Mission San Francisco

San Francisco with Kids

San Francisco, is famous for many things, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Golden Gate Bridge, Ghiradelli Chocolates, and the infamous Alcatraz to name a few, but there is so much more to the City by the Bay. During my 8 years living in the Bay Area, I found time to see some of the more touristy attractions mentioned above, but spent very little time exploring beneath the surface of San Francisco’s many unique neighborhoods.

San Francisco with Kids

I suppose I thought I’d spend more time there later, and instead spent my free time exploring father afield. If you read this blog, you’ll know that I’m doing my best not to make that same mistake here in our new home, Los Angeles.

Alcatrz San Francisco with Kids

The good news is that I visit the Bay Area often, it’s just a six hour drive up Interstate 5, and during our most recent visit we were on a mission to see more of the City. We chose to explore the vibrant Mission District (pun intended), where we discovered delicious food, a fabulous park, and amazing street art! So in other words, my perfect day!

The Mission District

San Francsico Mission District with kids

The Mission District, or The Mission, is located in east central San Francisco, and is borederd by SOMA, Potrero Hill, The Castro, Noe Valley and Bernal Heights. Due to it’s location the Mission is insulated from San Francisco’s famous fog, which means it’s often warmer and sunnier than other neighborhoods.

Tartine Bakery

Tartine Mission District San Francisco

Our first stop upon arrival was Tartine Bakery & Cafe, which is known for it’s mouth watering breads and pastries. The line is usually around the block, but luck was in our favor and we walked right in!

Tartine Mission District with Kids

I had a tough time deciding, as I wanted one of everything, but ultimately went with something on the smaller side, a Mexican wedding cookie, while Elliot got an eclair! Located on the corner of Guerro and 18th, Tartine doesn’t have a sign, so look out for the long line and you’ll know you’ve arrived.

Mission Dolores Park

Mission Dolores Park San Francisco with Kids

Sweeping views of the city, large grassy areas, and a fabulous playground are just some of what you can expect while visiting Mission Dolores Park. There is also a large off leash area for those dog lovers out there.

The kids enjoyed the Park’s playground, while I followed them around taking photos of the gorgeous city views. As we were leaving we met, Chris, the Paint a Record guy, and decided this would be a fun activitity. Chris gets the records from yard sales and thrift shops, and sets up at the Park most afternoons and weekends. The acrylic paint dried within minutes and wallah, the perfect Father’s Day present!

Bi-Rite Creamery

San Francisco with Kids Bi-Rite Creamery

There’s no time like the present, and after all that park play an ice cream seemed like a great idea! Lunch? Isn’t ice cream lunch? Another San Francisco institution, the Bi-Rite Creamery is a popular place, so we joined the line and patiently waited our turn.

Peach season is upon us, so the Peach Cobbler flavor seemed like a perfect choice, and with large chunks of fresh baked cobbler and peaches throughout, it did not disappoint! Bi-Rite Creamery is just up and across the street from Tartine on 18th Street.

Street Art

The Mission is famous for it’s wall murals, some of which were painted in the 1970s, and reflect the neighborhood’s Latino culture and traditions.

Mission District San Francisco Street Art

More recently other types of street art have entered the mix and there are litteraly hundreds of murals throughout the neighborhood.

Mission District San Francisco Street Art

Don’t worry, I won’t be posting hundred’s of photos, only a few. You’ll have to visit the neighborhood yourselves if you want to see more!

Clarion Alley

Mission District San Francisco Street Art Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley, off of 18th between Mission and Valenica, is the home of the Clarion Alley Mural Project, which was started in 1992 by Mission residents. The murals here were predominately political in nature, some quite extreme in their views.

19th & Mission

San Francisco Mission District Street ArtMy favorite street art discovery of the day was this Mini Heros mural painted in 2009 by three indivduals known as KEB, WAND and BUTR. Miraculously it’s still in existence! What could be better than street art and superheros?!

