 hours north of San Francisco.  On the way up though, we made a slight detour to Tomales Bay for oysters, which I highly recommend to anyone heading up.  They were oh so delicious and so worth it despite having to eat outside in the freezing cold because of our dog.  I’ll blog about the oysters and surrounding Point Reyes area in another post though 🙂

We stayed in Fort Bragg, a bigger city just 10 miles north of Mendocino.  It’s not as quaint as Mendocino but offers great coastal trails, cheaper lodging options, and a less touristy feel.  Although I would’ve loved to stay at one of the B&B’s, we opted for a more economical option since we were also bringing along our goldie.  At $60 per night and a $10 pet fee, Super 8 Motel was just what needed, simple and clean accommodations at a good price.

Just 5 minutes from the Super 8 is North Harbor, where there are numerous seafood restaurants:

And across from the Super 8 Motel, there’s a trail right by the Cliff House where you can walk you dog and take in the fresh ocean air.

We went to Cafe Beaujolais for an early dinner since we didn’t make reservations.  Cafe Beaujolais is an intimate French restaurant that focuses on local, seasonal ingredients.  Everything about our meal was amazing.  For appetizers we had the soup of the day, which was a creamy tomato bisque and the local Dungeness crab cakes.  Entrees were the Niman Ranch steak and the Kurobuta pork chop.  And for dessert we shared the flourless Callebaut chocolate lava cake, which was a mistake since I wanted it all to myself!  The restaurant is a must for anyone visiting Mendocino and I highly recommend you make reservations, unless you are willing to eat dinner at 5:30pm like we did.

We started our second day with brunch at Eggheads and coffee from Headland’s Coffeehouse.  Eggheads is your typical no frills neighborhood breakfast joint.  They’re known for their kitschy Wizard of Oz decor and their large variety of omelets.  The hubs had the house special Dungeness crab omelette and I had the garlic special omelette.  I’m pleased to say Eggheads was quite generous with both the crab and the garlic! The food is not going to blow you out of the water but it is a good hearty breakfast.  There is often a wait for the restaurant but they give you a call on your cell phone so you can wander around town while you wait, which we did.  We grabbed coffee at Headlands, which offers a dozen different coffee flavors (pic below) and walked around downtown Fort Bragg which looked like it had been frozen in time.  There are tons of unique stores to keep you occupied for at least an hour and also a good number of art galleries.  We particularly enjoyed the photo gallery just down the street from Eggheads.

After brunch, we picked up Hansel from the hotel and headed to Glass Beach.  The beach is known for the abundance of sea glass from the dumping of garbage many many years ago (back in the early 1900’s).  Overtime the beach was cleaned up and the ocean water eventually wore down the glass from discarded bottles into smooth colorful glass pieces.  Nowadays tourists go to the beach and pick up the glass pieces as souvenirs even though you’re not supposed to.  We didn’t go down to the beach but stayed on the coastal trail walking north.  The trail follows the curves of the cliffs and eventually turns into MacKerricher State Park.

MacKerricher State Park eventually leads to a dog friendly beach.  Hansel definitely enjoyed his time here!  The beach was so pristine and there was only a handful of other people around, I can imagine that it would be so nice on a warm summer day.

After we sufficiently tired Hansel out, we brought him back to the hotel and headed into Mendocino to walk around town.  We grabbed a snack at Frankie’s, which serves pizza and locally made Cowlick’s ice-cream.  They have interesting ice-cream flavors like mushroom, ginger, and egg nog.  And if you eat in, you can amuse yourself with their “questions people ask”!  With questions like “is the mint chip minty?” and “what kind of bread does the ice cream sandwich come with?” it makes you wonder if people really did ask those questions!

Mendocino is definitely a charming little town full of little boutiques and art galleries.  Stop by one of their many fudge shops for a snack.  And for a real hidden gem, stop by the Garden Bakery for their pastries, in particular the apple turnover, which was so yummy and not too sweet.  It’s tucked away in a little alley with a small garden seating area.

