Archive for March, 2015

36 Hours on the California Coast (from San Francisco to Santa Cruz)

March 30, 2015

The coast of California from San Francisco to Santa Cruz is particularly gorgeous in the spring when the hills are still green and the weather tends to be better. In just a quick overnight trip, you can eat well, spend time at the beach, take a hike, and visit a farm.

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Saturday Morning

Ferry Building Farmers Market, San Francisco

Start at the Saturday farmers market at the Ferry Building. Go early so you can shop for shelling peas, fava beans and tiny artichokes without dealing with tourist crowds. Pick up some provisions for your road trip, like Della Fattoria’s fig-and-walnut baguette and Andante’s herbed goat cheese. Buy a few of Blue Bottle’s new, adorably packaged iced-coffees (god knows when you’ll have good coffee again). Have breakfast at Primavera and take in the view of the sparkling bay and the Bay Bridge while you eat.

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Ocean Beach, San Francisco

Hopefully you’ve remembered to dress in layers because there’s a cold wind blowing at Ocean Beach. Stick to the north side of the beach so you can walk your dog off leash. If you happen to be at the beach around 10am on Saturday mornings, you’ll see the weekly small dog beach walk (less upsetting than expected).

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Saturday Afternoon

Downtown Santa Cruz

There are now a handful of casual restaurants in Santa Cruz that are taking advantage of their proximity to terrific local farms. Have lunch at Assembly on Pacific Avenue downtown. It’s a more modern space than you’ll usually find in Santa Cruz, but the menu has broad appeal, with more typical lunch options like a burger and an enormous fried chicken sandwich, as well as less common options, like a wheatberry salad with kale, feta, and dates.

Walk down Pacific Avenue and take in the usual Santa Cruz mix of crazies and surfers. Pop into Bookshop Santa Cruz for something good to read (or to use the restroom). Stop at Verve, another relatively new (and essential) addition to downtown Santa Cruz, for a coffee, or opt for a milkshake at The Penny kiosk in front of Bookshop.

Costanoa

From Santa Cruz, it’s a spectacular 30-minute drive up the coast to Costanoa, one of the few lodging options between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay (and one that doesn’t require a two-night stay).

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Costanoa has a few lodging options, including rooms in the two-story lodge, cabins, tent cabins, and RV camping. There’s also a general store, a restaurant and a garden.

Stay in a Doug Fir cabin, which are farther from the general store and restaurant. Sit on the porch swing while the lodge’s handyman fixes the door knob that came off in your hand and take in the view of the green coastal hills and, in the distance, the ocean. When the door is fixed, head out on an easy 3-mile loop hike down to the beach.

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Take a Hike

There’s a fair amount of poison oak near the trail, but the views are extraordinary. To the north, you can see the Pigeon Point Lighthouse and to the south, the gorgeous and rugged Northern California coast.

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You’ll be back at your cabin in time to open a bottle of wine (there’s a wine opener and two wine glasses in the cabin) and snack on the bread and cheese you bought in San Francisco. You’ll want snacks since the Costanoa restaurant isn’t particularly special. Hit the hot tub early if you can; it gets crowded after dark.

Sunday

Farm Tour

It only takes about 15 minutes to drive from Costanoa to Harley Farms in Pescadero. Sign up for a tour before hand (they usually fill up quickly, especially in the spring when there are baby goats to see) or just show up to enjoy the scenery, peek in at the goats and buy some of the cheese in the farm’s shop.

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You’ll be back in the city before dinner, but it will feel like you’ve been far away.

3 Days in Oaxaca

March 16, 2015

Oaxaca has been on my travel list for years, mostly because of the food. So while I was prepared to eat well in Oaxaca, I was completely unprepared for its beauty.

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Oaxaca is a lovely city with cobblestone streets and candy-colored buildings. In the distance, there are green mountains with big white clouds covering the top, which gives it the feeling of being both in the mountains and the tropics.

It’s also a city that manages to be historic and modern at the same time. Behind a traditional-looking exteriors, we found some modern courtyards and landscaping. One museum had a metal-and-glass library built right into the old stone building (second photo below). And while the city is well known for its traditional handicrafts, like ceramics and textiles, it also has a thriving street art scene.

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But what I really loved about Oaxaca is that it’s the kind of city that comes to you, and those are my favorite kinds of cities to visit. We didn’t have seek out anything in particular in Oaxaca — it seemed like where ever we went, there was something interesting to do or see, and usually something good to eat or drink, too.

