Date Night: the Napa Wine Train

COMMENTS: 4

travel california  Date Night: the Napa Wine Train

travel california  Date Night: the Napa Wine Train

travel california  Date Night: the Napa Wine Train

We’ve been visiting Napa and Sonoma for years, but it wasn’t until last week that we finally spent an evening enjoying the Napa Valley Wine Train. We’ve seen it glide past (while we’ve sat at a red light, roshambo-ing for the role of designated driver) and have always been curious. So when they offered us a chance to come aboard for a date, I didn’t hesitate.

In case you aren’t familiar with it, the Napa Valley Wine Train is an antique train (think refurbished 1915-1917 Pullman Cars) that runs on 25-miles of track through the valley while you sip wine and eat a multi-course meal (prepared onboard). This summer, it celebrates its 25th anniversary!

Here are some scenes from the evening—which was gorgeous!

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Napa: Lunch at Redd, Yountville

COMMENTS: 8

travel food drink california  Napa: Lunch at Redd, Yountville
travel food drink california  Napa: Lunch at Redd, Yountville

Earlier this month, over the mother’s day weekend, Aron and I drove into Yountville (a little town in Napa that you may have heard of thanks to some fella named Thomas Keller) and had an anniversary lunch at Redd.

Redd won me over with the best mocktail (and a delicious meal) when I was pregnant with Hudson. This was the first time we’d been back, and I still loved it. The menu is a bit eclectic—many dishes have a bit of an Asian-fusion aspect whereas others are steadfastly European—but everything we’ve had has been great. I was especially excited about indulging in things like hamachi sashimi and tuna tartare (their take is amazing), oysters and (real) cocktails—the sorts of things that had been off limits last time (and throughout most of the past year).

But I was also reminded what a pleasure it is to indulge in a special midday meal.

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Monterey Bay Aquarium Eats

COMMENTS: 4

travel california  Monterey Bay Aquarium Eats

travel california  Monterey Bay Aquarium Eats

travel california  Monterey Bay Aquarium Eats

I was thinking back fondly on our visit to the stunning tidepools outside of Monterey, and it occurred to me that I had a lot more to say about that trip and about paying a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium on your next trip to the central coast of California.

For one, where you should eat—which you know is always of chief concern to me. There’s a relatively new restaurant (it opened last year) inside the aquarium called Cindy’s Waterfront. If you’re traveling with kids and you’re absolutely sure that you can’t get them to settle for a sit-down lunch, there’s a new café attached as well; but if you can manage it, be sure and make reservations for window seats at the restaurant. We stopped by the desk first thing when we arrived and put our name in, but just to be safe, call ahead (they’re only open 11-3).

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Napa: Oxbow Public Market

COMMENTS: 10

california  Napa: Oxbow Public Market
california  Napa: Oxbow Public Market
california  Napa: Oxbow Public Market

One of the best places to stop if you’re headed to Napa is the Oxbow Public Market—a marketplace filled with a focus on local farms and food vendors, and on supporting the surrounding region. It’s a reliably good place to pick up picnic supplies, like cheese and cupcakes, and Ritual coffee (in other words, dietary staples of sorts), before setting out to find your favorite winery.

california  Napa: Oxbow Public Market

california  Napa: Oxbow Public Market
california  Napa: Oxbow Public Market

california  Napa: Oxbow Public Market

The Market is located at 610 and 644 First Street in Napa, and most of the vendors are open late. There’s also a Farmer’s Market in the parking lot on Tuesdays and Saturdays, May through October.

Here are more posts on visiting Napa/Sonoma valley: Our travelogue, 48 hours in the Napa Valley; Oakville Grocery; Shed in Healdsburg; and Calistoga’s Solage.

And P.S. They have the best bathroom solution for avoiding those piles of wasted paper towels by the door!

california  Napa: Oxbow Public Market

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Almond orchards in bloom

COMMENTS: 11

family california  Almond orchards in bloom
family california  Almond orchards in bloom
family california  Almond orchards in bloom

Every spring—this year earlier than some—acres of almond orchards around here burst into incredible displays of pale pink of white blooms, and start to buzz, literally, as bees go to work pollinating trees. If you neglect to get out and about around the  time the blossoms are on the branches, however, you could miss them entirely. So around the middle of February, I start looking for signs of spring in the neighborhood… and start asking friends who pass by the farms on a regular basis: “any blooms yet?”