Across the street from the Mini Heros you’ll find an amazing tribute to Carlos Santana painted by local artist Mel Waters.

San Francisco Mission District Street Art

Walk a little further up 19th and you’ll come to San Carlos Street, which is also the home of a giant honeybear painted by local artist, and a favorite of mine, Fnnch.

Mission District San Francisco Street Art fnnch

Lilac Alley

San Francisco Mission District Street ArtWandering along Mission Street we went as far as Lilac Alley, located half a block from the 24th Street Bart Station. The Alley is 2 blocks long between Mission and Capp Streets, and is lined on both sides with vibrant murals.

Straw Restaurant

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Knowing the kids might be hungry at the end of the mission, we decided to end our day with an early dinner. We chose Straw, a carnival themed restaurant with unique comfort foods, and decor. Straw is located on Octavia Street in Hayes Valley, a short drive from The Mission and another super fun SF neighborhood worth exploring.

After having cookies for breakfast and ice cream for lunch it made sense to chose the Ringmaster, a burger sandwiched between two glazed doughbnuts for dinner. The idea was fun, but I think I’ll stick with a more tradational bun in the future! We finished up with cotton candy for dessert! Yum!

Tips & advice should you choose to go on your own Mission:

  • I’ve pinpointed some of the places we visited, but keep in mind there isn’t really any right way to explore The Mission.
  • San Francisco can be a tough park, but using the parking app Pay by phone, enables  you to manage everything directly from your phone eliminating the need to keep running back to feed the meter.
  • Walking along Mission Street you’ll find shops, restaurants and markets selling everything from luggage and fidget spinners to t-shirts and fruit. Keep your eyes open, you never know what you might discover.
  • Interested in finding more of San Francisco’s street art? Check out SF Mural Arts a webiste showcasing the city’s vibrant art scene complete with artist and locations.

Pin for later:

San Francisco Mission District Kids Street Art

Half Moon Bay! The Ocean Is Calling…

#halfmoonbayThe Bay Area has so many beautiful places to explore it can be hard to decide, ocean, forest, wine country, the city, and all of them are within an hours drive of one another, but for our family it’s really no contest… The ocean is calling…

More often than not a free weekend means piling in the car and heading for the water and more specifically Half Moon Bay. Tim loves the waves, the boys love the fish and chips and I love family time. A win for all!

Barbara’s Fish Trap

Half Moon BayI don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the way we discovered Barbara’s Fish Trap and we never looked back. The perfect place for our family, Barb’s is a casual dining restaurant with friendly service and consistently good food! They have both indoor and outdoor seating and a take away window as well.

We aren’t the only ones who love Barbs, so if you’re interested in table service be prepared to wait, otherwise the ever present line for the take away window moves along at a fairly rapid pace and the quality of the food remains the same! We’ve met many interesting people over the years while sharing one of the sunny yellow picnic tables outside at Barbs.

#clamsandchipsIf you’re wondering, what do we get? Elliot and I always get the clam strips & chips and Simon likes traditional fish & chips while Tim likes the seafood combo. The portions are quite generous so you might consider sharing. Keep in mind they only take cash, but there is an ATM on the premises.

Mavericks

#mavericks

Mavericks is a world famous surfing location off of Pillar Point Harbor and just up the road from Barbara’s Fish Trap. It’s also Tim’s favorite part of visiting Half Moon Bay! The bigger the waves the more he likes it. He follows the surf report and he will often drive down early in the morning in the hopes of seeing some wave action.

The waves can reach as high as 60 feet in the winter and most winters they hold an invitation only big wave surfing competition. Because the waves are unpredictable spectators aren’t allowed to go down to the beach during the competition, but the beach is very accessible at other times of the year.

 

What Else…

Half Moon BayThere are so many fun things to do in and around Half Moon Bay depending on the time of the year!

Wildlife sightings!

Strawberry picking at the U-pick patch in the summer!

A visit to the pumpkin patch at Halloween time.

