A weekend in Santa Ynez Valley, CA

Santa Ynez Valley is a picturesque destination, known for its rolling hills dappled with vineyards, western-style storefronts, and the iconic Danish-style architecture in the town of Solvang. Ronald Reagan, Dolly Parton, and Fess Parker, who played Davy Crocket, have all had homes in this region. Fess Parker loved it so much he even created an inn and vineyard that you can visit today. Pioneers developed the land around a stagecoach stop in the mid 19th century, and much of the feel still has elements of the rustic early settlement. The scenic valley of roughly 20,000 residents is known for its agriculture (mostly wine), horse ranches, and friendly people. It is also the setting for the comedy, Sideways, which I recommend watching!  Located just over the mountain range from Santa Barbara and two hours north of Los Angeles. Santa Ynez has many wineries, boutiques, restaurants and galleries to make it a relaxing weekend getaway. 

Situated between the sloping hills of the Santa Ynez Mountains and San Rafael Mountains, the Santa Ynez Valley has six charming towns: Solvang, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Buellton, Ballard and Los Alamos.  All with their own distinct character. But please be warned these are small. 

When to go: I would recommend going in the springtime, after the rainy season, when the landscape is lush, green and abundant.

Where to stay: You can not go wrong staying in any of the villages, although both Solvang and Los Olivos have quaint downtowns that are fun to walk around. There is something to be said for staying in Solvang to avoid the midday crowds. I went on a girls trip, and we were able to actually rent a historical house that was part of Mattei’s Tavern (an original tavern from when it was a stagecoach stop) in Los Olivos!

Friday:

If you are coming from southern California, I recommend getting dinner en route at Cold Spring Tavern (5995 Stagecoach Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105). This mountainside Western saloon, will remind you of the true west. For those who would like to stretch their legs before dinner, there is a one mile hike to the abandoned Knapp’s Castle ( parking can be found roughly at 3880 E Camino Cielo Santa Barbara, CA 93105). It’s a great spot to see the sunset through the stone arches of the original structure. The trail is completely downhill on the way there, so be prepared for the uphill on the way back. 

Saturday: Wine tasting

I recommend starting your morning with breakfast at the Corner House Cafe (2902 San Marcos Ave, Los Olivos, CA 93441) in Los Olivos. For those with a sweet tooth, the local favorite God’s Country Provisions Donut Shop sells their donuts in the tower next door on the weekends. 

After your breakfast, walk around the small downtown for a little bit before starting your wine tasting with a “chaser” of cupcakes at Saarloos and Sons Winery (2971 Grand Ave, Los Olivos, CA 93441). The family owned winery frequently names and labels their wine after ancestors.. You may get the opportunity to meet snarky, yet family-oriented son #1, Keith, who will share a bit about his elders that he honors in all actions he takes.

We had planned on spending the day wine tasting at different vineyards but ended up spending the whole time at our first stop, Demetria Estates (6701 Foxen Canyon Road, Los Olivos, CA 93441). We packed a picnic to eat outside at Demetria’s which resembles a Greek villa. The Greek-American owners named the vineyard and their daughter after the Greek goddess of harvest, Demeter. We had a local, Raymond (805-757-2342, ~$25/ hour) drive us around and give us the oral history of all the vineyards and the region in general.

After wine tasting we had a suburb dinner on the patio at S.Y. Kitchen (1110 Faraday St, Santa Ynez, CA 93460). They have a great farm to table italian food and cocktails. 

For those who aren’t quite ready for the party to end, consider a nightcap at country western, Maverick Saloon (3687 Sagunto St, Santa Ynez, CA 93460).

Sunday: Solvang, a Danish village

Spend Sunday morning walking around the Danish village of Solvang. Danish-American’s moved west in the early 20th century to avoid the long midwestern winters and created this village. Start with a hearty breakfast from Paula’s Pancake House. Enjoy window shopping, the many small boutiques, year round christmas stores, and art galleries. For those with a sweet tooth grab a danish pastry to go! 

If you are looking for more weekends away, check out my weekend itinerary for Santa Barbara, San Diego, Napa Valley, and San Luis Obispo.

A weekend in Napa Valley, CA

The rolling hills of Napa Valley have become synonymous with images of culinary excellence and award-winning wine. Much to many Francophiles’ surprise, the area was put on the global wine map when two local vineyards won in a blind taste test at the “Paris Wine Tasting of 1976.” Napa Valley is now best known for its dry red wines, the most popular of which is Cabernet Sauvignon but Merlot, Pinot Noir and even Chardonnay have received high praise. (If you are more interested in vineyards producing white wine, check out the neighboring laid back Sonoma Valley.)  I consider the Napa Valley region as the apex of “rural chic” and the culture is still steeped in its agricultural history. Napa Valley is an hour drive north from San Francisco and it makes for a great weekend getaway.

