A female-owned day in Barrio Logan, San Diego!

I was first drawn to Barrio Logan by photos (and I will admit they were instagram photos) of beautiful murals depicting indigenous deities, famous Chicanos, and local activists. I spent an afternoon in Barrio Logan and was surprised to see how many Female Owned businesses made up the business portion of the community. Known for grassroots activism and good food, this makes for a great three hours excursion.

While the area is geographically expansive, a large part of the area is either family homes or industrial warehouses. The business district featuring shops, restaurants and galleries are roughly one mile from start to end. The resilient community of Chicano Americans, has been empowered through grassroots organizing for years. Barrio Logan is home to over 30 women owned businesses and I want to celebrate them. Please note: there are a few businesses that are female owned but not Chicana owned, and this article is only featuring the Chicana ladies!

When to go: Since COVID has hit the small business, local businesses started “Walk the Block” every Saturday from 12-6:00PM. Festival includes cute dimpled kids selling horchata similar to I, a gringa from suburbia, used to sell lemonade. Expect to see low rider cards, fun music and artistically designed jean jackets. Mask wearing and social distancing are mandatory. 

Por Vida Collective

Start your afternoon off at Por Vida Collective coffee shop (2146 Logan Ave), which opened in 2015 by owners Carolina Santana and Milo Lorenzana. On Thursday’s they host a food drive for those in need in the community. Their cups feature local artists with imagery of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Roses, tattoo style artwork. While the main space is a coffee shop they host book talks, readings and other creative events. 

Chicano Park

With your cup of coffee head to Chicano Park and take in all the murals. There are over 70 murals in this park. The area has been home to Mexican-Americans since the 1910’s and many Mexicans fled during the Revolution of 1910. In the 1950’s the city rezoned the area to be industrial. You can see the remnants of that with warehouses, supply stores, and some by the dockside warehouse even feature barbed wire fences. The city again took land to create a highway and the on ramp to the Coronado Bridge, in reparations for the 5,000 lost homes, the city had promised to create a park for the locals. When locals saw they were planning to bulldoze the area to make way for a parking lot for the Highway Patrol, they occupied the park for 12 days until it was approved as a park! One of the early occupiers was third generation Barrio Logan resident Josephine Talamantez. She was 18 at the time, and went on to found (along with others) the Chicano Park Steering Committee, along with pushing it to National Registry in 2013 and National Historical Landmark in 2016. She is featured in some of the newer murals.

Female Owned Specialty Shops: Sew Loka, Copal y Tierra, Hola Swim

After Chicano Park, enjoy a santer down Logan Avenue. The Walk the Block runs between Chicano park and 26th, which is roughly half a mile. Shop some of the female owned stores such as Sew Loka (2113 Logan Ave), Copal y Tierra (2076 Logan Ave), Hola Swim (2159 Logan Ave) which features “day to night” bathing suits and was started by two lifelong local female friends. Sew Loka was started in 2013 by a Chicana “mompreneur” and fashion designer, Claudia Biezunski-Rordiguez, who creates one of a kind pieces of work. I love being able to see her workspace in the back of the brightly colored shop. Copal y Tierra, has cute art and jewelry along with candles and sage, and recently hosted a poetry night!

Las Cuatro Milpas

Grab tacos from Las Cuatro Milpas (1857 Logan Ave). There is a reason this restaurant has been around for 75 years. Owned by three sisters: Sofia, Dora and Margarita; who’s grandparents, Petra and Natividad Estudillo started the restaurant in 1933. Expect well worth it line at this well established joint. 

Mujeres Brew House

Walk the couple of blocks to Mujeres Brew House (1986 Julian Ave,), it shares its block with a bubblegum pink Baptist Church, and a converted bread factory that now serves as the Bread and Salt art gallery. Mujeres Brew House was started by two Chicana women who expressed their desire to break down barriers in the craft beers industry to support women and specifically BIPOC women into the beer scene! 

Chikita Cafe

End your day with a sweet and coffee from Chikita Cafe (1875 Newton Ave) for those who like a little sweet to accompany their artisan coffee drinks!

I gave up trying to give my tamagotchi alive…never mind my own small business. Cheers to all these Bad A$$ Babes!

A weekend getaway in San Antonio, Texas

Once a year (not in 2020) my girlfriends and I try to get together and meet somewhere for a long weekend in the United States. Between California (where they live) and New York we have done Chicago and we were looking for another “middle group”. We were debating between Austin and San Antonio, Texas. We ended up choosing San Antonio because we thought life would bring us to Austin in the future (bachelorette parties, friends moving there, etc). I won’t sugar coat it, while San Antonio was interesting to see, for an out of state visitor I think it would be better suited to be tacked on as an excursion from another trip, rather than a stand alone trip itself. 