Walks and hiking along the beach…

The Half Moon Bay Ritz Carlton offers many fun activities throughout the year and you don’t even have to be a guest to enjoy them. For example, at the holiday time they show movies on a large screen under the stars and of course there is another one of our favorites, marshmallow roasting all year long!

What’s that I hear?

Oh, gotta go… The ocean is calling!

Confession: I Couldn’t Care Less About Football! 

I’ve never really enjoyed watching sporting events, of any kind. I admit it. I’m that person, you know, the one chatting away, who hardly has a clue which teams are playing. Often, I’m wondering, why is everyone screaming, or is that cheering, at the television? What just happened? Oh well, what was I saying…

#gohawksI hail from Seattle, and with the success of the Seattle Seahawks and their recent back to back appearances in the Super Bowl I’ve tried to pay more attention, but the truth is my favorite parts of the Super Bowl are the commercials and the excuse to eat as much 7 Layer Dip as I can! Last year’s commercials were downright depressing, so I guess it’s just me and the 7 Layer Dip… The Half Time Show isn’t bad either. 😉

As you’re probably aware the Seahawks won’t be playing in the Super Bowl this year, but my happily ignoring all the pregame media, and showing up just in time for the dip, is proving difficult since the game is taking place about 20 minutes from my house. That’s right, Super Bowl 50 is taking place in the Bay Area, and more than one million football loving people are expected! YEAH!

Football Alternatives

My question is? Since Levi’s Stadium holds approximately 68,500 people, what are the other 932,000 people going to do before, during and after they finish off their 7 Layer Dip? Eating, drinking and shopping comes to mind… Here are just a few of my favorite places:

Palo Alto

Beauty/Shopping/Fitness
Eating/Drinking

Menlo Park

Beauty/Shopping
Eating/Drinking

GO TEAMS!

(Whoever you are)

Capitola By The Sea! A Girls Weekend!

Friendly, quaint, cozy and definitely worth a visit! I’m talking about Capitola, an adorable little seaside town of 10,000 people, which is located about 50 miles south of San Francisco. While I have been to nearby Santa Cruz many times it wasn’t until close friends of mine took over a cute little hotel in downtown Capitola that it came onto my radar.

Beaches, shopping, great food and friendly locals…The perfect place for a Girls Weekend!

Wrights Station Winery

We started the weekend off right with wine tasting and lunch at Wrights Station Vineyard & Winery. Relatively new, Wrights Station is located in the Santa Cruz Mountains and specializes in estate grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The winery has a lovely private room, which can be reserved in advance. We brought our own lunch and then purchased wine to go  with it!  Don’t worry, we had two designated drivers!

The Capitola Hotel

Not that we need a reason to come together, but this weekend was chosen not only to celebrate our newly minted hotelier’s birthday, but also as an opportunity to say farewell to 2015. We wanted to give 2016 a proper start and what better place to make that happen, then the Capitola Hotel!

Located right in the heart of the village, the hotel is only steps from the beach as well as many restaurants, shops and galleries. We took full advantage of them all! There are 10 rooms and with 9 in our group we took over the entire Hotel. All but one of the rooms are accessed directly from the lobby making it easy for us to visit each other… Like a giant slumber party!

Once everyone was settled we met up in the lobby for a wine and cheese hour! Just to the left of the lobby there is a cozy little courtyard complete with comfortable chairs and a fire pit. If you get cold there are warm blankets available as well! A great place to sit and relax with a glass of wine before heading out for the evening. Speaking of which… We enjoyed the courtyard so much we were almost late for dinner!

After dinner we spent the evening in the lobby dancing and talking the night away… The following morning we woke to freshly brewed coffee and breakfast treats also in the lobby! Such a nice way to start the day!

Around Town

Capitola isn’t a big place, but it does have a lot to offer!

There are many fun shops to pop in and out of and of course I managed to find a few treasures to bring home! A travel book and funky bracelet at Pacific Gallery, a fun new shirt at Yvonne’s and candy at Carousel Taffy.

