Girls weekend in Santa Rosa

About a year ago Erin and I were planning a girls weekend in wine country when I realized that my grandma’s funeral was scheduled for the same weekend. Needless to say I would much rather have had a vacation than travelled to Kansas with a toddler for such a sad occasion. But I wouldn’t have missed saying goodbye to my grandmother, and so we had to reschedule. We finally got our trip pulled together, and it was so amazing!

I needed this trip so badly. Life is stressful and exhausting lately, and these trips (even the shortest ones) are so restorative. We got an airbnb guesthouse in Santa Rosa for a very reasonable price, and then we set aside some money for food and pampering. It really helps to have a best friend with experience as an event planner. I pretty much just had to show up and everything was ready to go.


The back yard where we stayed, complete with bubbling fountain.


This gorgeous Victorian was right across the street AND it had an Airstream. I am clearly living in the wrong place.

Our first food stop in the area was the Squeeze Inn in Napa. I have been wanting to try a Squeezeburger for ages! It’s basically a classic California burger topped with so much cheddar cheese that it forms a “cheese skirt” you have to peel off and eat. It was really good, and since I couldn’t finish mine I got to keep eating it all weekend.


Squeezeburgers.

That night we walked around downtown Santa Rosa and found this cute magician-themed ice cream shop. It was huge and very kid-friendly, the kind of place I wish we had in our neighborhood. I had a sundae made with sugar cookie ice cream that was as good as it sounds.

The next morning we decided to try the Naked Pig for breakfast. Thankfully, a friend had just posted on Facebook about going there, so I wanted to try it. I had to take this picture so that you could see how this farm-to-table restaurant is situated in the parking lot across from a garage. Kind of funny.

But oh man was this little place a winner. They have these homemade biscuits served with butter and honey that certainly rival any I’ve ever made. And although our food was pretty simple, you could tell they pay attention to every single ingredient. The bacon tasted like maple syrup and the tomatoes in Erin’s frittata looked just like the ones in my garden.

It was so good we actually went back for breakfast the next day. I had to try the bacon waffle, which was SO good. It was light and crispy and just crammed full of bacon.

After that we were ready for pampering. We got hour-long massages. I was so excited that the pillow arrangement allowed me to lay on my stomach. I haven’t done that in months! After that we got a taco lunch and picked up some beer from Russian River Brewing. None for me, but Erin and Mike are big fans.

Then it was onto more pampering! We got the world’s most affordable mani-pedis at Sea Spa. The older lady who did my toes was obsessed with my baby belly. By the end of the appointment she was giving me hugs.

After that we were feeling like we needed to get out and explore the outdoors a little. So we drove all the way out to the Sonoma coast. It was about 20 degrees cooler out there, with such a pretty view.

Then we decided to head back to Guerneville (note to self, stay in this cute area sometime!) to see the Armstrong Redwoods park. I had no idea this beautiful place was up there, but I will definitely be going back.

It has the perfect set of easy trails through an amazing redwood canopy. As soon as I get to a place like that, my blood pressure drops 20 points and I am just so restored.

After that very full day we wanted something good to eat. We had the hardest time deciding on a restaurant. At first we wanted Indian or Himalayan, but there are just so many restaurants to choose from. So somehow we landed on Belly, which is sort of a gastropub. We were able to walk there from our airbnb place and we got seated right away. They have a lot of small plates that are good for sharing so we went kind of crazy trying them all. And they were all so good I didn’t even take pictures.

We had chorizo with brussels sprouts, mac ‘n cheese with sun-dried tomatoes and spinach, a wedge salad and then the surprise of the night, corned beef tacos. We kind of rolled the dice on those, but they were so much better than anything I could have pictured. They kind of crisped the meat like carnitas, and then served it with a cream sauce and cabbage (St. Patrick’s Day alternative meal next year?). We actually didn’t even eat the guacamole it came with because the tacos were already so flavorful. After that we were in total bliss and about to burst. But then we saw the table next to us order this incredible looking chocolate mousse served on a wood slab with whipped cream and berries. So yeah, we had to have that too. We ended up taking so much food home.


When we got back, Harper couldn’t get enough of her “auntie Erin.”

All in all I’d say we crammed in just about as much enjoyable stuff as you possibly could in two days. And yet it still seemed incredibly relaxing. I cannot wait to do something like this again!

Bay Area fun for kids

I realized that my Bay Area travel guide really needed an update, so I added a whole bunch more restaurants and things to do and took off some that either closed or aren’t really hot spots for us. And because I know it’s a huge list, I still have my top 10 list so you can cut to the chase.


Mike and Harper at Codornices Park in Berkeley. This one has a cool hill slide and a tunnel to the Rose Garden. 