The stand out part of San Antonio was how warm and inviting the people are. In other border cities there is often segregation between those of Mexican-American descent and those of European-American descent, this was one of the most congenial diversity that I have seen. All the locals were welcoming out of towners and quick to share their love for the history of their Texas Mexican Spanish ancestry.  

Accomodations: We stayed at an Airbnb in the Monte Vista section of San Antonio. It is always nice to stay in an area that locals live in. It is less touristy than the main downtown. We had the opportunity to explore Hotel Emma in Pearl Brewery, which looks fabulous if your budget can afford it. 

Friday:

Arrive and get settled into your accommodations. Grab some dinner at La Fonda on Main (2415 N Main Ave, San Antonio, TX 78212), a Tex-Mex restaurant with a quaint old school Mexican ambience. The Paramour (102 9th St #400, San Antonio, TX 78215) also offers great rooftop drinks for those who will make it into town before sunset.

Saturday:

Start your morning off at Commonwealth Coffee in Hemisfair Park. Hemisfair Park is the location of the 1968 World’s Fair. Talk a stroll through Yanaguana Gardens (which reminds me of a subdued version of Parc Guell in Barcelona, Spain).

“Yanaguana” means “refreshing water” by the indigenous Payaya people who inhabited the land before the Spanish came in 1718.

I recommend working your way to Mi Tierra Cafe in San Antonio Market Square, there is roughly one mile between Commonwealth Coffee and Mi Tierra Cafe. During this walk make your way through La Villita HIstoric Arts Village and the Riverwalk, passing by the Cathedral, City Hall, and Governor’s House.  

First stop after Yanaguana Gardens is to window shop the artesenary in La Villita Historic Arts Village. The area originally served as a Barracks for the Alamo, but now mostly supplements as a quaint shopping area, offering stores with local art, handmade jewelry, and souvenirs.

Continue on to the RiverWalk, sometimes referred to as “the American Venice”. 

The Riverwalk referred to as “American’s Venice”, reminds me a bit of Disney meets river, and it should because of the engineer, C.V. Wood who was contracted by the City of San Antonio to help with the riverwalk designs was also the engineer for Disney! Since then the riverwalk has seen much expansion, and some of my personal favorites of the walk are getting out of the retail area and a little more natural waterways in the neighboring communities. 

Make your way through the Riverwalk to San Fernando Cathedral also called the Cathedral of Our Lady of Candelaria and Guadalupe. The exterior is beautiful and often has multicolored lights displayed on it for different holidays and festivities. Behind the Cathedral is San Antonio City Hall followed by the Spanish Governor’s Palace.

Finally arrive at the San Antonio Market Square. In 1780 the King of Spain gave it to the settlers, now it offers festivals and numerous Mexican crafts and clothing stores. Get some breakfast at Mi Tierra Cafe y Panaderia (218 Produce Row, San Antonio, TX 78207), a Tex-Mex Bakery. 

After the Tex-Mex Bakery, head over to the Alamo (300 Alamo Plaza; San Antonio,Texas). The 1744 Alamo Mission, which later was the site of a devastating battle loss of the Texans fighting for independence from Mexico. Davy Crockett famously died here and became the name of the eponymous 1950’s miniseries. 

After the Alamo, head back to the riverwalk for a stop at Schilo’s (424 E Commerce St, San Antonio, TX 78205), a famous German deli with hearty sandwiches. 

You can choose to go home and refresh or continue exploring the city at this point. 

Evening: 

The Tower of the Americas in HemisFair Park is great for sunset, normally it costs $11 to go up, but is free if you get a drink or dessert at Chart House (739 E César E. Chávez Blvd, San Antonio, TX 78205). 

Alternative option: The Botanical Gardens often offer $60 Wine Down Saturday events, from 6:00PM-10:00PM.

We enjoyed live music and grub from the casual, Sam’s Burger Joint (330 E Grayson St, San Antonio, TX 78215). 

Sunday:

Start your morning with some breakfast tacos from La Gloria’s (100 E Grayson St, San Antonio, TX 78215). The outdoor patio offers great views of the river and quaint ambiance. Walk along the river to San Antonio Museum of Art which is free on Sunday from 10:00am-12:00pm and they provide Docent Led Gallery Talks from 11:00 -12:00 pm. 