 

Our dinner at The Stockton Bridge Grille was fun and the food and service were good. Sunday’s lunch took place at Margaritaville, (no relation to the Jimmy Buffett chain). Not only was the service great, but it was right on the water and the food was really good! I had a trio of incredibly yummy tacos, Fried Avocado, Skirt Steak and Chorizo Potato. The Chorizo Potato was my favorite! The views were lovely and both of these restaurants would be worth a second visit!

Wishes For 2016 & Each Other

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As I mentioned earlier this weekend was about making sure we got 2016 off to a great start! We participated in a group activity designed to encourage and inspire each other! We wrote down any negatives from the previous year as well as hopes for the coming year, which we then shared with the group. As each of us took our turn the rest wrote notes of encouragement and inspiration on small slips of paper. These were then put into tiny scented jars which we all took home. Fun!

Full Disclosure: Close friends of mine own the Capitola Hotel, but the services I enjoyed while staying there are offered to all guests. This includes both the wine and cheese hour as well as the fresh coffee and breakfast.

 

Año Nuevo State Park!

#anonuevo

#anonuevoThe Bay Area is home to some of the world’s most beautiful scenery and a place people come from all over the world to see. Having all this beauty in our “backyard” I’m a little embarrassed to admit we don’t always appreciate or take advantage of it the way we should. There are still so many places we’ve yet to explore.

#anonuevoOne of those places was the Año Nuevo State Reserve, home to a large colony of Northern Elephant Seals and located about 90 minutes south of San Francisco. The Reserve offers docent led nature walks enabling you to get within 25 feet of these incredible animals in their natural habitat.

Weighing up to 5000 pounds these enormous creatures look like they would be slow and clumsy, but it’s just the opposite! 25 feet sounds like a decent margin of space until you learn they can easily move that distance in a matter of seconds.

We’d only gone a short distance along the trail before we started hearing the unique guttural sounds of the seals. The way the sound traveled on the wind and across the dunes made it difficult to pinpoint exactly where it was coming from. There is limited visibility when walking among the dunes so there are ranger lookouts posted along the walk letting the volunteer guides know which pathways are safe and which should be avoided.

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#anonuevo

Early on in our visit our lookout called out to the guide, an alpha male was defending his territory, we’d better get moving! One moment the alpha was resting in the sand and the next our guide was telling us to move out of the way. The alpha male arched up and bellowed before charging down the side of the dune toward the offending male and our group! Exciting and a bit scary too!

Not only is it mating season, but there are also seal pups being born as well. We were able to see some pups nursing during the visit. We were surprised to find out that the babies only stay with their mothers for the first 28 days of their lives.

 

Reservations And Other Need To Know Information

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Although the Elephant Seals are in residence all year long the most popular time to see them is mating season which takes place between December 15 and March 31. Keep in mind Reservations are required for the guided walks and the number of attendees is limited. Self-guided walks are prohibited during mating season.

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The tours take place rain or shine and umbrellas are not permitted. It rained quite heavily during most of our visit and while it would have been nice to stay dry the plus side was that the Seals love a rainy day and were pretty active while we were there.

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You’ll be walking three miles roundtrip and the terrain is a mix of gravel, dirt and sand, but overall it wasn’t a terribly difficult walk. Our group ranged in age from seven to seventy-three and although none of us had any trouble physically my seven year old lost interest during the lengthy nature talk. The scenery was really lovely and as usual I had a difficult time choosing which photos to include!

Teenager In The HOUSE!

#coolestparentseverMy older son recently turned 13 and because it’s a milestone birthday something extra special was in order! Of course now he’s a teenager and planning something he and his friends would consider “cool” did present something of a challenge. I was up for the task!

When considering what direction this party would take there was only one clear choice: Video Games! Simon has never met a video game he didn’t like! I know I’m not the only parent with a video game fanatic on her hands and I’m sure some of you can probably relate.