Situated between the sloping hills of the Vaca and Mayacamas mountains, Napa Valley includes five cities: Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, Calistoga, and lesser known American Canyon. The region stretches for over 30 miles from north to south, and be prepared to have up to a 40 minute drive between destinations. Napa Valley can get expensive. Tastings at inexpensive vineyards start at around $35, and seeing multiple vineyards in a day can add up. Please note: I enjoy wine, but I am not a sommelier, so my itinerary is focused on a positive experience rather than as a wine critique! Pace yourself both physically and financially and remember to hydrate, as the area is known for hot temperatures and drinking all day can cause dehydration.

I enjoy watching movies and reading books about a place before I visit. For Napa, I recommend watching movies such as Wine Country, Bottle Shock, or the oldie but goodie, The Parent Trap. A few of Dean Koontz’s novels are set in Napa, but I would recommend The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty by Julia Flynn Silor.

When to go: I would recommend going in the spring-time, after the rainy season, when the landscape is lush, green and abundant. Autumn and winter are also often good times. I would be wary of going in the summer, as Napa gets very hot and temperatures can go above 100 degrees.

Where to stay: I love staying in downtown Yountville, as it has a quaint downtown and walking around the center is always fun. I have previously stayed at Maison Fleurie, A Four Sisters Inn, and really enjoyed the ambiance.

Friday: Dinner in Napa

The Restaurant, Allegria, has seating inside the old bank vault.

Get a reservation for dinner at Allegria (1026 1st St, Napa, CA), an upscale italian restaurant in a historic bank landmark, built in 1916. Take a stroll through Napa’s downtown after dinner. Please be aware that much of the town shuts down earlier in the evening, since most tourists spend the day sampling wine.

Saturday: Wine tasting

Start your morning with a pastry and coffee from Bouchon Bakery (6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599), in the middle of the quaint downtown section of Yountville.

Drive up to Calistoga, and start your day at Sterling Vineyards (1111 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga, CA 94515).  This has the only aerial tram in Napa Valley and offers cascading views of the area. By the late afternoon, the tram can get hot and crowded, so I recommend starting here.

A tranquil Chinese garden and serene Jade Lake were added to the ascetic appeal of the already beautiful Chateaux Montelena by a Chinese- American family during the roughly two decades that the estate took a hiatus from wine making and was a private home. Do not miss walking the grounds at this vineyard!

Next stop is Chateau Montelena Winery (1429 Tubbs Ln, Calistoga, CA 94515) this beautiful 19th century chateau and vineyard was put on the world vintner map when the Chardonnay won the “Judgement of Paris” wine competition in 1976. The movie, Bottle Shock, is a fictionalized depiction of this new world victory! 

After visiting two vineyards get a late picnic lunch at V. Sattui (1111 White Ln, St Helena, CA 94574). You can pick up some food from the store and sit outside at many of the park benches. After lunch, you could continue on with winery tours, but I would recommend regrouping at your hotel and window-shopping the quaint shops in downtown Yountville. 

For dinner consider the French restaurant, Bouchon Bistro (6534 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599). For those who are looking to burn through some serious cash, French Laundry (6640 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599) is a delicious 9 course prefix experience ($310/per person). Located in an unassuming stone farmhouse, this restaurant is repeatedly listed among the top restaurants in the world and received 3 stars in the Michelin guide. 

For those who still have the energy, consider an after dinner drink at Restoration Hardware (6725 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599) which is open until 10:00PM.

Sunday: Hot Air Balloon ride and Oxbow Public Market

For those who are not afraid of heights, start your morning very early with a memorable sunrise hot air balloon ride provided by Napa Valley Balloon, Inc (4086 Byway East, Napa, CA 94558). This could be missed for those who want to sleep in and save some money. Prices run roughly in the low $200’s per guest. 

Try a grab and go brunch at Oxbow Public Market (610 1st St, Napa, CA 94559) before heading home for a weekend well spent (in more than one way) in Napa Valley!

If you are looking for more weekends away, check out my weekend itinerary for Santa Barbara, San Diego, Santa Ynez Valley and San Luis Obispo.

5 Seaside Getaways from San Francisco, CA

  1. Sausalito, CA

This artists’ village is just off the Golden Gate Bridge in upscale Marin County. Most of the small city offers a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Richardson Bay, and many houseboats in the bay. It’s a popular day-trip destination, with sheer cliffs and a rugged shoreline dotted with trails and villages. Personally, Sausalito reminds me of the Pacific version of the Amalfi Coast! You can use this as a jumping-off point for many of the nearby hikes such as Mount Tamalpais (“Mt. Tam”), the leisurely Tennessee Valley Trail, and Alamere Falls. Spend some time checking out the many galleries, stores and restaurants. Any trip to Sausalito, I love perusing handmade dinnerware at Heath Ceramics (400 Gate 5 Rd, Sausalito, CA 94965)

  1. Carmel, CA

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a small beach city on the Monterey Peninsula, two hours south of San Francisco. Historically a Bohemian artists’ village, Carmel-by-the-Sea has been home to many famous people such as Doris Day, John Madden, Ansel Adams, and John Steinbeck. Clint Eastwood was not only a resident, he was elected Mayor of Carmel. This picturesque city of less than 4,000 residents features unique homes including many cottages with minute detailing valued in the millions because of the location. One house which we viewed was decorated with heart-shaped cut-outs decorating the picket fence, the shingles, and gracefully furbishing the interior decorative trim. The lush gardens roll into each other in ever flowing bloom. This is worth a day-trip for a coastal walk and a stroll around the interesting shops, restaurants, and homes.  For a more in depth itinerary check out A Day in… Carmel, Ca!