After the museum, head over to Pearl Brewery, a converted 19th century brewery compound which now has shopping, food halls, and dining. On weekend mornings there is a farmers market.  On premise is the Southerleigh Fine Food and Brewery which is located in the Hotel Emma (136 E Grayson St, San Antonio, TX 78215), which offers upscale refurbished architecture and good food and drink.

Burn off your lunch with a long bike ride through King Williams Historic District and the San Antonio Missions. Start your bike ride at Blue Star Bikeshop (1414 S Alamo St). It is an 8 miles bike ride down to the last Mission Espada.  and then rent B-Bike (Bike rental) all the way up the Mission Reach Trail. Blue Star Brewery is on the trail and a great place to stop and get refreshments. It is worth the extra ten minutes to add a loop of the King Williams Historic District.The neighborhood was formerly an enclave for affluent german immigrants. Take your time to gawk at the grandior of the homes and mansions!

Head back to your accommodations and get ready to fly home. Cheers to a leisurely weekend in San Antonio.

A day in…Downtown Brooklyn

Brooklyn Borough Hall, formerly Brooklyn City Hall was built between 1834-1848, and did not include the ornate cupola until 1898. The architect, Gamaliel King was listed as a grocer until 1830 when he became a carpenter and architect. Quite the career change! 

Small businesses sandwiched amid older landmarked buildings, as new luxury developments outpace each other in this once gritty and tired neighborhood. Downtown Brooklyn is now a thriving neighborhood while still holding true to its original bustling community. 

Timing: I love downtown Brooklyn during the annual Atlantic Antic festival which is a street fair run by the Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corporation the first Sunday of October. Unfortunately it was cancelled this year because of COVID.

I would recommend reading or watching the movie, Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, which is set in Brooklyn in general and not specifically Downtown Brooklyn and centers on a female Irish Immigrant in the 1950’s. 

Morning: 

Start your morning with a coffee or specialty tea from Devoción (276 Livingston St), the high ceiling and lush plant life creates the perfect oasis from bustling Livingston St and surrounding Downtown Brooklyn. 

Saunter the 4.5 blocks to Brooklyn Tabernacle (17 Smith St), a megachurch with a Grammy Award winning Choir. The 250-voice choir even sang at Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration! The 1918 edifice started as a vaudeville Metropolitan Theater. Converted in 1978 into Loew’s movie theater which was defunct from 1996- 2000, and reopened in its current use (after extensive renovations) in 2002 as the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church. The euphonious Sunday services are at 9:00 AM, 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM. Expect the service to go at least an hour and a half. 

After church (or those that forgo the service) head to the Brooklyn Borough Hall Greenmarket or farmer’s market. Brooklyn Borough Hall was originally called “Brooklyn City Hall” before Brooklyn was annexed into the greater New York City. The land for Borough Hall and encompassing Cadman Plaza was donated by the prominent Pierrepont and Remsen families. Sample and buy some of the fresh cheese, produce and artisan breads. 

New York Transit Museum (99 Schermerhorn St), which tells the history of public transit in New York City. Nearby you will find Junior’s Cheesecake. The orange seats and tiled floors will take you back to the 1950’s when the restaurant was founded by Harry Rosen. For those not familiar with Junior’s, it’s praised as the best cheesecake in New York. 

Take a walk down the thriving Fulton Mall, a transit mall that was built in 1985. The area transitioned from stores selling fur coats to such stores as Footlocker, Macy’s and Nordstrom’s Rack. A couple architecture gems to look at on this stroll:

  • The Dime Savings Bank of New York (9 DeKalb Ave). The Greco-Roman architecture reminds me of our own Parthenon in Rome, tucked away at an angle on Dekalb Avenue. Built in 1908 by Mowbray and Uffinger,  the interior is even more awe inspiring than the exterior with Greek quarried marble. The site is currently in redevelopment for a 73-story residential tower. 
  • Abraham and Straus, started by Abraham Abraham (yes real name!) and Isidor Straus, who owned Macy’s with his brother. In 1885 Abraham and business partner at the time, Joseph Wechsler chose this site for their store. The store eventually merged with Straus Brothers owned R.H. Macy’s in 1895, although the name did not change until 1995. Straus and his wife also went down with the Titanic (along with another rich New Yorker, John Astor IV.) Eight buildings create this one block, while externally it shows the development of Downtown Brooklyn, internally the buildings connect with fluidity. In 2016 the top floors were sold to be used as co-working spaces.