The  Venue

Gone are the days of cute little kids running around our house and yard, these teenagers are big, loud and not just a little smelly, this party had to be anywhere else! We considered hiring a video game truck, but our street doesn’t really lend itself to that and I’m sure they’d find their way back inside the house in no time. Another option was hitting up the arcade at a nearby mini golf place, but I’m not a big fan of games that spit out tickets and something a little more private seemed in order…

#highscores

Enter the High Scores Interactive Arcade Museum located in Alameda, California. High Scores focuses mainly on the classic games of the 1980s and is available to rent for private parties or events. The decor is classic video game arcade with a jukebox and laser lights thrown in for effect. All the old favorites are present, Mario Bros, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Paper Boy, Frogger, even my personal favorite Crystal Castles! You name it they’ve got it!

#fixitfelixjr

We weren’t in the arcade 5 seconds before the kids, and most of the adults, made a direct beeline for the games! We took a break for cake toward the end of the party, but otherwise the “kids” had two blissful hours of nonstop play!

#ilovevideogames

High Scores was a huge success! The time flew by and no one wanted to go home at the end. I might be going out on a limb here, but I have a feeling the goal of throwing Simon a “cool” party was achieved! If you’re in the Bay Area or are planning a visit this place is definitely worth checking out. Its open to the public Wednesday thru Sunday and payment is per player/per hour so you won’t need coins or tokens.

The Cake(s)

Simons 13th Birthday-Twice a year I make an elaborate cake, one for each boy’s birthday. They get to pick the design. In keeping with our retro video game theme Simon asked that I make replicas of the controller from the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).  I enjoy baking, but what I love more is the challenge of decorating the cake! Game on!

How To Make NES Controller Cakes – Player 1 & Player 2

NES Controllers are long and thin, so I decided to make two one layer cakes for a more realistic effect. Two 9 x 13 cakes were baked and trimmed to the desired size. The printed template measured two times the size of the original controllers.

The cakes should be completely cooled before you trim them to size and then covered in a thin layer of buttercream.

Next you’ll want to prepare the fondant. I wanted light grey, so decided to make it myself using black food paste and white fondant. Using a toothpick add small amounts of the black food dye to the fondant and then knead until you achieve the desired color.

After rolling the fondant out transfer it to a piece of parchment paper and roll it up. When you are ready you can unroll the fondant right onto your frosted cakes.

Once the cakes have been covered with the base layer of fondant its time to start cutting out the small detail pieces. Use the template as a guide and remember to cut two sets of each shape if you’re making two controllers. A dab of water is all you need to “glue” the individual pieces together. The “cord” was made of black licorice.

 

 

The Halloween Edition!

The annual visit to the pumpkin patch… is it obligation or fun? For our family it’s some of both, but definitely leaning more towards the fun side!

#halloween@theritz

Like many families the tradition of visiting the pumpkin patch started when our oldest was just a baby and the boys have gone each and every year since. I did miss one year, I don’t remember why, but it must have been important, and I was heartbroken. So, even though finding time to go the pumpkin patch can feel like a chore, getting the kids to pose nicely for my annual photo is beyond frustrating, and living in California means our pumpkins will rot long before the big day, we go… and we like it!

The Obligatory Photo

Beyond the collection of perfectly shaped pumpkins my other main agenda item when visiting the pumpkin patch is getting that obligatory adorable photo of the kids. I don’t want to complain, but living in California means that the ideal pumpkin patch I remember from my childhood, just doesn’t exist. You know, the one with lots of giant pumpkins growing on curly green vines as far as the eye can see. Don’t forget the squishy mud you had to wade through to get to them. Who knows, maybe that’s not even real? It could be we bought our pumpkins at the local QFC? Mom?

Anyway, here in sunny California we have dusty dirt fields with a bit of hay strewn about and the occasional pumpkin here and there. At this point its late in the month, and pickings are getting pretty slim and so are the photo ops, we’ll just have to make it work… and we do!