  1. Santa Cruz Mountains and Capitola, CA

The Santa Cruz Mountains are dappled with houses among wooded forest and many trails to hike. Skip the honky tonk in Santa Cruz proper, and instead head to Capitola Village. Capitola Village developed as a seaside resort when the Soquel Mountains were a thriving location of the lumber industry.  The small downtown area is worth a stroll to look at the Soquel Canal, and iconic Capitola Venetian with it’s brightly colored guest suites. There is a beautiful and brief (10 minute) pedestrian walk along the Soquel Creek. One hour south of San Francisco, the Santa Cruz Mountains are great to slow down and enjoy the serene nature that California has to offer. For a more in depth itinerary check out A Day… in the Santa Cruz Mountains & Soquel Cove!

  1. Half Moon Bay
Part of the walk Coastal Walk near Moss Beach, CA

Half Moon Bay is a charming seaside town approximately 45 minutes south of San Francisco. I enjoy the beautiful Coastal Trail, which is about 11 miles of leisurely coast side walking roads with beautiful waterfront views. The Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay offers free parking for the public who would like to visit the beach. Walk all the way north to Cypress Ave on Moss Beach and back. I enjoy grabbing a beer from Half Moon Bay Brewing company in Princeton Harbor. When the pandemic ends, watch the sunset with a glass of wine and dinner over the fire pit at Moss Beach Distillery, situated on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Beware: Moss Beach Distillery is supposed to be haunted by the ghost of the “Blue Lady”. 

Please note: On the coastal trail, Princeton Harbor does not have a trail and you will have to walk on the streets.

  1. Tomales Bay
Outdoor seating at Hog Island Oyster in Marshall, CA

Road trip along east coast of Tomales Bay. From San Francisco our first stop on Route 1 was Point Reyes Station, the small town which developed around a (now) bygone railroad station. The whole town reminds me of the “Wild West”, with mostly country roads surrounding it. The town prides itself on local produce, agriculture, and organic food. We bought lunch at Cowgirl Creamery in the picturesque Tomales Bay Foods, which has been renovated from an old hay barn. The tiny town has Bovine Bakery, which is worth a delicious pastry! The area has a Farmers Market on Saturday Mornings. Second stop on our coastal road trip is Hog Island Oyster (Marshall, Ca), to relax and shuck your own oysters. It is surprisingly a lot harder than I thought! We brought our CowGirl Creamery picnic here. We spent quite a bit of time relaxing and enjoying the views. Last stop on our road trip was: Nick’s Cove, with renovated historic seaside cottages and restaurant. We ended our road trip here for a glass of wine and a little snack. The beautiful Point Reyes National Seashore is a great day getaway that is often overlooked. The natural landscape also provides many options for hikers, bikers and beach side day trippers. Next time I make it up there, I am going to try to bike!

Cheers to your summer getaways!

A weekend getaway to San Luis Obispo, CA

San Luis Obispo (or SLO for short), is a small city in California’s Central Coast. SLO’s location makes it a popular and manageable weekend getaway for Los Angelenos and San Franciscans alike, as it’s 3 hours from LA and 3.5 hours from San Francisco. SLO was originally developed around the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, a 300 year old Spanish mission with a museum. It is known for its rich history and as the location of Cal Poly SLO, but is a Central Coast gem that can be enjoyed at any age!

Accomodations: Definitely the most iconic stay would be in the eccentric pink Madonna Inn (100 Madonna Rd), it seems like a hotel that you would find in Las Vegas 30 years ago… You can also find accommodations on airbnb or booking.com. 

SLO was a great location for a low key Bachelorette weekend or romantic getaway.

Friday night:

If you are able to arrive a little early, Wolff Vineyards stays open for sunset views. Otherwise arrive and check into your accommodations and get settled. 

Saturday:

Hike the Bishop’s Peak, which takes about two hours. 

Enjoy a well-deserved brunch at Mint + Craft (848 Monterey St); they have small outdoor seating in a pedestrian alley.

Avila Beach

After brunch relax at Avila Beach. Avila Beach paddleboard and other sports offers first come first serve kayaks and paddleboards. If you remain for sunset, Pierfront (480 Front St, Avila Beach, CA 93424) Mr. Rick’s (404 Front St, Avila Beach, CA 93424) and Ocean Grill (268 Front St, Avila Beach, CA 93424) offer great sunset views. For those who are not beach goers, the Paso Robles region offers an abundance of wineries that you can check out. 

