I like city driving; not freeways, but I can handle the Marin route out of San Francisco. So, I have made the trip to the Healdsburg area in Sonoma County three times in the last few months. Recently, for a birthday party at a lovely B & B called the Gipson Bed & Breakfast, owned by an old friend and his wife.
I had been to the same spot last summer for an epic 50th Russian Dacha birthday party, where many guests camped and a Russian BBQ ensued with a zip line, trampoline, bubbles, pool, jacuzzi and pogo-sticks for the big and little kids and of course shots of vodka and blinis for the hearty adults. This time it was for a five-year-old’s party, the daughter of my friends, the innkeepers.
Healdsburg lies at the crossroads of three of California’s most famous wine growing appellations: Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley and the Russian River Valley. It is surrounded by more than 60 wineries and is a favorite Sonoma Wine Country destination. Continue reading »
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We were invited to a friend’s cabin in Bear Valley, California a few weeks ago. It was the last weekend for skiing, with ideal spring skiing weather. It was so warm as we drove up I couldn’t quite imagine that I would be on the slopes the next day. We stopped for an early dinner on the way, in the town of Murphys, a cute gold town hotspot. We had yummy tacos on a balmy spring evening at Firewood café and soaked in the warmth of the early evening sun
The next day we did wind up downhill skiing at the family friendly Bear Valley Resort. It was the first time in 12 years for me, even though I cross country ski a lot, and the first time, ever, for my two boys. On the Sunday our hosts suggested a walk in the Redwoods. I had no idea they were so close! This spot is nestled between Gold Country and Mountain ski resorts; what an amazing destination! Then I found out that where we were staying was just a stone’s throw from one of the premier Redwood Forests in Northern California. I’ve lived in San Francisco for more than 15 years and I have only visited the Redwoods a handful of times, and not in a long while. It was awesome. Continue reading »
There is always a dilemma, do you spread the word about a great place or keep quiet so others don’t intrude. Well it’s too late for Marin County’s Tennessee Valley. Any given weekend will find hordes of joggers, hikers, seniors, horseback riders and families hiking the trails of this Bay Area gem.
Nestled in Tam Valley, a part of Mill Valley, this spot is easily accessible by San Franciscans and Marinites alike. Over the years we have taken hard core hikes with friends, leisurely walks with visitors from out of town and quickie visits to get fresh air and bask in the beautiful scenery. If I were a visitor from abroad or out of town, this would be a great day trip to get a flavor of the tremendous wealth of the Bay Area hiking scene. Continue reading »
You know you live in California when you can take your cross-country ski gear out for a whirl and then stop for a picnic of sushi. We were up in the mountains last week for Spring Break visiting my sister–in-law who lives in South Lake Tahoe. The weather was perfect; about 35 degrees and alternately sunny and snowy. Folks were cycling around Lake Tahoe in their shorts and we headed up to 8000 feet near Kirkwood to ski in full winter regalia; long underwear, ski pants, hats, gloves and tons of sun block. It was such a pleasant spring getaway. When I lived in France, the French always used to say how important it was to experience ‘Le Sport d’Hiver’ (winter sports) each year. Necessary, they used to say, for the constitution. Chapped, rosy cheeked and with huge appetites, my boys and I enjoyed a couple of yummy meals after a long day of skiing. Goodfellas pizza and Taqueria Jalisco were our favorite picks, recommended by my brother-in-law who was a chef in Hawaii before moving to the mountains. Continue reading »
Local Bay Area residents or visitors from out of town will love taking the family tide pooling at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve on a sunny day down the coast from San Francisco near Montara in San Mateo County. It is about a half hour drive from the city just a few miles north of Half Moon Bay. It can be crowded but the excitement in finding star fish, or sea stars as my five-year-old says they are now called, is immense.