It would be a shame to miss something as beautiful and transient as this.

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Daytrip: Shed in Healdsburg

COMMENTS: 28

travel california  Daytrip: Shed in Healdsburg
travel california  Daytrip: Shed in Healdsburg
travel california  Daytrip: Shed in Healdsburg

On the Monday of President’s day weekend, Aron and I (and Skyler) drove out to Healdsburg—a small town at the very northern tip of Sonoma—to visit Shed, a relatively new cafe/shop space that means to update the concept of the local grange, bringing together “good farming, good cooking, and good eating.” I had first heard of its opening (and, notably, its beautiful, glass-enclosed, barn-like design) a while back and had been hoping to visit ever since; but Healdsburg always seemed like a bit too much of a trek—as compared to Calistoga or Napa, for example. Turns out it was well worth the effort.

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Happy six years, Hither & Thither!

COMMENTS: 41

travel style new york home food drink family design california  Happy six years, Hither & Thither!
travel style new york home food drink family design california  Happy six years, Hither & Thither!
travel style new york home food drink family design california  Happy six years, Hither & Thither!
travel style new york home food drink family design california  Happy six years, Hither & Thither!
travel style new york home food drink family design california  Happy six years, Hither & Thither!

It’s been a fantastic year. I can’t believe this past Sunday marked six years of blogging on Hither & Thither. It continues to inspire me—owing so much to the feedback and comraderie I get from readers, but also thanks to the joy of having an outlet to practice skills like writing and photography and to the joy of documenting and sharing personal milestones. I would have never expected this to become the rewarding work that it has, when Aron and I first started building the space together on that cold January day. (He wrote the first post! With no photos!)

I really enjoyed looking back over highlights last year, at five years, and hoped you might again, too. (Warning: it’s a long one!) …

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Scenes from Lake Tahoe

COMMENTS: 26

travel california  Scenes from Lake Tahoe
travel california  Scenes from Lake Tahoe

Aron and I drove up to Tahoe on Thursday evening for what one might call a “babymoon,” leaving Hudson is the care of grandparents. For Aron’s 35th birthday, his parents generously gifted him two nights at the Ritz-Carlton, so we were eager to take advantage of the opportunity before baby girl arrives (which could be any time, really, within the next six weeks).

The gorgeous hotel sits mid-mountain at Northstar-at-Tahoe ski resort and is ski-in/ski-out. Sadly, I couldn’t take advantage of this feature (I’ve always wanted to stay somewhere and do that!), but there was plenty else to enjoy (not least of all the view of others living out my ski-in-dreams from our room).

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Winter’s sweet Mandarins

COMMENTS: 11

food drink california  Winters sweet Mandarins
food drink california  Winters sweet Mandarins

The weekend before Thanksgiving, we paid a repeat visit to Miller’s Citrus Grove—a 5-acre citrus farm from where we’ve (for years) been gifted, and from where we’ve (now) purchased delicious, sweet Mandarins. It’s always a pleasure to go to the source—which, in this case, is about 40 minutes away in Placer County, roughly 30 miles east of Sacramento. The fruit is left to ripen on the tree, so it’s exceptionally sweet.

As with the previous year, something in the golden, setting sun said fall, while the start of the mandarin season beckoned winter.

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Sunday brunch at the Ahwahnee Hotel

COMMENTS: 13

travel california  Sunday brunch at the Ahwahnee Hotel
travel california  Sunday brunch at the Ahwahnee Hotel

After we returned from our weekend in Yosemite, many people remarked on how much they’d like to (one day) stay at the Ahwahnee. The Ahwahnee is pretty much the pinnacle of National Park Lodges, in my opinion. It’s what many of us picture when we think of a classic mountain lodge. It’s just that it also happens to be very, very expensive.

Here’s the thing: you don’t have to be a guest to enjoy it. Just go for their lavish Sunday brunch—and spend some time looking around!

What’s especially nice is that you don’t have to dress up for brunch the way you’d have to for dinner. I packed myself a new Fair Isle Cardigan and, for Hudson, a Buffalo Plaid shirt, both from Old Navy. But even if you’re camping, just throw in a decent-looking sweater and you’re set! Such a nice way to come off of trail food.