Now that we’re parents, though, we have a whole new perspective on travel and dining out. Most touristy places — well, let’s be honest, most everywhere in the Bay Area — can be crowded with long lines and inadequate parking. When you’re hauling around small children and all the stuff that goes with them, you want to make sure you’re going to be able to keep them entertained while finding things like clean bathrooms and high chairs. So, I wanted to put together a list of our favorite places to hang out with kids. When I first moved here I thought this wasn’t a particularly kid friendly place (more like dog friendly!) but now I realize that there are plenty of super fun places that cater to kids. You just have to find them. *When in doubt, search Red Tricycle.

Here are a few that are definitely worth checking out:

Steam trains and Little Farm. It’s a nice drive through the eucalyptus trees to reach Tilden Regional Park, which is up in the Berkeley hills. You can stop at one of the overlooks for a view of the whole bay. Then continue on to one of our favorite stops, the steam trains. It’s about a 10-minute ride through the woods in a cute little train. There’s a spot nearby where you can have a picnic in the grass.

You can also drive to the carousel and the Little Farm, where kids can feed farm animals. And there are some great hiking trails in the area. 

Children’s Fairyland. They call this Oakland’s storybook theme park, and I’d say that’s a perfect description. It’s full of tiny houses to explore, plus a train ride, puppet show and other performances. Bigger kids can go down slides and ride the carousel. 


Harper inside one of the little houses in Fairyland.

Lake Merritt. Fairyland is right next to gorgeous Lake Merritt, which has a great playground and nature center. Harper likes to watch the ducks and geese. There’s a huge lawn where you can have a picnic. 


Running near the playground at Lake Merritt.

Bay Area Discovery Museum. This place is much more than a museum. It’s like a theme park without all the schmaltz. Kids can explore different areas, inside and out, with climbing obstacles, water to splash in, musical instruments and a lot more.

It’s a little pricey, but the first Wednesday of the month is free! Plus, you can’t beat the Golden Gate Bridge view and the proximity to Sausalito and other fun things in Marin. 


The view from the parking lot at the discovery museum.

Treasure Island Flea. The last weekend of every month there’s a huge flea market on Treasure Island. It’s only $3 admission and kids under 12 are free. They have activities set up for kids and food trucks, where you can get a really yummy lunch. The market’s great, but it’s also just a fun place to hang out. 


Food trucks at the Treasure Island Flea.

Crissy Field and East Beach. Harper loves the water, so even if it’s freezing cold, we still have fun taking her to the beach. The one near Crissy Field is right in San Francisco and has great views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate bridge. It has a nice walking/bike trail and bathrooms nearby. 

She also loved the beach in Pescadero, which is a bit of a drive but a nice getaway. 

Lafayette Park playground. If you’re looking for a playground in the city, you’ll love the one at Lafayette Park. We went there for a birthday party and couldn’t believe how nice it was.  


The playground at Lafayette park.

Berkeley Marina/Cesar Chavez Park. When Harper was a baby, my moms group used to meet here to walk our strollers on the wide path through this waterfront park. People come to “kite hill” to fly kites here, which is fun to watch. Nearby at the marina there is a nice playground and then a big adventure playground for older kids.

I might do a separate list for kid-friendly restaurants, but there are a few places I can recommend. For breakfast, we love Mel’s Diner. They have a bunch of bay area locations (apparently these are different from the Mel’s Drive-Ins, which would also be good), which have kids menus, crayons and balloons. For Mexican food, the Talavera in Berkeley is great because it’s right next to a little park. For ice cream, we love Fentons in Oakland. You can get huge sundaes to share, and although there’s sometimes a line, you can usually get a table pretty quickly. 


Baby-size sundae at Fenton’s.

I will keep adding to this list as we discover new things!

Fort Bragg glass beach

At long last Mike and I got away for a toddler-free trip. We decided sort of last-minute to book a place in the Mendocino area. Since it was Valentine’s Day weekend, a lot of things were booked. But he had President’s Day off, so we went for a Sunday/Monday trip and a motel in Fort Bragg rather than pricier Mendocino.

My favorite part of the trip (other than the couples massage we splurged on), was this glass beach.

It basically runs along the coastline cliffs, where trash used to be dumped into the water. Now these beautiful pieces of colorful glass wash ashore in the little inlets.

We climbed down a sort of ridiculously unsafe hill to get to the beach (note to self: do not wear a dress and Toms for this activity!). But once there it was totally worth it.

The ground is just covered with glass pieces shimmering in the sunlight. And the view is spectacular. It’s one of those places you can’t believe is real.