I’ve dressed the boys in Halloween-ish type shirts and arranged a few pumpkins strategically, hoping to make a nice scene, but Elliot is easily distracted and keeps running off and darn that California sun, but Simon just can’t keep his eyes open no matter what direction I point him. I yell at them for a while and take about 100 bad photos before I give up and hope I got at least one decent shot. There are always the Halloween night photos? This is fun, right?!

We’re Having Fun Now!

There are many pumpkin patches in the Bay Area, but we usually head to Half Moon Bay, a favorite destination all year round. The weather was beautiful, so after we completed our pumpkin mission we ate outside at our favorite seafood restaurant, Barbara’s Fish Trap, and then took a lovely walk on the beach. Gotta love that California sun! We decided to end our day with a treat… Roasting marshmallows at the Half Moon Bay Ritz. The views were amazing and there were bagpipes playing! Okay, we are definitely having fun now!

Creating Our Pumpkin Masterpieces!

#hellokittypumpkinI’ve always enjoyed carving pumpkins and I generally choose something in the pop culture genre, Simon tends to go for something a bit more spooky and Elliot designs his own on the fly. Neither Simon, nor Elliot used patterns of any kind this year and both tried their hand at doing some sculpting! I had decided upon Hello Kitty and a hilarystyle.me pumpkin. Though I didn’t do any sculpting I did use acrylic paint to enhance Hello Kitty’s face and bow and I carved hilarystyle.me freehand.

If you decide to use paint, make sure to clean and dry the pumpkin before applying the paint and wait for each coat of paint to dry before applying the next one. If you live in a rainy place its best to keep your pumpkin undercover.

Roasting the pumpkin seeds was a Halloween tradition in my house and one I’ve enjoyed continuing with my own kids. For added flavor we like to leave a bit of the “pumpkin goo” on the seeds. I love the smell of them roasting!

#roastedpumpkinseeds

Heat the oven to 375 degrees and spread the seeds out in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Salt liberally before putting them into the oven for about 10 minutes. You’ll want to use a spatula to toss them around before putting them back into the oven for another 5 or so minutes. Don’t forget to salt them again! Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn!

Our Costumes!

I’ve always loved dressing up for Halloween even before I could use the kids as an excuse! Now, that I have two, the sky’s the limit! In recent years I’ve been everything from Bat Girl to a pirate and a day of the dead skeleton to the Black Swan. This year I’m going as a Harajuku Girl! We have a number of Halloween events planned, so I’ll be getting a lot of use out of my costume this year! Fun!

The Anderson Collection on Stanford Campus!

The Anderson Collection, a new art museum, recently opened in Silicon Valley and if you’re in the bay area it’s definitely worth making the trip! It opened in September 2014 and I must admit that I’m disappointed it took me so long to finally get around to a visit.

It’s conveniently located right next to the Cantor Arts Center on the Stanford Campus, and one could easily make a day of it visiting both!  Admission is free and the Cantor has a nice cafe open Wednesday through Sunday.

Although they do offer guided tours, my older son and I really enjoyed taking our time and wandering from painting to painting on our own. He took this fun photo of mom and me using two phones! He was in the artistic spirit!

The Anderson Collection was a gift from a Bay Area family who built the collection over the last 50 years. According to the official website it is one of the world’s most outstanding private assemblies of modern and contemporary American art. Upon seeing it, its  impossible not to agree! It’s hard to imagine one family owning this much incredible art! If you do get a chance to visit there is a lovely video explaining who the Andersons are and showing the art hanging in their home.

Napa Valley! Three Ways!

IMG_5629There are many wonderful things about living in the Bay Area not the least of which is living a two-hour drive from one of the best wine growing regions in the world! Even if you’re not a wine drinker the region has a lot to offer, beautiful scenery, fine art galleries, shopping, spas, bike tours, ridiculously good food and much more! Within the region of Napa Valley there are many little towns, Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga to name a few.