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Daytrip: Swimming in South Yuba River

COMMENTS: 15

travel california  Daytrip: Swimming in South Yuba River
travel california  Daytrip: Swimming in South Yuba River

Even having visiting some pretty incredible places this summer (like Paris, Lake Tahoe, and Maui, for example), I’d count this day trip as a highlight of the season—one of the more awesome things we’ve done.

Up near Nevada City, where Route 49 (the “Mother Lode-” or “Gold Country Highway”) crosses South Yuba River, a series of swimming holes form when the river flow is low—perfectly cool on a hot day, which most summer days around here are.

travel california  Daytrip: Swimming in South Yuba River

Our friends showed us this spot, roughly an 1hr45min-drive from Davis, and reminded us why again it’s so exciting to have the chance to get reacquainted with Northern California.

It was Labor Day weekend when we went, and while we certainly weren’t alone (it’s a popular local spot), there is plenty of riverbed and boulders to spread out along if you’re prepared to do some ambling and/or swimming. That said, it was a bit of a challenge to get to the spot we spied with a two-year-old, a bag of picnic supplies, and a slightly-less useful pregnant lady. (It was nice to have a strong husband and some good friends to share the burden of crossing the water with kids—and then, crossing back again!) In other words, best to be prepared.

travel california  Daytrip: Swimming in South Yuba River
travel california  Daytrip: Swimming in South Yuba River

Once we found our spot and laid down our things, however, it was perfect! There was some current and you could swim downstream passing through and around the rocks, or you could eddy out into a smaller pool and just enjoy the scenery.

travel california  Daytrip: Swimming in South Yuba River
travel california  Daytrip: Swimming in South Yuba River

One of our favorite discoveries was this whirlpool (i.e. back massager) in a narrow, but fairly deep hollowed rock. Even Hudson took his turn standing in the small pool. When you were sitting inside, you couldn’t hear anything but the pounding water!

In the spring, when water levels are high, the current would be too fast (and the water too cold) for swimming. Here’s a site with flow data, but in general, late summer (and very early fall) is probably the best time to visit. The South Yuba River State Park association has more information.

travel california  Daytrip: Swimming in South Yuba River
travel california  Daytrip: Swimming in South Yuba River

Spots in the shade are hard to find along the river, and so while I wouldn’t recommend carrying too much if you plan to move around, do be sure to bring plenty of water and some sunscreen if you visit!  Oh—and some non-slip water shoes! I wish I had done so.

travel california  Daytrip: Swimming in South Yuba River
travel california  Daytrip: Swimming in South Yuba River
travel california  Daytrip: Swimming in South Yuba River
travel california  Daytrip: Swimming in South Yuba River

A perfectly exhausting day in the sun. Even In-N-Out couldn’t rouse Hudson, who completely collapsed from all the fun.

travel california  Daytrip: Swimming in South Yuba River

P.S. More gorgeous swimming holes: a quarry in Vermont, caves and boulders-strewn beaches in Sardinia, and hot springs in Costa Rica.

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How to Ride a Cable Car in San Francisco

COMMENTS: 26

travel california  How to Ride a Cable Car in San Francisco
travel california  How to Ride a Cable Car in San Francisco

aka “The easiest (half) day trip to the city with a transportation-loving toddler.”

travel california  How to Ride a Cable Car in San Francisco
travel california  How to Ride a Cable Car in San Francisco

A few weekends back, we drove into the city—grabbing breakfast in the car—with pretty much the express purpose of giving Hudson his first ride on a cable car. We ended up spending just a half-day in San Francisco, but it was the perfect morning—with something for everyone.

We used an app called ParkNow to find inexpensive parking near Fisherman’s Wharf before walking a few blocks over to Ghiradelli square. I noted, for future reference, that we were also starting out by Buena Vista Cafe which—if you’re a fan—makes a deliciously strong Irish Coffee (it originated the recipe). But we were on a mission: On weekends, and in the busy summer tourist season, it’s best to be at the cable car turnarounds as early as possible.

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Visiting Angora Lakes (and what to pack when renting a cabin!)