Enjoy a stroll through the Brooklyn Civic Center, Cadman Plaza Park and Walt Whitman Park. Don’t miss the statue of Henry Ward Beecher, a famous abolitionist preacher and brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Abraham Lincoln were among those who heard this preacher speak at nearby Plymouth Church. 

Take a brief walk to the right to MetroTech Center, a business and technology section in Downtown Brooklyn. The late 20th century/early 21 century renewal project combined public-private partnership that resulted in a great deal of privately owned public space including the nation’s largest urban academic-industrial research park. 

NYU’s Wunsch Building (9 MetroTech Center), formerly the Bridge Street Methodist Church, dates back to 1847. Bridge Street Methodist Church was the first independent black church in Brooklyn, and was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Now it’s an office of undergraduate admissions for NYU Tandon School of Engineering. The building has been a historic landmark since 1981. Famous historical figures who orated at the Bridge Street Methodist Church include Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass!

For those who like to contrast old with new, take a quick look at the Cathedral Basilica of St. James (250 Cathedral Pl).

Head to DeKalb Market for dinner. The food reflects the diversity of the borough. There are fan favorites from Manhattan and some famous outposts of Brooklyn’s diverse culinary scene. Brooklyn staples such as Ample Hills Creamery (Prospect Heights ice cream establishment known for rich ice cream with unique flavors), Bunsmith (Crown Heights Korean style steamed bun restaurant), and BK Jani (Bushwick Pakistani kebab restaurant). You truly cannot go wrong with any of the vendors.

A fun alternative would be to get dinner and a movie at Alamo Drafthouse. They also have an adjacent speakeasy, The House of Wax (445 Albee Square W #4410). 

For those who want a nightcap, you will find The Circa Brewing Company (141 Lawrence St) and those looking for views will enjoy Kimoto Rooftop Restaurant and Garden Lounge (228 Duffield St), which offers some city views.

If you enjoy learning more about Brooklyn, consider checking out some of my A Day In itineraries in Crown Heights, Prospect Heights and Red Hook.

A (half) day in Bari, Italy

The port in Bari. You can see the Lungomare and walkable city wall above.

“Get in, get a meal, and get out.” Is what we heard about this port city, university town and Capital of the Apulia (or Puglia in English) region of Italy. For those who say Italy looks like a boot, this is the capital of the “heel” region. We were pleasantly surprised by Bari when we arrived and spent a half day exploring. The Adriatic waterfront area is beautiful, the weaving streets of the old city were jam packed with historic appeal while still being manageable in a short amount of time. Puglia was once a part of mankind’s first democracy as part of Magna Grecia (ancient Greece), and the region is seeping in history. Do spend the half day recovering from your travels by exploring this transit hub before spending quality time in the picturesque whitewashed mountain top villages, rolling countryside and seaside towns in the Puglia region.

Arrive into Bari and get settled into your accommodation. Bari, with a large train station for the trek West to East and also a large port offering many ferries on the Adriatic Sea, most tourists stop here as a point of transit onto other destinations. For us, we had international flights from the USA to Rome, and then took the train to Bari. From Bari we were renting a car and exploring the Puglia region and Matera in Basilicata. With all the travel we spent a night in Bari to calibrate to the timezone and get over some jetlag.

The two areas of Bari to explore in this half day are the Murat area, which is the modern and mostly shopping district and the old town, Bari Vecchia, which includes historical sights such as churches, a castle and the old city walls. 

Start your day by walking down the main pedestrian shopping street Via Sparano da Bari. Bari is the city where locals go to get their shopping done and the main pedestrian shopping street Via Sparano da Bari, offers many brands in case you forgot any items. They have Zara, H&M, and Sephora. Windowshop or pickup any forgotten items that you may need for your trip. Take a side track down Via Nicolò Putignani to look at the architecture on Teatro Petruzzelli (Corso Cavour, 12).

Making your way into the previously walled city or Bari Vecchia, the true highlight for me was walking the maze-like streets of the old town. Walk along the former walls of the city, Via Venezia, which overlooks the Adriatic Sea.  Do not miss the 11th century Basilica San Nicolas (Largo Abate Elia, 13). Some of the remains of St. Nick or the original Santa Claus are in the crypt, which makes this a pilgrimage destination for many Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians. The Bari Cathedral or Cathedral of San Sabino (Piazza dell’Odegitria) and Castello Normanno-Svevo (Via Pier l’Eremita, 25/b) originally built in 1132 are both worth a peek inside while exploring. Walk by the iconic pink Museo Teatro Margherita (Teatro Margherita, Piazza IV Novembre) which is situated on the waterfront.