While I don’t get there as often as I might like, I have been fortunate enough to find myself there for various reasons three different times this year! March found me running the Napa Valley Marathon, August found me shopping and dinning in both St. Helena and the town of Napa with a scenic drive along the Silverado Trail, and finally another trip in August to tour the wineries in high style with a group of girlfriends! So there you have it Napa three ways!

The Napa Valley Marathon

247863_186866112_XLargeI’ve been an avid runner for a number of years now and after running countless races of all distances I decided it was time to take it to the next level and attempt a full marathon. Many of my marathon running friends suggested the Napa Valley Marathon as a great first marathon! One of my best friends flew up from LA to join me! Yes! She’s an excellent friend!

If you are planning to run the marathon you should know that the course is incredibly beautiful, but also very hilly! The course starts in Calistoga and follows the scenic Silverado Trail for the majority of the 26.2 mile course. It ends at the Napa Valley High School and as most races do this one starts very early in the morning. We drove up the Saturday before so we had time to go to the race expo, explore the town of Napa and have a big carb loading dinner with our running group!

The Napa River runs through Downtown Napa
The Napa River

Napa is a fairly quiet place, but definitely on the rise with a number of fun little shops and restaurants worth checking out. Visitors often confuse the entire region of Napa Valley with Napa the town so they’ve given themselves the #realnapa. St. Helena, Geyserville, Yountville and Calistoga all have fun little shopping areas to explore as well.

Just east of downtown across the river is the Oxbow Market. It’s a great place to grab a bite and do a little shopping. They have a little bit of everything and I found a fun magnet board in one of the little shops. We weren’t drinking much the day before the full marathon, but we did treat ourselves to one glass of wine.  How could we resist?

We stayed a short distance outside of town in a very decent place, however, it wan’t convenient to anything. If I had to do it over again I would choose the Andaz Napa where another friend stayed. It was in a great location walking distance to all of Downtown Napa and the rooms were very nice. Wouldn’t this nice big tub be a welcome sight after 26.2!?

Napa Valley with Family

Recently my folks came for a visit and we drove up for the day. While they weren’t sure they were interested in wine tasting (What?!) I thought they might enjoy the drive and poking around the little towns.  Our first stop was at V. Sattui a wonderful and well established winery. If you’ve never been to the area I highly suggest you stop here. They have a large market where you can purchase all sorts of lovely food to accompany your wine. Their grounds are stunning with large picnic areas. I first visited in 1999 when Tim and I were still dating. Very romantic!

We weren’t ready for lunch so decided to keep driving and have lunch a little further up the road in St. Helena.  We ate on Main Street in a little place called Market which is Michelin Guide recommended. Both the food and the service were nice, but I’ll probably try somewhere new next time. After lunch we popped in and out of the shops and galleries along the street and sampled some chocolates at Woodhouse Chocolates which I will definitely visit again!

IMG_5615I really wanted my folks to see the Silverado Trail it’s incredibly beautiful and I thought it might be fun to show them my marathon route. It’s lined with winery after winery and a lot of them will probably sound familiar to you as you drive by. Of course you don’t have to keep driving!  Most offer wine tastings between 10 am and 5 pm. I recently learned that the Silverado Trail was the first permanent road built between Napa and Calistoga!

We finished up our circle drive in #realnapa where we wandered through the shops and the Oxbow Market before heading home.

I mentioned Napa three ways and I’ve saved the best for last…

IMG_5691While Napa Valley has many things to offer let’s be real… the main reason to visit is tasting the WINE! Many people find they don’t want to drive from one winery to the next as their ability to taste becomes hampered by their need to NOT drink and drive, so it makes sense to find alternate transportation.

While there are many options we’ve found that renting a limousine and splitting the cost among us makes the most sense. Not having to think about who will drive takes all the worry out of the day! We’ve done this a few times and usually head out from home around 9 am. As I mentioned most wineries don’t stay open past 5 pm, so getting an early start is a good idea!