COMMENTS: 19

travel california  Visiting Angora Lakes (and what to pack when renting a cabin!)

travel california  Visiting Angora Lakes (and what to pack when renting a cabin!)

travel california  Visiting Angora Lakes (and what to pack when renting a cabin!)

travel california  Visiting Angora Lakes (and what to pack when renting a cabin!)

Brought to you by Energizer®Click here to learn more about Energizer® Portable Lights with Light Fusion Technology.

Our friends spent a week at upper Angora Lake—one of the many beautiful lakes that dot the wildnerness around Lake Tahoe. Apparently, families book up the rustic cabins at Angora Lakes Resort years in advance and you have to cross your fingers that you’ll get a spot when you put your name on the waiting list.

There’s no overnight camping at the lake, you have to have a cabin reservation, but you can visit for the day and we were happy to be invited to spend some time on the shore.

travel california  Visiting Angora Lakes (and what to pack when renting a cabin!)

And even for just a day, it’s a pretty outstanding place: after you cross the ridge overlooking Fallen Leaf lake and hike the half-mile to the lake, you can rent kayaks, and paddle boards, and boats—or just lounge on the shore and take in the view.

travel california  Visiting Angora Lakes (and what to pack when renting a cabin!)

travel california  Visiting Angora Lakes (and what to pack when renting a cabin!)

We were lucky that our friends helped us borrow someone’s paddle boards—my first time! I’m a real wimp when it comes to cold water, so I was weary of falling off, but it’s shockingly easy to balance aboard one.

Aron is bolder, however, and crossed the lake with our friend, Ben, to jump off one of the rock faces—which grew crowded as more people steeled their nerves.

travel california  Visiting Angora Lakes (and what to pack when renting a cabin!)

travel california  Visiting Angora Lakes (and what to pack when renting a cabin!)
travel california  Visiting Angora Lakes (and what to pack when renting a cabin!)

There are many wonderful places to beautiful places to stay in the greater Tahoe area, Angora Lakes being just one of them. One could also search for cabin rentals at nearby Fallen Leaf or in one of the smaller villages along Lake Tahoe.

travel california  Visiting Angora Lakes (and what to pack when renting a cabin!)

But in case you have the luck to snag one of the weekly cabin rentals at Angora Lakes, we asked our friends for help with a packing list. There are a few things you’ll want to be sure and bring.

travel california  Visiting Angora Lakes (and what to pack when renting a cabin!)

1. Energizer® LED Pop Up Lantern with Light Fusion Technology—Light pollution is wonderfully low up here at 7500 feet. Whether you’re anticipating traveling back to your cabin after nightfall, or simply planning well for emergencies, you’ll want to bring a good flashlight. Energizer® has a new line of lightweight, powerful and portable LED lights, that are awesome. The LED is energy-saving so they last forever, and I love that they can be dimmed when you just want a little light while you still get to look up at the stars. (Or for when you’re reading in bed and trying not to bother the toddler and the dozing husband in the hotel room beside you, as I recently discovered.) The Pop Up lantern looks like an update on the old carosene lanterns, only collapses to be totally compact.

2. Energizer® LED 3 in 1 Light with Light Fusion Technology—a flashlight, only with a tripod built in.

3. Sand toystravel california  Visiting Angora Lakes (and what to pack when renting a cabin!) —My friends recently snagged a set like this for vacation and said it was the best $12 they spent. My only suggestion, if your young one is anything like mine? Add a dump truck to the mix.

4. Inner tubetravel california  Visiting Angora Lakes (and what to pack when renting a cabin!) —Or any sort of watercraft you want to use. Those staying at the cabins get a lift up the trail, and many arrive with their own paddleboards and such. Rentals add up!

5. Games—There’s no wifi or television at the lake, so leave the iPad at home. It’s time to unplug and get old school! I love the idea of ending the evening with a game of cards (Spite & Malice is a favorite) or a round of Scrabbletravel california  Visiting Angora Lakes (and what to pack when renting a cabin!) . Aron’s not one for puzzles, but I think it would be awesome to start a challenging one at the start of the week.

6. A good book—Not exactly light reading, but I just finished And the Mountains Echoedtravel california  Visiting Angora Lakes (and what to pack when renting a cabin!) for a book club; I couldn’t put it down. Gone Girltravel california  Visiting Angora Lakes (and what to pack when renting a cabin!) would be a good page turner, if you’re one of the few who haven’t read it yet.