 While we did not get a walking tour, there are many free (or on tip basis) walking tours of the city that may be worth your while to get an understanding of the history of the region. For those who are interested in art and have more time, the Pinacoteca Provinciale di Bari or Painting Gallery of Metropolitan City of Bari (Via Spalato, 19) provides a scenic respite from the hot sun.

Get some dinner at La Tana del Polpo (Strada Vallisa, 50), it has an iconic giant plastic octopus on the ceiling like spiderman. The local restaurant has great service, local wines and fabulous seafood. The great thing about this region is that it is large in agriculture and you can eat fresh local produce in all your meals.

 If interested in the region, here are some itineraries for Matera (in the neighboring Basilicata region), Locorotondo, and Martina Franca

A (half) day in…Locorotondo, Italy

The raised terraced gardens provide the support to the town of Locorotondo (“round place”), which seems to levitate above the flat countryside dappled with wild red and yellow flowers and trullis as you enter the area. Locorotondo, known nationally as one of the “Borghi più belli d’Italia” (one of the most beautiful villages), is a charming town that provides a wonderful site for a leisurely day in the Puglian sun.

Located in the Valle d’Itria (the Trulli Valley) or the ‘top of the heel’ of Italy, Locorotondo is conspicuously charming, with winding roads of white washed houses decorated with bright-red pots of geraniums and wisteria cascading over stone walls.The green and blue shutters provide a contrast to the white marbles and tanned buildings.

Start your day with a coffee from Caffe della Villa in the center of ‘Centro Storico’ and Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. See locals get their coffee while standing. 

The real joy of Locorotondo is leisurely wandering the streets. Take the afternoon exploring the alleyways in the center of town and take in the beautifully curated window boxes and terrace gardens. As a hilltop village, many of the streets offer panoramic vistas of the Trulli speckled countryside. Two such views are seen at gardens of Villa Comunale Giuseppe Garibaldi and also ironically named “Lungomare” (a road next to the sea..) on the adjacent Via Nardelli. 

Via C. Battisti offers one of the most beautiful (and photographed) views in the village

In the ‘Centro Storico’, don’t miss the chance to peek into three churches: Chiesa Madre di San Giorgio, Chiesa San Rocco and the Chiesa della Madonna della Greca. 

We had a lovely local menu of the day dinner at La Taverna del Du (Via Papatodero 3), which is tucked away in one of the side streets. The region is known for orecchiette, which was part of the pre-fix menu. Other fine dinner option are Bina Ristorante Di Puglia (via Dottor Recchia, 44-50) and U’Curdunn (Vía Dura 19) which were both recommended while we were traveling but we were unable to try. 

Cheers to a leisurely day in Locorotondo! 

If you are exploring the Southern region of Italy, check out my itineraries for the Martina Franca and Matera.

A weekend in Matera, Italy

‘Tragically beautiful’ Matera has gone from rags to riches over the past century.  Evacuated in the 1950’s for rampant poverty and disease; Matera was awarded the UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1993 and 2019 as the European Cultural Capital. 

While other cliffside towns are built on top of the deep ravine, the houses and entire sassi is built into and complementary to the preexisting caves.  With hundreds of years of layers placed in one building it is hard to differentiate when different additions were added. 

Matera has been inhabited since the Paleolithic time. In ancient times, cave-dwelling (not to be confused with cavemen) settlers moved into the tofu rock caverns of the steep ravine. During the Neolithic Revolution these early dwellers learned to breed animals and eventually became herders and farmers, which they remained until the 20th century. Eventually more people moved in and the community of cave-like dwellings became known as the Sassi (Italian for “the stones”). You may recognize it as the backdrop for Jesus walking with the cross in Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie, The Passion of the Christ

Having never had a ‘golden era’ for art and culture, Matera’s development has never been preserved in a time period. History has not been destroyed to glorify ornate palaces and city buildings stuck in time when the city flourished (such as Florence during the Renaissance and Venice in the Middle Ages). Therefore each house, or one could even say the city as a whole, has been continuously developed in a way mirroring the continuous human development. 

In the 1940’s Carlos Levy, physician, painter and author was sent to exile in the south of Italy for anti-Fascist sentiments. Shocked by the rampant malaria and cholera he described the region as “a schoolboy’s idea of Dante’s Inferno” in a book about his year in exile. This propelled Matera into the public eye as Italy’s “la vergogna nazionale” (‘Shame of the Nation’). Levy’s book can be compared to Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York which propelled the United States to create social reform nearly a half century before. 