We ended our night and our stay with dinner and beer tasting at the North Coast Brewing Co.  The food is nothing to rave about and if you must order food, stick to the fish and chips.  They’re known for their craft beers and their tasting was worth it, $15 for 12 different 4 oz beers.  It was certainly a good end to a relaxing trip!

We took it easy in Mendocino but one can easily fill an entire weekend with activities there.  The Botanical garden is highly recommended and dog friendly.  There’s numerous hiking trails, whale watching trips, and wineries in nearby Anderson Valley too.  The best part about it for me was that it was so dog friendly there.  Most of the hotels and B&B’s allow pets and with the abundance of trails, we were able to keep our dog happy as well.

Here are the details of all the places we visited, which are all recommended:

Cafe Beaujolais – 961 Ukiah St, Mendocino

Frankies – 44951 Ukiah St, Mendocino

Garden Bakery – 10450 Lansing St, Mendocino

Eggheads – 326 North Main St, Fort Bragg

Headlands Coffeehouse – 120 East Laurel St, Fort Bragg

North Coast Brewing Co – 455 North Main St, Fort Bragg

Glass Beach – 320 East Oak St, Fort Bragg

MacKerricher State Park – 24100 MacKerricher Park Rd, Fort Bragg

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TGIF! I’m so excited because I’ll be spending this weekend in La Jolla visiting friends.  I’ve been to this lovely village twice before but this time I’ll be looking forward to just catching up with friends and relaxing.  Most people tend to visit La Jolla as a day trip from San Diego but there’s plenty to do there to make it a nice weekend getaway destination.

Featured Travel Idea: La Jolla


 top: harbor seals, grande colonial*, 7 caves kayaking

middle: panda*, la jolla cove*, la jolla shores surfing

bottom: sea world*, geisel library, mt soledad

La Jolla exudes the typical beach culture you’d expect to find in Southern California.  Sun, surf, and seals! Head to La Jolla Shores and spend your morning trying to catch waves.  If you’re new to the sport, sign up for a class at the Surf Diva, known as the #1 surf school for women.  Or you can try your hand at paddle boarding.  Make sure to stop by their shop and pick up some fun beach attire.  If you’re like me and prefer to stay relatively dry, then go on the original La Jolla Kayak tour and explore La Jolla’s Seven Caves and Underwater Park.  After an active morning, go for a stroll and head to La Jolla Coves for a picturesque view of the coastline.  Then continue on to Children’s Beach for a look at the harbor seals, just don’t get too close!  Head to Prospect Street for lunch and window shopping, stopping along to admire the beautiful architecture of the Grande Colonial Hotel nearby.  For something “off the beaten path”, drive to the University of California, San Diego campus in La Jolla and visit the Geisel Library, named in honor of Theodore Geisel or more famously known as Dr. Seuss.  The campus is beautiful and you’ll be amazed by the unique architecture of the library.  Finally, take a scenic drive up Mount Soledad, past the million dollar homes, and enjoy a panoramic sunset view.

Do you guys have any recommendations for me? I’ll fill you guys in on any fun things I do when I get back!

*pictures taken by me

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I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving!  I know that I’m a little late with this week’s travel inspiration and I can give you all plenty of excuses but frankly I’ve just been enjoying my extra long weekend and spending some quality time with the hubs and the pooch.

So the holidays are officially upon us and nothing evokes the festive feelings than family and food.  What better way to strengthen family ties over the holidays than to take a trip together to a charming farm property where the whole family can partake in culinary activities while breathing in the fresh mountain air.  This week’s travel idea was inspired by Blackberry Farm, an intimate luxurious boutique property nestled in the western foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.  Although there is plenty to do on the property, it would be a shame to travel all the way to Eastern Tennessee without visiting the famous mountain ridge.