The outdoor patio of NOVO. (c) Arizona Foothills Magazine

Get dinner at Novo (726 Higuera St), the restaurant is walking distance to all the bars downtown. They have a beautiful tiered outdoor seating, which overlooks the San Luis Obispo Creek. You can hear the faint sound of the stream and birds while dining. It’s dining in a real life upscale rainforest cafe! Try to get a reservation for outdoor seating in advance.

Sunday:

Luna Red in the evening. (c) The Wedding Spot

Start your meandering day off with  brunch at Luna Red (1023 Chorro St), they have a peaceful outdoor patio seating. The restaurant is located next to the Mission San Luis Obispo de Toloso, which is worth an hour to check out. Spend the rest of your time window shopping the quaint downtown, don’t forget to walk down the infamous bubblegum alley.

Head back home after a relaxing weekend getaway in SLO!

If you are looking for more weekends away, check out my weekend itinerary for Santa Barbara, San Diego, Napa Valley, and Santa Ynez Valley.

A day in…Carmel, CA

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a small beach city on the Monterey Peninsula, two hours south of San Francisco. Historically a Bohemian artists village, Carmel-by-the-Sea has been home to many famous people such as Doris Day, John Madden, Ansel Adams, and John Steinbeck. Clint Eastwood was not only a resident, he was elected Mayor of Carmel. The picturesque city of less than 4,000 residents features unique homes including many cottages with minute detailing valued in the millions because of the location. One house which we viewed was decorated with heart-shaped cut-outs decorating the picket fence, the shingles, and gracefully furbishing the interior decorative trim. The luscious gardens rolled into each other in everflowing bloom.

Timing: We happened to visit Carmel during the Concours d’Elegance (“Competition of Elegance”), an annual event in which illustrious cars are displayed and judged.  The event provided an interesting car (and people) watching all around town. My brother, a gearhead, was definitely jealous, I could tell the color of a car but I knew nothing about make or model. The Concours is normally the second week in August. 

If you like exploring the bay area in day trips, check out my “A Day in” itineraries for the Santa Cruz Mountains, Oakland, Berkeley, and the Mission District.

Addresses: Please note that much of Carmel is a grid system, so most businesses use cross streets instead of a number. 

When I explore a new neighborhood I enjoy exercise, learning about the local culture, and then taking time to replenish and often indulge in some food and drink. Here is how to spend one day in the picturesque Carmel, California:

Morning:

Start your morning at the Carmel Mission Basilica. This is the final resting place of St.Junípero Serra, who founded the first 9 of the 21 Spanish missions in California. You won’t need more than an hour to enjoy this peaceful and well kept historic site. The mission boasts housing the first library of California which started with only 30 volumes in 1778. Those first books and accompanying Franciscan sherpa’s came north from Mexico City’s San Fernando Apostolic College. Many of the original books are far older than the mission itself, having been printed in Spain, probably in the early 18th century and travelled to Mexico and then on to the mission in what was then called “Alta California”. 

After learning about California’s rich mission history of “El Camino Real” (English: “The Royal Road”), enjoy brunch at the nearby Mission Ranch Restaurant. Despite the name the farm is unaffiliated with the mission itself. The restored farmhouse serves as a restaurant and inn. Clint Eastwood owns the 22 acre estate that has views of Point Lobos State Nature Reserve, the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Lucia Mountains. On Sunday’s Mission Ranch offers a jazz brunch. Make sure to take a stroll on the property to see the sheep grazing. If the weather permits, try to sit outside. 

The view of Carmel Riverstate Beach.

Burn off your brunch with a walk along the coastal trail between Carmel River State Beach and Carmel Beach. This should be less than two miles, but feel free to turn back at any point. This is also a great car ride. This seaside walk passes many historic houses, don’t miss any of the beautiful detailing on the houses, for modern lovers there is a Frank Lloyd Wright original. The houses mostly remind me of childhood fairytales with abundant beds of flowers, whimsical architecture, and ornate detailing. 

Afternoon:

Drive or walk back into the downtown of Carmel.  Enjoy walking through the shopping district, with many boutiques and smaller locally owned businesses. Carmel-by-the-Sea’s downtown is an outpost for specialty stores: tasting rooms of local Monterey County vineyards, cheese shops, and small bakeries and restaurants. Established in 1899, The Carmel Bakery (Ocean Avenue, Suite 203), is the oldest commercial building in the town. The original owner even lived in an apartment above the bakery! There is a reason this small bakery has been in business for over 100 years: it offers delicious pastries and suburb sandwiches daily. 