Accommodation: We stayed in a carefully renovated, beautiful cave hotel called Corte San Pietro. I would recommend this distinct experience. If you want to read about a few of the other unique accommodation experiences in the south of Italy I wrote about it here: A Trulli, a Cave, and a Masseria oh my!

Getting there: this is the hardest part. Matera was a part of a week-long vacation in the Puglia region of Italy. We chose to take a train to Bari (so that we didn’t have to drive from Rome) and then rent a car. Renting a car is the easiest way to get around this region of Italy. There is a regional train that services Matera from Bari and runs everyday except Sundays. 

I would recommend reading Carlos Levy’s book ‘Cristo si è fermato a Eboli’ or Christ Stopped at Eboli, about his year in exile in the Basilicata region of Italy. 

My friend, Jen, from World On a Whim, recommended a ten day vacation to the Puglia region and Matera. We spent two nights and two days in Matera, and we felt that was the perfect amount of time. 

Friday: 

Arrive into Matera. No amount of scrolling through photos prepared me for the utter awe that I felt when I arrived at the top of the sassi and was blasted with 180 degree falling views of the ancient ravine. Definitely take some time to let it sink in. In our case, we were in a car and that minute went on too long and we were quickly interrupted with honking from a car behind us! Nothing like modern traffic to bring you back to present. Get settled into your accommodation and get dinner in the sassi for your first night. 

Saturday:

Start your morning in the new town at no frills Caffè Schiuma di Rocco Luigi Schiuma (Via T. Stigliani, 92). Spend a little bit of time walking around the Civic Center of the new town of Matera. I am recommending this, because I personally think it is interesting to see the more modern developed sections as a comparison to the Sassi. 

The Sassi is best explored on foot. The whole city is walkable, so definitely pack good shoes because the incline and roads have been smothered over from so many pedestrians. I would recommend starting at Casa Noha (Recinto Cavone, 9) for a foundation of the history of Matera. They have multimedia displays, large video projections on the walls, and you move from different rooms to make the exhibit a little more interactive. Spend a few hours walking around the two Sasso Barisano and the Sassi Caveoso. Sassi Brisano is where all the shops and hotels are, whereas Sassi Caveoso is mostly caves. Briefly check out the Church of Saint Mary of Idris (Via Madonna dell’Idris). Make your way to Cathedral of Saint Mary ‘della Bruna’ and Saint Eustace in the Piazza Duomo. This cathedral is the highest point in Matera and is the middle point between the two Sassis.

In the early evening, get into your car and head to sunset at Asceterio di Sant’Agnese (Contrada Murgia Timone, 75100) or Belvedere di Murgia Timone. We plugged this address into the GPS, but had to park a little away in a parking lot. Make sure to leave to get settled before sunset and explore the green area and the isolated caves in the area. 

Your accommodation should be able to recommend some restaurants based on your preferences. We ate at Da Zero (Via Madonna delle Virtù, 13) and loved the pizza. I would recommend getting an evening glass of wine at Enoteca Dai Tosi (Via Bruno Buozzi, 12) in one of the cozy alcoves. To enter you take a steep set of stairs into a cavernous interior that was a former cistern for drinking water. 

Sunday:

Get a coffee and pastry at Caffè Vergnano 1882 (Via del Corso, 78) then ONLY if you are as big of a nerd as I am, I would recommend going to Museo di Palazzo Lanfranchi (Piazetta Pascoli 1). The Palazzo itself is intriguing architecturally speaking. Yet, I truly went just to see Carlos Levy’s moving large installation portraying the poverty in the 20th century that led to his book. 

The museum is located in Belvedere di Piazza Giovanni Pascoli (Piazzetta Pascoli) which offers a wonderful view of the Sassi from the new town and should not be missed. Again, spend your day walking around the Sassi. I went to the La Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario (Vico Solitario, 11), which I realize is the 3rd museum in two days but I truly wanted to see what it would actually feel like to live here back in the 20th century.

Get a cocktail at Area 8 (Via Casalnuovo, 15) this area, which encompasses Enoteca Dai Tosi, can be very lively at night with college students and it’s great for people watching. 

Cheers to a great weekend in Matera!

If you are exploring the Southern region of Italy, check out my itineraries for the Locorotondo and Martina Franca.