Though the drive there along the PCH made me carsick, I am so glad we took this trip. It was instantly restorative to drive through some redwoods. We bought too many souvenirs at the Anderson Valley Brewing Company along the way and we shopped and lingered and did all the things we don’t normally do. We really want to take a similar trip to New Orleans, so after this I’m super motivated to make it happen.

Road trip: Napa Valley

Last weekend my dad and stepmom were visiting from Denver, so we decided to meet one of Bonnie’s friends at a winery near Calistoga. It made for a lovely road trip passing through several Napa Valley wineries during harvest season.

The winery we toured, Castello di Amorosa, is pretty spectacular and a little quirky. Though it’s newly built, the castle looks like something you’d find touring ancient properties in Europe.

Outside we were surprised to find goats and sheep running loose among the guests.

Harper loved all the animals, especially the chickens.

We were just cracking up watching these goats munch on grape vines, but apparently the grapes had already been picked so it was OK.

We would have liked to tour the wine caves and other parts of the castle, but we were on toddler time, so we went straight to the tasting. Harper got to color and drink grape juice while the adults tasted wines. I highly recommend this place if you need a kid friendly winery.

After that, we went to a really good restaurant in St. Helena called Archetype. Since it was brunch time, I ordered an omelet and bloody Mary, and everything was fantastic. A little pricey, but I would definitely come back.

We’ve done this kind of trip before (to the Coppola winery), so I’m thinking this could become a fun tradition.

Beach day in Pescadero

Last weekend we really needed a break from all the projects around the house, so we decided to get out of town and take a hike. Except that when we arrived at our starting point, Bean Hollow beach in Pescadero, we realized our hike was going to turn into a day at the beach. So we went with it. 

I knew that Harper, being the adventurous soul that she is, would want to go in the water. But I didn’t realize just how much she would like it, or how eager she would be to walk into some pretty strong waves. 

So we took turns holding her while the waves splashed over her little legs. She kept signing “more” over and over. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her do that for anything other than food. 

It’s a pretty long drive to Pescadero, but we really liked that beach. It seemed less crowded than most beaches around here, and it had lots of interesting rocks and birds. 

Mike even found a sea anemone. 

The people there seemed really friendly, too. One guy even came up and offered to take some pictures of Mike and Harper. He did a great job!

Afterward we drove to Santa Cruz and had dinner at Pizzeria Avanti. I was a little skeptical when we drove up to this worn strip mall, but the restaurant was nice inside and the food (artichokes, padron peppers, and a sausage pizza) were excellent. 

My sister is coming in less than two weeks and we’re already planning our next adventure to Big Sur!

Heading west

So back up about 4 weeks. 

My mom and I enjoyed an unseasonably cool week in Kansas (THANK GOD) while selling her stuff, packing and cleaning her house. But by the time we left Lawrence it was sweltering. We were not sad to leave 100+ degrees and 80 percent humidity, not at all.


Thankfully we had a full-on midwestern buffet at mom’s sendoff.

But after all that chaos the drive really was peaceful and beautiful.

I was heartened to see that wind energy has really taken off in unexpected (albeit incredibly windy places) like western Kansas and Wyoming. Wind farms made for spectacular sunsets.

Charlotte only wanted to be in one place: on the passenger’s lap. She’s a great traveling dog, just along for the ride.

We stopped in Denver to visit my sister, dad and stepmom. Wish I could have stayed longer, but not this time.


We kept remarking on how much taffy there was at truck stops. 

On day 2 we made it to Salt Lake City just as a storm threatened to make our drive a lot scarier. But instead of hitting us we just drove alongside the storm, which was really kind of cool.

The cheap hotel I picked was pretty awful, but had the benefit of making us leave extra early on day 3. We were so motivated to get home to Mike and Harper that we barreled through the salt flats (isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?) and arrived at home before Harper’s bedtime. 

It’s been a tough few weeks, but it was all worth it for moments like this. 

Road trips recap

I was just watching this show about fun not-so-touristy things to do in San Francisco (note to self: book sunset kayaking tour), and it made me think I should gather up all the posts I wrote about our road trips in California. Summer isn’t really the best time weather-wise here, so sometimes I forget that it’s still the main tourist season. But regardless of when you come, these are all road trips I would recommend taking at some point.

Close to San Francisco:

Angel Island
Take the ferry from Tiburon in Marin County for a day trip or overnight camping. Lots of history and beautiful views of the city, bay and bridges. 

Point Bonita Lighthouse and Crissy Field
Great places to escape the crowded city and take photos, especially at sunset. 

Rockaway Beach/Pacifica
Not far from the city you can really escape to this little beach on the ocean. 

Point Reyes
One of our favorite places to relax is Limantour Beach, and it is just one of many cool places to explore in Point Reyes.