Rub elbows with various vintners while sampling local wines at one of the small tasting rooms.  Most of the shops, like most of Carmel-by-the-Sea, are dog friendly. Three tasting rooms that will not disappoint are: Albatross Ridge Tasting Room (Dolores Street between Ocean and 6th Avenue), Caraccioli Cellars (7393 Dolores Street), or Scheid Vineyard Tasting Rooms (San Carlos Street and 7th Avenue). My favorite is the combined art gallery and tasting room, Scratch Wines Tasting Room (Dolores between Ocean and 7th Avenue). It is female-owner by a UCLA alumni, my alma mater! There is also The Cheese Shop (Ocean and Juniper), with its fun selection of cheeses, olives, and wine. For those who would like to sit down in a quaint lunch spot, Tuckbox (Dolores Street between Ocean and 7th Avenue), housed in a 1927 cottage offers tea and snacks. 

I usually am exhausted at this point in the day, so I would recommend relaxing at your accommodation or down at the beach. 

Late Afternoon:

Spend about an hour and a half before dinner to enjoy a joy ride on the famous 17 Mile Road. While the entrance ticket seems like a rip off; the houses are extravagant, the sunset views are magnificent, and it hosts the ‘golf capital of the world’, Pebble Beach.  On this path is the well-esteemed Pebble Beach Resorts which has hosted the U.S. Open six times. Pebble Beach Resorts has a small visitor center, which is worth the visit to learn the history of the iconic golf course. I would recommend getting a sunset drink at one of Pebble Beach’s sundrenched restaurants that offer outdoor seating: The Bench or Stillwater Cafe. At both, you should expect steep prices and affluent clientele. 

Evening:

For dinner there are many options: Forge in the Forest (Junipero Street and 5th Avenue); order tapas and enjoy live music at Terry’s Lounge at Cypress Inn (Lincoln St and 7th Avenue); if you enjoy farm-to-table asian fusion with a piano bar, Affina (6th and San Carlos Street) is the place to go. Both Treehouse Cafe and Vesuvius offer rooftop dining. Treehouse offers a global menu while Vesuvius (owned by Chef Pepe, who owns the Carmel Bakery) has great italian fare.

While Carmel is not known for their nightlife, you could venture to get a cocktail at one of the rooftop lounges: Vesuvius or Starlight Rooftop Lounge (6th Ave), or get some live music at Barmel which sometimes turns into a dance party. 

A Day in…Oakland, CA!

The once gritty downtown Oakland, has seen a revitalizing in the past couple years to make it one of the hippest areas to hang out in.

Oakland, a melting pot of all cultures. The birthplace of the Black Panther Movement. At one time or another, home to writers Gertrude Stein and Jack London. Continually labeled the Brooklyn of the West, Oakland has been rapidly gentrified with a notable infusion of hipsters and young professionals. Older buildings are being refurbished buildings, as former car dealerships are now breweries, ageing warehouses become art halls, and movie theaters become school and music venues. With far more space than neighboring San Francisco, you can spread out figuratively and literally. While this is only a one day recommended visit, you could easily spend a weekend or more in Oakland itself or throughout the East Bay.

If you like exploring the bay area in day trips, check out my “A Day in” itineraries for the Santa Cruz Mountains, Carmel, Berkeley, and the Mission District.

Timing: I recommend checking out Oakland on one of the first Fridays of the Month, when the city hosts “First Friday” events. An alternative would be to time your visit for a show at one of the famous theaters.

View of San Francisco from the Port of Oakland. The city is still a hub for freight shipments, and the iconic cranes are seen in the harbor.

Getting there: The best mode of transport in and out of Oakland is by the ferry, which provides beautiful views. The last ferry leaves at 9:25 PM. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train system is an accessible and reliable alternative.

Novels and movies set in Oakland: The Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel There, There by Tommy Orange won praise for its urban Native American narrative, mostly set in Oakland. Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon is set in a record store located on the main thoroughfare which runs through Oakland and Berkeley. Movies include Fruitvale Station, a tragic biographical drama about the shooting of a young black man by BART police at Oakland’s Fruitvale Station. Blindspotting and Moneyball are also set in Oakland and are popular movies.

Morning: 

Start your day in the northern sections of Oakland before making your way to the waterfront. 

Enjoy breakfast at Rockridge Cafe, a local diner which was established in 1973. I recommend the ricotta pancakes or the challot bread french toast. If you don’t feel like a sit down meal, Beauty’s Bagel Shop in Temescal will do the trick.

Take your time to window shop the quaint neighborhood of Rockridge and the trendy Temescal area. Temescal, originally a town in its own right, is now part of the larger Oakland.  Both neighborhoods are mostly residential with small commercial districts, and are worth the walk-around. Rockridge is home to Market Hall Foods, with many specialty foods and free samples. For coffee lovers, get a cup from Highwire Coffee Roasters. The local public library is one of the few locations where you can actually borrow tools.  Don’t miss Temescal Alley, the hipster epicenter, complete with artists’ spaces, trendy restaurants and a crowd-funded ice cream store. Self-designed tattoos and shaved hair are popular among the crowd here.

Mountain View Cemetery provides cascading views of Oakland and San Francisco (when it’s not foggy.) 