Thank you to my friends Jen and Allison for being my travel companions! Check out Jen’s blog at worldonawhim.com

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.

A day in…Cambridge, MA!

The view of the Charles River (with the iconic Citgo sign in the background) from the MIT Sailing Pavilion.

Located just across the Charles River from Boston, Cambridge is easily accessible by public transit, with multiple stations on the MBTA’s red line and one station on the green line. As the home to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), Cambridge attracts many academics and hosts many high-tech companies.  It is the “City of Squares,” with cerebral Harvard Square, techie Kendall Square, yuppie Porter Square, eclectic Central Square, and trendy Inman Square. These are a few of the urban centers that encompass Cambridge’s bustling food and drink scene, not to mention small businesses, independent bookstores, and boutique shopping. Cambridge is a bastion of progressive politics and is very pedestrian and bicycle-friendly.  The city has become so popular, and the real estate so expensive, that it overflows into neighboring Somerville, and can be confusing at times when streets have the same names. Somerville offers a vibrant scene in its own Davis Square with restaurants and bars, live music, and independent movie houses. 

Morning: 

Breakfast: You may want to start your morning off with a quick stopover in Central Square. The area is gentrifying, as startups move into the square, and it has some interesting shops and ethnic restaurants along with stately City Hall and Post Office buildings.  An option for morning coffee would be a coffee to-go from the 1369 Coffee House at 757 Mass Ave and then walk down Mass Ave toward Flour Bakery at 190 Mass Ave, to get some delicious French pastries. If you would rather sit down for brunch I would recommend Cafe Luna at 612 Mass Ave, or try Zoe’s, a classic fifties diner, located at 1105 Mass Ave,  which offers a great, reasonably priced brunch. 

(c) Boston Globe’s 2019 photo of the Captain America Great Dome!

After breakfast, take a tour of the MIT campus, which is famous for its brainy students and also its daring architecture. The iconic Great Dome is reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome. It is known as “the center of the universe” by MIT students, and has been the site of many MIT student pranks over the years: http://hacks.mit.edu/Hacks/by_location/great_dome.html

Do not miss the audacious Stata Center building designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry and located at 32 Vassar St.

Afternoon:

Continue your day along the north bank of the Charles River to Harvard’s campus. Keep in mind that Cambridge is a very walkable city, and also has ample public transit. For those who enjoy a morning run, I would say this is one of the best routes in the Boston/Cambridge area, as you can enjoy the views of the river, the bridges and the boat houses along the way.

Photo of the John Weeks Footbridge during the Head of the Charles Regatta. The bridge connects Cambridge to Allston. Annually in October, the Charles River hosts the Head of the Charles Regatta for rowing, the largest two-day regatta in the world.

Upon your arrival in Harvard Square, grab a hot chocolate from L.A. Burdick at 52 Brattle St. and window-shop the boutiques in Harvard Square. There are many independent bookstores but my favorite is the Harvard Book Store at 1256 Mass Ave. Directly behind it is the quaint, Grolier Poetry Book Shop. As you enter the Harvard campus, you may want to join in a tourist tradition of rubbing the left show of the statue of John Harvard.  Harvard offers free student-led tours  from the Harvard University Visitor Center, in the Smith Campus Center.  See website:  https://www.harvard.edu/on-campus/visit-harvard/tours.  You can do a self-guided tour in which case you should buy a Harvard tour booklet for $3.00. Also available are privately-run guided tours with positive reviews: https://www.trademarktours.com/harvard-tour/

Evening:

For dinner there are many options. I will separate the restaurants by location. Mr. Bartley’s in Harvard Square is a casual and fun burger place. The walls are plastered with posters from college concerts and photos of celebrities who have dined there. The menu in this bustling restaurant is a political satire with such items as Brexit, Trump Tower, and Taxachusetts.  PARK Restaurant & Bar, Alden & Harlow, the Russell House Tavern, and Forage all provide good service and ambiance with a broad menu. Grendel’s Den is a student bar that offers half priced food for Happy Hour. (Massachusetts has some Puritanical laws that do not allow happy hour prices on alcohol.)

Inman Square and Kendall Square offer a variety of restaurants with good vibes and great cocktails. Inman Square has a Tiki-themed BBQ place, Highland Fried (1271 Cambridge St) or if you are craving upscale Mediterranean, Oleana (134 Hampshire St) is great!  To cap off the night with a sweet treat, I recommend going to Christina’s (1255 Cambridge St) for an ice cream and an evening stroll.  A personal favorite is the burlesque-themed tapas restaurant, Cuchi Cuchi, in Kendall Square.