Wine country:

Coppola Winery
Frances Ford Coppola’s winery is really worth a visit up north. It has a museum about his cinematic roots plus a swimming pool and restaurant. And of course, wine!

Sonoma
Napa’s less-snooty sister, Sonoma is a really relaxing getaway less than an hour from our house.

North of SF:

Bodega Bay and Eureka
Bodega Bay for fresh crab sandwiches and spectacular ocean views. Eureka for the Avenue of the Giants, which better be on your bucket list.

Reno/Lake Tahoe
Reno is much more than slot machines (wild horses!). Don’t miss the Awful Awful burger.

And Lake Tahoe is one pretty place I intend to visit much more.

South of SF:

Los Angeles
I loved LA much more than I expected to. The hipster food culture doesn’t hurt. And there’s so much to explore in all the different neighborhoods.

San Diego
One word: tacos. Actually two words: al pastor.

Catalina Island
This is a really beautiful side trip if you can swing it. Touristy, yes, but you can also escape the crowds and go for a hike.

Palm Springs
Palm Springs is hot as hell and super quirky, but we really loved it. Don’t miss the Ace Hotel and the crazy mountain tram.

Full-on nature:

Sequoia National Forest, part I and part II
Unfortunately, this trip always makes me think of being 8 weeks pregnant and super nauseous. But man, was it spectacular. I highly recommend you explore the giant sequoias and King’s Canyon if you get a chance.

Mono Hot Springs
Will I ever make the extreme journey to Mono Hot Springs again? I don’t know. But I’m glad I went once. It was beautiful, peaceful and endearingly weird.

Monterey and Big Sur
In this case, I definitely saved the best for last. The drive along the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur is absolutely incredible. It’s right out of a movie. And when you get to Big Sur, the redwood forest is equally amazing. Airstream glamping there is on my life list.

Putting together this post has made me realize how much we need to get back in the car and start traveling again! As many places as we’ve been, we still have many more to see (thinking of Joshua Tree and Yosemite, for starters). Anywhere else we should go?

Summer chill

It’s hard to really capture with a camera, but you know it’s summer here when the fog starts to roll in at night. It sweeps in really quickly around dusk, and then all the sudden a perfectly clear, warm day turns grey and chilly (they call it June gloom). But the crispness in the air and the way the clouds sit on the hills like they’re just resting there — it’s a little bit magical. 

There is an incredibly consistent rhythm to summers here. Cloudy in the morning, clear by noon, and then grey by 7. Karl the Fog is so notorious, he has his own Twitter account

Having spent so many summers in Kansas and Iowa, I feel like this is a different season altogether. To me, summer is blasting heat and drenching humidity. It’s bare feet on hot pavement and shaved ice stands opening in empty parking lots. It’s intense, violent even, with all the thunderstorms and tornado warnings.

I definitely miss the familiarity of 90 degrees at 9 p.m. and crickets chirping outside an open window. But I don’t miss being miserably hot, not at all. It still makes me shake my head, but I’m kind of enjoying getting out my sweaters and teacups. Because that’s what you do when it’s summer in San Francisco. 

Harper’s first real hike

So on Easter we decided to go for a family hike on the trail that’s just a few blocks from our house. The trail is steep, but short, so it’s kind of instant gratification.

We were lucky enough to find a hiking backpack for Harper at a kids consignment store.

We were looking at having to spend $250 or so at REI for a good one, so getting this Deuter Kanga Kid for only $50 was nice. It is a less expensive model, but we liked how all the components fold into the backpack. Harper liked it too. So much that she completely conked out for most of the hike.

Sort of like her first hiking experience, at 2 months old.

What can I say? This girl is never more relaxed than when she’s outside.

I love all the eucalyptus trees along this trail. They make it smell so good, and the giant sheets of bark hanging down make for a cool atmosphere.

One problem, though. There were slippery acorn things everywhere!

Here are some more photos from the trail.

There’s quite a payoff in views at the top.

We had a great time, so I think we’ll do more family hikes when we can.

On the way home I was practicing some close-ups with the camera. I think I’m starting to figure it out!

Back to walking

The last couple weeks I finally got out of the house for some walks, and I’m so glad I did.


Dogs: also glad.

Spring is so lovely here. All the different blooms have a way of lifting your spirits.

Especially those bright orange poppies.

And the occasional redwood.

It had been so long since I walked my old route that what used to be a middle school is now an open field.

Power plant: still there.

As I turned to walk home I noticed the super steep hill where I used to hike all the way to the tippy top.

I missed it up there with all the eucalyptus trees shedding their bark. So that’s what we did for Easter – more pictures to come.