After window shopping make your way to Mountain View (5492 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618 )…cemetery and the adjacent Church of the Chimes. Mountain View Cemetery was designed by Frank Law Olmstead who also created New York City’s Central Park. The cemetary’s “millionaire row” features crypts of “Merritt” of Lake Merritt, “Folger” of Folgers coffee, and “Ghirardelli” of Ghirardelli chocolate. Among the famous artists and California politicians there are many! Every second Saturday there are docent led tours at 10:00AM. There are clear maps and guides to the cemetery at the office.

Church of the Chimes was designed by Julia Morgan who also designed Hearst Castle. If you are looking through the crematorium (photographed above) make a stop at John Hookers’ grave where visitors have left guitar pics on it.

Afternoon:


Take a walk down Piedmont Avenue. Don’t miss old school, Fenton’s Creamery (4226 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA 94611), which was featured in the movie Up. Stop for lunch at Home Room (400 40th St, Oakland, CA 94609) where I recommend their specialty dish, garlic mac n cheese with bacon and bread crumbs. In the alternative, you may want to try Burma Superstar for Burmese food or for pizza lovers you can backtrack to Pizzaiolo.

Continue your walk and burn off those luncheon calories around the picturesque Lake Merritt. If you’ve done enough walking, as I had, rent a Lime scooter for an hour to scoot around the lake. The walkway includes the beautiful Pergola, a Bonsai Garden, and Lake Chalet with its accompanying gondola. On the perimeter, you will notice the iconic Grand Lake Theater, the innovatively-designed Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland Scottish Rite Center, and the Camron-Stanford House.  Many buildings reflect Oakland’s rich history, while the ultra-modern Cathedral of Christ the Light and renovated Grand Lake Theater suggest the city’s resurgence. After your tour, you can relax with a leisurely glass of wine and a dozen oysters during happy hour at Lake Chalet (1520 Lakeside Dr, Oakland, CA 94612). 

Your walk towards downtown and the waterfront will become increasingly more congested. As it becomes more urban, you will see refurbished, multi-purpose buildings that cater to the growing arts, music, and restaurant scenes.

Evening:

For evening festivities, choose among First Friday’s festival, pub-hopping, or a show at the Fox Theater!

Option 1: I would recommend going to Oakland during one of the First Friday events, which typically run from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM along Telegraph Street between 27th and 22nd Streets, and includes food, music and artists. 

Option 2: For those who enjoy the pub scene and favor a relaxed environment, check out one or more of the many bars on Oakland Ale Trail (the full interactive map can be found here): Beer Revolution (464 3rd St, Oakland, CA 94607), Roses’ Taproom (4930 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609), Double Standard (2424 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94612), and Drake’s Dealership (2325 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612) all have a variety of brews on tap and the last two have great outdoor seating. My female friends and I favored the decor and the vibe at Roses’ Taphouse the most. Cap your visit off with dinner at Mockingbird (416 13th St, Oakland, CA 94612).  It is known for their brunch, but their dinner offerings are also superb. I enjoyed the simple pleasures of a burger and fries, but the menu has much more to offer. 

Option 3: Another evening alternative would be to watch a show or concert at the iconic Fox Oakland Theater or the Paramount Theater. The Fox was constructed in 1928 with a Middle Eastern and Indian inspired architectural look. The Fox eventually fell into disrepair and closed in the 1960s. In 2009, the Fox Oakland Theater reopened after a $75 million restoration project. Its glamour has been restored and it’s now a charter school, music venue and restaurant.

A huge thank you to Denny for giving me all the tips on your vibrant neighborhood! Another thank you to Sarah, Allison, Laurie. Sean, Meghan, Alex, and Alyx for all your suggestions!

If you are looking for other neighborhood guides in the Bay area, check out my guides to Berkeley and the Mission District.

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A day in…the Mission District!

The Mission District is named after the historic Missión San Francisco de Asís and the adjacent Basilica, known colloquially as “Mission Dolores.” In more recent times, the neighborhood has been a hip Latino neighborhood, known for its art, music and food scene. While gentrification has changed the vibe of some sections, such as Valencia Street and the neighborhood surrounding Mission Dolores Park, much of the southeastern neighborhood still holds roots as a working-class Latino enclave. While this guide is mostly focused on the Mission neighborhood, I include a stop in the Castro District with an evening restaurant option there. 

If you like exploring the bay area in day trips, check out my “A Day in” itineraries for Carmel, Oakland, Berkeley, and the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Morning: 

The ornate Basilica in Missión San Francisco de Asís.

Start your morning off with a coffee to go at Four Barrel Coffee (375 Valencia St).

Take a look at  the Missión San Francisco de Asís and adjacent Basilica at the corner of 16th and Dolores Streets. The Mission, founded in 1776, is named after St Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order.  The Mission church, which is the smaller white adobe building next to the basilica, was dedicated in 1791. It is said to be the oldest intact building in San Francisco, having survived the 1906 earthquake while the neighborhood buildings burned down. The Mission includes historical information about the Native Americans Ohlones, who inhabited the coastal areas around San Francisco and who were evangelized. 