Thank you to: Eli, Olga, Hannah and Chris for all your great suggestions. Especially Olga for taste testing our way through Cambridge starting with the bread at Bertucci’s back in 2005.

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…Crown Heights, BK

Crown Heights hosts the annual Labor Day Carnival celebrating Caribbean culture. I would recommend going during the day, because the evening can often get rowdy. Above: a fiery female dressed in the traditional Carribean Day clothing.

The neighborhood that made national news during the three-day racially charged Crown Heights Riot in 1991 is undergoing gentrification.  Historically, Crown Heights has been the home to a large population of Jewish residents, and the headquarters of the Lubavitch movement is located on Eastern Parkway.  Crown Heights also has a large population of African Americans and people from the West Indies, and it hosts the annual Labor Day Carnival celebrating Caribbean culture. 

The area is forever evolving and is becoming one of the hippest neighborhoods in Brooklyn. With gentrification, Crown Heights has seen much change over the last decade, including a thriving foodie scene on Franklin Avenue.  However, Crown Heights still has great spots that showcase its roots as a split community of African- and Carribean-American and Jewish cultures. 

If you like exploring different neighborhoods in NYC, check out my day itinerary in Red Hook.

Without further adieu here is your one day tour of Crown Heights: 

The tree-lined Eastern Parkway, is a great location for biking, walking, or running.

Start your morning off with a bagel from Bagel Pub at 775 Franklin Avenue. Then grab a coffee from either Breukelen Coffee House at 764 Franklin Avenue or Little Zelda’s at 728 Franklin Avenue. 

Spend the early morning checking out the Hunterfly Road Historic District in Weeksville Heritage Center. Weeksville was one of the largest free black communities. Slavery was abolished in NYC in 1827 but not nationally until 1865, so this enclave became a safe haven for freed men and runaway slaves. It is one of the few historically preserved areas for the African-American community from that time period. 

Beautiful Brooklyn Museum at 200 Eastern Parkway.

Continue your tour by taking a leisurely stroll among the Cherry trees and through the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden within the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens at 990 Washington Avenue at the edge of Prospect Park.  You may also enjoy a visit to the nearby Brooklyn Museum. Both of these call for a paid admission.

For lunch, try the tacos and a Margarita from Gueros at 605 Prospect Place. They also have great lemonade! 

The area became the outpost for Brooklyn architects such as Cohn Brothers, Parfitt Brothers, and Montrose Morris who designed many mega-houses. Don’t be surprised to see Tzitzits (Jewish garment with white strings hanging down, reminding practitioners to follow the Commandments and not their eyes or heart) being worn in the neighborhood.

After Gueros, take a self-guided architectural tour through South Crown Heights. You can see turn-of-the-century brownstones along tree-lined boulevards. Most of the real beauties are on President St between New York St and Kingston St.

After some cultural and historic intake, peruse the Anyone Comics store before trying a cocktail and a slice of pie from the female-owned bar, Butter and Scotch.

Crown Heights has much to offer on the food scene. Based on what you are craving I would recommend: Barboncino at 781 Franklin Avenue for pizza, Chavela’s at 736 Franklin Avenue for good Mexican food and ambiance with its Spanish-tiled bar and día de los muertos decor, or colorful Glady’s at 788 Franklin Avenue for some delicious Jerk Chicken (and a nod to the Caribbean community that unfortunately gentrification is slowly displacing). If you are with a big group and just want to hang out for a while, Berg’n Foodcourt at 899 Bergen Street is a fun place which provides a food court with many options.

There are many bars to enjoy either a laid-back beer or a well-crafted cocktail. Franklin Park, Mayfields, The Crown Inn, Covenhoven, and King Thai all offer libations. 

If you are into music, consider the Murmrr Theatre located on the third floor of a synagogue at 17 Eastern Parkway.  It is a great and interesting locale for a concert, although I’m not sure everything is up to Code. The Way Station (a Dr. Who-themed nerd bar at 683 Washington Street) and Friends and Lovers at 641 Classon Avenue regularly offer live music and may be worth checking out.

If you enjoy learning more about Brooklyn, consider checking out some of my A Day In itineraries in Red Hook, Prospect Heights and Downtown Brooklyn.

Thank you to my (current or former) Crown Heights locals for all their suggestions on how to enjoy their neighborhood! Andrew, Lauren, Laura, Adam, Tricia and Chris!