Featured Travel Idea: Great Smoky Mountains


 top: blackberry farm, blackberry dining, heritage center

middle: blackberry farm, smoky sunset, fly-fishing, pumpkins

bottom: hill cottages, cades cove, sheep, market square

Book a stay at Blackberry Farm during one of their culinary events, like the Delicious Decadence event on December 4-7th and watch a cooking demonstration by the famous pastry chef, Francois Payard.  Even if you can’t make it to one of their events, you can still participate in various culinary activities like their “A Day in the Life of a Chef”.  Or you can get down to the basics and help out around the farm, learn all about gardening from the master gardener, or spend some time with the shepherds.  The whole family will enjoy seeing how the food they eat is grown, harvested and prepared.  All this emphasis on farm-to-table and artisanal preparation means that dining at Blackberry Farm is nothing short of fantastic so make sure you savor the exceptional cuisine there.

Venture out of the property by hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Walk on part of the historic Appalachian Trail or bike in Cades Cove, a historic settlement from the 1800s that is open for exploration.  Try your hand at fly-fishing at one of the numerous trout streams.  You can take a beginner’s class at the Little River Outfitters or book a wading trip with R & R Fly Fishing.  When you need to take a break from all the outdoor activities, visit the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center.  Both kids and adults will enjoy learning about Native American life through interactive exhibits and detailed displays.  Finally, head to nearby Knoxville and stroll through Market Square, taking in the historic buildings, shops, and festivals.

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We’re back to our regularly schedule Friday date night!  And what a night it was! I had been wanting to go to Frances forever and finally got my chance.  The restaurant is so popular I had to book the reservation a month in advance and even then could only get a 9:30pm table.  But it was worth it!

Even though Frances is a one-michelin starred restaurant, the price range is still reasonable and the atmosphere is casual and unpretentious.  The restaurant is small and you end up sitting really close to the other customers so this is not the place if you want some privacy.  The service however is great.  We arrived at the restaurant 20 minutes early and they seated us right away.  The host was really friendly and attentive, as was our waiter, who even made a point to tell us not to feel pressured to drink all of the wine.  Frances sells their own blend of house red and white wine, which they sell at a $1 an ounce.  They bring out a carafe of it and you only pay what you pour.  Even without the waiter’s urging though, the hubs and I found ourselves finishing it, $16 for 4 small glasses of wine, not too shabby.

To start, we ordered two bouchees (bites in French), the applewood smoked bacon beignets and the grilled local calamari.  The beignets were wonderful.  It was savory with a very strong bacon flavor and served with creme fraiche and chives.  The calamari dish was a good balance to the beignet.  It was grilled perfectly and tasted really fresh.  The hubs ordered the five dot ranch bavette steak and I had the caramelized atlantic scallops.  The hubs thought the steak was cooked perfectly (medium rare) and extremely tasty.  The scallops were also delicious.  My only gripe with the dish was that there were only two, albeit very large, scallops.  The portions are on the smaller side but you’ll be fine if you also order an appetizer.  Or you can request bread, as I did.  Frances doesn’t automatically bring bread to the table as most restaurants do, but they do have it available if you ask for it, and you should since it’s Acme bread!

To cap off the evening, we ordered the brown butter ‘friand’ cake with roasted warren pears, huckleberries, and creme fraiche.  A friand is similar to a financier, a small french teacake, which actually reminded me of a madeleine.  It was delicious!  As an example of how good their service is, the table next to hours ordered the friand cake before us but the waiter mistakenly served it to us first (oops) so the restaurant gave them a small plate of chocolates and an extra dessert!  Man, I wish they mistakenly give our dessert away!

Frances is a MUST try, but just make sure you make a reservation in advance, it’s popular!

Frances

3870 17th Street, between Pond and Noe St.

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This week’s travel idea was inspired by the recent NYC marathon.  Watching it on TV reminded me of when I ran the race a few years ago.  Back then I was pretty active in signing up for races all over the city.  While it was great challenging myself physically, what I loved most about those races was the ability to go places I’ve never been before.  The NYC marathon winds through all five boroughs and took me through neighborhoods that I never even knew about.  I think that for those who love to run, a marathon-cation is truly an epic way to experience a city.  There are numerous marathons that give you an up-close-and-personal experience of the location, like the Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and Disney World (!) marathons.  But I’m sure that one of the most scenic would be the Big Sur Marathon that happens in the Spring.  While the marathon is already full, there are numerous smaller races that you can still sign up for.  What could be more wonderful than spending half a day running along the beautiful Pacific Coastline and then spending the rest of the weekend wining and dining in nearby Carmel?