7. Your bathing suit—I happened to forget mine! Thank goodness my friend had one for me to borrow.

8. Something tastytravel california  Visiting Angora Lakes (and what to pack when renting a cabin!)  to grill—Actually, you’ll want to bring all of your own groceries. I’d want some hunter’s sausage, a box of triscuits, and a chunk of Jarlsberg or aged cheddar, along with some grown-up libations.

travel california  Visiting Angora Lakes (and what to pack when renting a cabin!)

Even if you can’t get on the list for a cabin, a daytrip might just inspire you to camp out in your own yard. (We broke out the Energizer® Pop Up lantern in Hudson’s teepee when we got home.)

P.S. What do you think about spending a week completely unplugged? I love the idea of turning off my iPhone for a week, but my girlfriend confessed she’d be loathe to!

Brought to you by Energizer®. Click here to learn more about Energizer® Portable Lights with Light Fusion Technology.



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Full Belly Farm Dinner Series

COMMENTS: 10

food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series
food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series
food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series

I first discovered Full Belly Farm when I went searching for information about the Capay Valley during Almond season. I found my way to a blossoming almond trail, and then to the newsletter for Full Belly Farm.

The family-operated farm has been supplying certified organic produce to local markets and Bay Area kitchens (like Chez Panisse) since 1985, and since spying their name I’ve recognized it on melons in my local co-op and on bouquets at Nugget Market.

Last month, our friends suggested we all head out for dinner there, one of the nights in the farm’s monthly dinner series.

food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series
food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series
food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series

Our evening fell in the midst of a week-long heat wave, and we watched the car’s thermometer rise to 111-degrees as we pulled into the town of Guinda at 5pm. We made a bee-line for a table set with cool water, and jugs of housemade lemon-verbena tea and melon juice. Beside them were plates of what looked like honeydew, and I practically gasped when I took my first bite. Almost tropically fragrant and sweeter than any melon I’d ever tasted, this couldn’t be honeydew—that whiteish-green hard stuff generally used for fruit salad filler. Well, turns out they grow very good honeydew here, but this in fact was something else called an Haogen melon, a mid-Eastern fruit developed in Israel. (It’s precisely the kind of thing that should prompt you to visit a local farmer’s market: fruit this ripe and this soft doesn’t travel well and you’re really only likely to find it at a farm stand.)

food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series
food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series

Next we all boarded a tractor pulled wagon for a tour of Full Belly’s 350 acres. It was a fascinating, and completely endearing, albeit unbearably steamy,  look inside the workings of a farm that champions sustainable labor practices and environmental stewardship. They work about 80 different crops that can provide year-round employment to 60 full-time laborers and provide consistent food for beneficial insects.

And it was an impressive family operation: One of the owners, Paul, gave us the tour and explained that his wife Dru is most interested in the dairy animals; his son Amon, who would be cooking us dinner, has moved back with his wife Jenna to head up a new production facility for cooking lessons, jam production, and dinners year-round; and that one of his daughters heads an outreach program for local schools (they get visits from Waldorfers as far south as Santa Barbara). One of the other owners is particularly interested in flowers and their fields for bouquets glowed as the sun went lower on the horizon.

food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series
food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series
food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series
food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series

Dinner was set up near the main house, in long rows, and was a casual affair. We were invited to bring our own alcohol, and our friend made a strawberry basil lemonade to mix with gin, and brought tall bottles of beer. As for our part, we forgot our wine, but the farmers were so generous as to share some of theirs with us.

food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series
food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series

My favorite dish was perhaps this fritter, made with Zucchini and Goat Cheese, and served alongside mildly spicy, slightly sweet Jimmy Nardello peppers. Amon mentioned that his wife, Jenna, is a fan of Smitten Kitchen and based the recipe off hers.

food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series
food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series

The concept reminded me of Outstanding in the Field (only far more affordable!)

food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series
food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series
food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series
food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series
food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series
food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series
food drink california  Full Belly Farm Dinner Series

If you’re in the Sacramento or Bay Area, the Capay Valley is just to the north of both. Full Belly Farm delivers CSA boxes to both regions and visit a few weekly farmer’s markets in the Bay. I’m looking forward to their annual Hoes Down Festival this fall.

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