Bring your water sandals and be prepared for some slippery rocks. Check the tides so you can be sure to have the best conditions for viewing. Harbor seals bask in the sun out on the rocks and kids and adults alike enjoy an up close and personal look at the sea life. You can see barnacles, sea stars, limpets, crabs, anemones, sponges and nudibranchs in the area sometimes called the Splash Zone. Continue reading »
Have you ever had Mandarin Islamic Chinese food? Did you know there are an estimated 20 million Muslims who live in China? These questions percolated as my taste buds marveled at the unusual combinations of lamb, cumin and other spice mixtures that seemed so new to me. I was first taken to Old Mandarin Islamic by a mom on my son’s soccer team. It was a rainy fall day and the boys and spectators were soaked and chilled. The hot pot beckoned, and I was up for an adventure. Way out in the Sunset district in San Francisco near the beach, this small hole in the wall offers not only a unique culinary experience but a geography and culture lesson in Chinese history. I returned this Sunday to pick up takeout and once again I was blown away. Signs in Arabic welcome the diners as well as the Chinese Sabado Gigante-esque/ quasi American idol show playing in the corner on the big screen TV. Familiar was the standard Chinese restaurant decorations, but unusual were the plaques with sayings from the Koran (I assume). Of course there is no pork on the menu and the lamb is Halal. It seems like the whole family is cooking in the back kitchen and you can see them in action as you traipse through to go to the restroom. The hot pot is a fun diner participation dish, much like fondue or Korean BBQ. Continue reading »
I love Mexican food, but sometimes all the rice and beans and heavy meat can weigh you down. Don’t get me wrong, I love burritos, but I have a hard time not finishing a whole one in a sitting, as much as I’d like to take half home for lunch the next day.
As an East Coast friend said when she first visited me in San Francisco in the early ’90s when our burritos arrived: “That looks like an infant.” She proceeded to place the wrapped burrito by her toned dancer’s belly and question how all that would fit in there. Miraculously it all fit!
Years later in New York City I saw advertisements for “San Francisco Mission Style” Burritos, which of course made me laugh having lived in or near the Mission for more than 15 years. So, my answer to the burrito baby syndrome was to order fish tacos; it seemed like a lighter choice. One of the first places, and to my mind one of the best in the city, is Papalote, a Mexican Grill on 24th street. When my first son was little we ate there once a week because I knew he would get a nutritious meal. The owner knows us well and has seen my son grown on his cooking. Now, my rice and bean aficionado goes to school a block away and we joke that it is because of his favorite restaurant. Don’t miss the fabulous house salsa; it’s a secret but I think it is made with pumpkin. Continue reading »
As rain pours down, I know the dry creeks and reservoirs, thirsty plants and animals are all happy, as are the avid skiers in Northern California. The slopes may be less crowded this year, but for many, even if the economy is taking a beating, the call of the snow is just too powerful.
I have skied downhill many times and do love the thrill, but have come to appreciate cross country skiing greatly, particularly since having kids. When they were young I pulled both my boys in sleds, wrapping them in blankets, like little Russian Princes, with snacks and toys in the sled. They both took naps while I, in a complete sweat, trudged through the glorious snow; I absolutely loved that feeling.
Now they are a bit older and are interested in skiing on their own. Recently, I read an online missive in one of my mom’s groups. The message linked to an article by Gigi Stahl about skiing with your preschooler or kindergartener and I thought it was quite helpful and funny. Continue reading »
Who wouldn’t want to hike a trail with such a reputation? Where might this place be? Favorite hikes of mine include Nepal’s Mt. Everest Base Camp and Kala Patthar trek via Namche Bazaar; the network of trails around Switzerland’s Lauterbrunnen Valley and Grindelwald; backpacking trails in California’s Marble Mountain Wilderness, the Sierra Nevada, and Yosemite.
I’ve been tempted by the Overland Track in Tasmania. But Robert D. Hershey Jr. extols the virtues of the Milford Track in New Zealand in a recent story in The New York Times. As far back as 1908 this 33.5-mile trail was called the finest walk in the world and many hikers feel it’s true today.
After reading Hershey’s story I’m ready to start planning a trip south. How about you?
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My friend’s birthday fell on Inauguration Day so she really wanted to celebrate this year for many reasons. The weather was so glorious and we were headed to this resort called Seascape in Aptos, California. Just a few minutes south of Santa Cruz, this lovely spot is a great respite from the frantic city life I call my existence.
Five moms were headed to this condo to celebrate our good friend’s momentous birthday. The trip started out like some AbFab meets Sex in the City moment with three of us in a Volvo in heels, driving down Highway 1 at 10 p.m. It was pitch black and we were jabbering away about the economy when I thought I heard a plane crashing (the USAIR flight crash landing on the Hudson River fresh in my mind). Turns out, the front tire blew. It was terrifying…. Continue reading »