Walk three blocks to Tartine Bakery (600 Guerrero Street.) for pastries. Enjoy your treat at Mission Dolores Park while people-watching and taking in the views of the city.

Afternoon:

Window-shop down trendy Valencia Street. There is a striking contrast between Valencia Street and Mission Street which caters to the traditional Spanish speaking population in the surrounding environs. 

A yummy burrito from Farolito; you can split with a friend!

Try a tasty burrito from Farolito (2779 Mission Street) for lunch. Don’t forget cash because they are cash only. Another good burrito place is Taqueria La Cumbre (515 Valencia Street) and for any empanadas lovers I would recommend Venga (443 Valencia Street). 

To work off the burrito head down 24th Street to Precita Eyes Muralists (2981 24th Street), a nonprofit organization promoting positive community change through artistic expression. Pick up a $5 map of the murals in the neighborhood and learn more about the meaning behind the artwork (most are deeply-rooted in ideals of social justice.) A significant number of the murals are around Balmy Alley, Clarion Alley, and the Women’s Building (3543 18th Street). Continue on 24th Street until Potrero Street then come back and take a right up Mission Street. 

While mural-viewing, stop for a margarita with a view of the city at El Techo, (2516 Mission Street). They have a reasonable-priced happy hour from 4-6 PM on weekdays.

Epic “Maestrapeace” mural at the Women’s Building. This portion of the mural depicts Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Guatemalan human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Finish your mural tour at the “Maestrapeace” on the Women’s Building (3543 18th Street) or continue on to Clarion Alley. Walk to the Castro to see the LGBTQ epicenter of San Francisco. Indulge your sweet tooth with a treat from Hot Cookie (407 Castro Street). Spend some time walking around and get a chuckle out of the cleverly-named storefronts. 

Evening: Dinner and a movie! 

The iconic Castro Theater

Choose between Castro Theater, Alamo Drafthouse or Foreign Cinema!

Option 1: Grab a seat at the iconic Castro Theater for a movie and grab some post-movie grub at either the nautical Woodhouse Fish Comp or stylish Fin Town. For those musically inclined, the Castro Theater does sing alongs to Disney Movies and even movies like Bohemian Rhapsody. They even provide small goody bags! More information can be found on the Castro Theater website (castrotheatre.com/singalongs.html).

Option 2: Go to the Alamo Drafthouse for dinner and a movie (reserve tickets in advance to guarantee good seating.) 

Option 3: Have dinner at Foreign Cinema, a restaurant which has a cool vibe, where you can sit outside and watch old black and white movies while you dine, or try the indoor ambiance of the building with its high ceilings with movies projected onto the wall (make a reservation, evening seating on a first-come first-serve basis; bar seating can be limited).

A huge thank you to Jamie for giving me all the tips on your vibrant neighborhood! Another thank you to Sarah for testing everything out with me!

If you are looking for other neighborhood guides in the Bay area, check out my guides to Berkeley and Oakland.

A day in…Berkeley, CA

U.C. Berkeley is associated with political activism and it gave birth to the Free Speech Movement, the Center for Independent Living (providing accessibility for people with disabilities), and environmentalism.

A day in Berkeley, California can be an exhilarating college town experience replete with interesting walks,  good food, and a taste of post-war political history. Any tour would have to include the acclaimed University of California at Berkeley campus (known as “Cal” to sports fans) as the college dominates the city. 

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Morning:

Start your day in the quaint Elmwood section of Berkeley. Enjoy breakfast at Bakers and Commons (2900 College Ave). Window shop through the main College Avenue area. Don’t miss Mrs. Dalloway’s Books (the store has a robust collection of gardening books) and Goorin Bros Hat Shop, or bring out your inner candy-loving child at Sweet Dreams Candy and Boutique. 

Incense for sale at bohemian giftshop, Annapurna on Telegraph Ave.

Walk northwest to the quintessentially grungy Telegraph Avenue. If you are interested in learning about Berkeley history you can download this interactive app. You can envision remainders of the anti-establishment Beat Generation which still linger along this street, along with social problems such as homelessness.

UC Berkeley has a free self-guided audio tour (PDF, Website) for a stroll through the campus.  Personal favorites are the iconic Sather Gate, the North Building, the Campile Tower (you can ride up it for $4), the Hearst Memorial Building, the Doe Memorial Library and the T-Rex. 

Take a coffee break and absorb the campus vibe at Caffe Strada or the Free Speech Movement Cafe, both of which are Cal students’ favorites. 

Afternoon: 

For those who want to accelerate their heart rate: you can walk one mile uphill from Normandy Village (photo above) to Rose Garden and then another mile to the Indian Rock Park and take in some interesting sights. 

From the campus, head north to the aptly named apartment complex, Normandy Village.

From Normandy Village take the 67 Bus to Indian Rock Park (which provides a view of the East Bay and San Francisco – or just the fog.) From there, walk one mile downhill to the Rose Garden (there is a tunnel to the cement slide, which is equally fun for adults and children.)