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Our first day in Oaxaca was just one example: we didn’t arrrive until around 3pm, and on that first afternoon, we walked through two markets (20 de Noviembre and Benito Juarez); had a great meal at La Olla; discovered a Oaxacan beer that was so delicious that we sought it out all over town; wandered into a photography exhibit; and popped into a small mezcal shop where the owner led us through an extensive tasting.

On our walk back to the apartment we’d rented (which was perfectly located right behind Santo Domingo, pictured at the top of the post, and near a charming pedestrian-only street), we passed a parade of people in traditional Zapotec clothing, and by the time we were home, there were fireworks going off around us — and not little Piccolo Petes, but big Fourth-of-July fireworks. We’d only been in Oaxaca for a few hours, but we were already talking about coming back.

And that feeling was confirmed the next morning when we walked to the Reforma neighborhood for breakfast at Casa Oaxaca Cafe, where we had Oaxaca’s famed hot chocolate, a very good concha, and chilaquiles (although I’m still disappointed that they were out of the costillas, or pork ribs, that morning).

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We ate pretty well in Oaxaca. Thanks to our obsession with Primavera, the Mexican food stand at the Ferry Plaza farmers market, some of what we ate was familiar (tinga, jamaica, molotes, garnachas, enfrijoladas). But we also found new things to try, like tasajo, a thin, grilled piece of beef that was served with the enfrijoladas, and tetelas, filled tortillas that are folded up in a triangular shape. We had estofado at La Teca, a restaurant that operates out of a home just outside the center of town and specializes in food from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the skinny southern part of Mexico.

But I didn’t love everything we tried. The cream in Oaxaca, which was in the tetelas and in the sauce served with the molotes, made me gag. (Mr. WholeHog later described it as having a “blueberry yogurt” taste, which made me gag again).

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On our last day in Oaxaca, we went to Monte Alban, the ruins of what is said to be one of the first cities in the Americas. There was so much we still wanted to do in Oaxaca that we wondered if spending half of the day at the ruins would be worth it, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of our week in Mexico.

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Climbing the ancient stairs and wandering around the old stone structures gave us a chance to see birds (black vultures and gorgeous vermillion flycatchers), wildflowers, fruit trees, butterflies, as well as Oaxaca’s famed chapullines (grasshoppers). It was a reminder of the things that still live up amid the ruins of the old civilization. And a reminder to me that an ideal vacation often includes both time exploring a city and time outside the city.

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And soon enough, we were back in the city, eating tacos in an bustling, smoky corridor in one of the markets, and thinking once again about how soon we could get back to Oaxaca.

At Last, a Good Dog-Friendly Hike

March 7, 2015

It took about a year, but we finally discovered a great dog-friendly hike. And it’s on Mt. Tam, of course.

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Mt. Tam is one of my favorite places to hike (particularly in the winter and spring — it’s just unbelievably beautiful). But many of my favorite Tam hikes, like the Steep Ravine or Matt Davis trails out of Pantoll, don’t allow dogs. In fact, dogs aren’t allowed on any of the trails in Mt. Tam State Park.

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But what I had failed to notice until recently was that Mt. Tam State Park only covers some of the trails on Tam. Most of the other trails are part of the Marin Water District, and these trails allow dogs on leash. This wasn’t mentioned in my book on dog-friendly hikes, and it wasn’t obvious on the online trail maps of the area (it’s not like the maps of Point Reyes, which specifically highlight the two areas that allow dogs). But once we were on Tam, the trails were very clearly marked.

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We made a roughly five-mile loop out of Water District trails: heading up to the West Point Inn via the Nora trail and looping back via Old Stage road to the Matt Davis trail. This loop had nearly everything I like in a hike. It took us across wooden bridges, over creeks and up stairs that had been cut into the rocks. It went through damp, shady redwood groves and along drier, exposed trails lined with manzanita. It had views of the Pacific and across the bay, where we could see the white sailboats by Sausalito.

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This is not what most dog-friendly hikes are like, at least from what I’ve experienced so far. The other dog-friendly hikes I’ve taken were often on fire roads or even paved roads rather than actual trails. These hikes didn’t go by creeks, and they didn’t have such beautiful views. They were perfectly fine hikes, if you just want to take your dog somewhere new, but they weren’t what I was looking for.

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I wanted the sort of hike that really feels like you’re in the woods. The kind of hike that makes you feel like you’re finally taking deep breath, that unwinds something in you that you didn’t even realize was tight until you were out on the trail. I wanted the kind of hike that drew my attention to the way the sunlight cuts through the trees or glints off the ocean or to the sound of water moving along a creek even during the drought. That might sound strange coming from someone like me who really loves living in a city, but I’ve found that as much as I crave the energy and beauty of a city, I also need time outdoors — and these days, ideally, time outdoors with my dog.