If you haven’t been before it helps to consult a map of the Valley before setting out that way you’ll have an idea of where you’re going in advance. Keep in mind that some of the wineries require an advance reservation and the map will help you to figure out which ones those are. In our group we have both white and red wine drinkers so we each pick somewhere that interests us. That’s another great thing about hiring a driver, they know their way around the Valley and if you give them a list of destinations they’ll take care of the rest!

On our most recent trip we visited four different wineries. We had grand plans to visit more, but there is so much going on at each location it’s quite difficult to find the time especially given that most places close early and you’ll want a break for lunch!

When I first started visiting back in 1999 a lot of the wineries had free tastings, but those days are long over. There are pros and cons to this.  The con obviously being that it can really add up when you’re paying $20+ at each winery for a tasting, however the pro is that because you’re paying they are even more attentive and take more time explaining the different wines!

St. Supery was our first stop as it’s a favorite of this group!  The grounds are really lovely with beautiful ivy and flowers everywhere. They offer tastings and you can choose to stand inside at the counter or there is a lovely seating area just outside, both are very inviting.  It’s quite modern inside which really appeals to me! If you have time to linger there is a little shop and there are some lawn type games you can take advantage of.

Our second stop, just 5 min down the road, and just as loved is Peju! While I admit that I’m the white wine drinker of the group, the other girls really prefer red and in fact belong to the wine club here. I will say they do have a great Sauvignon Blanc!  The grounds are like stepping into a fairytale with flowers and fountains everywhere. I spent a lot of time taking photos while they spent a lot of time drinking the red! It might be a good idea to call ahead at Peju as its pretty popular. We always walk away with a “few” bottles to bring home.

After the drive up and stops at two different wineries its time for lunch! There are a number of wineries with markets and restaurants, but we thought we might do a less formal lunch and decided to eat on the go. I know I mentioned Dean and Deluca in my New York! Pizza, Restaurants, Markets & Bars! post, but guess what!? They have a location in Napa Valley too! We stopped here to pick up picnic goodies which we ate in the limousine. There are so many choices and everything is so good, it’s hard to make decisions. It definitely doesn’t help matters if you walk in hungry… Oh, and they also sell knives and other kitchen items should you need them.

After lunch I thought we should try somewhere new, so we visited Long Meadow Ranch also on the St. Helena Hwy.  They have a lot to offer here as they aren’t just a winery, but a complete farmstead with multiple locations.  Beyond wine they also produce, olive oil, beef, eggs, fruits & vegetables and honey.  You’ll find a selection of some of these products in their shop.  We did a tasting and probably due to the size of our group they were kind enough to put us in this adorable little private room. I really enjoyed the music, Johnny Cash was playing, and the decor, farmhouse chic, there was something incredibly welcoming about this place. We didn’t get a chance to eat here, but we heard that their restaurant is definitely worth a try!

Our last stop of the day was the Frank Family Vineyards which is a favorite of Tim’s and a little bit off the beaten path, but so worth it! They don’t do a lot of marketing and the wines are really only sold at the winery, and in a handful of select restaurants and retailers.  You can order online, but we don’t usually do that… if we want more we have to drive up and get it. It’s a definite favorite around our house and a big hit at dinner parties. The landscaping is really beautiful with a different more wooded or rustic feel than the other locations we visited. Antonio, the gentleman doing our tasting was really funny and definitely very good at his job as I walked out with a case of wine!

We ended our day with dinner at Redd which is located in Yountville. I like to be as positive as I can when talking about my experiences, but I just didn’t love this place.  The positives were that the main courses and the waiter were both great! However, I thought my chair was about as uncomfortable as they come and I literally hated one of the desserts and thought the other one was only okay.

After all that lovely wine tasting, eating and beautiful scenery it was time to head home… How great is it that someone else was driving!

So, there you have it… Napa three ways!  What do you think? Which one appeals to you?!