Evening: 

I would recommend Jupiter, a gastropub which provides live music. For the foodies, Chez Panisse caters to an upscale market (you can also get dessert and a glass of wine on the second floor). Comal is a great Mexican restaurant (fun fact it is owned by the former manager of the band Phish). If you go to the left you will be in the less-expensive taco section. 

The iconic Landmark’s California Theater.

Berkeley has an abundance of theaters: UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), provides free screenings during the summer. Within the downtown there are a number of cinemas (Landmark’s California Theater, BAMPFA, and Regal UA Berkeley) and theatrical performance locales (Berkeley Repertory Theater, California Shakespeare Theater, and Shotgun Players). The Greek Theater is beautiful (with great views of the city) and frequently has live concerts. 

A personal architectural favorite is the Berkeley City Club designed by Julia Morgan. You have to ring the bell to enter, just mention that you are on vacation and want to look around. They have a small “museum” dedicated to Julia Morgan, who also designed the Hearst Castle.

There are farmers markets at various Berkeley locations on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. For those who like to shop, 4th St and San Pablo Ave (South of University Ave) provide a mix of both independent and large retailers. If you visit the west side, you should not miss a stroll through the Marina, nor sake tasting at Takara Sake. For hikers, Tilden Park provides beautiful views of the East Bay and, on good days, San Francisco. Those architecture lovers, note that Julia Morgan and Bernard Maybeck have left large footprints on the architecture around town. Sunday you can enjoy a dollar dog while watching horse racing at the Golden Gate Fields in Albany, just north of Berkeley (this could be complicated on public transit and is probably easiest via Uber.)

A huge thank you to Allison and Sean for showing me around their beautiful neighborhood. Another thank you to Shirin, Meghan, Alex, and Sarah for helping!

If you like exploring the bay area in day trips, check out my “A Day in” itineraries for Carmel, Oakland, Santa Cruz Mountains, and the Mission District.

An Ideal 3 Days in San Diego

San Diego, this vibrant coastal city with a laid back vibe allows for any traveler to have a relaxing escape. Don’t be surprised if you hear F18 aircrafts flying overhead because this city has a foundation as a military town. Whether you are a foodie, family of five, or college student on spring break San Diego has something for you. It offers canyons and peaks to hike, beaches to sunbathe or learn to surf at, and is home to many micro breweries to indulge in.  

Torrey Pines.

Friday: Brewery Tours

Enjoying a cold brew in Stone Brewery’s beer garden.

Start your day off with a self-guided brewery tour in Miramar, take an uber because those IPA’s are strong!  Miramar hosts Ballast point, Green Flash, Saint Archer, Ale Smith, 32 North, and the glute-friendly Duck Foot.

Soak up some of the hops with lunch from the hole in the wall, Punjabi Tandor. A personal favorite is chicken tikka masala and the garlic naan.

Entrance of Stone Brewery at night.

In the evening enjoy happy hour and sunset at subscale Vintana in Escondido. Then end your day of breweries with dinner in the lush beer garden at Stone Brewery.

Saturday: Coastal Adventures in chic seaside community of La Jolla

Cafe Caroline in La Jolla Shores.

Start your day off with a low key breakfast at Café Caroline on top of a UCSD Oceanography building in La Jolla Shore. Get a morning coastal hike in at Torrey Pines. La Jolla Cove is known for good kayaking if you would prefer a water sport.

Rocks along the beach at Torrey Pines.

Grab a well earned lunch at Puesto in La Jolla Village. You can’t go wrong with any of the crispy cheese tacos and their rotating seasonal guacamole. Take some time enjoying the sunshine and water in La Jolla Cove.

Make it to a quaint early dinner and/or happy hour at Herringbone La Jolla.

Evening options: Little Italy for gelato or nightlife and a speakeasy if you are into it in the Gaslamp district

Sunday: Coronado and Balboa Park

Brunch at Coronado’s Clayton’s.

Get breakfast at Clayton’s Diner or Leroy’s on Coronado. Despite being called “Coronado Island” this section of San Diego is actually a man-made peninsula, and home to a Naval Base. Walk to Hotel Del Coronado (known locally “Hotel Del”) for some sunbathing.

Drive to Balboa Park and enjoy one of the many cultural exhibits (San Diego Museum of Art, Japanese Tea Garden, Rose Garden, Air and Space Museum, etc.) Get a lunch at Cucina Urbana in Bankers Hill, all of their pizza and pasta is phenomenal. They also host a seasonal 9 course Beast Feast.

Enjoying a walk through Balboa Park with friends.

Enjoy dinner and nightly Mariachi performances in Old Towne. Old Towne is the location of the Mission San Diego de Alcála, by which the city is named after. I recommend Casa Guadalajara, with its vibrant decorations and price conscious happy hour deals.

Mariachi display in Olde Town.

Evening options: the alternative from the night before either Little Italy for gelato or nightlife in the Gaslamp district.