Featured Travel Idea: Carmel-by-the-Sea

 top: chateau julien, la bicyclette, carmel mission

middle: l’auberge carmel, big sur marathon, mission ranch

bottom: carmel beach, point lobos state reserve, downtown carmel

First off, book a stay at the L’Auberge Carmel, a beautiful boutique hotel that looks like it was plucked straight from the French countryside.  As luck would have it, Voyage Prive is having a flash sale on the hotel in a few days so you may score a great deal!  The race is on Sunday so you may want to take it easy before then.  Go for a leisurely walk on Carmel Beach, one of the most serene and scenic beaches on the Pacific Coast.  Then visit the Carmel Mission and stroll through the poppy gardens.  Or head to charming downtown Carmel where you can shop, eat, and browse art galleries.  You’ll want to fortify for the big race tomorrow so have a delicious dinner at Casanova or La Bicyclette, two restaurants that are known for great food and great atmosphere.  After the race, why not unwind with some wine tasting at Chateau Julien Wine Estate.  Travelzoo also happens to have a great deal that includes wine tasting for 2, a bottle of wine and appetizers, all for $25*.  Cap off the weekend with a visit to the historic Mission Ranch for dinner and music.  If you’re lucky, you may even see Clint Eastwood there.

*disclaimer: I am not in any way affiliated with these discount websites, I just enjoy spreading the word on good deals!

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Last week I heard on the radio that Charleston earned top honors in the 2011 Conde Nast Reader’s Choice Awards.  It was voted the #1 city to visit in the U.S., beating out San Francisco, which has held the top spot for several years running.  Now I may be biased since I now call San Francisco home, but I feel that this city is truly a wonderful city that has a diversity that can appeal to everyone.  I read that ultimately it came down to friendliness with Charleston snagging 90%  versus San Francisco’s 67%.  I guess I can see that travelers would prefer good old fashion Southern charm to our panhandling hippies!  Nonetheless, let’s see what else this city has to offer.

Featured Travel Idea: Charleston, SC


top: bacon cornbread, fried green tomatoes, pork trotters

middle: folly beach, audubon swamp garden, ravenel bridge

bottom: shrimp and grits, fried chicken, oatmeal cream pie

Charleston is one of the top culinary cities in the South.  With a plethora of award winning chefs, fresh ingredients, and a multitude of cultural influences, it’s likely you’d be eating your way out of this city.  Situated in the heart of Low Country, the city is known for fresh seafood like shrimp and oysters, and down home southern cuisine.  Have a craving for seafood? Eat at Pearlz Oyster Bar for what else, oysters or head to Bowen’s Island for their Frogmore Stew which has shrimp, corn on the cob, sausage, and potatoes.  Want to try Low Country cuisine? You can’t go wrong with Jestine’s Kitchen or Virginia’s on King.  If you could try only one southern dish (the horror!), then it must be shrimp and grits, and Hominy Grill’s the place for it.  Serious foodies will love the fresh, local ingredients featured at Husk and FIG.  Whew, with all that food, you’ll want to stay active for the rest of the trip.  Take a leisurely jog, yes I said jog, through historic downtown Charleston towards the water and end at White Point Gardens for a breather.  Oh, you want something less tiring? Take any number of self-guided walking tours, in particular try the Charleston Museum Mile tour for a little bit of culture, good scenery, and historic sites.  Or wander through the cobblestone streets South of Broad and admire the well preserved stately antebellum homes.  Visit the Magnolia Plantation for a glimpse into 19th century plantation life and nearby Audubon Swamp Gardens, the oldest public garden in America.  Go see the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge by bike and enjoy the terrific views at the top.  Finally, spend an afternoon at Folly Beach and kayak, paddle board, surf, or tan to your heart’s content.  Yeah…I’m still not sure whether Charleston deserves the top vote though, I guess I’ll have to visit 😉 !

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